We just got back from our grand west coast tour last Sunday, but we weren’t settling down. Stephen and I had made another mid-week trek to the Pickens Flea Market, and Friday morning I had taken Laura to the airport for a quick trip down to Florida so that she could drive back to our place with her sister and mother. That left me as the sole occupant of the house. So, what was I to do but throw a party?
The guys from Lowcountry Unfiltered had been wanting to paddle Lake Jocassee. Last Saturday was the second Saturday, the traditional LCU paddling day, but it was postponed a week so that we could get back from the west and organize the trip. Several of the guys were camping or staying other locations overnight. Matt, James, and Scott came up early and stayed at our house. We had chili, various imbibements, and Star Wars movies with an MST3K treatment.
Right before the guys arrived I received a call from Laura. Amy and her mother had been on the way out to the car to go pick up Laura from the airport, when her mom fell. She was taken to the ER, and found to have broken both legs. Both femurs, to be exact. One of Amy’s lab assistants would pick up Laura from the airport. I wasn’t sure if I should abandon my outing and head down, or what. Laura told me to go ahead with the paddling trip, so I proceeded with that plan.
The problem with Lake Jocassee is that if you don’t arrive early, you don’t get a parking place. If there is not parking, you’re out of luck. There is limited access. So, it’s prudent to get there early. Despite the night’s partying we were able to get up and get on the way Saturday morning, albeit about 45 minutes later than we planned. When we arrived, two of our party had gotten impatient waiting for us and taken off. Oh well. However, it did kind of set a sour tone for the trip.
The boat ramp was busy. Lots of boats and at least two other kayaking groups were getting underway. The rest of us unloaded and set off, and we picked up a straggler. A guy named Matt (another one) was trying out a new boat and paddling by himself. We invited him to join us, and he paddled with us for the entire day.
The sky was mostly clear with some high clouds. The water was fairly smooth, but there was a lot of boat traffic and wakes. The first thing I noticed was that the water was VERY high. I guess all of the recent rains really brought the levels up.
We made the crossing over to Fisher Knob with no problem. Our first target would be Wright Creek Falls. From there we would see how much time we had left.
Right across from Hester Mountain, and at the entrance to the Thompson River branch of the lake is a small island. Usually when I’ve paddled this stretch it’s a peninsula. This time we were able to paddle between the island and its closest bank with no problem. Just beyond that was a smaller island that looked like the perfect spot for lunch for later.
…And lunch would be a problem. The last time Alan and I paddled up this way with high water we couldn’t find a place to land to eat lunch. We had our sandwiches while sitting in our boats. The water was at least that high this time, if not higher.
We made our way into the little cove that shelters Wright Creek Falls. There were lots of other boats headed that way, too – kayaks, pontoons, and various motor boats. We joined a party already in progress around the falls.
We proceeded with the knowledge that even with high water levels, motor boats can only go so far into the cove. The higher water levels also meant that we could paddle right behind the falls.
Of course, I had to give that a try. I was to the first to paddle over to the small cave, then make my way behind the falls. Here’s a video clip:
Others also paddled through.
Here’s a video clip of Stephen behind the falls:
Others from the boats swam into the falls, and some decided to jump from the upper level into the pool below. At one point I decided to paddle straight forward into the falls, at least until my GoPro was under the cascade.
We hung out for a bit, but decided that it was time to find lunch. We paddled back to the island we had spotted earlier. It turned out to be an adequate place. Matt was able to set up his stove on the bank at a good working level while he stood in the shallow water. We feasted on our traditional brats and sauerkraut while enjoying the cool lake water.
There was a bit of a debate as to our next steps. Some of the guys wanted to paddle up to the Thompson River Falls where there was rumored to be a water slide. I told them that it was further up, and would mean a long slog back. Ultimately we decided on Whitewater Falls, with a possible side trip over to Bad Creek Falls. That would put us closer to the landing.
Along the way we admired the geology of the area. Even at high water some of the caves and exposed surfaces are fascinating.
We continued on past the Bad Creek Project. As we approached red lights started flashing and a horn sounded. We weren’t sure what to expect. We had always paddled on past the various warning signs about sudden increases in water level and tricky currents when water is released from the upper reservoir. A couple of us paused, but others continued. With the water levels already as high as they were, I couldn’t imagine it would rise much more. As we paddled past the release gates I noticed that the water was swirling a bit.
We paddled on up to the falls, proper. Another tour pontoon boat had pulled up, kind of ruining the photograph. Even so, we paddled up to the falls.
Several of the guys got out and began exploring the falls. I stayed put in my boat, trying to reach Laura to get an update on her mom.
I couldn’t get a good signal, so I paddled on out of the cove. Finally I was able to to reached her and get an update on how her mom’s surgery had gone. As I was talking to Laura, the rest of the guys had gotten back in their boats and paddled past me.
This is where the trip started to go downhill for me. From that point on I had to paddle like mad to try to catch up. The group had apparently made the decision to skip the last waterfall and head back to the launch, but I didn’t know anything about it. It’s a long way straight back from Whitewater to the boat ramp, and I was far behind the entire time. To compound things, I got a couple of other calls from Laura, important calls, and was thrown even further behind. A couple of the guys hung back with me, but the paddling to catch up was exhausting.
Regardless, having gotten that out of my system, I will say that overall it was a great weekend with friends, and any day paddling on Lake Jocassee is a good one. This is still absolutely one of my favorite places to paddle.