December
9-11, Summerville, SC. Vince Payne, Dave Brytowski and I paddled two
days Dec 10th and 11th) on the Edisto River near
Summersville, SC, which is about 30 minutes or so from Charleston.
There is a 50 mile water canoe trail along the Edisto River and it is a
wonderful, scenic black water river. I’ve wanted to kayak the Edisto
River many years now. I’ve been to Charleston many times on business
trips and I read literature about the Edisto River.


The
Edisto is the world’s longest free flowing “black water”
stream and is considered one of the southeast’s most beautiful
rivers. So when I found out Vincent was leading the trip I jumped at
the chance to join him on this paddle.


Initially,
the plan was for us to canoe camp, or in my case, kayak camp. In
other words, we were going to load up all our equipment and food in
our boats and set up camp along the banks of the river. Vincent
decided it was probably too cold to do this, so he opted to have us
camp at the Givhans Ferry State Park, which is located right on the
banks of the Edisto. I liked this idea. Camping from your boat adds
another level of stress and work because you really have to plan what
you’re going to wear, eat and etc.


There
were only going to be three of us on the trip: Vincent, Dave and
myself. Vincent and Dave both got there before me. I wasn’t able to
leave the Atlanta area until around 1:30 PM. It took me about 4-1/2
hours to get there. This time of year the state park closes and locks
up around 6 PM. When I called to talk with the park ranger about
hours and such, he gave me the combination to the lock at the front
gate. But I have a way of things happening to me so I was hauling
butt to the state park before 6 so I wouldn’t have to worry with the
lock.


I
got there right before the park was locked up. I went to the
campground expecting to find a merry crew of folks with boats on
their vehicles, but I only found a few RVs. As I was going to call
Vincent at the pay phone, a nice park ranger came up to me and asked,
“Are you Jamie?” He said my buddies decided to rent a cabin
instead of camp. This made me really happy because it was suppose to
get down below freezing that night. A nice warm cabin sure beats a
cold tent.


The
park ranger pointed me in the right direction toward the cabins and I
pulled up to Dave and Vincent greeting me at the front door. They had
already built a nice fire in the fireplace so the place was warm and
cozy. The cabin was rustic, but charming. It had a full kitchen with
microwave and fridge. It had a full bed in a bedroom and with bunk
beds in a small bedroom.


By
the looks of the rugged little cabin, we speculated that maybe the
Civilian Conservation Corps built it. We later found out that is
exactly who built the cabin. A little placard outside of the state
park’s main office explained that Givhans Ferry State Park as well as
14 other SC state parks was built by the CCC. The placard went on to
explain that the CCC had very little tools and resources and built
the structures with whatever material they found in the local area.


Vincent,
Dave and I admired the little cabin as well as the beautiful white
office building. These historic structures had stood the test of time
and had been around about 70 years. They had a beautiful, stoic
simplicity much like the people who built them.


Dave,
Vincent and I talked about all sorts of stuff that evening. I really
enjoyed the guys’ company. Of course, we swapped river stories. I was
happy to be along with such experienced wilderness boaters.


At
one point, we decided to go for a walk because the flue in the
fireplace hadn’t been completely opened, subsequently, our little
cabin became quite smoky. We figured fresh river air would clean out
the smoke from our lungs. The night was quiet as we walked along the
roads. We were joined by a friendly dog and when we came upon the
state park’s office building, we walked behind it and down to the
river. The Edisto seemed dark and mysterious with fog oozing up from
its surface.


We
chatted a bit and looked at the small fish near the river’s edge.
Upon returning to the cabin, we found it was smoke free and we
chatted a bit more with just a small fire going. I went to bed that
night excited to finally be paddling the Edisto River.


The
next morning we headed to the put-in. Our original plan was to paddle
around 14 miles. We got to the put-in, but there was no public access
and NO TRESPASSING signs everywhere. We thought it prudent to go to
the put-in above at Colleton State Park. This, however, would make
for a very long 20 mile day. Different references gave varied miles
paddled for the Colleton to Givhans Ferry run. One reference said it
was 19 miles and another said it was 23 miles. The current looked
swift, so we figured we’d be okay.


We
were putting in just after 10 AM and would get off just before it got
dark around 5:00 – 6:00 PM. It was going to be a long day of
paddling, but I kept thinking about the last day of my Paddle Georgia
adventure. I figured 20 miles in a sea kayak on fast moving flat
water would be a piece of cake compared to Paddle Georgia’s last day
of 20 miles of mostly flat water in a white water boat.


The
morning was absolutely beautiful and it started to warm up just as we
were getting on the river. Vincent and Dave paddled an Old Town
tandem canoe and I paddled solo in my Necky Elaho sea kayak. We
paddled at a reasonable pace and stopped a few times. We never
stopped for very long because we were trying to beat the sun home.


We
also noticed that there were duck boxes with ascending numbers on
them. We speculated that these were probably river miles. I later
found out that this is exactly what they were.


We
also noticed little signs along the way that directed paddlers to
“camp here”. These signs were yellow and white and you had
to paddle very close to them to read them. These signs were on
Westvaco land, which is a timber company. I suppose they welcomed
paddlers to camp along their land. We did notice that there were
several really nice campsites along the way. We’d also heard from Mo
Friedman that there was a river wide strainer with a tricky whirlpool
to negotiate somewhere on our run. The current was quite swift and
for the first few miles we saw many modest homes and fishing camps.
About mile 3 or so, the river got very narrow and there were several
deadfalls across the river.


