Black River Expedition - Feb 23-28, 2003
This trip has been in the planning stage of sorts for about a year or more. The serious planning stage started the later part or 2002 and a date was set. The original start date was to be 22 Feb 03, but due to heavy rains and strong winds, it was decided to start on Sunday, Feb 23, 2003. Note: All mileage figures were taken off my GPS and may vary from other sources due to shortcuts, different satellite reads, etc. and all mileage is from the put in location.
Day 1 - The Beginning - Feb 23, 2003
Wayne Charles, Myron Whitley, and his dog Isaac, arrived at my house in Salemburg, NC, and we loaded my canoe and gear on the truck for the short journey to our put in, at Hwy 903, Lisbon Bridge, which is Cleon Lanier's house where we were to leave Myron's truck. I had already left my truck in Wilmington, NC the previous Friday for us to make the return trip. After loading our canoes and the usual picture taking, we shoved off around 1112 hrs, on the Great Coharie Creek, a tributary of the Black River. The water level was high due to the rain the day before and the gauging station down river 6.2 miles at Clear Run on the Black, read over 8 ft with a 1200 cfs flow. Approximately one half mile from the put in a large tree caused us to portage on river left but this was easy due to the low bank. Approximately 1.1 miles, where Great Coharie Creek and Six Runs Creek meet, the Black River begins. We had strong winds, sometime headwinds, and sometime tailwinds but strong that required maneuvering. We reached Clear Run Bridge, 6.2 miles around 1355 hrs. Cleon was on the bridge to take some pictures as we passed under. At 1508 hrs and 9.5 miles from the put in, we saw a nice camp location on river left. After setting up camp we sat around with some cool beverages. Later we started the charcoal for the steak dinner we were to enjoy. After dinner we sat around the campfire telling stories, drinking hot chocolate, which became a regular nighttime ritual, wondering what was ahead of us in the days to come. Most of the wildlife seen on this day was hawks and buzzards.
Day 2 - Feb 24, 2003
After waking up to ice on the water bucket, we sat around our campfire drinking coffee. I brought and cooked the first morning's breakfast, which was scrambled eggs, and country ham. We packed and left our camp at 0958 hrs, and made it to the Hwy 41 Bridge12.3 miles, at 1100hrs. Everyone brought our own lunch for the trip, and we stopped at the 17.8 mile mark, for lunch at 1300 hrs. Below the Black River Hunting Club on river right, a tree was down but we were able to get through it. We passed under Newkirk's Bridge on Wildcat Rd at 1345 hrs and 18.1 miles. At 1600 hrs and 24.6 miles we saw a camping place on river left. That night for dinner, it was Myron's turn to cook and he whipped up beef stroganoff and then some dessert , blackberry cake made in his Outback Oven. After we ate, we sat around the fire at night drinking chocolate. One thing about the fire, is that some people make a lean to fire, some a log cabin fire, and some a teepee fire, but Myron describes Wayne's fire as a beaver lodge fire with wood just piled on top. Wayne says it works but Myron said he sometime had his doubts. We went to bed with owls serenading us to sleep and Isaac keeping a constant vigil.
Day 3 - Feb 25, 2003
Myron cooked the breakfast this morning consisting of fried eggs (scrambled for Wayne), cheese grits and side meat. We put in at 0920 hrs with the river level now above 8.5 ft and 1350 cfs. At mile 25.3 we passed the old concrete railroad trestles that look like huge monoliths about 50 ft tall from days gone by. It was these very tracks that help cause the demise of riverboat traffic from Wilmington to almost where we put in at a town once called Lisbon, now gone from the maps. At mile25.9 we passed under the Dr. Kerr Bridge and on to the boat access at Ivanhoe, 27.0 miles at 1000 hrs. At mile 30.3 we were at the primitive camp, which is at the end of a high bluff on river right. There is a sign with a number that the camp can be reserved for camping through an agreement with International Paper, Cape Fear River Watch manages the site and can be contacted at 800-380-3485. Further downstream the South River runs into the Black at mile 30.8 and at mile 32.2, which is Ironmine Point we stopped for lunch. This spot is a point of land on river right with concrete picnic tables and an archway that proclaims the name and a trash barrel. This has been a favorite lunch stop on this section and there are not any "Posted" signs, there is a trash can which paddlers need to use and even clean up if the last visitors did not. It was at this location that when we were leaving that almost DISASTER hit. I was back paddling and trying to adjust the cushion on my canoe seat when I rolled the canoe to the right enough for water to come in and then when I stepped out the water, it was over my boot. Thanks to Myron and Wayne they bailed out the water while I changed socks. The weather was nice and sunny so I did not change pants or shirt, as they would dry fast. We passed under Beatty's Bridge at mile 34.2 and at mile 35.6 at 1400 hrs we stopped at Henry's Landing to take on water, this is where we saw our first person on the water in a boat. Below Henry's Landing we rounded a bend and saw wild turkeys. Due to high water we decided to try and go as far as we could as land on river left was Cone's Folley and posted. We paddled through the Narrows at mile 40.3 at 1548 hours and were at Haw Bluff at 1615 hrs mile 41.6. Finally at 1630 hours at mile 41.6, we found a narrow piece of dry ground about 15 ft wide and 50 ft long on river right with the river on the left of us and swamp on the right. That night we decided to have our last steak dinner and Myron baked carrot cake, while Wayne made his beaver lodge fire.
