Friday, December 9, 2016

First visit to Andersonville Island

On the way to Andersonville Island
One of my major motivations for buying a kayak was to visit interesting places only reachable by water. Andersonville Island in Lake Hartwell is definitely one of those interesting places for me. Since my friend and fellow explorer Tom Taylor has been here before, and since he was clearly interested in heading back, I asked Tom to come along. After checking his availability, he agreed and offered to bring along a friend of his I hadn't met yet, Bennie Waddell.

I took some vacation time off this week giving me plenty of days to choose from. I selected Wednesday, the 7th, for this trip to avoid the early week rain, and the later part of the week when the weather turns sharply colder. My other vacation days are being used to work on various projects inside the house.

Before I get to the adventure, first a short-ish history of the area.

Andersonville Island is named after the ghost town of Andersonville, once located on the northern and eastern side of the confluence of the Tugaloo and Seneca Rivers, forming the Savannah River. Andersonville was established in December 1801, named for and founded by Robert Anderson, a Revolutionary War hero. This Andersonville was no relation to the infamous Civil War prison camp in Georgia, by the way.

This snippet from an 1820 Robert Mills map of the Pendelton District shows the town before it ceased to exist:
A flood in 1940 destroyed the town. The town recovered, but after another flood in 1852 the town wasn't rebuilt. When the railroad bypassed the area, whatever interest in rebuilding that may have existed was gone.

This snippet from an 1897 map of the area only shows a mill and a church, Andersonville Baptist Church. This church would be relocated in the late 1950s during the construction of Lake Hartwell.
The construction of Lake Hartwell from the mid 1950s to the early 1960s resulted in water submerging the site of Andersonville and the surrounding areas, except for a few islands.

Andersonville Island is one such island created by the lake. To it's west is Shaw Island, another potentially interesting island created in the making of Lake Hartwell. This 1959 topo map faintly overlaid over a current map captured from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer shows the roads that were submerged or abandoned in the construction of the lake. Andersonville Island is the north-south skinny island in the center of the frame. Shaw Island is just to the west.
I've read claims on the Internet, including Facebook, of ruins on Andersonville Island and on Shaw Island, but I've yet to see any photos to verify that. The potential is certainly there, as this 1957 South Carolina Department of Transportation map snippet shows (the square dots represent structures):
Tom and I agreed to meetup at Jarrett Landing, the closest launch to the island. I would head there directly, and Tom would pick up Bennie first before coming down.

It took me much longer than I expected to reach the interstate, yet I still arrived a few minutes ahead of Tom and Bennie. This gave  me some time to watch a motorboat being pulled out of the water and to get my kayak ready for action.

Soon, we launched and headed toward the island. I was concerned I wouldn't be able to keep up with their "hard shell" kayaks, but in reality I kept up just fine.
On the way to Andersonville Island
For someone who considers himself more observant than average, it look me a while to notice they both had the same model kayak, the highly rated Pungo 120, just in different stylings. Bennie had just recently bought this kayak and today was his first adventure with it.

I had checked the water level of Lake Hartwell reported by the website while researching this trip, and its graph shows the lake was about 10 feet below full pool. I pulled this snippet from the 8th, but the lake level hasn't changed much since the day before:
If you want to know what 10 feet below full pool at Lake Hartwell looks like, here's one example showing a low water marker now out of the water:
Danger shoals!
It didn't long to reach the island, and soon we were spotting old road beds at the shoreline. I had some GPX tracks and waypoints loaded the phone found from my own research and from Tom's marking the location of road beds and possible ruins.

Bennie was the first to point out an interesting triangular rock I had only seen in photos, but didn't have it's location on the island shore. This triangular rock was painted blue and white to resemble the state flag.
South Carolina rock - 1 South Carolina rock - 2 South Carolina rock - 5
Well done whoever painted this!

Bennie had some trouble leaving his kayak when he stepped into the muck, but it was soon dealt with. I managed to keep my balance when I also stepped into the muck, but in retrospect I should have just walked over from the South Carolina rock.
Exploring Andersonville Island - 1 Exploring Andersonville Island - 2 DSC07215 Exploring Andersonville Island - 3
The road bed was now underneath a small amount of soil, but the path was still easily discernible.
Exploring Andersonville Island - 4 Exploring Andersonville Island - 7
Bennie found what may have been a foundation stone.
Possible foundation stone
And we found what was a dirt road (the ruts were still visible!) leading to what may have been a homestead. This old road helpfully led to one of the places I had marked as a possible based on an old aerial image. Bennie found a relatively modern piece of wood near an old tree.
Return to Andersonville Island-32
Photo by Tom Taylor

Bernie found that by an old tree that's clearly seen better days:
Old oak tree top
This area was thick with undergrowth, dissuading us from a thorough exploration around this rather promising location. I did some exploring on my own, but only found a party spot down at a cove.

