Black River, South Carolina, March 2003
I joined a few other Palmetto Paddlers for a return to the Black River, near Kingstree, South Carolina. I had last paddled this stretch in 2001. Cold, rainy weather earlier in the week had turned off many prospective paddlers, but the few of us who braved the chilly morning fog to get there were rewarded with a warm, pleasant day. The river was fairly high, nearly 11 feet on the USGS graph, but it turned out to be an easier paddle than the last time I was there (which was about 9.6 feet).
Our group had three kayaks (Kate, Roy, and me) and one canoe (Bob), and we put in near a bridge on SSR 35, just off SC 527. I was surprised to be bothered by a few bugs this early in the year, but once we were underway they disappeared. The breeze was cool at first, but the sun started to warm things up quickly. We didn't paddle hard, just going along with the current when it was going our way, and working a little harder when it wasn't. The Black is a very twisty river and we spent a lot of the day making one turn or another.
We saw mostly winter-bare trees along the way, but there were a few signs of spring. Green ferns were sprouting all over the limbs of some trees, and newly-green Spanish moss was hanging in others. Wildlife was fairly elusive, just a few small birds high in the trees, or the occasional hawk overhead. We did have two lucky encounters: a fat mammal (a beaver or otter?) swimming nearby in the flooded trees, and a long yellow rat snake that swam right up to the bow of my kayak. The snake alone made it worth the long drive!
We floated by various manmade structures, from shoreside cabins to flooded fish camps and tree platforms. Some of the structures were familiar to me, though they looked strange in the deeper water. The school bus had not moved an inch, but someone had put a camper too close, and it was partially submerged. We did manage to find a perfect spot for lunch, a tiny island with a high-and-dry picnic table.
The trip was about 15 miles, and took most of the daylight hours. Last time I went the trip ended in Gilland Park in Kingstree, but the park was flooded and closed. So we continued down the river about a mile to the landing near the US 52 bridge in town.
Thanks to Kate for scouting the trip the week before and planning it! As a side note, a local saw us at the put-in (as we were packing to head home) and said it's a bad place to leave cars, and that the owner of a nearby trailer would allow you to keep them there (make sure you ask!).