Hike 1
Congaree National Park Hike 1 -- April 30, 2005
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This hike was wonderful -- the majesty and mystery of one of the largest floodplain hardwood swamps in the
world greeted me this day. I was overwhelmed by the heights of the trees - reported to be the highest
hardwood canopy cover in the world. One Loblolly Pine tree is over 160 feet tall and is 23 feet in circumference.

Even though a quick tour of the Visitor Center gave me an excellent overview of what the park was all about and
the fact that I had been in lots of swamps before, I was not prepared for what I experienced today.

The elevated boardwalk introduction to the park provides a fantastic overview of all the beauty and mystery
that surrounds you. You are able to safely walk through the swamp and concentrated solely on the environment
that constantly surprises you with every step that you take.
From the Visitor Center and around the
entire low and elevated boardwalk and
back is about 2.6 miles.

Coming from the Visitor Center, the right
and bottom legs of the Boardwalk Trail
are about 12-18 inches off the ground
whereas the top and left legs are about 8
feet off the ground.

There are benches spread out along the
way and markers placed at points where a
Boardwalk Trail Guide will explain to you
what you are looking at. Little did I realize
at the time that over the years I would
spend many long moments sitting on the
benches and just observing the swamp all
around me.
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It seemed like with each step I took along the boardwalk, I was rewarded with beautiful and almost haunting
vistas out into the seemingly never-ending swamp. Close by were gigantic cypress trees that were securely
attached to the wet, mucky ground. In some places the cypress knees -- roots that pop up above the ground
around the base of these magnificent trees – were so plentiful that you could hardly see the ground.

As I slowly walked along, I tried to imagine what animals were nearby that I could not see but were watching me.
I observed a lot of tracks in the mud in places on my hike. Some I recognized, others were new to me and/or just
to obscured in the soft wet soil to recognize.  

Here and there were hints of bright colors as a few wild flowers were making their presence known. I passed by
one tree that had the largest, healthiest looking Poison Ivy vine growing on it that I had ever seen. I also walked
through one area that was covered with Switch Cane as far as the eye could see.

While this species of bamboo has several good uses, I try to avoid hiking blindly through large, dense areas
covered with it that are called canebrakes. I avoid them because not only is it used by lots of wildlife to hide in
(like wild feral hogs) but another forest resident that I have NO desire to
meet -- the Canebrake Rattlesnake -- loves it.

It is not uncommon to see these snakes (called Timber Rattlesnakes north of the coastal plain in the southeast
US) reach over 6 feet in length. Believe me -- walking up one of these will scare the hell out of you!  They are so
powerful that a strike say against your unprotected ankle could break your leg. Being miles away from help with a
rattlesnake bite and a broken leg is not a situation I want to be in -- ever!

Speaking of seeing things, you could look out into the swamp and see a faint greenish brown coloring on all the
trees trunks up to a height about 10 feet above the forest, swamp floor. This was the "flood line" – the high
water mark when the majority of the park is flooded several times a year.  

I had remembered seeing pictures back at the Visitor Center that showed the boardwalk itself almost
completely underwater -- and I am talking about the part this is over 8 feet above the ground -- not the part
that is just one foot or so above the ground.   

As I neared Weston Lake on the back leg of the Boardwalk Trail, I kept seeing very large birds -- maybe egrets –
working their way through the swamp with me as if they were following me. I tried to get a picture or two but
they were just about out of my camera's photo range.

Unfortunately, by the time I reached Weston Lake (half way around the total trail), the sky was starting to get
dark -- very dark -- and I knew it was just a matter of minutes before I got soaked.

Fortunately, ever since my son and I had gone on a 7-day wilderness hike out in Colorado about 10 year ago, I
always hike with my bright blue rain suit. I stopped at the lake overlook (at the end of about a 100 yard long
offshoot extension that goes out to the lake’s edge from the Boardwalk Trail itself) and sitting there on the
benches, I quickly got suited up. I had no sooner put the top rain jacket over my head to cover
both me and my backpack, when it started raining.   

Did I mention that it was lightening and raining REAL HARD?  I quickly moved away from the lake back to where
the Boardwalk Trail itself was and sat down on the edge of the boardwalk to wait a bit. Even though the
boardwalk is over 8 feet above the ground here, I felt like I was sitting down "in the swamp" because my glasses
were so fogged over and it was so dark, I could not really see anything except the
very BRIGHT lightening flashes all around me.

Finally, it seemed to let up a bit and I stood back up and started making my way back to the Visitor Center.
About half way there, the rain stopped and I was able to shed my rain suit. I felt like I had been hiking in a
built-in sauna and the refreshing cool air felt wonderful when I took it off.

Once again, I was able to just look out over the beautiful, quite landscape that surrounded me and marvel at all
the secrets it held close to its vest. I passed by the remains of an old bootlegger’s still that was here long
before this area was even a National Monument, let alone a National Park.  

