Family Week-end on the
Suwannee trip report at high water
By Chris Jackson family
April 29 - May 1, 2005
Returned Sunday from our first weekend on the Suwannee River. We had a great
time. We were a little wet and a little tired, but with a great feeling of
Three adults and 4 boys were dropped off by Canoe Outpost Friday at Cone Bridge
at around lunchtime. The water level was still up (68' at the White Springs
gauge), but not enough to cause concern. Our aluminum canoes was packed down
with more gear that the entire Louis and Clark expedition. High water kept us
flowing pretty fast. Overall the trip we averaged 4 MPH.
seen tannin colored water before, but never like the Suwannee. The water looked
like very dark coffee. Even water running over the paddle or a log looked
black. I was really rather pretty.
After we had paddled for about an hour we stopped for lunch (peanut butter and
jelly burritos). The kids played in the water for a little. We didn't really
find any really nice sandbars to play on because of the high water, but kids
will make do. Right off the river was a trail that was underwater and the boys
busied themselves finding tadpoles.
Debbie told us we needed to camp at Big Shoals the first night, but because of
the water level she didn't know if we would be able to see Big Shoals. She was
afraid that we might float right over them. She gave us a series of landmarks
to be looking for and I was also tracking our distance by GPS so as not to miss
it. We were a little concerned being our first trip about finding the portage.
We made several false stops trying to find the portage. Finally we found the
portage right under the big sign that said 'Big Shoals Portage'. I don't know
how long the sign had been there, but I made a point to tell Debbie about it
when I got back.
As my luck would have it the big campsite above the Shoals that I had been told
about was occupied. So we took the next one down and started lugging our gear
over the trail. One of the men at the first campsite told me he had been coming
to the shoals for 20 years and with the high water they had paddled through the
small rapids. So after we unloaded the really important stuff (food, tents) we
paddled through the rapids with no trouble at all. The group at the main
campsite had an inflatable kayak that they were using to play in the rapids.
After setting up camp it was time for supper. We cooked steaks, French fries,
and dutch oven peach cobbler. The sound of the shoals was very relaxing, until
about an hour after dark a several ATVs came riding right by our camp. The
riders we nice, but so much for the wilderness experience. They went down to
the next campsite without too much noise.
The next morning was nice and cool. This is my favorite part of the day. We had
breakfast of pancakes and bacon. Soon we broke down camp and were on our way.
Rain was expected this afternoon or tonight so we wanted to get going early.
After paddling for about an hour we see an 8-foot gator on the bank. He never
moved just watched us as we floated by taking pictures. I still think he was
trying to figure out which one of us would taste the best. A little farther down
we saw a glimpse of another gator disappearing into the black water. Right
before we got to White Springs we saw another gator sunning on a small log. This
gator was less than a foot long. That was three gators in about 3 hours. I had
been told the Suwannee didn't have very many gators, maybe we were just lucky.
We stopped at White Springs for lunch. Several people came down from the Stephen
Foster Center and spoke with us. One older gentleman was surprised at our gator
sightings, saying 'Usually don't see them this far down'. Soon after some
swimming and resting we were on our way again. We knew the rain was coming, but
we wanted to get most of the paddling out of the way on Saturday.
We kept pushing, under I-75 and we kept paddling. Past several great campsites
and we kept paddling. Past a group of campers that yelled 'you better find a
camp site it's about to rain', we kept paddling. Finally we decided we better
start looking for a campsite, but my luck had kicked in again and we couldn't
find a campsite, but we did find the rain. A good and steady down pour. We
stopped at several places, but couldn't find one that would work. Finally we
found one just big enough for three tents. We knew we needed to set up the
dining fly first then the tents. Well not surprisingly our rain fly leaked, BAD.
Thank goodness the tents did not! We ate supper and turned in early and listened
to the rain, thunder, and wind.
Next morning we cooked breakfast and started packing up our rain soaked, sandy
mess. The weather radio said 30% chance of rain and clearing. I think we got all
30%. As soon as we left the rains started pouring again. Paddled the remaining
8 miles back to the Outpost. Even with the rain the paddle was very pleasant.
We saw two large ospreys. This part of the river is very beautiful. It was
amazing to see the damage of the recent flood. Huge logs would be lodged in the
tops of trees. We saw some dead fish hung in the tops of some branches.
Approximately 15 foot above the river all the leaves had been stripped from the
bushes and trees from the rushing water. We even passed an entire oak tree
floating down the river we had seen earlier at camp.
the Outpost a hot shower was waiting. In total the trip was 38 miles.
the trip was great. I will absolutely do it again. I hope next time the water
level will be down so the boys can do more swimming. I also hope next time I
will have the brains to stop and set up camp before the rain hits.