It has been our tradition to do a hike with our Lowcountry Unfiltered group on the first Second Saturday of the year. This year Second Saturday is a bit later in January as New Year’s was on a Sunday. I guess that’s as late in the month as it can get. This year we decided to return to the site of our first Swamp Stomp, Congaree National Park.
This time our fearless Leader, Matt, wasn’t going to be able to join us. He asked if i would head up this month’s outing, which I did. I also called on local expert Dwight Moffitt, who is at Congaree just about every other week. In fact, he had done some scouting earlier in the week and found that there were still trees down from Hurricane Matthew, but that most of the trails were open.
Saturday morning I picked up Alan and headed to the our first rendezvous, Bill & Fran’s Restaurant in Newberry. It’s gotten to be our favorite breakfast stop on these trips. There we were joined by Larry and Albert, also from the Upstate. In fact, we should have picked a name other than “Lowcountry Unfiltered” for this excursion. With the addition of Craig and Jon from Rock Hill, Upstate outnumbered Lowcountry three to one, with Dwight thrown in as a Midlander for good measure.
We made it to Congaree just a few minutes after our appointed time, but about the same time as everyone else. Craig, Jon, and Dwight were there, and we were joined by John and Jimmy from the Lowcountry. Nine of us would be hitting the trail.
We had a couple of options. Swamp guru John Cely, whose maps of the swamp we have used extensively, was leading several hikes. At 9:30 there would be a nature hike and at 1:00 he was leading a Big Tree Hike. We weren’t sure that would fit with our schedule, so we set out on our own.
Dwight laid out a plan. We would continue along the low boardwalk, then head southeast on the Kingsnake Trail. Traffic seemed to be building on the trail, and Dwight thought this would give us a bit more solitude.
Along the way we saw lots of damage from recent storms, including Hurricane Matthew.
We reached the high boardwalk trail and paused at the overlook to Weston Lake.
We continued on our trek, leaving the more popular boardwalks. Along this route we found even more downed trees.
The trail led along the banks of Cedar Creek. I remembered paddling through this area back 2009. While the water levels looked OK for a repeat trip, there were lots of strainers that would require quite a bit of sawing or portaging. While there was no boardwalk, there was the occasional bridge across a flooded gut.
The trail dried out and opened up a bit. We found another downed tree, which was perfect for a rest stop.
Beyond this the downed trees started to cause a problem. We were following trail blazes, and some of these were on the trees that had fallen. We pushed on a bit more, but eventually decided to head back.
By this time the cloudy skies had cleared, and the lighting had changed dramatically. I found myself wondering if we were on a different trail at times. Alan said that he wanted to retake all of the photos he had taken on the hike back.
Once again we were following trail blazes, but this time we noticed a neat feature. Each blaze had latitude and longitude coordinates. This means that if you were lost in the park or in trouble and you tried to call for help, you could give the coordinates, kind of like a mile marker on a highway.
The hike back seemed to be taking longer than the hike out. Eventually we reached the high boardwalk trail, and decided to take that trail back instead of the low boardwalk so that we would see some different scenery. Foot traffic was REALLY picking up on the trail at this point.
My ankles were starting to hurt, and shades of last year’s hike to Table Rock danced in front of me. Dwight and I were bringing up the rear, and when he suggested a shortcut, I took him up on it. We actually beat the group back by quite a bit. They weren’t happy.
We paused for a group photo, then headed for barbecue, the REAL reason we had gathered on this day. As we drove out the parking lot was filled and cars were lined up and down the access road. It was quite crowded, and definitely time for us to go.
We had selected Little Pigs BBQ, where we had gone after our Peachtree Rock LCU hike. Speaking of crowded, this place was a zoo, even at 2:00 pm.
Despite the crowds, we made it through the buffet line and finished up our adventure with some excellent grub.
This trip wasn’t as epic as some of our other adventures. There were no new discoveries, no life-threatening situations, slips or mistakes, and no real foolishness to behold. We were covering ground we had sort of covered before. Even so, it was great camaraderie and and excellent excuse to spend time with friends, even in a crowded national park and at a crowded BBQ buffet.