"Looks like you guys went off the path for a bit."
My friend was looking at the corkscrewing of a GPS track on a Google Earth map of the winding upper end of the Combahee River near Yemassee. The wandering he referenced was where the track of our kayak trip departed from the looping bends of the main river channel to enter the heart of the deep swamp -- and into another Lowcountry adventure.
In many ways the Combahee River (pronounced "Cumbee" if you're a local) is typical of most Lowcountry rivers. It begins as a swampy, braided course below the fall line, travels thorough cypress and tupelo bottoms and emerges into the ancient country of rice fields and plantations before reaching the sea. Forming the "C" in the ACE Basin, the Combahee River is a treasure for us all ... and surprisingly free of traffic. Compared to the summer party crowds of the lower Edisto or the boat-busy Savannah, the Combahee seems a quiet backwater. But that's just fine with us.
Rising out of the confluence of the Salkehatchee and Little Salkehatchee the Combahee leaves the sandy farmlands above Interstate 95 and enters a primordial world filled with nature and history. Yemasee Indians once roamed its swamps, patriot fought Redcoat in Revolutionary War skirmishes along its banks and a golden kingdom of rice plantations promised endless wealth -- before Civil War and Emancipation brought them to a fiery desolation.
Recently, a group of friends and I launched our kayaks and explored several miles of the Combahee River. Putting in just outside of Yemasee we followed wooded bends and quiet channels until emerging into the vast rice kingdom of flooded fields. Along the way we paused at Auldbrass Plantation, South Carolina's own prized specimen of architect Frank Lloyd-Wright's incredible work. No, the canal to the house was gated and we did not attempt to land, but it was pleasantly shocking to see its distinctive architecture even in the dock and structures at the river's edge. From Auldbrass we took to the swamps and with GPS and cell phones equipped with Google Earth we explored forgotten channels and sloughs. Alligators were hiding in the chilly February water but a playful otter splashed and ducks continually exploded from around the next bend. We emerged back onto the main river and took out in the heart of rice country at Sugar Hill Landing, just up from the Harriet Tubman Bridge and busy U.S. 17. It was a day well spent and the next time I cross that vast expanse of grass and water on my way to Charleston, I will remember the promise of the Lowcountry that waits just upstream.
The Combahee River is an hour from Bluffton, and access to the water is easy. You can take Interstate 95 north for 30 minutes to the Yemassee exit. We put in at the public landing located on U.S. 17A (Hendersonville Highway) where there was ample parking. Our take out was Sugar Hill Landing downstream. This public landing is in Beaufort County and is managed by SCDNR. By water the two landings are 7.5 miles apart but only two miles from each other along the old River Road. You can also take U.S. 17 outside of Beaufort from Gardens Corner. Go 11.8 miles to Big Estate Road. Merge onto River Road, and the landing is five miles ahead on the right. The river is accessible in all seasons, but take care to bring plenty of water and bug repellant per the season. If you plan to enter the swamps, please use GPS or other navigation. This lower portion of the Combahee River is affected by the tide, so please be aware of its pull and effect on creeks and canals where you may paddle. This stretch of the river is very enjoyable but not recommended for beginners. Details: 803-734-4009
Introducing Lucy ...
Right before Christmas my family was increased by one more: Lucy, the beagle puppy came to live with us. She was 5 months old and pure beagle. Spots, ears, hound dog bark and, of course, a nose that wouldn't quit. It is hard to see her and imagine that she had been marked for destruction. Though a beautiful dog, she was born with a slight impairment. Lucy "hops" with her back legs instead of making strides. With help from us, and a little patience she should grow out of this little quirk. Nothing has stopped her yet. On this trip to the Combahee, Lucy made her debut as a kayak dog. Snug in her canine life jacket, she took to the cockpit of my kayak like a natural and loved every mile of the river. New smells, sounds and the allure of the river have made her a true Lowcountry dog. I wish to thank Noah's Arks Rescue of Okatie for their finding Lucy and the incredible assistance they have given during her adoption. They made the process work very smoothly and operated with thoroughness and care. This is a group of local people who foster animals in need to prevent their destruction and enable them to find the right companions to preserve their lives. There are many more needy animals that could use good homes. Details: Noah's Ark Rescue, 843-540-6755.
Bluffton resident Matt Richardson enjoys taking day trips with his family and exploring the Lowcountry. To see more pictures from his adventures, go to www.Flickr.com and search on the username "greenkayak73." He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.