Day 4 - Feb 26, 2003
Wayne's big day. Today, Wayne fixed his pancakes for the first time on a camping trip and they were great! I ate the first one and it turned out good. After breakfast and coffee and dishes, we left camp at 0920 hrs. This day was overcast and we had heard there was going to be rain by nightfall and all day tomorrow. We passed Sparkleberry Landing at mile 44.4 and Hwy 53 bridge at 44.8 at 1027 hrs. At Hunt's Bluff, wildlife boating access area, mile 46.5 we stopped for a break. We passed Red Star Camp on river left at 1203 hrs, mile 48.7, and at mile 50.3 we stopped for lunch. After lunch we saw our first deer, both were running down the edge of the river on a bank with their white tails highly visible. Hwy 210 bridge came up at mile 50.9 at 1319 hrs, and Moore's Creek at 54.2 miles or 1430 hrs. We still had good current as water levels were above 8 ft with 1250 cfs. Bear Branch cuts into the Black River at mile 55.2. It was getting cloudy and we worried about rain so we started looking for campsite. This is impossible as there is no high ground. The only high ground I saw on the topo map was at Hedden Bluff Landing, an old riverboat landing. Wayne saw some pine trees back in the swamp near D Island, and we weaved our way back in the small creek to find our campsite up the hill in these pine trees at mile 57.2 and 1530 hrs. We set up a tarp for the first time as the clouds look threatening. For the meal that night, I cooked a Ramen noodle, teriyaki vegetable, chicken dish and Wayne made a cinnamon cake for dessert. As we settled in for the night the rain started coming down. Not a heavy rain but a steady drizzle.
Day 5 - Feb 27, 2003
We woke up to a steady rain/drizzle mix, not hard but steady which it had done all night. Myron fixed breakfast of fried eggs, scrambled of course for Wayne, cheese grits and side meat. Due to the rain and the fact that we knew our next campsite was not that far, we decided to wait awhile to see if the rain stopped. We finally packed up to leave and when we went down to our canoes, the water had really come up. Departure time was 1115 hrs and a half-mile later at 57.7 we were at Hedden Bluff Landing. We stopped to look at the abandoned building, which looked like a riverboat terminal due to the design and age. At the waterfront were poles with pieces of chain, which looked like, tie up places for these riverboats almost 80-100 years ago. There was plenty of high ground at this location for a camp and did not indicate it was posted. Before we reached The Thoroughfare we came to a house at Rhyne Grave, which has a view of the Black and The Thoroughfare. We finally reached The Thoroughfare at 1255 at mile 60.9. This thoroughfare runs between the Black River and the Cape Fear at the North boundary of Roan Island and can also be accessed by way of Lyon Creek, a previous Lumber River Canoe Club trip. We paddled past numerous sections of saw grass, which was pressed down, leaving to the imagination that alligators and visited or lived here. At mile 62.4 we made the Black River Cut, a shortcut, which cuts off a bend in the river and at 1342 or mile 62.8 we made our final last night camp spot at Peachtree Landing, another riverboat landing location. This is an excellent camping place but previous campers or visitors have left it trashy. The bank was rather steep for the take out but we made it and set up a tarp due to the rain, which we had paddled in all day. We waited until late in the day to set up tents when the rain stopped. At the last supper, Wayne fixed red beans, rice and summer sausage, and Myron baked corn bread. The night brought the usual campfire tales and hot chocolate.
Day 6 - Feb 28, 2003, The last day.
It was my turn again for breakfast since we voted Wayne's oatmeal down, so I cooked cheese onion omelets, bacon and grits. After cleanup, we packed and left for the final trip down to Wilmington at 0945. Two miles from our camp, 64.8 miles, 1032 hrs, we entered the Cape Fear River, which flowed in, on the right, and we could definitely see a strong current. At times we could put our paddles up and were floating at 4 mph on the GPS, due to the current and falling tide. The water was a different color, not the black water we had seen since Sunday, but a brown color and full of flotsam. My daughter had told me about fishing shacks on the Cape Fear, which you could stop and eat lunch and we found such a shack at mile 70.6. We tied our canoes to the dock and ate on the dock on the bench. A sign stated, "Please clean up after use". We passed Indian Creek, at 71.2 miles or 1300. At 1355 or mile 74.7 we passed under the railroad trestle and the Brunswick River forks off to the right, we stayed left. I called my daughter to bring my truck that we would be at the takeout within an hour or two. We passed under the Hwy 421 Bridge at 1433 or mile 77.1 and joined the NE Cape Fear at 77.3 across the water from the Cape Fear Community College research boat, Dan Moore. After coming out in view of Wilmington, we paddled close to the stern of the battleship USS North Carolina. At 78.2 miles and 1458, we completed our journey and took out at Dram Tree Park under the Hwy 17 Bridge in Wilmington.
This was a great trip, cold some days, sunny some days, wet some days, but really great. A trip that needs to be done at least once although I did not like the wide water in the lower Black Rive or Cape Fear River and think that it would be more difficult in warmer weather with boats causing extra maneuvering. Wayne always vigilant for collecting fish bobbers/floats, collected 39 and could have had more. We headed home to pick up Myron's truck at the put in, knowing that I would be home before them to a hot shower and shave.
We put in on the Little Coharie Creek, a tributary of the Black River, on State Road 903, Lisbon Bridge Rd in Sampson County, NC about 20 miles South of Clinton, NC. The take out was at Dram Tree Park, Wilmington, NC near the US Hwy 17, 74, 76 bridge.
Paddling Eastern North Carolina by Paul Ferguson, NC top maps of Black River and Cape Fear River, tide charts for Wilmington, NC.