This
section of the river was creeky and pushy like a white water river
without the white water. There was a huge strainer and perhaps in
lower water it could have been the river wide strainer that Mo
referred to. I could see how at lower water it would be very tough to
negotiate. Maneuvering my 16.5′ sea kayak was hard work, but it
handled nicely. I could see where a beginner could flip or get caught
up in the strainer because it is difficult to maneuver long flat
water boats through tight corners around the deadfall.


I
really liked this creeky portion of the river because it was neat to
paddle the fast moving meanders. On one side of the river were rustic
homes and cabins that were very modest and reflected the down to
earth, stoic lifestyle of the locals. We all agreed these modest
homes were appropriate for the laid back Edisto River. A huge mansion
just wouldn’t have looked right along the black water tapestry of the
river.


The
river took on many faces during the day’s paddle. It went through
suburbs and at one point went through a wildlife management area. We
passed many, many floating piers and were amused at the many
innovative ways folks constructed their piers. Like the generation of
CCCers before them, the locals would take all sorts of material and
make them into docks and piers. Through all the different scenery on
the shore, the Edisto maintained its fast current and dark
personality.


I
was also amused by Dave and Vincent’s banter. They bantered as only
good friends can and it was obvious they went back a ways. The trip
was worth the entertainment value of listening to their playful
chides. We ate lunch along the river and were offered beautiful
solitude with nothing but the river and forest as our companions.
After lunch, we paddled onward awaiting the sights just around the
bend. I love these wilderness type excursions because I get an
opportunity to explore a river that I’ve not yet paddled. Even though
civilization was just a few miles away, it felt like we were early
pioneers boldly venturing into the new world. With each gentle bend
of the river, we wondered what lay in front of us and the Edisto
never disappointed us.


At
about 4 PM, we figured we were close to the takeout. We came upon the
limestone bluffs that were similar to Givhan’s Ferry State Park.
Unfortunately, the river slowed and the friendly fast moving current
was now incredibly flat and slow! As the sun started to descend, I
started to get really cold.


I
paddled a little ahead of Vincent and David and I found myself
paddling alone. I picked up the pace to try to generate some body
heat. Despite the chilliness, the last few miles of the Edisto were
absolutely spectacular. The mossy covered gray bluffs were about 20
feet high and the water was completely still.


The
Edisto was like a mirror reflecting the autumn colors of the forest
along the bluffs. With each stroke of my paddle, the mirror would
ripple away into an abstract canvas of oranges, reds and browns. I
paddled through the still waters of the Edisto until I finally
reached the familiar landmark of the Givhan’s Ferry State Park beach.
Shortly afterwards, Vincent and Dave paddled up along side me. We
were all happy to be at the take-out because it had been a long day.
We took out at around 5 PM, which made for a 7 hour day. We were able
to take out right at our cabins and we left our boats along the
riverbank ready to go for the next day’s paddle. There was a nice
board walk and wood stairs that took us up the embankment to our
cabin.


That
evening, we again sat around the fireplace and talked about the day’s
adventure. We all ate nice, big meals and Dave proclaimed several
times that life was good. Vincent and I whole heartedly agreed with
each jovial affirmation of the goodness of life and the pleasures of
paddling. I fell asleep easily. I love the feeling of falling asleep
with the weariness from the day’s adventure. As I drifted into the
sleepy world of dreams, I thought to myself life is really good.


The
next morning we put on to another beautiful, clear day. We had
planned to paddle about 8 miles and we figured it would be about a
four hour trip. This would allow us plenty of time to travel back
home before it got too late. Although the day was warmer, there was
much more wind, which made it seem chillier than the previous
morning. We faced a pretty stiff headwind and the river seemed to be
slower, but at some point the wind died down a bit. The first two
miles took us about an hour to paddle so we figured we’d get off the
river around 2 PM.


Again,
the Edisto was very scenic and beautiful. The river meandered through
another wildlife management area and we came across a hunting dog. He
was quite curious about our boats. Later down the river, we met his
owner who was patiently waiting for him to return. I told him we saw
the dog and I apologetically explained that we probably distracted
him. He smiled and said it was okay that he’d be back soon.


About
mile 4, the Edisto got very creeky and narrow again. The water picked
up speed and the deadfalls increased. In one of the sharp meanders,
we stopped to eat a mid morning snack. Again, it was quiet and it
seemed we had the river all to ourselves. I really enjoyed this
section of the river.


The
river was so narrow that the forest seemed to be intimately woven
into one beautiful watery landscape. Every now and then, the Edisto’s
beauty would be punctuated by a super old and tall cypress tree. It
was again another rewarding day of paddling.


About
an hour after our break, I saw the beach where our cars were parked.
It was only a little after noon, and we were at the take-out. We were
all disappointed that the 8 miles didn’t last longer. We speculated
that the river must have really picked up speed the last few miles,
which led to our speedy arrival.


Vincent,
Dave and I said good-bye to the Edisto and all vowed to return maybe
in the spring. Two days just isn’t enough time to truly explore this
black water paradise. It is really one of the great, classic low
country black water rivers and is worthy of its reputation. If you
enjoy flat water paddling, then you will have a delicious time
exploring all the different flavors of the Edisto.


by
Jamie Higgins

From
The Eddy Line, 2006