Broad River, August 3, 2003
After getting turned around in the tiny town of Peak, I met up with the group at the Highway 213 bridge. The put-in was down a muddy riverbank, and you had to step carefully. We got the boats in the water, left a few paddlers behind, and ran a shuttle to the state forest. The take-out at Harbison is behind several locked gates, so you have to file a float plan with them in advance to get the combination.
We finished the shuttle and were on the water at about 10 am. Despite the endless days of clouds, storms, and rain, we started the day with mostly clear skies, heat, and humidity. There was no wind, and the water at the put-in was as still as a lake. I bathed myself in sunscreen and began paddling. The turnout for the trip was as good as the Saluda River trip I took in April...we had sixteen paddlers among fourteen kayaks and two canoes.
Not long after we started, we passed under a railroad trestle, and the shoals began. We could hear them in the distance, a faint roar that would build as we approached. The current would speed up, and you'd have to start picking your way through the rocks.
This stretch of the Broad is below the Parr Shoals dam, and the water level varies significantly depending on the water releases from the dam. For our trip the water was fairly low, though there was always the possibility that it might rise quickly. The river had consistently steep banks on either side, limiting our opportunities to get out.
I paddled a section of this river a couple years ago, and it was the only place in South Carolina that I've ever seen bald eagles. Well, this section did not disappoint, and we saw several of them over the course of the trip. They were fun to watch; I only wish I'd have brought the binoculars. We saw a couple other raptors, and several herons. We also spotted otters fairly frequently, their heads bobbing out of the water, and saw many signs of beavers.
Eventually we got a bit of a breeze for the paddle, but it was usually in the form of a headwind. After a few miles, we were ready for a break, and had to settle on a bank of rocks in the middle of the river, near a spot where an eagle had been eating a fish. We rafted the boats together and tied them with a tangle of ropes, swam and ate lunch. I waded around a bit, but the footing was treacherous.
Back on the water, we approached a loud roar. We got closer and I still couldn't see the reason for it. It turned out to be a "shelf," where the water dropped about a foot instantly. This made for some exciting mini-whitewater action as my boat dropped over the edge, plowed into a wave, and water washed over the bow. Sean's sea kayak actually took on some water in the plunge, and he had to pump it out.
At about halfway down the stretch, we started approaching islands in the river, the first being Haltiwanger Island, which we passed on the east side. You'd think going down a river, it would be hard to get lost, but at this point, there were three small islands and four possible paths, each with varying amounts of water and rocky obstacles. We stopped for another break at the head of one island to relax and figure out which path to take. I sat in a little current on some mossy rocks, took in the sun, and enjoyed the day. Eventually we got back in the boats and decided to paddle down the far west side.
Somewhere in this stretch, Rock had some trouble on the rocks and cut his hand. Several paddlers came to his aid, but I was downstream with the front of the group. We had gone maybe half a mile when Marcus, paddling beside me, said "what's that?" and pointed into a tree beside the river. We paddled back to find a bird dangling in midair below a branch. It had a distinctive spotted tail, and Marcus identified it as a yellow-billed cuckoo. The bird had mistaken a tangled fishing lure for a meal and was stuck on the hook, about fifteen feet above the water. Occasionally it would put up a struggle, then get tired and dangle some more.
The entire group contributed to the effort. Standing on a fallen tree, Marcus and I took turns throwing a rope into the branches to see if we could snag the fishing line. We decided that we needed to get under the bird, who was over the water, so Marcus climbed into Rock's canoe, and I held the canoe by the stern while George kept the canoe in place by paddling upstream. Sean and Steve kept busy trying to string paddles together, and others went through their gear, looking for anything useful. After a dozen tries, Marcus landed the rope bag on target, and we carefully twisted the line and freed the bird. The cuckoo fell halfway to the water and then started to fly off, but the weight of the lure and weakness from his struggle caused him to land in the water. George hurriedly paddled to the bird, and plucked it from the water. He paddled to the shore where several were waiting to help. Sheila, using a multi-tool, extracted the hook and placed the cuckoo on shore. The tired bird seemed OK and skittered into the brush on the shore. It was an impressive array of skills on the water, and our group won the battle!
During the bird rescue, my Garmin GPS-12 had fallen overboard, suspended from my deck bungees in six inches of water. I'm not sure how long it was under, maybe 15 minutes, but when I returned to my boat, it was completely waterlogged and not functioning. I thought it was supposed to be waterproof, but apparently not. Don't dunk your GPS if you can avoid it!
We kept paddling. There were more shoals in this area, but nothing difficult. We started to pass a house here and there as we neared the Columbia area. A couple of them were pretty fancy. We made another stop in the late afternoon, in the lee of an island. Just a short break before the home stretch. Joe W. and I waded in the current and rode it downstream, at least until we started to hit rocks. Brian used a cell phone to check in with the Harbison rangers, and found out that it had been raining all day there. We had lucked out for our trip, but that was about to change.
We hit the water again. The sky darkened as we headed downstream, and we started to hear thunder. Blam! A lightning bolt struck off to our left, just past the shoreline. Almost immediately, it began to rain, and rain hard. Some of the paddlers were ready with sprayskirts and raincoats. Mine were out of reach in a hatch...figures! But I was already wet from swimming and more concerned with keeping away from that lightning. We hugged the shore, hoping the trees would be more favorable targets. The lightning soon dissipated, but the rain followed us all the way to the state forest, ending when we arrived.
There is a small white buoy marking the take-out at Harbison, without which you might never find it, especially if your GPS has been soaked. You have to paddle down a small creek, and there was a downed tree at the entrance. They have some steps at the take-out which are slippery and difficult, but we managed and were glad to be done. All in all, we did about 16 miles of river, a sizeable workout. Thanks to Brian for setting up the trip.