Lake Jocassee, August 12, 2000
After a successful day of paddling the Saturday before in Augusta, I thought it might be cool to go again. We awoke early and loaded the boats on the truck, our dog Casey fretting about being left behind two Saturdays in a row. But she's way too big for a ride in the 'yaks. Soon we were on our way, passing Anderson and Clemson and winding our way into the South Carolina mountains.
After a two hour ride, we pulled into Devil's Fork State Park around 10 am. The place was pretty busy and we had a hard time finding a good place to park so that we wouldn't have to haul the boats very far. We found a spot near the main boat ramp, short on distance to the water, but well up a rocky hill. The only spaces available were trailer spaces, and I was a little concerned that some parking police would take issue, but I left my truck there anyway.
It was a beautiful day, hot but not too hot, a few clouds under a crisp blue sky. As we began to unload our boats, the boat ramp and parking became a complete zoo. Trucks with boats on trailers were lined up down the street toward the park entrance. We decided to hike the kayaks down to the beach for the put-in to avoid the traffic on the boat ramp. It was a lengthy walk, but worth it. I pulled out my camera to snap a picture from the beach. Some woman came running down to the beach yelling at me. Finally she got near and asked if it was with WXYZ (some station or other). I told her no and she offered no explanation. I wondered why my 35mm camera would have tagged me as someone from either a TV station or a radio station. Whatever. We got set up, put on our PFDs, and headed out into the big lake.
Lake Jocassee is a manmade reservoir, built by Duke Power in the late 1960s and filled in the early 1970s for hydroelectric power. It is very deep in places and frequented by scuba divers doing deeper dives. From what I've heard and read, there's not much to see underwater except the tops of trees from the flooded gorge and miscellaneous junk sunk there for diving entertainment. It's also very cold down there. Back on top the water was clear and the temperature was perfect.
The busy boat ramp made for busy boat traffic on the water too. Speedboats and pontoons moved by in all directions, stirring up the lake into a small chop with the aid of the steady breeze. Not too much of a problem...we just had to keep a close lookout for boats and some of the rockier shores where the waves were beating. Almost immediately we starting seeing other paddlers on the water. Sea kayaks in all colors were cruising along the shores.
I decided to bring my good camera along on this trip, reasonably assured that I could keep it dry. I put it between my legs on the kayak floor with a hand towel wrapped around it to absorb some stray drops. This worked well for the whole trip, although I did put the camera away in a hatch for a while after a rough beach landing. Your camera will be pretty safe as long as you don't roll the boat!
We headed up one side of the lake, passing lots of pine trees and muddy, eroded banks. The prolonged southern drought had apparently lowered the water level a couple feet, giving the lake a "ring around the tub" look. We stopped at one of these banks and my foot sank six inches into the goopy clay. Every once in a while we'd pass a reasonable beach, which always seemed to be occupied. I wondered how the people got there until I saw glimpses of the Devil's Fork campground through the trees. Around a bend we came upon an old boat ramp and some scuba divers getting ready to go in. I expected to see more divers since I've heard that there's a lot of weekend diving, but maybe they were somewhere else; we only saw three or four people.
Shortly we came toward another boat ramp where some more kayakers were putting in. There was a calm rocky shore nearby, so we decided to stop for lunch. We carefully beached the boats on the rocky shelf, made out of a coarse and brittle shale-like material. It was a challenge to keep from scratching our plastic kayaks. We found some shade, sat on a big rock, and ate our lunch while we watched the entertainment from the boat ramp. It was a long and narrow ramp with a fairly steep incline. Several paddlers were preparing for a camping trip as the park does have a paddle-in campground somewhere. I cringed as one man moved his kayak down the ramp by sliding it 20 feet down the asphalt with his foot. Another man arrived in a pickup with a large boat on his trailer and had a hell of a time turning the thing around on the narrow road to back it up into the water.
After lunch we loaded up the boats for some more exploring. We crossed the boat ramp area just as the camping kayakers were starting to leave. I thought it might be cool to cross over to the far shore and see what was there. Then I thought we might go closer to the dam and work our way back down the other side. So we started the crossing. Jen got uncomfortable as we hit the stretch of open water with some broad swells. But she kept paddling steadily and did a fine job of it. Eventually we hit the far shore and I realized that my original plan of circling the shores would be too much for the day. We pulled into our own private beach under the pines and hilly green peaks visible on the horizons. Now this was nice! We swam a while and chatted while drinking more water and eating some fruit.
There is apparently some unwritten rule that you don't land on a beach when someone is already there. We figured this out after watching a couple boats drive by "our" beach and then move away. Something like vultures ready to pounce on what was left of the kill, only these birds left big wakes that knocked our beached kayaks around. Eventually we departed the beach after applying a fresh coat of sunscreen, and two boats raced for the shore before we were 100 feet away.
The sun took its toll and we basically decided to head back in the same direction we came. We took our time and paddled back toward the first boat ramp on an ever-more-crowded lake. After a couple miles and without much of a stop, we were back. This time we decided to hike our boats up the ramp itself to avoid the longer roundabout path. The steeper hill and the unstable rocks on the edge of the ramp made the return to our truck just as much effort. We slowly loaded the kayaks on the truck and had our parking space commandeered before we had even left it! It was nice to get back on the road after a good day of fun in the sun, headed for home.
Lake Jocassee...a very beautiful place to paddle...just get there early or on a weekday!
P.S. We ended up making it up to Casey by taking her hiking twice and camping at the beach later in the month.
Technical Note: I shot the photos from this trip using Fuji SuperHQ 100 speed film, and while I generally like Fuji film, I found this type to be far too grainy for a 100 speed film. It's worth the extra bucks for the better grade film.