Saturday, November 25, 2006

Everything came together perfectly for the Thanksgiving Exploratory trip. Several days of rain during the two weeks preceding the trip raised the water level to 1.4 feet (74 CFM). This is WELL below the 5’ that the Paddlers Guide to Georgia recommends, but we were on the lower sections of the river.

The temperature was chilly in the upper 30s when six boats gathered at the Reidsville State Prison (Hwy 147) put in. Paddling were Gina Johnson, Haynes Johnson, Jim Nutzel, Robert Harris, Xan Baker, William Gatling, John Holley, & Bob Brannen.

Since this was an exploratory trip, we decided to set several shuttle take out points. Access point one was at the end of Ernest Mosely Road. Access point 2 was Hwy 178. Our intended takeout was Tatnell county campground just before the Altamaha River.

 Our put-in at the prison (Hwy147) was very interesting. Along this section, there were numerous trailers and houses built very close to the river. This is a very rural area and the locals have a distict flare for developing their properties. The more noteworthy: a piece of a steel bridge used as a dock; a set of 2 by 4’s running down the bank to either lower or raise the boat to the home; a bank with rock and what we thought to be marble to help prevent errosion. Turns out the marble was pieces of tombstone. Cyprus trees covered in Spanish moss lined the banks and assisted with the feeling of being in another world. The river itself changed colors from amber to red to almost black at times. It was a slow molasses moving current and we had to remind ourselves  to paddle in order to make the take-out as planned. Also slowing our progress were several dead falls. Most of them could be gone around, over, or under. Some areas were very shallow, but there were very few instances of having to get out and walk.

We had lunch at the Ernest Mosley Road access point. We were moving slower than anticipated. After a group disscussion, it was decided to take out at the next access point. The weather had warmed up to 70 degrees with brilliant blue skies. Not bad for the end of November. However, it was getting late in the day and no one wanted to paddle after dark.

After lunch, our progress downstream went well. The river regained a remote feel and there were no structures or people to be seen. When the river would bend a white sand beach would form on the inside of the curve. In shallow areas the current would rake the sand smooth with long arcing ripples that trace the currents path around the beach. The water had a honey color against the white sand. When the water was 2’ deep or more it had an almost black color.

At 3:30 we arrived at highway 178 which was our second possible take out. Knowing we were facing a 5:30 sunset, we decided to quit while we were ahead.

The access point at the highway 178 bridge was good, but did not have parking and was a short carry up a moderate slope to the road. With cars scattered everywhere shuttle went remarkably well. We agreed to resume the trip on Sunday with an extension that would include some of the Altamaha river.

Sunday, November 26
Once again the morning started cold sunny, but warmed to 70 degrees. River levels were 1.38′ and 72 CFM

Bob Brannen suggested a take out called Carter’s Bight Landing on the Altamaha river. It is located on river right on the outside of a river bend, about half way to highway 144.  

In our second day of paddling the river remained remote. Along river right there is remnants of the old Altamaha river bed before it cut through an oxbow. After this point the river takes on more of a swamp prairie feel with tall bushes lining low banks. This river has so many dynamics it felt like we had paddled 3 rivers instead of the one.
 
We made it to the Tatnall County campground in about one hour after putting on. Unlike other areas where reservations are required, this campground does not have spaces, gates, attendants, or fees. It is a large field with a dirt road circling the middle. Camping all along the Ohoopee is thought of as a God given right.

A short paddle past the campground you will see where the Altamaha and Ohoopee merge. The brown muddy water of the Altamaha churns forming a sharp and distinct boundary against the black water of the Ohoopee. From the distance the line is very visable. Gliding over it in the boat the waters swirl. Like adding cream to coffee the two swirl and at some point become one. Be aware that immediately after you enter the Altamaha, there is a strong eddyline. While the Altamaha feels like a slow flat water paddle it was clipping along at 2.5 MPH without lifting a paddle.

Carter Bight Landing has a paved parking lot, boat ramp, pavilion, picnic tables, and restrooms.

Conclusion
If the water level is below 72 CFM these sections of the river will be pretty dry. Paddlers Guide to Georgia reccommends a minimum flow of 5′ and 190 CFM on the Reidsville gauge. Other canoe groups were paddling down from Hwy 280 without a problem. Higher sections of the river look impassable at this level.

As with all rivers we paddle there was trash, but not to the degree that I would have wanted to have picked another river. With a minimal help by lots of paddlers there would be no trash at all.

Special thanks to Bob “Local Yokel” Brannen for helping to pull off this trip.

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