I was invited again by Paul Ferguson to go back down into South Carolina to map out some more paddle trails this past weekend. The destination was the Black River, the upper part. This section is not listed in the old SC Paddling Guide, it only begins in that book when the Pocotaligo enters the Black.
We were doing the upper part of the Black. I waited for Paul on I-95 and we caravanned down to exit 132 on I-95 headed south on Hwy 527 which took about two hours drive from exit 52 in NC. We arrived at the take out on SSR 35, Mt. Vernon Rd and parked the vehicles, walked down to look at the river and then loaded my boat and gear in Paul's van. We drove up Hwy 527 to the put in on June Burn Rd SSR 40. The put in is the third bridge you cross and river looked good, however you can't always go by the look of the river from the bridge and that was the case here.
After loading our canoes we were on the river by 1130. Paul said to pack light and bring a hammock in case we could not find dry land to camp on and also in case there were a lot of trees to pull over. Before we even left sight of the bridge, we hit the swamp, with no defined river channel, we scooted along for the next three miles trying every route possible. Paul had marked some waypoints and we tried to stick to these but was tough and we even had to back track to find other routes.
We had one tree that Paul pulled his canoe across and I was able to push mine under and climb over the tree back into the canoe. We finally made it out to a channel we could follow. I am not sure of the mileage but soon the Pocotaligo entered from the right. About two miles or so we passed Camp Harmony on the left, a residential treatment camp for emotionally disturbed boys according to Paul. We did not see the camp but a road coming into the river.
We started to enter Martin's Lake, a wide spot in the river and we saw a piece of relatively dry ground which we figured we could camp on. Prior to setting up camp we made it back into the swamp to look at a huge tree stump we saw from the river. It looked massive but was really not that big when we got to it. We came back out to the high ground to camp.
Now I use "high ground" and "dry ground" rather loosely as it was damp in there, but we could make it work. We set up our Hennessy Hammocks and sat down for a relaxation period, Paul with his tea and me with my cold beer. I did not bring a cooler due to weight but only a soft cooler with no ice. It sufficed. We had come about 7.1 miles not counting the back tracking we did earlier in the swamp.
I saw deer, egrets, a heron, a crane, wood ducks and one snake early in the swamp, although I heard lots of "plop" in the water and convinced myself they were just turtles and not snakes. I am not sure what Paul had to eat for supper that night but since we were going light, I took a Hormel brand Compleats microwave meal cooked in a pot. The dinner was called Chicken Chipotle in a Pasta linguini. It looked like yellow baby doo-doo and did not taste good to me. I had to suck down a serving of peaches to get the taste out of my mouth.
That night we were able to start a small fire with the scarce amount of dry firewood and then watched the firefly show. Next morning, we both were up, although I did not sleep that good in my hammock and should have gotten up earlier as I tried a Thermarest pad for warmth and the thing slipped all night in the hammock. I had oatmeal, a honey bun and coffee for breakfast. Everywhere we had walked around in camp was really wet and was glad for the hammock as my weight in a tent, I probably would be floating.
Sunday morning we left camp and headed down river. We encountered a couple more lakes and made the take out after about 6.36 miles at 1:30 pm at Mt Vernon Rd.
This was probably one of the prettiest swamp rivers I have paddled, however you need to paddle with the water at the only gauging station at Kingstree, SC when it is 8.8 or higher with a cfs of 1400. Here is the gauge:
The first three miles of the Black River on the section we went was very swampy and this is why I rated this trip as moderate to difficult.
Mad River Guide Solo and Mad River Explorer
Get off of I-95 at exit 132 in SC and travel South on Hwy 527 to state road SSR35 Mt. Vernon Rd, this is the take out. Put in is on June Burn Rd state road SSR40
Topo maps in GPS and off the internet