My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Making a New Friend on a New River: Camping trip on the Altamaha River, Georgia

My adventure last weekend all started with a phone call I took at the Visitor Center in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge from a lady wanting  information about paddling in the swamp on the west side.  She wanted to spend a night in the swamp, then go down the Suwanee River to Fargo. (The Suwanee drains ninety per cent of the swamp.) I didn't know a lot but was able to tell her which trails were open on that side.  I also told her I was a paddler and, in a few weeks, had friends coming to camp in the swamp and also do a overnight paddle on the St. Mary's River.  (This drains the other ten per cent of the swamp and then runs now along the east side of the swamp before turning east to carry its water to the Atlantic Ocean.)  She immediately said she wanted to come on the St. Mary's River trip.

We exchanged contact information and became Facebook friends.  After getting permission to let her join our group, I invited her to go with us.  Family obligations prevented her from joining us but she invited me to paddle with her. By last weekend, almost every river in Florida and south Georgia were flooded or very close to being flooded.  We gambled that on such as huge river as is the Altamaha, we would still be able to find some ground and no strainers. Her route from house to river came close to me so I had her pick me up at a friend's house in Folkston.  In a little over an hour, we were at the takeout, Jaycee's Landing, where we left our car and met a friend of her husband who loaded all our stuff into his pickup and hauled us upriver twenty-eight miles to Carter's Bight Landing.

First look at the river - this will be out take-out landing

Ready to leave from Carter's Bight Landing

We put in around 2:00PM into a WIDE river under cloudless skies.  With the extra water, the river was about 200 yards wide. It was quite beautiful, and only had a few batches of houses along our route.

Julie passing a house

River view

Coming in to an almost flooded out sandbar  for a rest stop

Rest stop sandbar

We drifted at around three miles per hour - with help both from the current and the wind at our backs -  and also paddled, so we had covered about seventeen miles when it got time to find a campsite. We found a huge sandbar, that was partially flooded out and started setting up camp.

The most beautiful - and ONLY sandbar we saw suitable for camping on the river
After we got our tents up and gathered firewood,we watched the sun set through the trees on the far bank while Julie cooked us a delicious supper of baked sweet potatoes, and chicken with mushrooms and cheese over the fire.

The wood was very rotten and it took a lot of it to make supper and then enjoy the fire.

Julie and  me at sunset

Last of the sunset

We stayed up late getting to know each other enjoying being together.  The night sky was beautiful.  We had few motorboats during the afternoon, but no one was on the river that night except us.  We heard feral hogs on the land behind the sandbar, but never saw them.

Morning view of another part of our sandbar

The next day dawned cool but bright and beautiful.  The area was full of birds, both the ones we knew and migrating ones.  I didn't have my binoculars with me and didn't know the songs of most of them.  An alligator spent a lot of time bellowing - a sound that sounds like the swamp snoring to me -  just up the river and out of our site.

We had breakfast and let our tents dry while we slowly packed our stuff back into our dry bags. We didn't leave until after 10:00 A.M.  The river was slightly lower but almost as fast.

We went from jackets to this in a couple of hours

We spent a lot of time just drifting to make the trip last longer.
The kind of heavy paddling we mostly did all morning

One of many houses in the water
 We also stopped a few minutes at a landing and visited with a father and his children.

Rest Stop

Little boat on a big, gentle river

A few alligators were out sunning and one challenged Julie.  It pushed her out away from a little cove. We think it was a moma protecting her babies. We took a break at another little landing but finally got down to Jaycee's Landing.

Just at the moment we pulled up to the boat launch, the couple that had hauled us to our put-in, arrived to see if we had made it back out.  Within minutes, with them helping load the kayaks, we were loaded and on our way home.

Both Julie and I hope that this will be the first of many more visits and paddle trips. I'm so grateful for getting to know her and for her generosity in taking an old lady paddling.

 This blog will come out while I'm visiting another new friend, this time in North Carolina. Then  I'll come back and work four more days, then will pack and leave. Hopefully I'll get to stop and spend two nights and a day with Julie and go on a day paddle with her on my way back to Galveston, TX.