Kayaking Cedar Creek in the Congaree Swamp

Joe Kegley, Early Oct 2002

The water level was low in the creek which made for easy if not muddy launching. I launched on the right side of the bridge that starts the Kingsnake Trail at South Cedar Creek Landing. The concrete structures used for launching on the left side did not seem very conducive for entering the creek with the low water level. Upon launching I turned downstream paddling under the bridge. The water was tea colored like some of the other black water rivers I had kayaked previously. Visibility in the water was approximately 2-3 feet. Future trips after rains and flooding would provide muddy water with little or no visibility. But that was not the case on this trip, which was my first on Cedar Creek. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day and I was looking forward to possibly spotting and capturing on film some of the floodplain's wildlife.

There were a couple of shallow areas right after the bridge. Maybe 7 to 8 inches deep. Not far downstream from the launch I came across my first creature, a snake swimming in the stream. Because the reptile held it's head three or four inches above the water, I concluded (possibly incorrectly) that it must be a water moccasin as opposed to a brown water snake. As I recall, most water snakes swim with their heads slightly above the water. I tried to catch up to the animal to get a picture, unfortunately the kayak caught on a submerged log. As I see-sawed on the obstruction the snake found his way to the bank and disappeared. There would be many more underwater snags as I proceeded downstream.

Not long after the snake sighting, a huge bird with brown wings landed on a branch in front of me. It was a barred owl. I paddled closer and readied the camera. As I was attempting the shot, the bird spread it's wings and exited my picture. This was going to be the typical scenario for the rest of the trip. I set up to take the picture and the animal bolts. At least I was getting to enjoy the wildlife for the moment. For the rest of the trip downstream I would occasionally hear the haunting call of barred owls. A reminder of the shot I didn't get.

As I continued paddling, I took many pictures of the water and the majestic Cypress trees. The Spanish moss dangling from their branches, along with the occasional hoot of the owls, gave the moment a very eerie quality. The only other sound, beside the owls and my paddle, would be a sporadic floating leaf scrapping against my hull. This place was and is magical.

My next encounter would be with what I thought was some type of water fowl. I could see movement in the stream ahead of me near a bend in the creek. There were two creatures swimming back and forth with an infrequent splash. After decreasing the distance I realized these were not 'ducks' but river otters. As I approached, one immediately submerged and was not seen again. The second otter abruptly stopped his frolicking and watched me slowly approach. After about 5 seconds of examining the strange man in the boat starting to raise his camera, the second otter submerged. I floated around the general vicinity for about 10 minutes hoping the animals would return. They didn't.

Throughout the trip there was evidence of other wildlife. I passed a couple of trees that apparently had been gnawed by beavers. When I took breaks on shore I found crayfish mud chimneys littering the ground. And much of the time the land near the bank was plowed up by rutting wild pigs.

I did eventually come across a couple of the wild pigs. On one of my breaks I was investigating some of the broken earth that I thought was probably made by the pigs when I heard a snort...snort...snort. I glanced in the general direction of the sound and eventually detected movement between the trees. I weaved in and out around the trees, following the fleeting movement, and was rewarded with the sight of a small brown pig rutting about. At that moment, I heard a loud squeal up ahead and saw a much larger black pig. This was the end of pig viewing. I bolted back to the boat and they in the opposite direction.

Other animals I encountered on the trip included deer, gar, turtles, and an elusive kingfisher. The kingfisher seemed to tease me on my trip back by always staying 50 yards in front of me. I would catch up to his perch then off he would go to find a new one. The bird was my companion on almost the whole trip back upstream.

I estimate this particular trip, downstream and back, was about 4 - 6 miles. There is a lot of creek to paddle and I left most of it unexplored. Paddling back upstream was obviously more difficult than going down, but it was manageable. Future trips in 2003 were harder due to down trees across the creek requiring portage around.

Dawson Lake

Spanish Moss

Cypress Family

Magical Stream

Beaver Gnawing

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Last modified: May 11, 2008 by Edward Kujawski (focs@mindspring.com)
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