…or “Becoming One with the Water”
Houston and I got up early, thinking we might do an early paddle. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating. It started pouring, and I kept checking the weather radar app on my phone. It looked like it was going to clear up soon, though, and it did.
Stephen got an early start and met us at the villa. After greetings, pleasantries, and settling in, we were anxious to get on the water. We decided that rather than dragging the boats down the trail to the beach, we would toss them on Houston’s truck and drive around to the boat ramp reserved for the villas.
Down at the ramp we readied the boats, as low clouds hung over the mountains to the north.
For this trip we decided to do a route Houston had done before, and I had done several times. We were ging to paddle up to Wright Creek Falls first, then see where we could go from there. The weather was still iffy, so I didn’t know how far we might make it.
Out on the lake there were loons – and not just the ones in kayaks. There was the distinctive loon call, and the birds proved themselves to be amazing divers. Stephen and Houston thought one had drowned given the amount of time it was under.
Stephen revealed something else as we crossed the lake. This was the largest body of water he had ever crossed on a kayak. All of his paddling had been on rivers, ponds, and swamps. He said that the lack of changing scenery was a bit disconcerting.
Despite the lack of changing scenery, the water was glassy without a hint of breeze, and we made good time. Eventually we did cross the largest portion of open water, and found ourselves at the base of Musterground Mountain. Here a couple of large boulders along the banks caught our eye. Houston wanted to jump off of them. We paused to explore a bit.
I love paddling Jocassee at just about any water level. At high levels you have access to neat things, such as being able to paddle BEHIND waterfalls. However, at lower levels all of the interesting geology is exposed. Since the lake is so deep, there is always enough water for paddling.
The rocky shoreline did provide lots of interesting sights. It was tempting to stop and take a photo of every interesting rock or old tree root. The water was so clear and still that we could see rocks and driftwood underneath the surface.
Most of the tree stumps are the remains from when the area was logged in preparation for inundation in 1970. Normally these would be hidden when the lake is higher.
We continued on our way, trying not to get distracted by every cool rock or root. I call my Lowcountry Unfiltered friends “ADD Paddlers” because they are so easily distracted, but we’re just as bad.
We reached a long peninsula and decided it was a good spot to stop for lunch. There wasn’t as much rock here, but alternating bands of brown and red sediment. The water, in contrast, was a deep, deep green, but still very clear at the edges.
Right after we launched from our lunch stop the rain started. I had my new paddling jacket I got for Christmas, and Stephen had rain gear. Houston preferred to get wet.
Fortunately this first batch of rain was light, and didn’t last long. It had stopped by the time we rounded the corner and headed toward Wright Creek Cove.
As I feared, the water was far too low for us to even get the boats within view of the waterfall. However, we had lots of beach for landing and walking up to the falls.
We did our usual thing – climbing behind the falls and the cave off to the side. Of course, we took LOTS of photos.
We found a way to get up to the upper level of the falls, and the small pool that forms there.
On our way back down we had an encounter with a small, friendly reptile. I have no clue what type of snake this was.
As we started to load back up, the rain started again. It was nice that it held off at least long enough for us to explore the falls. It wasn’t cold. With the rain about the same temperature as the lake water, things started to blend together. I started humming the tune from The Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime”…
Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by, water flowing underground
Into the blue again, after the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime, water flowing underground
Despite the rain, we decided to continue on up the Thompson River branch of the lake. Last time Alan and I paddled this section, we found multiple falls where the Thompson meets the lake. I was curious as to what it would look like with low water. We paddled on up to where the lake branches into the Thompson River and Cooley Springs arms. The rain continued, but apart from splashes from raindrops, the water was as smooth as ever.
As we approached the end of this arm, it was apparent that we weren’t going to get very far up the river. A bank of much lighter rock with water pouring over it blocked any further progress by boat.
I approached and tried my hand at surfing the small standing waves rolling into the lake, as did Houston.
We got out of the boats and climbed along the banks to get a better view of the rapids. These were impressive. I didn’t see any way that even a creek boat might be able to get through.
A hint of a trail led us further up the bank through large boulders covered with brilliant green moss. In the rain, the green seemed even more pronounced. We reached a point where a very tall waterfall on a tributary creek fell directly into the Thompson. Unfortunately, our view of that waterfall was obscured by vegetation.
Houston and I stayed at this level, taking photos of the main rapids. Stephen continued on up and got shots of the next set of cascades higher up. I had attempted to follow him, only to have my feet slip and my knees banged up. I decided I’d stay where I was for a bit.
Here is my panorama shot of the main rapids, stitched together from eight photographs in Photoshop…
We returned to the boats, after pausing for a few more photographs. We loaded back up and headed on down the Thompson River, with one more stop in mind.
As we paddled on the Thompson the rain had let up and the lake had returned to its glassy nature. The reflections of the exposed shoreline were striking.
We were tired, but I wanted to check out one more area. Cooley Creek was just a short cove, so when we reached the end of the Thompson River branch we turned north toward Cooley. As I thought, it was a short paddle, and soon we reached the point where the creek falls into the lake. We had seen more impressive falls along our trip, so we didn’t linger, but headed on back out on the narrow creek.
By this time it had started dumping. There was never any thunder or threat of storm – just a constant rain. Between the rain, the mist from the falls, and wading in the water we were soaked through and through. Perception Kayaks‘ motto is “One with the Water”, and that’s certainly the way I felt. It was actually soothing. Back in college my friends and I would go on hikes in the pouring rain to become “one with the forest.” This trip had that same feel, and I actually enjoyed the rain.
Even so, it was a long haul back. We stopped briefly at the same place we had stopped for lunch, where I proceeded to break the seat on my kayak with an ill-timed plop into the boat. It was not the most comfortable return paddle, and I could appreciate Stephen’s sentiment about the scenery changing very little. I was glad when we were within sight of the cove near our villa.
Rather than paddle all the way back to the boat ramp, we pulled up at the cove and chained our boats to a steel cable there. The plan was to leave the boats where they would be accessible in case we did decided to do a night paddle. However, given how tired we were, how late it had already gotten, and the fact that my boat needed mending, we weren’t sure that would be on the agenda.
In all, we paddled nearly 16 miles. It was no wonder we were tired. Below is a slide show of all of the photos that I took that day. Houston and Stephen took about as many shots. It was a great day out on Jocassee with my brothers.