A Weekend Swamp Adventure

By Dick Ambrose.

On Earth Day 2007 (April 22nd) our paddling group stood around the largest tree most of us had ever seen…a living bald cypress measuring 28 feet 6 inches in circumference 40 inches from the ground. It was indeed an awesome sight. The tree was found on our canoe trip through the bottomland hardwood forest of the Congaree National Park in South Carolina.

The record bald cypress for the state of South Carolina is also supposed to be in the Congaree swamp and is 28 feet in circumference at a height of 54 inches…it could have been that tree.  We probably will never know because the locations of record-holding trees are kept under lock and key by organizations that keep such records.  We found other huge trees for their species, a tupelo measuring over 13 feet, and a sweet gum measuring over 15 feet…but none to match this giant.

The Congaree is a not an easy Park to traverse.  In fact, you might use the term “difficult.”  Nowadays, when you think of National Parks, you envision hordes of people and traffic jams.  This is not the case with the Congaree National Park.  From the beginning, the vast majority of this Park was classified as “Federal Wilderness”…and has no roads and few trails.  It is an easy place to get lost, because the land is so flat, there are no recognizable landmarks.  Several of us found this out on our scouting trip the previous fall.  But, because of its remoteness and difficulty of access, it offered us a great opportunity for a weekend adventure!

Our weekend canoe trip began in perfect weather and near perfect water levels in Cedar Creek…the small tributary of the Congaree River, which flows through the Congaree Park.  I was told that few people float Cedar Creek for several reasons.  The major one is that the Park Service treats the Park as well as the Creek as “wilderness”…and as such, only does minimal clearing of the Creek when blowdowns block the channel. 

On our trip, blowdowns resulted in our having to cross sometimes over, under, or around about 8-10 major blockages with our canoes over the 8-mile paddle.  This resulted in muddy, wet feet and legs when we had to get out of the canoes, but our gear stayed dry…which was the most important thing. 

Saturday was a warm day…so the blowdowns were more of an inconvenience than a problem.  The other major issue with floating Cedar Creek is the fluctuating water level.  On our trip, the water level was fairly constant.  However, I was told that it can fluctuate dramatically over a short period of time depending primarily on rainfall.  And, the whole 22,000 park floods as many as 6 times a year…and then the Creek channel disappears completely.

Our campout, Saturday night, in the backcountry of the Park was everything you would expect from a river canoe trip through a southern swamp…barred owls and frogs calling throughout the night and numerous other critters moving just beyond the campfire.  Those sounds and images, combined with the Spanish moss hanging from the trees, made us think of the ghosts of past explorers who passed this way before us.

Sunday’s paddle was completely different from the first.  Instead of the narrow, closed-in channel of Cedar Creek, we found ourselves in the middle of the wide and deep Congaree River.  Our leisurely 12-mile paddle on the Congaree to our take out point bordered the Park the entire route, giving us a good view of the almost jungle-like appearance of the Congaree Park with its massive trees and rich ecosystem. 

This Park is a great place for an incomparable weekend adventure – which we will definitely be doing again!  Look for it on the GO calendar next spring.

For pictures of our trip, click on http://public.fotki.com/DickA/congaree-national-park/congaree-national-p/.  Hit slideshow to see them all.

© 2007 Gay Outdoors ; All Rights Reserved.

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