Soon, my first visit and hike in the park was over. I was both sad and happy to crawl back into my truck and head
for the Holiday Inn Express at Exit 80 on I-20 East out of Columbia.

I felt sad in that I fell in love with this place. It (to me) was beautiful, mysterious, haunting, exciting,
terrifying, relaxing, primitive, and healing all at the same time.

I knew as soon as I headed away from the park that I would return to explore it further.  I could not wait to see
what other secrets she held close to her and protected with all sorts of tricks like swarms of blood thirsty
misquotes & biting flies, charging feral hogs, wet & slushy trails beyond the boardwalks, and
an eerie silence that makes you think, "Something is watching me!"

On the other side of my emotions, I felt happy because I knew that a hot soak in the Jacuzzi tub and several
"cool ones" were waiting for me back at the hotel. I also knew that after that, I would be able to prop up in a
chair by the window in my hotel room and look out and watch the world go by while I enjoyed a few more beers
and waited for the sun to go down to mark a beautiful end to a great day.

As my 1st cousin "Hump" would proudly proclaim, "And a good time was had by all!"
Rain over, almost back to Center.
Notice how tree is trying to grow
"around" a very LARGE grape vine.
Hike ended about ten minutes later.
"And a good time was had by all!"
Rain ... swamp ... getting
soaked before then burning up
in rain suit ... glasses fogged up
... bugs out in droves ... "Whose
idea was this hike any way?"
Big "oops!" ... Glad I was not on
the boardwalk when that tree
fell. Starting to rain.
Elevated boardwalk headed
back towards Visitor Center.
Very dark ... RAIN coming ... I
can hear it. Steps go down to
lower ground-level trails.
Ground level boardwalk
meeting back up with elevated
boardwalk. At furthest point on
Boardwalk Trail from Center ...
1.2 miles. Getting very dark!
The top ... 160 feet
straight up!
My hiking stick ... over 5 feet tall!
"Biggest Pine Tree in the
WHOLE state!" Loblolly Pine ...
about 160 feet tall and 23 feet in
circumference.
Looking across Weston Lake.
Lake is left over from old
(ancient) "oxbow" curve in
Congaree River (now about 3
miles away to the right).
Edge of lake ... nice place to
stop, rest, and enjoy all the
natural "beauty" of the swamp.
Off-shoot boardwalk ... goes
about 100 yards out to edge of
Weston Lake.
Now this looks "swampy!"
Bad picture ... telephoto shot ...
some HUGE (tall) white bird
way off in the swamp.
Talk about getting
hit by lightning!
Open forest floor ... little grass,
some "knees."
Ground now covered with
grass like cover. Also, notice
the "flood line."
Tall tree ... very tall.
I wonder who/what lives
in there?
Pretty yellow flower.
Decisions...
One of many wet bog areas.
"Posion Ivy ... Posion Ivy" ... great
old dance song from 1959 but
not good to touch :-)
Ground cover here with a type
of tiny "reed" plant called
Switch Cane.
Just looking "up" at the tall
hardwood canopy.
Deer tracks in the mud.
Boardwalk winding along
near the ground.
Another view.
Cypress tree "knees." Look on
past them ... you can see the
"brown tinge" (flood level) all
across the swamp.
HUGE Cypress tree. Look at the
"water level" line on the trunk
... up about TEN feet above
current ground level
.
Looking out into the "swamp."
On right leg (side) of square.
About halfway on this leg,
boardwalk goes from elevated
to ground-level boardwalk.
End of first leg from Center.
Boardwalk makes a "square" in
the swamp. The intersection
ahead is the "upper right
corner" of the square (2.2.miles
all the way around back to this
point).
Wet, boggy ground
below boardwalk.
"Mosquito Meter" ... was bad
the day I was here.
Story about the "tall trees"
in the Congaree Park.
Tree exhibit ... shows tree
heights (canopy cover) for
various places in the world.
Congaree hardwood canopy
one of the highest in the world.
Logging story.
Check out the SIZE of this
Cypress tree ... see the "logger"
almost hidden against it.
Exhibit that showcases all
the threats to the park, and
before that, when it was a
National Monument, etc.
Stuffed "crane" in Center.
Stuffed "Kingfisher" bird in
Visitor Center.
"Pictures" on board to show
visitors that even the Boardwalk
Trail can get flooded. Park floods
average 10 times a year.
Bulletin board at Visitor Center
... shows trails, rules, etc. The
Center is excellent ... great
displays, audio visuals, maps,
the works.
Part of the Boardwalk Trail.
Wonderful way for lots of people
to enjoy the swamp and never
touch the ground. Total length is
2.3 miles ... makes a huge
"square loop" out into the
swamp and back.
Park entrance sign ... about 1
mile to Visitor Center. Notice
new park logo on left ... makes
a beautiful park patch .