This was an exploratory canoe/camping trip to Congaree Swamp. We left Atlanta and traveled Friday morning to arrive at the visitor center, 100 National Park Road Hopkins, SC 29061. From Atlanta this is about a four hour drive. We hoped to meet between 12 and 1 pm at the visitor center. David Brytowski reserved a group campsite site for us for Friday night and camped alone in the cold screaming wind on Thursday. Kelly Harbac had arrived and was chatting with David when I got there about 1:00pm. We explored our options, striking out the idea to do a short paddle or maybe hike the board walk.
Lamar Phillips, his friend Chad Boles and Robert Harris soon joined the group while we were exploring the visitor center. We set camp and drug up a pile of limbs to keep our fire going. I brought a tent that was about 40 years old but still serviceable. It is 12X16X6 and four of us shared it. The temperature dropped into the teens as soon as the sun dropped behind the trees. We kept the fire blazing, put on several jackets, drank hot coffee and some folks sampled some of Dr Harris Frostproof Fortifier Tonic. I’m not sure if it helped but at least they weren’t whining about being cold. We enjoyed our campfire all the more because we knew we could not build a fire on the creek the next night as fires are not allowed in that part of the forest.
Oddly enough we were not the only campers. Early on in the evening we were joined by a group of astronomers from Charlotte. Many in our group took a peak through their top quality telescopes. These guys knew their stars and had the right equipment. Bill Markert and his son Paul soon joined our group having left metro ATL after school. They set up camp and soon joined us at the camp fire. Almost midnight a group of Boy Scouts packed into the campsite closest to the parking lot. I momentarily considered apologizing to David for the nasty things I said about him for picking the campsite farthest from the parking lot.
Cedar creek runs through the park and empties into the Congaree River. Cedar Creek is a very small twisty costal plain creek often no more than ten feet across. Congaree River is very big about 75 yards wide. The camp sites are primitive only. there are no official sites on the creek or the river.
Our plan was on Saturday to canoe Cedar Creek with the intent of camping creekside then crossing via a hand dug canal to join the Congaree and exiting Sunday from the Congaree River at the 601 bridge. This is a twenty mile trip so that is roughly 10 miles per day. The weather the week end before was splendid and the weekend after the trip the weather was mild and sunny. But the weekend of the trip was the coldest temperatures in two years and breezy. Saturday morning we arose about 5 am and immediately added more wood to the hot coals. We cooked a group breakfast and discussed our options as well as how everyone had fared the night before. Most of us had been cold. About 9:30am we made the decision to not carry our gear down the river to camp but to remain in our camp the coming night and paddle the seven mile upper most section of Cedar Creek. Everyone was a bit disappointed but a bit relieved at the same time.
We grabbed our boats and lunch and began the shuttle. Kelly chose to leave her new kayak in camp and paddle tandem in an open boat with Robert. That made four tandem canoes for the trip. We got on the creek about 11:00 at a very pretty launch site with slight tannic mostly clear water. Lamar and Chad led the way. Chad fished a little but had no luck. The creek is so narrow and twisty that it can be difficult to maneuver a seventeen footer around the bends. Sometimes you could look through he woods and see the boats ahead of you going in the other direction. Now that’s twisty.
Bill and Paul took over the lead. We had been warned that there were several portages on this stretch. What the ranger meant was ?~@~downed trees to be carried around. We managed to get around most without incident. About 1pm we stopped and ate lunch in the swamp. We saw no old growth trees on this stretch because it had been logged before but it has lots of cypress trees. Aside from the dead falls we saw no other obstacles as we paddled through the park often within sight of the board walk.
On one portage Robert managed to fall out of his boat while attempting to seal launch a sixteen foot tandem canoe and got his legs wet and his butt muddy. I didn’t laugh at him. (That must have been some one else.) The air temperature was in the lower forties and felt quite balmy and he claimed he was fine so we headed on down stream to the take out. The trip was nice the scenery pretty but it wasn’t the trip we had hoped for.
The shuttle vehicle was at the take out which is always a pleasant sight. There is a big sign warning you not to leave valuables in your car so that was not very reassuring. Across the road from the park a group of deer hunters were hunting and fired off several rounds which made us nervous. I thought they were trying to scare us but later saw that one of them had taken a deer. Well it did scare me a little bit just the same.
We returned to camp for more grilling and we burned lots more fire wood. Everyone, who had been cold the night before, tried to improve their sleeping arraignments to make the second night better. I used a zero degree mummy bag inside a forty degree down bag, inside a fleece liner and wore fleece long johns. Everyone else did something similar but different. Around ten pm we decided to take flashlights and hike the board walk. There are several miles of board walk but we didn’t want to get sweaty in the bitter cold so we only hiked two or three miles total. We returned to camp, burned more wood and finally turned in. In the morning we discussed some possible options but mostly we all packed up and drifted back home.
After enduring yet another paddling story my wife, Cynthia, looked at me and said, So is this a do-over Certainly it is. But it was still a fun adventure, in fact I think I will do more exploratory trips.