Turkey & Stevens Creeks

Turkey Creek Rapids. Photo by Brian O'Cain.

Yesterday I went on a spur-of-the-moment paddling trip with my friends Joe and Brian. I’ve wanted to paddle the Turkey and Stevens creeks ever since a missed attempt in 2001. The area has very steep banks and the water level is often too high or too low for safe paddling. Combine that with busy schedules and it’s a creek you can’t paddle too often. But Monday’s steady rains had provided the right amount of water for a run, so we jumped at the opportunity.

(See the photo album)

We parked two vehicles at the take-out (SC 23 at the Modoc Bridge) and drove up to the put-in (Edgefield County Road 68 at the Key Bridge) in Brian’s truck. As we were preparing, we saw a huge limb break from a tree across the creek and crash to the ground. It reminded me of the “if a tree falls in the woods” philosophy question. Well, we heard this one fall!

By the time the boats were loaded, the fog had burned off and the sun appeared. The put-in is on a slope with some muddy wooden stairs and a space next to it for sliding boats. We had to lower the boats down the slope with ropes on the bows and sterns of the kayaks. Then it was off on the Turkey Creek! The water level was running at nearly 4 feet when we got underway, and was still rising.

We got underway at about 11:45 AM and were soon in a totally wild area surrounded by huge trees and steep banks, leading up to high bluffs. The temperature was perfect: 60s increasing to the low 70s by the afternoon. Every once in a while we’d round a bend into an area where the bluffs blocked a lot of the sun, and the temperature would drop noticeably.

This area was apparently affected by glacial activity, and we passed several interesting rock formations along the banks. Some rocks appeared to have been compressed flat layers, then turned upward at an angle and broken off, leaving a jagged edge. The rocks I saw in the middle of the creek were smoother, but I’d hate to impact one of the sharper ones hidden by high water.

The water was flowing well and we moved quickly downstream. It wasn’t long before we hit a fairly strong rapid…at least it was the biggest one I’ve ever paddled in my flatwater 14.5 foot kayak. I made it through unscathed, and even enjoyed it. Brian had gone through first and snapped a great shot of my run.

Turkey Creek Trees

Along our route we passed dozens of large cypress and sycamore trees. It’s unusual and wonderful to see the cypress trees in a rocky and hilly setting; I’m used to seeing them in the lowcountry swamps. Brian and Joe noted that they didn’t see any smaller cypress trees and wondered if the conditions had changed since the big ones took root. As we reached the confluence with Stevens Creek, a breeze blew in and a big cloud of pollen drifted down from one of the trees on the bank. I’d never seen such a thing.

When we reached Stevens Creek, the creek widened a bit and straightened out some. There was a little less whitewater too. Joe and Brian had paddled this stretch nearly a year ago on a Palmetto Paddlers trip, and Joe had told me of a visible drop-off in the water that we had to run. I was anticipating it the whole way, but the drop never came…apparently the higher water covered it all up.

At one point we came to a small rapid and I rode up over a concealed tree that slowed me down for a few seconds. I turned and saw Brian coming up on it, thinking that he knew about it, but he didn’t see it and it caught him and turned his shorter kayak sideways. He made a nice save by scooting across while bracing himself on the bow of Joe’s kayak.

The wildlife was quite active. We spent a lot of time floating with the current and quietly listening to our surroundings. There were ducks, hawks and other birds along the way. We spotted several deer up on the high banks, and even saw one exiting the water for higher ground. Joe and Brian saw an otter pass right by my kayak, but I was looking for it further in the distance and missed it. I did get to see a beaver make a close inspection of our group. One beaver spent a long time slapping its tail, possibly to warn others of our visit. We also ran across several turtles enjoying the sun.

It didn’t take us long to get down the Stevens Creek and before we knew it, we heard traffic on the Modoc Bridge and saw the stairway for the take-out. The take-out was similar to the put-in, but did not have a space next to the stairs for sliding the boats out, so we had to haul the boats right up the stairs. Brian got out first, but his boat slipped his pull rope and Joe and I had to chase down the kayak in the steady current. Once we were out, we sat down for lunch, since the water level really left us no good place to stop along the length of the trip. We finished around 2:30 PM…it was a quick 7+ mile trip!

I used GPSVisualizer to make a map of the trip. I used the color-by-speed option and you can see where some of the rapids were by the higher speeds. You can also have a look at the GPS track coordinates and a graph of the water levels for February 21-22.

Many thanks to Brian and Joe for including me on a fascinating trip!

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