Bates Old River, South Carolina, April 2002
I went along on a Palmetto Paddlers trip in early April. The Bates Old River is a wide, slow flowing offshoot of the Congaree River, bordered by the Congaree Swamp to the west and the Fork Swamp to the east. We had perfect weather and it was easy paddling for the most part.
The put-in is next to the Highway 601 bridge, about a mile south of Wateree, SC. You follow a bumpy dirt road down the hill next to the bridge. By the time you're there, you're well below the bridge. We had a good turnout of 7 paddlers, all in single kayaks. Myself, Steve Kelsays and his son Sean, Kate Whitaker, Dennis Catoe and his fiancée (now wife) Nicole. Brian O'Cain led the trip, and knew the waters from john-boat fishing with his dad.
As soon as we hit the water, Sean was looking for snakes. He had spent last summer learning the local snakes while clearing out the Cedar Creek. Within 30 feet of the landing he'd found a brown water snake and plucked him from his perch in a tree branch above the water. It was the first of eight snakes we'd see that day, all non-venomous brown water snakes.
After a short detour to a little nook, we started paddling the river. The northern section was very wide and easy, except for the occasional gust of wind in your face. Trees line the banks nearly everywhere, so landing areas were far between. The surrounding land is privately owned by a hunting club, so it's just as well we stayed in the boats!
As we curled around to the south, the river began to narrow. The river makes a half-loop and at the south end, we once again came upon the Highway 601 bridge, about 1.5 miles south of the put-in. As soon as we crossed under the bridge, the waters became more creek-like with lots of deadfalls around. We passed a couple and finally found a semi-dry and shady spot on the shore to stop for lunch.
After lunch we decided to venture down the creek some more, working our way past the fallen trees. There were lots of them to get around, but none were terribly difficult. It helped that there was almost no current. Eventually it became apparent that the creek wasn't getting any less crowded with deadfalls, so we turned around and headed back.
On the way back, Sean found another brown water snake and I got a chance to hold it. The snake was pretty calm, but determined to keep moving, so I had to provide him a treadmill of sorts by swapping my hands. My kayak started to drift as I held the snake, and I couldn't paddle, so I let the snake swim back to the tree. It was a water snake, after all. The snake's behavior in the water was neat: as soon as I put him into the water, he dove down and disappeared from sight, then surfaced a good distance away, headed back to his tree.
Some of the group returned to the nook near the put-in, to check for an alligator. Just as we rounded the corner, a long one slipped into the water. It sat near the edge of the lagoon, only its eyes protruding through the water. Soon its head also submerged. It was eerie knowing a big gator was in that shallow lagoon, but invisible. We waited quietly for several minutes but it never reappeared. So we headed back to the put-in to finish the trip.
Since we were in the neighborhood, Brian took most of us to the Congaree Bluffs, a neatly hidden spot that overlooks the Congaree Swamp from a couple hundred feet up. It was recently acquired by the state DNR, and there were no signs to help you find it. We enjoyed the view from a lookout deck and then later, we hiked down a trail to the bank of the Congaree River. A fine ending for an enjoyable day! Thanks to Brian for organizing the trip.