Well, it wasn’t quite a Second Saturday, but Matt had a conflict with that date. So Second Saturday for Lowcountry Unfiltered was actually March 6th this year. To commemorate this anomaly we decided to head down to Congaree National Park and explore Cedar Creek.
This would be my second paddling trip since the shoulder injury and my first with LCU. Since I did OK on the Saluda River a week or so ago, I wasn’t too worried. However, I quickly learned that I’m not quite at full capacity. More on that later. In the meantime I had already screwed up with the rendezvous.
When I read Matt’s email I thought we were doing a through-paddle from Bannister Bridge to South Cedar Creek Landing. It’s about a 6 mile paddle and quite doable, even with an injured shoulder. I loaded the boat onto the truck and arrived to find that I was the first there. I unloaded the kayak and carted it down to the launch. Other folks got ready for their trips as I waited for my friends to arrive.
While waiting I got a couple of texts from folks wondering where I was and if they were in the right spot. I told them that I was at Bannister Bridge, so Jerry and Jim headed up my way. Soon I found out that Matt, Alan, and Alan had also gone to South Cedar Creek first. That’s where I discovered my screw-up. Matt had planned for an out-and back from South Cedar Creek, but I thought he was doing a through paddle. Oops. It turned out for the best, though. The left Alan’s vehicle at South Cedar Creek and drove on up to meet the rest of us. It would be OK.
The launch at Bannister Bridge is tricky. The creek is narrow but very deep. It would almost be better to have the boat already in the water and step in, but we managed somehow.
It was chillier than I had thought when we launched. I was glad I had multiple layers, but I was chilled for most of the day. The current was also stronger than I expected, but nothing beyond my abilities.. We headed on downstream.
I have kayaked Cedar Creek twice before, but I’ve never done a complete trip through the park. The first time we put in at the South Cedar Creek Landing and paddled downstream, then back up. The second time we paddled from South Cedar upstream to Wise Lake then back down.
The creek channel was twisting, but well-defined. In Sparkleberry Swamp it’s more like a flooded forest and you can paddle just about anywhere. Paddling Congaree Swamp is more like kayaking on the Edisto. You might be able to explore side channels at higher water levers, but for the most part you’re restricted to the creek bed.
For the most part the route was clear, but there were a few obstacles. We had to limbo under a couple of limbs. The only one who had trouble was Jim, whose kayak sits up much higher than the rest of ours.
At one point we had to make our way around a downed tree. The route was shallow, so most of us “skiyakked” through the area. We separated our kayak paddles and used them as ski poles to pull ourselves through the shallow area.
Mile markers kept track of our progress. Other markers made sure that we were on the right route in the rare places where there was some question.
About half-way through our trip we started to reach the more populated part of the park. One of the main trails crosses the creek on a long footbridge.
Not far beyond the bridge there was an opening to the right leading to Wise Lake. We decided to explore, hoping that we might find a place to pull up for lunch. The lake was much more open than the creek. We explored, finding another footbridge and smaller creek at the south end.
The banks were all a bit muddy, but we did find a spot back where the lake and creek join. Once again, Matt pulled out The Most Photographed Coleman Stove in South Carolina™ and we had our bratwurst and beer.
After a fine repast we set sail once more. The sun was finally starting to come out. We also reached an area with large trees and a trail running alongside of the creek.
Along this route we encountered several groups doing what we had originally planned to do (until I screwed up.). These groups had launched at the South Cedar Creek Landing and were paddling upstream to Wise Lake.
There were more limbo limbs. A couple of these were even more challenging than those we encountered on the first part of the trip.
Apart from the occasional tight squeeze, we continued downstream without incident. It was a pleasant, very scenic trip. Along the way we came across quite a bit of wildlife. It was too cold for reptiles, but we did see lots of birds, including a barred owl.
Eventually we reached the bridge marking the South Cedar Creek Landing. The creek was still deep and the current swift, but there was a way to pull up to the landing.
According to the trail guides this should have been a six mile trip. However, my various GPS units recorded anywhere from 8.16 to 12 miles. With our side trip to the lake, I suspect the 8.16 mile reading is closer.
I had the GoPro going, so of course there is a time-lapse video of the trip.
Paddling wasn’t a problem, but I could tell that I’m still not fully recovered from my injury. I had lots of difficulty getting in and out of the kayak and seemed to have no strength. I couldn’t even lift my boat onto the truck and had to rely on my friends for help. I’m hoping that improves because I plan to be on the water as much as I can.
There was one thing left to do – BBQ. Big T’s BBQ was only a few miles away in Gadsden, so we headed that way. They do take-out only during the pandemic, se we went in with masks and to place our orders.
There were lots of fascinating and unusual things on the menu – BBQ pigs feet, ox tails, and chitterlings. All three of us opted for a standard pulled pork plate with hash and rice, macaroni and cheese, and sweet tea with enough sugar to send the entire city of Columbia into a diabetic coma.
The food was all the right shades of yellow and brown and absolutely delicious. We had a picnic on the tailgate of my truck with a bitter wind cutting through us.
It was a great day paddling through Congaree Swamp, but I drove home cold and in pain. Even so, it was well worth it.