This tree stand may explain the piece of wood Bernie found. I don't know what happened to my photo of the tree stand, so I'll substitute in Tom's photo so you can see it:
Return to Andersonville Island-33
Photo by Tom Taylor

Tom and Bernie were speculating about the legality of hunting on the island. Afterwards, I looked into the legality of hunting and found a relevant webpage on the US Corps of Engineers website. This sentence clarifies the legality of hunting on the islands:
The islands on Hartwell Lake are open for hunting in accordance with state hunting regulations and seasons.
Now to potentially answer why this stand wasn't maintained:
No permanent stands can be constructed on Corps of Engineers property.
We headed back to our kayaks and ate a quick lunch before heading back out. I also had to inflate one chamber that had lost some air for some strange reason. My kayak has two chambers in case of leaks. If one leaks, the other one carries on. I'd have to check this out this air leak when I got home.
Round the island - 1
The original plan was to explore the northern part of the island, where the more promising locations for ruins were located, and the island to the west I later found out was Shaw Island.

But with the short days this time of year, we just didn't have time to explore more of Andersonville Island, explore Shaw Island, and get back to our launching point before dark. We did, on the other hand, have time to circumnavigate the island, which is what we did.

That change also meant I prioritized paddling over taking photos.

While rounding the northern part of the island we encountered a congregation of sea gulls that seemed actively disinterested in making friends. In other words, they took flight as we approached.
Sea gulls Sea gulls - 3
We also saw some loons, but I wasn't quick enough to catch one before it disappeared. Drat.

This part of the island contains the locations of two schools named Morris Shoals School, and most of the dots indicating structures on the 1957 SC DOT map above were concentrated on the northern half of the island. It's too bad we couldn't stop.

I landed onshore briefly to move my foot peg forward a bit then rejoined Tom and Bernie. The sky became cloudy and the wind picked up, and the air felt a bit cooler. Tom was moving along quickly, and I had to stop checking my map app to keep from having to catch up.

As we approached Jarrett Landing to take out, we found yet another "out of water" low water marker. But behind it was something we had been searching for this whole trip:
We had paddled all those miles looking for ruins, and then we go and find one just around the point from where we started!. Google Earth shows the ruins even when the lake was near full pool:
This discovery was welcome, yet exasperating. Afterwards, I looked at a 1959 aerial of this very spot, but the coverage was too fuzzy to speculate what this once was.

My legs started cramping while rounding the point, so I had slow down, but the ramp around the corner so it wasn't a big deal to fall back. One leg cramped getting out of the kayak, causing me to stumble and getting my pants wet. Fortunately, I reacted quickly enough to catch myself before I completely got dunked.

I deflated my kayak and packed up my gear while Tom and Bernie was loading their kayaks on to Tom's pickup. When I finished packing up, I exchanged goodbyes with Tom and Bernie.
Sun rays
It was after 4pm and traffic would be heavy, but fortunately I encountered no big slowdowns on the way back like I did on the way down.

After I got home, I disassembled my kayak to investigate the source of the air leak. When I inflated both air chambers, I could hear an obvious hissing noise. The source turned out to be a tiny pinhole leak near a seam. I have no idea when or where that happened, but a dab of glue from the repair kit took care of it.

I also found my GPX recording made by the GPS app I had used contained large gaps. I found I chose a too restrictive setting that filtered out the more uncertain fixes, resulting in the gaps.
Tom's GPS recorded about 10 miles, which would make this my longest paddle so far. That's not saying much, of course, since I've only been padding since July.

I definitely want to come back to explore the northern half of Andersonville Island, and Shaw Island. The closest launch for this plan is Double Springs boat ramp. Let's do this!

I shared my photos to an album on Flickr and to an album on Google Photos.

Tom's photos are in his own album on Flickr, and his well-written (as usual) blog post about the trip is on his blog titled Return to Andersonville.

