Thursday, January 9, 2014

Swamp to Sea - South Carolina

In a perfect world, I would be out on a new expedition every other week. The thrill of packing up everything you need and living out of a kayak for four days is as liberating and empowering as walking around the house you bought, naked. When I start brainstorming these trips, it's always fueled by some type of fanciful photo I want to make and then the rest of the trek becomes a blank canvas to be filled with adventure and discovery.

My friends Van Whitehead, the deputy director of Upstate Forever, Mark Musselman the property manager of Francis Beidler Forest, and Joe Guthrie from the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition all thought this was a pretty good idea after looking at maps back in May. A bold one, though, it looked doable—or at least worth a try. It would be a maze of braided cypress sloughs and lots of backwoods portages over fallen trees through Four Holes Swamp for roughly 80 miles until we reached the ocean at Edisto.

As with all adventures, nothing goes as planned, and that's alright with me. The purpose was to follow the blackwater through Four Holes Swamp, down the watershed and natural corridors to the Edisto River (the largest free-flowing blackwater river in the US), and out to the ocean. South Carolina's state director of Audubon, Norman Brunswig, along with many other organizations has been protecting properties along this watershed for over 40 years, including the largest stand of virgin cypress and tupelo swamp in the world. Navigating some of these areas on a four-day trek would hopefully lend better insight as to the great accomplishments that have been made and also what more can be done.

Joe Guthrie pauses for a breather while hauling his kayak and gear .75 miles to the put-in. Photo © Mac Stone
Van Whitehead hauls his canoe to the water through the dark of night at 11:00PM. Off to a great start. Photo © Mac Stone
Our first night in the swamp, Joe and I set up hammocks between tupelo trees. Unfortunately we didn't get to sleep until 5:00am, running on the adrenaline of the adventure to come and the photos being made. Photo © Mac Stone

The only good light we had all trip was the first morning, but it did not disappoint. The cypress trees and braided channels of Four Holes Swamp are without match. Photo © Mac Stone
Of course we found many snakes, we lost count after 30. This water mocassin posed nicely for a few minutes. Photo © Mac Stone
Photo © Mac Stone
The first day was the hardest, with a long slog through the swamp, portaging our gear nearly a mile to avoid encroaching on private property. Photo © Mac Stone
Mark Musselman navigating skinny water in Four Holes Swamp. Photo © Mac Stone
In the remote sections of the swamp, we saw lots of wildlife. Photo © Mac Stone
Photo © Mac Stone
When we started approaching the Edisto River, we started to see clear signs of civilization and the difference between old growth swamp and timber lands. Photo © Mac Stone
Along the Edisto River the fall colors started to show on the high bluffs. Photo © Mac Stone
On the third night I was surprised when my hammock ripped open and birthed me out the bottom. Fortunately, I was over dry land this time: a very rare and fortunate thing. Photo by Joe Guthrie
Of course we couldn't resist the rope swings. Photo © Mac Stone
Photo © Mac Stone
Photo © Mac Stone
Our last night on the trip, we camped on a small dry spit of land and built a small fire. Drying clothes and making PB&Js, we were dreading the 6:00am departure to beat the tides. Photo © Mac Stone
Van checks his gear, readying for the arduous paddle to the coast. Photo © Mac Stone
Photo © Mac Stone
Beaten and battered, we finish strong and then have to find a way of cramming all of this gear and four people into my truck. From left: Mac Stone, Van Whitehead, Joe Guthrie, Mark Musselman. Photo © Mac Stone