Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Kayaking in HELL

Not that sulfurous lake of fire and brimstone, but on the Crooked River in Tate's Hell State Forest near Carrabelle in Franklin County, Florida. Tate's Hell came by its name about a hundred years ago, so the legend says, when a man named Cebe Tate pursued a Florida Panther into the swamp and became disoriented. He spent several days wandering in that wilderness, lost his gun, and was bitten by a water moccasin. When he stumbled out of the forest and into a couple of locals, who questioned him on his identity, he is said to have replied "My name's Tate and I've just been through Hell."

It's really not so bad, though I wouldn't want to spend a night out there lost and unprepared (lows are in the 20's down here lately).

I drove all that way down there because the rivers up here are still high from all the rain and the forecast called for enough wind to keep me out of the marsh. It wasn't so much the wind as the combination of the wind and the cold. I don't mind either one that much within reasonable bounds, but both of them at the same time is no good. So I figured that I could find some small tidal swamp crick where I could hide from the wind and not have to run any rapids. This morning that was the extent of my plan. I didn't know where I was going to put in or even what the name of the stream would be. I called the forest service office and they said they had some maps, but I gathered that those folks didn't paddle and thus couldn't offer much in the way of information beyond where the boat ramps are. There's a livery in Carrabelle that I'd noticed previously called Expeditions in Hell (great name, www.expeditionsinhell.com). I stopped and talked to a very nice lady there named Rama and she kindly suggested a few options and even gave me a map of the area (on sturdy waterproof paper with launches highlighted, no less). I took her first suggestion, the Crooked River. I put in on SR 67 just a few miles N of Carrabelle where the road crosses the river. From there I paddled E about 5 miles, to Crooked River Recreation Site #2, and back. I passed Rec Site 1 and both looked like great places to car camp. Birds were OK, mostly woodpeckers and kingfishers and the occasional green backed heron. It's a pretty narrow river, 20-40' across, very dark from tannin, through the forest, which is very swampy. The wierdest thing about this river is that the E end flows into the mouth of the Ochlockonee near the Gulf and the W end into the Carrabelle River. Both ends are tidally influenced. So there's no real direction the "river" flows. The section I was on changed directions several times. There are several launches that make for pretty easy access to the whole river. My section was about 10 miles total on an out and back trip in about 4 hours.

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