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For those of you who do not know, Lake Murray was created in 1930 by the damming of the Saluda River 10 miles upstream of Columbia, South Carolina. It covers about 50,000 acres in size and measured 34 miles on my planned route. My plan was to put in on the Saluda River above the lake at highway 121 and paddle to the dam over the course of 2 days. I took a few vacation days and planned this trip during the week to try and avoid all the motorboat traffic. One day before my planned launch I checked the weather and had sunny weather and under 10 mph winds projected so I green-lighted the trip. I loaded up my 14.7' Old Towne Canoe and headed up to the Highway 121 landing. The lake level was about 358.5 feet above sea level which is a very high level.
I got in to the water at around 7:40 AM. There was a little less current than I expected. The river was flat and calm. After about 2 miles, I passed the Saluda River Resort. I'm not really sure what type of "resort" it is, but from the river it looked more like a bait shop. Almost immediately after the resort the little bit of current I did have disappeared and I had hit flatwater. You could see where the lake had begun to flood into the trees.
After about 4 or 5 miles you could begin to see areas of open water through. Although the lake kept a well-defined main channel for a few more miles. Once the lake begin to open up I started to pick up a 5 to 10 mph wind at my back. I hit the highway 395 bridge at the 6.5 marker. The boat landing there seemed a really good boat landing there. The stretch from 121 to 395 would be a great Beginner/intermediate group trip. I don't see that stretch getting really rough unless the winds got up very high. I continued on to the 391 bridge, the lake started to open up a lot more but with the wind at my back I traveled much faster than I thought. The 391 bridge is at around mile #12. I had planned to reach this point by 12:30. However, I reached at right at 11:00. I took about 30 minute break and went for a swim. The water felt great as the temperature was starting to get into the low 80's.
I started paddling again after a good lunch. At mile 13, the Little Saluda arm of Lake Murray comes together with the Saluda Arm of the lake and it was pretty neat to think about that deep under the lake is the now flooded confluence between those two rivers. I continued paddling with the wind at my back and near glass-like lake. I continued to paddle at a much faster rate than I had planned to. At mile 18, I rounded a point in the river and I could see Dreher Island in the distance, although it was still about 3 miles away. The wind seemed to pick up even more as the lake was starting to really open up.
There is a small island about 400 yards to the west of Dreher Island that was my goal for day one. I reached this Island at 2:00. A full 3 hours ahead of schedule. The GPS read 21 miles. With how fast I was traveling and with the wind at my back, I considered not camping and going for the dam all in day 1. I decided against it, I was not real big on dealing with all the boat traffic, I would have had to deal with if I hit the dam area around 6-7 pm like I was projecting.
So I set up camp and goofed off on this little Island I had claimed. On the South side of the Island there was a nice camp spot already set up. This spot already had a fire spot, a table build on to a tree and a view of the water on 3 sides of the island. I made a fire and roasted marshmallows and had a great relaxing night. At least until the "invasion" started. I went to sleep about 10:00 after a long day of paddling it felt good.
At about 1 in the morning I was waken by noises outside my tent. I could hear something kicking around cans in my canoe which was tied to a tree about 20 feet away. I turned on my flashlight and could see 2 eyes shinning back. I made a lot of noise and could see approximately 3 to 4 Raccoons running through my campsite and back into the woods. I then went back to sleep and had a good nights sleep considering.
When I woke up, I discovered that I had left a whole box of fruit rollups on the table and the raccoons had discovered them and seemed to enjoy them a lot. I had to clean up the packages they left all over my camp site where they had tore the box up and ate every single one of them. So if there are any coon hunters out there, I'm telling you just put a fruit rollup in your trap and they will go for it.
After cleaning up the camp site, I started day 2 of paddling. I was kicking myself for not paddling the entire trip on day 1. On day 1, I had a 5 to 10 mph wind at my back all day long. On the morning of day 2, I had a 15 mph wind in my face and a choppy lake to deal with. My original plan was to paddle out and explore Bomb Island a little bit. With the conditions as they were, I decided not to cross over to the south side of the lake and stick to the northside of the lake for my entire route on day 2.
I could see the tall tower at the power plant on the river side of the dam as I rounded Dreher Island. One interesting sight was when looking up one of the coves, I could see Little mountain. It is a isolated "mountain" that reaches over 800 feet above sea level, that I would estimate to be 5 to 6 miles from the lake. I averaged between 1.5 mph and 2 mph from Dreher Island and Counts Island with the strong wind in my face. A distance of about 5 miles. Much slower than the 4 to 5 mph I was traveling on day 1. You could clearly make out the 5 towers at the dam from counts Island and passed bomb Island in the distance.
The journey from Counts Island to Goat Island was the section that worried me most about this trip. This section called for me to travel across 3.5 miles of open water. With how bad the conditions were that morning I was a little worried about this section. But by the time I reached Counts, the wind had noticeably died down to around 5 mph. In the middle of this open water, my speed begin to pick back up to the 3.5 mph to 4 mph range. I reached Goat Island at around 1:15. By this time the wind had completely died out and the lake was like glass. And there were no major areas of open water to cross and cars could clearly be seen crossing the dam. The ending was in sight. My GPS was reading 29 miles total with a little over 3 miles remaining. I had traveled in a more straighter line than I had planned, and also cutting out the trip to bomb Island had changed the total distance some.
The trip from Goat Island to the Dam was probably the easiest of the entire trip as unlike the weekend, there were not many boats at all on the water and the lake was like glass again. I reached the Dam at 2:15. And my Journey was complete. Total trip time distance was 32.3 miles, with a total paddle time of 12 hours 10 minutes. Not including breaks and lunch. I had finished day 2 way ahead of schedule again. I had planned my pickup to arrive at 5:00 so I had some time to kill. So I gathered up all my valuables in to my backpack and cabled the canoe to a railing at the dam. I then walked to the "Dam Bar and Grill" about 3 miles away on the Lexington side of the lake. There I ate one of the best cheeseburgers I have ever eaten, since I had nothing but peanut butter and Jelly for 2 straight days.
I wanted to do this trip for a long time, pretty much just to say I did it. Anyone who is reading this and thinking about giving it a try, should be a advanced paddler. If you are a new paddler, do not even think about it. There are large areas of open water one must cross. I also recommend this type of trip during the weekdays. The motorboat traffic on weekends makes this trip way more dangerous. I am kind of glad that I ran into that strong headwind on the morning of day 2, because if that would not have happened I would have been forced to blog about how incredibly easy this trip was. Other than that, I had perfect conditions for this trip. Had conditions been different, it could easily have taken much longer to do this trip. Now I only need to figure out what my next overnight adventure will be…
PS: A special thanks goes out to my friend and awesome kayaker Karla, who picked me up and gave me a ride back to my truck. After reaching the dam I definitely did not want to paddle 32 miles back to my truck.
Take Out: Lake Murray Dam. Highway 6 from Lexington, or Lake Murray Blvd, Coming from I-26/Irmo
Canoe Pack Liner