The Altamaha River, March 2000

We hadn’t planned on being in rural Georgia, but when the Edisto River in South Carolina went from low water to flood stage 2 days before we left for our trip, other plans had to be made.
Dave Seslar and I decided that the Altamaha on the central Georgia coast would be a good plan B.  I talked to the people at the Altamaha Wilderness Outpost, and the owner Rick Wolf sketched a tentative river trip of  81 miles from Beards Bluff to  Darien , and 5 days to paddle the distance. Dave and I have charts of the coastal area we paddled 3 years ago, and we felt we could find our way to Darien – If we could the road to the put-in! Do you have any idea how many time 5 cars can miss an unmarked sand road in rural  Georgia  at night?  More than you would think, I tell ya what!  Only after a exstensive survey of Route 301 by 5 drivers and a phone call to the campground were we able to find the magical road to the put-in.

This large river is one of the best examples of a southern coastal stream. Some of the land along the river is swampy, dominated by baldcypress, black tupelo, and other water loving trees. On higher ground, the forest is a mixture of bottomland hardwoods, notably overcup oak and water hickory. Some sections along the river have been converted from the native bottomland forests to commercial pine production.  Vast tracts of land, barrier marsh islands and swamps are protected by the federal and state gov'ts as  well as the Nature Conservancy, corporate and private citizens. These combined areas are referred to as  the Altamaha River BioReserve. Paddling through this wilderness area includes the Lewis Island Natural Area, a tidal swamp with old growth cypress.

This a big, isolated river.  Imagine paddling the  Ohio river, but there are no towns or development on the banks.  

We put in at Beards Bluff (loading our boats in the flooded “Tents Only” campground) on Sunday, March 26.  For the next 5 days, solid ground would become a rarity. The river was much lower than our last trip in 1998, but the water was still in the trees and campsites hard to find, especially for 14 people and a dog.  The entire trip justifed itself with the sandbar we found on Wednesday.  

Even though we could paddle for 3 more hours, some places just cry out for an early stop. This sandbar is one of the most perfect campsites I have ever encountered on a river.  A gleaming expanse of white sand, with shade for comfort and the river for swimming. 

When rivers are high, some of the wildlife becomes harder to sight - we never did see any living alligators.  I big treat for me was seeing a sounder of wild pigs (razorbacks!) crossing a stream – they look like black Volkswagens with legs!  Another treat was seeing flocks of White Ibis doing precision acrobatics over the river. Dan Mecklinburg was kept busy trying to ID the warblers, and pointed out a swallow-tailed kite, to the delight of all. Also sighted were Osprey and Bald Eagles.

I have some remarkable memories – that magnificent sandbar campsite, lightning striking 100 ft away from my boat(!!!!), the astounding amount of Jolly Rancher wrappers we found in Gregs’ kayak, the smell of rotting alligator, the pure sensual delight of warm sand and cool water on a perfect day, watching that lazy dog race like a maniac on the sandbar, 

Libby’s laugh, seeing a cypress that was a seedling when the Roman Empire fell, precision Ibis acrobatics, Wild Pig Surprise!, Rex finding the Lost Hatch of the Kayak, and stretching our legs in a foot of water cause we didn’t have any dry land around!

Many thanks to trip leaders Dave Seslar and Keith Finn, and our supporting cast of trippers; Sharon Hsu, Jennifer Thurmond, John Lane, Rex Lane, Jeff Haven, Greg Karoly, Ellen Carter, Libby Ciolek, Bob Lauer,  Dixie Lauer, Dan Mecklenburg, Marilyn Heid, and Sirius.

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