My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Help! Where's the Shelter

After taking several canoe routes out of the Suwannee Canal Recreation Area, I decided to graduate to do a trip out of Kingfisher Landing. I got my canoe loaded the evening before and only had to add lunch, food and water since the rest of my canoeing gear lives in my car.

Sunrise from Kingfisher Landing

I got to Kingfisher Landing, which is only about a half-hours drive north of here, just as the sun was coming up.  I quickly got ready, and blithely started my paddle down the long and mostly straight canal.  I planned to paddle mostly south on the green trail to the Bluff Lake Shelter. The day quickly turned cloudy but was still beautiful.  I got to see my first Georgia cedar waxwings as well as enjoy an osprey. I was always accompanied by the high-pitched chips of yellow-rumped warblers.  And for a large part of the way I always had three to five tree swallows swooping all around me. Phoebes were also present and several of them occurred in pairs. The day quickly warmed up and I was glad I had worn my sandals  instead of my boots.

Ready to sign in and unload

Clearing is underway

Cold toes warming up

Part of a flock of cedar waxwings under still-cloudy skies

I found the same kinds of signage  here as I had on the other trails I'd paddled, at least at first.  I was able to stay on course for the first  seven plus miles.  But then I came to a lake.  There were no tall,white-tipped poles to guide me any further.  And no signage.  I looked ahead to what appeared to be a solid bank.  I looked to the right and saw a weather station/depth gauge. I figured the shelter must be up near it and paddled  up the lake.
Follow the green signs

But still nothing - no channels and no structures.  Then I started to worry that I'd gotten my information from our paper map and not from our website which lists the routes and the shelters that are open.  I thought the fire might have burned it down and that is why I couldn't find it.  I further reasoned that perhaps the trail was closed here and that I could explore a likely place and see if I could wiggle through on one or more alligator trails. That's when disaster hit.  I managed to wiggle about  100 feet  into tight shrubs growing on jams little batteries - small patches of peat that have been blown lose from the bottom and are now floating. But it was obvious that I couldn't actually paddle here. At this point, I called the administration office and told Judy I couldn't find the shelter.  She told me it was across the lake from the mouth of the channel I'd come down.

I think I' will escape - only feet to go

 I started back out - turning around was REALLY fun - and again spent several minutes fighting my way back out.  Fortunately, I've spent a lot of time doing this kind of paddling and my canoe, Swamp Sprite, is good at it. We were soon out of that predicament and paddling around the edge of the lake so we wouldn't miss the channel.  I found the channel and in less than a half mile, got to the shelter.

Bluff Lake Shelter

I enjoyed a well-earned lunch and rest there.  Then I paddled another half mile up the channel.  Within a few strokes, I realized I'd left my camera on the table at the shelter.  So I didn't get any pictures.  But I thought the scenery was getting even prettier as I continued the paddle.  There is a blockage ahead and I really wanted to see it but I'm still trying to find my limits so was afraid to go much past the expected sixteen miles I knew I had to do. So I turned around, retrieved my camera and started back under now sunny and warm skies.

Pitcher plants are regrowing

But  only about a half mile after I entered the channel, I came to obviously new territory.  I was at the entrance to another larger lake than I'd come from and one that had not been on my route coming in. I checked my GPS and saw I was going south and knew I should be going north.  I retraced my route back to the first lake, looking all the while for where I'd somehow made a wrong turn.  When I didn't find any turns, I turned around and went back to the new lake, still looking for the missing turn.

Views on the way back were prettier under sunny skies

 Finally my blonde brain suggested that possibly I'd been in the wrong channel all the while.  I knew I was at the bottom of the lake so started back towards the weather station.  Only about fifty feet away, I saw the correct channel.  After that it was a piece of cake to find my way home.  But I did go back towards various way-points I'd set on the way in so I'd have a backup if I took another wrong turn. I now understand how one can get lost here.  I'll not ever count on having marked trails here again.  But I'd rather have to depend on navigation than marked trails anyway. It makes for both more interesting paddling and the ability to go explore unmarked places.

Golden Club, aka Never Wet is blooming

Marsh, shrubs and trees AND a recognized channel

 Our bookstore just got in a wonderful National Geographic map of the refuge.  It is designed to be carried in a boat and is huge and very detailed.  As soon as I entered it into our stock, I bought a copy. And I'm getting a new GPS since I can't use mine with a computer and can't download maps because it's too old. I'll definitely be better prepared for my next trip.  Now just need to get my canoe fixed or or find another ride. (I forgot to mention, that when I stopped to stretch my back, I ran up on a little battery.)  Then I had to go to the back thwart and push off which, in turn made my thwart break away from the gunnel.  Soon after that, my seat came out of its track and I fell to the bottom of the boat.  Had to make a lasso our of my bow line to hold everything together until I got back. )

I loved these dead, but still colorful pitcher plants

I've also notified the Refuge of the lack of trail markers.  Hopefully, they'll get some volunteers to replace them.

I did take some waypoints.

Shelter: N 30.87817, W 082.15057

Postscript, March 5, 2014

I just found Google Earth can pull info off my GPS.  So now you too, can see my wanderings through Bluff Lake and down to Half Moon Lake.