Thanks Tom Taylor and Bernie Waddell for joining me on this adventure!

As a bonus (or a punishment?) for making it this far, here's a photo taken by Tom of me going blah, blah, blah about something or other.
Return to Andersonville Island-19

Friday, November 18, 2016

Pinnacle Mountain fire burnout

View of fire from Caesars Head - 1
If you live in the Upstate of South Carolina, Western North Carolina, and Northern Georgia then you already know rain has been scarce the past few months, leading an expanding area of severe drought conditions. As of November 15th, 2016, the area classified by the United States Drought Monitor as "extreme drought" covers most of the Upstate, parts of western North Carolina, with parts of northern Georgia classified as "exceptional drought".
This drought, along with low relative humidity and falling leaves, makes conditions favorable for wildfires. In response, the South Carolina Forestry Commission announced a burning ban (but exempting campfires) in the northernmost Upstate counties (Anderson, Oconee, Pickens, Greenville, and Spartanburg) on November 9th, expanding south and east to the Piedmont counties the next day.

Also on November 9th, an escaped campfire near the Foothills Trail on Pinnacle Mountain spawned a fire that's grown to over 5100 acres as of November 18th. When I went out on Lake Oolenoy a few days ago, this is what Pinnacle Mountain looked like then:
Pinnacle Mountain - 2
It'll be interesting to see what it looks like once the fire is finally put out. Needless to say, Table Rock State Park is closed indefinitely.

This fire, along with smoke from other fires in North Carolina, have resulted in poor and at times unhealthy air quality in the Upstate area over the past several days. The most widespread poor air quality day, so far, was on the 14th, when a blanked of smoke covered the entire area as seen from this satellite image from NASA's Worldview:
Hundreds of personnel are currently assigned fighting this fire from agencies and organizations too numerous to mention in detail here, but include the SC Forestry Commission, local fire departments, and the SC National Guard.

The SC National Guard's most visible role has been for its use of their Chinook and Blackhawk helicopters to scoop water from Lake Oolenoy (in Table Rock State Park) and dump that water on hotspots on Pinnacle Mountain. The SC National Guard's Flickr account is posting photos of their efforts to fight the fire, and so far they have shared three related albums: 123.

WYFF's Mandy Gaither shared a live video on Facebook of a helicopter warming up and taking off for the lake. The SC Forestry Commission also posted photos of this helicopter scooping up and dumping water to a photo album on Facebook. Actually, state and local officials have done an excellent job so far keeping the public informed via social and local media on what's being done to fight the fire, keep people safe, and protect structures.

The weather forecast calls for winds to increase from the southwest, then from the northwest. This threatens to spread the fire to populated area to the south and east of the mountain. In response, a large scale 1400 acre burnout was conducted yesterday. The original plan was to light up 400 more acres today, but it looks like that phase is no longer required. The forestry commission posted this map of the plan to their Facebook page showing the area involved:
The operation involved launching potassium permanganate and glycol filled ping pong balls from a US Forest Service helicopter to ignite low intensity fires in the burn area. This photo from WSPA's story about the operation yesterday shows what the ping pong ball looks like:
I went up to Caesars Head overlook yesterday to get a look at the fire. Along the way, I stopped at a waterfall named Spider Tunnel Falls, near where U.S. 276 splits off from S.C. 11 toward Caesars Head, to get a one view of the fire.

Smoke was obscuring the sun at the parking area:
Smoke at SC 11/US 276 split - 2
A light dusting of ash began covering my car:
Ash from fire
The path to the waterfall is faint, but followable, and I've been here before anyway. The water flow was only a trickle at the waterfall, and a lot of the moss in the area had dried up. The view was obscured a bit by trees, but the smoke was plainly visible:
View from Spider Tunnel Falls - 5
The view from the Caesars Head overlook was much better, at least for a while.
View of fire from Caesars Head - 1 View of fire from Caesars Head - 2 View of fire from Caesars Head - 3
The wind soon shifted and increased from the direction of the fire, blowing the smoke toward the overlook and obscuring the view of the fire... and everything else too actually.
View of fire from Caesars Head - 8 View of fire from Caesars Head - 15
My photos from this trip are in an album on Flickr and an album on Google Photos.

