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A friend and I paddled an approximately 10 mile stretch of the upper Saluda river from just above hwy 81 near Powdersville,SC to just above hwy 86 in Piedmont, SC.
This portion of the river is a nice, easy paddle and the scenery is mostly very pretty. The only real downside is that the water quality isn't as good as I had hoped. Being as close as we are to the truly beautiful mountain streams that are its source, I had expected something close to pristine. What we found was, well, a bit funky. Not awful, just not what I had expected.
We put in at a partially completed county park just upstream of hwy 81 on the right side of the river. Anderson county apparently ran out of money after spending a lot on grading. At least the public ended up with some nice grasshopper habitat and a decent unofficial river access point for their money.
For the first third of the trip, the water was moving at a pretty good speed. I would guess that it was maybe 3 mph. We immediately passed beneath the closed Old Anderson Road bridge, followed immediately by the hwy 81 bridge. A few miles later, we passed beneath I-85. This first portion of the trip was uneventful but a fairly pleasant paddle.
Shortly after passing I-85, we began to see a lot of wildlife, since this area is far less developed. Kingfishers, several types of hawks, small ducks, and several very large blue heron were among the sightings. We also startled several deer, which were not seen but heard as they crashed through the underbrush to avoid us.
We made our way through several class I & II whitewater sections that were a little tricky due to the low late-summer water level, made even lower by several weeks with little to no rainfall. We got stuck momentarily several times on large rocks just below the surface. We also managed to get pinned against a fallen tree at the bottom of one whitewater run. We had to get out and lift the canoe over the tree. Being in the front, my friend was able to climb out of the canoe onto the tree. I had to hop out into the waist deep water. Did I mention that the water is a bit funky?
A little over halfway through the trip, we came upon a small dredging barge in the middle of the river. The barge had a large Cat diesel hydraulic power pack that powered a large pump, winches, and what was basically a large articulated drill head. They were apparently using this to harvest river sand from the bottom for sale to construction firms. The sand was being pumped through a long floating pipe up onto shore where it was being loaded into trucks. We wondered, how does one gain the rights to dredge a river for the purpose of collecting the sand? Seems like a pretty major environmental impact.
After passing the dredge, the river was suddenly much deeper (gee, I wonder why) and therefore much slower. From that point onward, it was basically like paddling a pond. Still very pleasant, though.
As we approached Piedmont, where the river is dammed, the river, of course, got even wider, deeper, and slower. We actually paddled past the take-out, past the hwy 86 bridge, past the floating chain with the "Danger, open spillway ahead" signs attached, and into the small area immediately above the dam. It's actually quite safe since the current is almost imperceptible, though I certainly would not recommend paddling right up to the spillway. The dam itself dates back to the heyday of the mills in South Carolina and is flanked on both sides by abandoned mills, complete with the requisite tall smoke stacks with bird poop spawned bushes growing from their tops. They appear to still be producing a small amount of electricity from the dam, based on the loud humming coming from the transformer near it.
The take-out is on the right side of the river maybe 60 yards upstream of the hwy 86 bridge. It's somewhat hidden and appears to be a small stream entering the river through a patch of weeds that grows out from the shore. The take-out itself is pretty trashy and is apparently considered by the locals to be a great place to drink beer, fish, and lose stuff. My friend found a very nice lock-blade knife and a couple of mostly filled hook & weight assortment boxes. I found a lot of empty beer cans.
The entire trip lasted about 3.5 hours. It was a pleasant paddle. Though not pristine by any measure, there are parts of it that are quite nice. The little bit of whitewater in the first half of the trip adds some fun. I would recommend it to anyone that wants a low-intensity day trip in this area and is willing to ignore the occasional trashy sections.