I had two conflicting paddling opportunities this weekend. My buddies from Lowcountry Unfiltered were going to be paddling the lower Savannah River, and the Greenville Canoe and Kayak group were planning a paddle on Lake Moultrie through the Pinopolis Lock. It was quite the dilemma. Ultimately I decided on the Pinopolis Lock trip because it sounded more like a one-shot deal.
I had seen photos and even a couple of online videos of the Pinopolis Lock. The lock is the highest single-stage lock in the US, and the second-highest in the world. It raises and lowers boats 75 feet from Lake Moultrie to the Tail Race Canal, which then connects to the Cooper River and on to Charleston.
We wouldn’t be paddling quite that far, though. Our plan was to launch from the YMCA beach near the dam, paddle about a mile to our lunch spot, then enter the lock. We would then do a few miles on the canal, then cut back into Wabdoo Creek to our take-out.
View Lake to Lock Paddle in a larger map
I got up early Saturday and made the drive down I-26 toward Charleston. Our rendezvous point was a parking lot in the middle of Moncks Corner. Pretty soon our crowd had gathered – 14 boats and paddlers. We drove up to the YMCA Bridge near the Pinopolis Dam and unloaded boats and equipment, then ran the shuttle down to the Highway 420 Bridge over Wabdoo Creek, our take-out.
The trip was in four stages, the first being an open-water paddle across the lake to our lunch spot. It was very hot and sunny, and there was a ton of boat traffic. We would see four or five boats that looked like they were moving together, as if they were headed to the same place. The boat wakes made the transit a bit choppier that we might have liked, but there was no wind so it wasn’t too bad.
Our lunch stop was at the Navy’s short-stay recreation area. There is a beach with several tiki hut styled cabins. We were going to tie up to their breakwater for our lunch. When we arrived, we discovered where all the boat traffic was heading. The navy was having quite the party on the other side of the little peninsula. We pulled our boats up onto the rip rap, and tried to avoid stepping in the goose poop covering the area. We lingered a bit at lunch, and enjoyed a quick swim in the cool lake before setting out again.
We paddled over to the dam for the second stage of the trip, which was the transit through the lock itself. Our little pod of kayaks joined a growing number of pontoon and speedboats that were also waiting to enter the lock. At first we thought that we would be in the lock by ourselves, but it soon became apparent that we would have company.
Soon enough the lock doors opened outward, and boats came pouring forth, having come up from the canal. There was quite the parade.
Once those boats cleared it was our turn. The larger boats entered first and moored loosely to a dock on the port(?) side of the lock. The lockmaster took everyone’s name and made notes of their craft, while giving instructions for boat placement. After they were settled our kayaks could enter. We paddled forward as far as we could, then huddled together, not sure what to expect, or what we needed to avoid.
After all boats were settled, the doors behind us closed and the process began. The motion was smooth, but barely perceptible. You could see the walls rising around you as the water level lowered.
The upper doors aren’t as tall as the lower doors. Once we dropped past their level water started pouring off of them, creating an artificial waterfall. An egret landed on the doors.
As we got lower and lower in the lock, we descended into an echo chamber. All during this time there was quite the party taking place on the boats. When we got low enough, one of the boats up front cranked up AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long”, with a competing country and western song echoing from the back. Girls in bikinis started dancing on just about all of the boats. It wasn’t quite the wildlife we were expecting to see.
Soon, though we reached the bottom. The huge lower doors opened and the entry process repeated – the big boats left first, and once they were out of the way, we paddled on out, about 45 minutes after we had first entered the lock. We got clear of the entry area and paddle off to the side to watch the next set of boats enter for the ride up, and to watch the doors close.
Now we were on the third stage of our trip, the Tailrace Canal. The canal connects Lake Moultrie to the Cooper River. In theory, we could paddle all the way to Charleston from this point.
The channel was wide. I headed to the right bank to seek some shade while paddling, and to stay out of the way of the boats that were zipping up and down the channel. Most of these were oblivious to our presence. Fortunately, there was a patrol boat out trying to keep some order.
We passed under one train trestle, and eventually reached the Highway 17 bridge. The same party atmosphere in the lock was going full blast under the bridge. There was a complete “party cove” atmosphere. On the right bank was Gilligan’s Bar, with a dock for boats. Once again, music was playing loudly, and girls were dancing.
The boat traffic was really picking up, to the point of being annoying. Fortunately, the patrol boat came to our assistance and helped us cross the busy canal to get to our fourth and final stage of the trip – Wabdoo Creek.
The creek was in stark contrast to the crowds on the canal. It was still and much quieter. There were a few tricky channels, and a couple of times we weren’t quite sure which direction to head. The banks were covered with grasses and lilly pads lined the edges.
We passed a dead tree that had an osprey nest. One parent was sitting on the nest proper, and another was on a branch scolding us as we passed.
Soon, though we were at the Wabdoo Creek Bridge and our take-out at the Rembert C. Dennis Landing. There was a nice walking bridge across the creek, so I was able to watch the rest of our crew arrive.
It was incredibly hot. The first thing I did was crank up my car and let the AC run as we pulled the boats out and got loaded up.
While I’m glad I went on this trip, I have to admit it wasn’t one of my favorites. The experience in the lock was neat, but that was only a small part of the overall trip. The boat traffic was really obnoxious with lots of drunk partiers who could care less if they ran over you. Add to that the heat, and it was really a chore. I think this is a trip that works best in cooler weather, when the party crowds have all gone back to school.