This is the first of four posts inspired by a phenomenal group of people who are advocates and conservators for our great outdoors and plan and facilitate great outdoor experiences for the rest of us. For this a personal debt of gratitude is owed to the Georgia Conservancy and their Mr. Bryan Schroder who Ramrods their adventure outings. We had gotten to know Bryan a little at one of the presentations he participated in at an REI store when we started kayaking and then again on a kayaking tour of the Okefenokee Swamp which we will highlight in another post on the blog in coming weeks, but this trip on the Altamaha was the turning point on resuming the Goneguru blog and sharing what we saw and encouraging you to meet up with us along a trail or around the bend of a river.
The Altamaha float to Darien is part of the Georgia Conservancy’s Heartland Rivers series of outdoor adventures. Go to their link above and you’ll get full data on this great series of canoe/kayak trips sponsored by the Conservancy and open to anyone. Better yet, go to the site, become a member, make a donation to preserve our waterways, and then take a trip with the Conservancy. We had been signed up for this trip for months and had regularly gotten updates from Brian about what to expect on the trip, accommodations for tent campers, kayak and canoe rentals, and basically any information any level paddler would need to prepare for the trip. However, as the date drew nearer the forecast on the Weather Channel grew more ominous. A huge storm was projected to cross the Altamaha on Saturday as we paddled down to Darien. Being on the wide Altamaha, the largest river in Georgia and one of the largest on the East Coast, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm with high winds wasn’t on any paddler’s bucket list. Brian reported that some paddlers were dropping out due to the weather and that the Saturday paddle had been changed to an out and back across the river into the tributaries with the longer downstream paddle moved to Sunday.
Most of us gathered at the Altamaha Regional Park just inside Glynn County, Georgia on Friday afternoon, with some choosing to join us early Saturday morning. It made little difference as the frontal system provided us with grey skies, cool temperatures and high winds throughout Friday and into Saturday morning. The Altamaha was flooded out of its banks and was roaring toward the ocean. As we enjoyed the low-country boil dinner under a shelter on Friday night, Brian and the other experienced paddlers, many from the magnificent Georgia Canoe Association, began to prepare us for the next morning’s transit across the river.
Looming just below the launch point at the campground is a massive abandoned railroad bridge and midstream island that threatened to act as a boat magnet for those who didn’t judge the current correctly. Brian and representatives from the GCA talked about the crossing and strainers and what our plan was to be. The next morning we had a safety briefing before we could enter the water and once on the water a GCA paddler demonstrated how to cross the river and went to the other side to mark our target channel for entry into the back water.
One we had safely crossed the river, we headed up into one of the creeks that feed into the Altamaha. As noted the river was flooded out of its banks and the storm that had passed the night before had given us a downward temperature shift and grey skies that made the daylight paddle a little surreal.
Looking upstream, we could see that there was a clear channel for the creek as we first entered it, but our hosts and guides had warned us that the seemingly tranquil waters could be dangerous once the channel narrowed and we began to get into areas where water didn’t usually flow.
They explained that strainers are any obstruction that stops an object on top of the water from moving with the water as it flows past. Thus, when the water is out of the banks, overhanging tree limbs and shrubs reach down to and below surface of a water. A paddler who gets into one of these and grabs on will find that the water will take his boat right out from under him and gravity will put him into the water.
I can assure you that we were well-instructed and informed of the dangers, nevertheless, two of our paddlers got to experience the effects of strainers first hand and were ingloriously helped back into their kayaks, wet but un-harmed.
Of course the inhabitants of the wetlands adjacent the river have to move when the river floods and that includes the snakes. This picture isn’t very good, but you get the idea as to why there is another reason not to get caught in the strainers.
We were a cautious but not timid group so we dutifully filed through in single file where needed and kept our eyes on our fellow paddlers in case the need arose.
Sometimes the fog, flood and remnants of bygone days were simply eerie. The railroad had been built across the tributaries and presented a an eerie reminder of man’s abandoned encroachment into the river wilderness. Sometimes it wasn’t an intended abandonment at all but rather the river reclaiming its own property. We came across a fish camp with a canvas and wood hut and a porcelain sink. Of course, you’d be standing in thigh deep water to use it on the day we saw it.
After a few hours of paddling around in the creek and the flooded woods along the Altamaha it was time to head back across the big river to our camp. The GCA paddlers and experienced Georgia Conservancy paddlers, staff and volunteers took great care of the in-experienced paddlers and all the paddlers from novice to gnarly veteran finished up the day on the river with smiles and agreement that we had made a great day out of a day that threatened to be completely unusable.
That night under the big pavilion at the park, we were feed on barbecue with all the “fixin’s” or a vegetarian meal starring portabella mushrooms. Either way you couldn’t go wrong. The campers were as varied as their kayak experience with some in motor home RV’s and some in tents provided by the Georgia Conservancy, but they all agreed the trip was amazing. The weather had begun to clear and we were promised fair skies the next day so each and everyone was ready to get back on the river the next morning to head downstream the fifteen miles to Darien. If you would like to feel what its like to go on one of these amazing trips go to the Georgia Conservancy website and sign up.