Last week Dwight sent me a message asking if I’d be up for a mid-week paddle. Laura would be out of town with family, so I thought it would be a great chance to head down to one of my favorite paddling venues, Sparkleberry Swamp.
The sky was a bit overcast and there was a chance of thunderstorms for the afternoon, but it looked to be a good day of paddling. Laura had an early flight that morning, so I dropped her off at the airport and headed on down to rendezvous with Dwight and his son Adam.
We arrived at the put-in at about 10:30. This wouldn’t be a long paddle – just enough to get some experience out in the cypress cathedrals and maybe make it over to otter flat. I was still thinking about all the work I needed to do for my upcoming trip to Ireland, so, oddly enough, my mind was not on paddling as it should have been. That would change.
Even the landing at Sparkleberry is a preview of the scenery to come. The area is covered in trees, and it’s not readily obvious which was you should go. We launched and headed on out into the swamp.
It was a fairly quick paddle from the channel leading to the open water of Sparkleberry Flats. From there we crossed over to the entrance to the route to Riser Lake. In one previous trip I’d missed this entrance. One thing I noticed now was that someone had come through and repainted the blazes marking the path. These were certainly easier to follow than my GPS.
From there it’s about a 100 yard paddle to my favorite spot in the entire swamp – one which I’ve dubbed the Cathedral. As we approached we heard lots of bird songs, and spotted prothonotary warblers flitting all over the place. Unfortunately, they are next to impossible to capture with a point and shoot camera.
The Cathedral itself is a huge stand of cypress with branches forming a canopy overhead. Bird songs echo, and it sounds as if you are in a large enclosed space. It’s easy to paddle among the trees, and even easier to get totally lost if you’re not careful.
For the first time I noticed trail blazes heading north out of the cathedral. Since the markings seemed to be so clear, I decided we should explore further. There was more of the cathedral, but then the route opened onto another flats area.
It was quite interesting. You could paddle the open waters, but you could just as easily dip back into the edges and disappear among the cypress. We explored northward for awhile, but then decided that we would head back toward our original destination, Otter Flat.
All of the edges of the lake look the same, and it’s next to impossible to tell where the entrance to a trail might be if it’s not marked. Fortunately, with good water, it’s fairly easy to get where you need to go even if you miss the initial entrance. In this case, we actually spotted another marked trail, and decided to take it. This one headed in the general direction we needed. It led us through yet another huge stretch of the cathedral.
Finally we did drop onto Otter Flat. This is an east-west path than eventually leads to Riser Lake, and old oxbow of the Santee. We wouldn’t be going quite that far today. The route through Otter Flat is more open.
These open water areas are favored by osprey, and we usually see several nests on these trips. This one was no different. We spotted a nest high in a tree which had at least one young chick.
I’ve seen snakes and turtles in this swamp, but I had never seen an alligator. The water is just too high, and there is not a good place for them to pull out and sun themselves. I guess along the banks of Riser or the Santee, or in any hammock area there might be some high ground, but we just had never come across them. Today, however, we did spot one young gator that looked to be about six feet long.
We paddle out along Otter Flat, then decided that it was time to head back in. We followed pretty much the standard route. As we returned we saw one of the drawbacks of Sparkleberry’s location. It’s right between Shaw Air Force Base and McIntyre Air National Guard. Fighter jets roared overhead on occasion. While the jets are cool, they disrupt the peacefulness of the swamp.
We made it back by about 4:00. We had paddled 4.4 miles, roughly.
As I was writing this up and looking at photos I realized it was almost two years to the day that I had last visited Sparkleberry. That time it was also with Dwight and Adam. Adam has certainly filled out my blue Dirigo in that time.
Of course, I took a ton more photos than I posted here. Here’s the slide show…