This morning's forestry commission update started out with this positive statement:
Fire managers at the Pinnacle Mountain Fire were pleased with the results of the 1400-acre burnout conducted on Thursday.
So far, no lives have been lost, and only one structure has burned, a halfway shelter in Panther Gap. Update: Contrary to earlier official reports, the CCC era shelter survived just fine, thank you very much.

Once the fire is contained and extinguished, it will very likely take quite a while for the park to open again although I would think the Lake Oolenoy portion could open up again fairly quickly.

Another other wildfire that has my interest, but is beyond the scope of this post, is the Party Rock Fire threatening Chimney Rock, Lake Lure, and Bat Cave just up the road in North Carolina. This fire is still growing, mostly to the north, and is up to about 6700 acres now. Updates about that fire are posted to Inciweb and to the North Carolina Forest Service Facebook page.

A rainy day would be most welcome to extinguish this fire, but unfortunately the weather trend is still not our friend:

Update 2016/11/24: The United States Forest Service has now taken over command of the firefighting. Their updates on the fire can now also be found at the Pinnacle Mountain fire section of InciWeb. The fire broke containment in one small area, and is now heading through a finger of Greenville County and is now approaching the North Carolina state line.

Also, it's looking more and more likely a wipespread rain event may arrive early next week to help put an end to the area fires.

Update 2016/12/06: Recent rains have done much to help control what little is left of the fire, and 100% containment has been achieved. The park has reopened, but portions of the interior trails remain closed while they are repaired.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Fall views of Table Rock Mountain

Table Rock Mountain - 1
After my first paddle on Lake Oolenoy in Table Rock State Park off SC 11, I decided I'd come back again to see Table Rock Mountain during the peak of the fall foliage color season. I dd just that last Thursday that turned into a partly cloudy, breezy, warm day.

This time I'd be taking out my new 13 foot Advanced Elements Expedition inflatable kayak I had just received that very morning in place of the Intex Challenger K1 I had bought just a few months ago. My space is just too limited to support a regular, hard shell kayak, so I saved up to buy one of the more premium, more well reviewed inflatable kayaks on the market.

The Expedition is a much more expensive inflatable kayak and is definitely no toy. The important improvements of the Expedition compared to the K1 is the longer length (13 feet vs 9 feet), better tracking, faster speed, and more leg room.  The Expedition is also much more resistant to scrapes and punctures. I bought the optional "backbone" that can be installed during inflation to increase the tracking and speed even more, and prevent flexing in choppy water. The backbone wouldn't really be of use on a lake this small so I didn't bother installing it.

The UPS truck and my package didn't reach "casa de Mark" until shortly after noon, and I didn't make it up to the lake until mid afternoon. While the Expedition has nine chambers, I only inflated the two main ones for this trip. The other chambers, when inflated, help water drain off the kayak and give the kayak a more traditional shape.
Advanced Elements Expedition 2016 - 2
My only regret this trip was going barefoot. I came here barefoot my previous two visits with no problems. But this time acorns were spread around the launch ramp and I had to take extra time to dodge them (stepping on them isn't my definition of fun).

During the earlier part of the afternoon, the sun lit up the trees around the lake, but not the south part of the mountain (yet). Here's a sample of my photos from that time of day from different parts of the lake:
Table Rock Mountain - 3
Table Rock Mountain - 4
Table Rock Mountain - 10
Table Rock Mountain - 5
I wandered around the lake for a while, including an area I avoided last time, the area around the dam:
Lake Oolenoy dam - 2
While in this area of the lake, I took a photo of Pinnacle Mountain by itself:
Pinnacle Mountain - 2
At the moment, a fire is burning on Pinnacle Mountain, helped along by the extreme drought. Firefighters, among other tools, are using helicopters to scoop water from Lake Oolenoy to dump on the fire. I could see smoke from that fire drifting through the Greenville area last evening and at times today during my travels.

Here is the current webcam from Lake Oolenoy, although that white truck has been heading south on SC 11 for at least a half hour now:
Now back to last Thursday....

My time and patience was eventually rewarded with this final photo of the mountain from the lake, nicely lit up with the setting sun, and the lake trees now heading into shadow:
Table Rock Mountain - 17
With this photo "in the can", I started back home, but I couldn't resist taking a one more set of photos from beside the road:
Table Rock Mountain - 19
Table Rock Mountain - 21
Photos from the trip have been posted to an album on Flickr and an album on Google Photos. I took photos from all around the lake, and I experimented with different crops and aspect ratios just because I could.