Thepreparations, the excitement. I don't know when my friends or I were more eager to begin one of our outdoor adventures. The Okefenokee Swamp. Oh boy, Oh boy, OH BOY!
It all started during one of our cold weather primitive camp outs. There are usually 3 primary topics of conversation around the fire on one of these trips; How good the last meal was, What we're going to eat next, and Where we would like to camp next. It was in the midst of one of these conversations that my close friend Greg mentioned his long time desire to take a canoe trip though the Okefenokee swamp in southeastern Georgia. This coincided with an aborted trip I had planned to the swamp some years earlier. The more we discussed it, the more it sounded like a good idea. Greg began the information gathering from the park and I began to look for information on the web. As the information began to flow in, it seemed that all of the pieces might fall into place and a date was set.
An overnight permit for the swamp is difficult to get, especially in the early spring. Our first date was in late March, but we were unable to obtain the permit for that or following dates. Finally after weeks of disappointment Greg obtained a permit for the weekend of April 24-26, 1998. As it turned out this delay in our schedule was a good thing. Abundant winter rains raised the water level in the swamp to unacceptable levels and all trip permits were canceled for the month of March. However, the swamp reopened on the first of April and we were set.
After some extensive checking we made arrangements with an outfitter new to the business. Kingfisher and Beyond was the outfitter that we chose. Very friendly service, advice, and support. Their rates were quite a bit better that the other outfitters in the area, and as we were to experience, their service and equipment were excellent.
Our permit was for 20 people on the Red trail. We never contemplated a group quite that large, but expected to pull together 10-12 folks. Due to the delayed schedule and other factors we finalized the group at 6. I think 6 is probably the ideal group size for this type of trip. Enough hands to make the work go quickly, but not a crowd to keep up with. Our group was very compatible in attitude, skill, and excitement. We couldn't have possibly put together a group more congenial or better suited for this adventure. Carl, Mike, Brian, Don, Greg, and I began to make plans in earnest. Menus? What gear? How much water? Menus? Route? Money? First Aid? Menus? After MUCH individual speculation and conversation and 2 group planning sessions the lists of supplies and equipment as well as the logistics seemed complete. We would depart from near Atlanta on Thursday morning, spend the night at a state park, canoe three days, and return home late in the day on Sunday. A major concern was waterproofing our gear in case of tipping. Most of us obtained large plastic tubs with tight fitting lids for our clothing, sleeping bags, and food. We didn't want to look like a bunch of hicks by carrying too much gear, but we didn't want to leave anything we might really need. We considered the possibility of portage slight and didn't worry about weight too much. Bulk was our main consideration. We finally settled on minimum clothing, including rain gear, collapsible chairs, one chest of food, cooler, a propane camp stove and lantern, 1 cook pot, 1 skillet, and a coffee pot. For tents we planned on 3 small 2 man tents with air mattresses. We debated the air beds for some time, but decided that they were worth the weight and bulk. We planned to take a second set of gear to use at Stephen Foster State Park the night before we departed. A large 6 man tent, electric coffee pot and skillet, and silver turtles for dinner were the items in this category. This allowed us to leave our canoe trip gear relatively undisturbed as we camped at the edge of the swamp. After seeing the compactness of the large tent we decided at the last moment to swap the large tent for the 3 smaller tents. This was a slightly risky decision, because we had never seen a camping platform in the swamp and didn't know just exactly how things were arranged, but we figured we could pull it off somehow. Turned out to be an excellent choice for our group size.
The conversation, silver turtles, and abundant wildlife kept us well contented on our last evening before shoving off. We examined each other's personal gear choices and lamented our preparedness in some areas. We even staged a mock canoe load to make sure everything would fit. After surveying the assembled bundles, packs, bags, and cases we were sure glad we weren't backpacking! We were forced to seek shelter from the aggressive mosquitoes early and so turned in with the sun.
As we arose the next morning, well before daylight, the excitement in the
group was high and good spirits were the rule of the day. We quickly struck
camp, trying not to wake our neighbors. Bagels heated in the electric skillet, a
couple of pots of coffee, and a last trip to the flush toilet completed our
preparations. We arrived in the parking lot where we were to meet Tom, our
outfitter, at 7:00 AM. Tom was running a few minutes late, but this allowed us
to check over our stuff one last time. A couple of the guys availed themselves
of the camp store when it open for one more cup of coffee. At last out van and
trailer arrived, we loaded and were off. It is about 90 miles through mostly
deserted pulp wood land around the swamp from Foster State Park to Kingfisher
Landing on the northeastern approach to the swamp. We made a brief stop to
unload some of that coffee and another one to pick up the canoes before arriving
at the landing around 9:30. We registered our permit, loaded the canoes, prayed
for safety and guidance and were off just before 10:00. We had included a
relatively large number of bungee cords in our gear and these turned out to be
among the most useful items in our kit. Greg had brought his double ended kayak
paddles so we ended up with one extra paddle among the group which we felt was
sufficient. The heavily laden boats seemed rather unstable at first, but we soon
settled down and grew comfortable in our sleek craft.