Trip Report: Socapatoy and Swamp Creeks, March 1, 2005
By David Curry
David Curry (OC-1), Mark D’Agostino (C-1)
We had a pretty good rain Sunday night and Monday morning. Mark called me on Monday afternoon with instructions to pack my gear for a crack-of-dawn departure on Tuesday. The destination: fresh-meat runs on a pair of creeks in the Sylacauga area. I was directed to load the Whitesell so I wouldn’t chicken out if the rapids got tough. When he showed up at my house at 6:30AM with a Cascade and not the new Nomad in the back of his truck I knew we were in for unknown and possibly dicey waters.
By 9:30AM we were looking over the side of a bridge on Highway 22; the Swamp Creek takeout. The creek was small and the flow looked low, but adequate. After a quick change into our dry suits (which would not come off for over 6 hours) and a short shuttle, we were paddling on flat water. According to Mark, from his studies of satellite imagery, there was supposed to be a couple of miles of whitewater in the middle of the 9 mile run. He assured me that it was whitewater and not just piles of white scum from hog farms. After the first mile, we began to get a few Class I riffles. A bit further downstream, the sandstone rocks gave way to granite and the rapids got a bit better including a couple of drops of about 4 feet. A short stretch of flat-water ended with a dam that required a short portage. Below the dam were a steep slide with a drop at the end and a good stretch of decent Class II rapids. We thought the creek would end up with about 5 miles of flat water. Luckily, Mark had overestimated the length of the run and it turned out to be only 3 miles.
By 1:30PM we were on the road running shuttle and heading for the second run of the day: Socapatoy. There was no time to stop for lunch. We had to eat on the move. The shuttle was fairly long and required about a five mile drive on dirt roads; so much for my freshly washed car.
According to Mark, Socapatoy has about a mile of whitewater in the middle of a 4 mile run. The creek was running swiftly and the flow seemed adequate so we jumped on and headed into the unknown. Sure enough, a little over a mile into the run, we began to encounter Class I-II rapids. Just like Swamp, the rocks changed from sandstone to granite, with some huge boulders in the stream. After a couple of good Class III slides, we came around a bend to view a distinct horizon line and some big boulders almost completely blocking the stream. I skirted a big rock, caught an eddy on river right, and climbed out of my boat to get a good look at what was downstream. What I saw made me glad I was paddling my “Big Red Security Blanket,” the Whitesell. The rapid started with a big curving slide into a generous pool; below that was a giant boulder garden that seemed to go on forever. After a brief discussion on the entry to the slide, Mark readied the camera and I took the plunge. The slide was actually easier than it looked, and I remembered to pull my elbows in as I rocketed past the boulder at the bottom. I climbed out and got some pictures of Mark’s run. The boulder garden turned out to be a fairly easy eddy-hop with a bit of “bump-and-scrape” along the way. More stream-flow would have made it a bit easier. After a few more shoals and some flat water, we were at the confluence with Hatchet creek and the final mile of swift moving flat water.
After a speedy shuttle and a 3 hour drive we were home by 8:00PM.
Both creeks were fun paddles. Our day would have been a lot more interesting if there had been more water. The level on Hatchet creek (the closest USGS gauge) was about 900 CFS. I think 1500-2000 CFS would have made things better.