Bob D. was up for a paddling trip, and we both wanted to do something besides the Green River or the Tuckaseegee. I suggested Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park, and Bob agreed.
The last time I paddled Cedar Creek it turned into an uphill death march, as we had paddled our canoes downstream, then tried to paddle back upstream to get to our cars. I was determined not to repeat that mistake. Initially we were going to take two vehicles and do a point-to-point paddle from Bannister Bridge to Cedar Creek Road, which would be about eight miles downstream. However, since it was a fairly long drive down there and there were just two of us, we decided to put in at Cedar Creek Road, paddle upstream for awhile, then paddle downstream with the current while we were tired. Made more sense to me.
Saturday the weather was spectacular, and was more like September than July. I had spent the day riding the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville on my bike, and was hoping that the good weather would hold for Sunday’s paddling excursion. I had spoken to a ranger in park, and he described paddling conditions as ideal, with good water, no portages, and only moderate mosquito levels. It looked like the stars were aligning for a good trip.
The put-in was easy enough, and by 10:00 we were on the water. The water was dark tea-colored, and the creek twisted under moss-laden cypress and loblolly pine. The current wasn’t too bad as we paddled against it, but we could tell it was there, and were glad that it would be assisting us on the return trip. We did find it working against our whitewater kayaks, as the boats tended to spin more than usual if we stopped paddling. This made it really tricky for photography.
Speaking of which…
This was the maiden voyage for my new waterproof camera. I bought a neoprene wrap case to protect the lens while not in use, but I kept it sitting on the deck of the kayak read at a moment’s notice. It was the only camera I brought on this trip (apart from a cell phone.) I had no plans to immerse the camera, but I wasn’t too worried about splashing it.
There were several deadfalls along the way. Most of these posed no problem for our kayaks, as we could easily paddle under or around them. However, I could see some of these really being a problem for canoes. Where appropriate, we used them as an excuse for paddle acrobatics.
In addition to the deadfalls, the biggest obstacle was underwater snags. We both ran up on several of these. If you were going along at a fairly good clip, they could threaten to overturn the boat. The problem was that most of these were dark brown logs and stumps hidden by the tea-colored water. These weren’t everywhere, but they could pop up when you least expected.
As we paddled along we heard barred owls, and saw a couple of pileated woodpeckers and other smaller birds. I was surprised that we didn’t see more turtles. There were a couple of brown water snakes, and LOTS of spiders, including some huge wolf spiders. At one point I looked down to find one spider curled up under the arch of my foot inside my sandal. I didn’t panic, but took off the sandal and let her wander onto a passing brush pile.
We did see some other signs of wildlife. Along the banks were small mudslides where it looked like animals were trying to get to the river. There were obvious claw/paw marks, but none clear enough for us to identify.
Cedar Creek crosses several trails in the national park. We paddled under the bridge for the Weston Lake trail, and spotted a few people on the same trail as it runs along the creek banks. For the most part, though, we had the place to ourselves. We never saw any other paddlers along our stretch of the creek.
The “Three Minute Rule” for paddlers goes like this…
For any given paddling trip, when you stop for lunch along a river, there will be a much better spot three minutes downstream, after you have already finished your lunch.
That was the case on our Edisto trip back in June, and it was the case this time, too. The problem is that if you keep that rule in mind while looking for a lunch spot, you keep going further along, and lunch keeps getting pushed back. We finally decided on a spot that had fairly muddy river access, but led up to a dry little ridge with logs where we could sit and rest from being on the river.
Sure enough, just about three minutes paddle time from where we were a channel opened off to the left. We pushed our way through the cypress knees into an area that open up into Wise Lake. This was Bob’s favorite part of the trip, and it looked like a good destination and turn-around point. We paddled the length of the lake to its swampy headwaters and just floated for a bit in the shade of the trees. We crossed back to the creek proper, and continued upstream to the bridge that crosses over to Wise Lake and heads back to the park visitor center. It was time to head back downstream.
The current did help out as we paddled along, but not as much as we might have hoped. We couldn’t just float along aimlessly at a good clip. If we wanted to get back in a timely fashion, we still had to paddle. Even with the current helping a bit, it was tiring. Landmarks I had seen along the way were not coming up quite as fast as I would have hoped. We also got a bit sloppier, and started running into more snags and things as we got tired. Eventually, though, we made it back to Cedar Creek Road. There was one other canoe pulling out. These folks had paddled downstream on the creek first, and were the only other paddlers we saw all day.
Despite being tired, it was a good trip. We paddled nearly eight miles, and made it about half-way up to our originally planned put-in. Here’s the map of our travels…
My little camera did OK, but I wasn’t overly thrilled with some of the shots. As I had feared, it just can’t handle low-light situations under the trees. I was able to bring out some of the details with post-processing, but many of the shots I took have digital noise or came out blurry. The video clips were more pixellated than I would have liked, as well. I will have to make sure I’ve got another one of my cameras in a dry bag when I want to make sure I’ve got a good shot.
Still, it was a great trip, and I was glad my upstream-downstream strategy worked.