March 23, 2019

South Holston Lake Paddle Trip

  • 4.21 miles
  • 1:27 paddling time
  • 2:37 total elapsed time
  • 43° F low/57° F high
  • Sunny with 5 mph winds
  • 1 geocache found paddle
  • 1 geocache visited (previously found)

My geocaching and paddling friend porknbeans (Jane) had seen on social media recent photos of Cliff Island at South Holston Lake, showing the water level high enough that you could nearly step off your boat onto the top of the island. She wanted to see this first hand, so texted to ask if I would like to paddle out there. Since I had Saturday free, I eagerly agreed. I haven’t had Huck (my Liquid Logic kayak) on the water since October, so looked forward to a nice paddle. We had paddled to Cliff Island last May, so looked forward to seeing the difference in water levels from that trip.

For that previous trip, we had started from the Little Oak Campground. That campground is not yet open for the spring and summer seasons, so we planned to paddle from the dam area this time.

Saturday morning temps were forecast to be quite chilly, so we decided to not rush to the lake early in the morning. Instead, we met in Bristol at 10:20 to scout possibilities for a future adventure there. I also found a geocache in front of the fire department while we were there. I then followed her to South Holston Lake.

As we drove across the tall dam, I noticed a crowd of people gathered overlooking the lake. As I got closer, I realized that it was a wedding party. I felt a bit sorry for the bride in her sleeveless dress. The temperature was 43° and the wind blew off the water. At least they were in the sun.

We parked and began clothing ourselves for a cool weather paddle. Jane has nice dry pants, a dry shirt and neoprene booties for such occasions, but I have never forked over the serious cash for such amenities. Instead, I settled for rain pants over my fleece lined hiking pants, my SealSkinz waterproof socks inside a pair of old water shoes, a long sleeved wicking shirt, hooded sweatshirt and rain jacket. There was no rain in the forecast, but I felt the rain pants and jacket would help repel splashes while I paddled. I also had my balaclava to keep my head and ears warm, as well as SealSkinz gloves to keep my hands warm and dry.

Jane asked if I was going to wear my spray skirt. I had brought it along and was tempted to wear it. When we had paddled this lake last May, there were many speed boats whizzing about that created a lot of waves. I ended up with a good bit of water inside my boat that day. However, the water looked much calmer today so I decided to not bother with it. Jane agreed and left her skirt in the truck.

When I started to put my life jacket on, I found it was very hard to buckle the straps. “Have I gained that much weight?” I said, “Or is it all the layers?” Jane said, “Always blame it on the layers.” With some tugging and tucking I managed to get strapped in.

After we had everything ready, we set our boats side by side. Standing between them, I grabbed the front handles and Jane grabbed the back handles. We lifted and began carrying them down to the water. This was a walk of about 350 feet. We had to stop once along the way to set the boats down and rest. They were heavy with all of our gear loaded inside.

Once we were lakeside and in the sun, I realized that I was wearing too many layers. I knew that once I started paddling I would just get warmer, so I decided to take off my sweatshirt. That meant first taking off the life jacket and rain jacket, then putting them back on once I had shed my hoodie.

Finally, Team Liquid Logic (as we call ourselves since we both own LL Remix XP9 boats) was ready to paddle. We climbed into our boats and scooted into the water. I was immediately glad that I had taken off my sweatshirt as I quickly worked up a sweat paddling. I soon pulled my balaclava off my head, leaving it around my neck so that I wouldn’t lose it.

It took us 37 minutes of steady paddling to reach Cliff Island, a distance of just over two miles. We were paddling against the current. We enjoyed chatting about various subjects as we paddled side by side at a steady pace. I stopped paddling one time to look up something on my phone. When I looked back up, the current had carried me away from Jane a couple hundred feet. I ended up trailing her the rest of the way to Cliff Island. My arms were tired and burning.

From a distance, Cliff Island looked very small and as if the water was high on its sides. However, as we got closer, we could see that as much of it was showing as our last visit. When we reached the island and circled it, it appeared to me that the water was actually lower than on our previous trip. The jumping cliff seemed higher than when I had jumped off it last May. Obviously, the water level has dropped considerably since the photos that were shared recently.

Jane paddled back around to the other side to find a place to get out and climb up on the island. I enjoyed watching all of the water birds flying around the island – sea gulls, geese, and cormorants. I noticed a goose sitting on her nest atop the island and remembered the goose that had been very protective of her nest on our last trip.

Soon, Jane appeared atop the cliff and posed for photos. I encouraged her to jump, but she declined. Apparently she thought the water was too cold. While there, she looked for the geocache that I had replaced last year, but couldn’t locate it. I checked my geocaching app to read my log and confirmed that it was a small bison tube, hanging in one of the cedar trees. I had noted in my log that I had sacrificed the lanyard from my whistle to secure it to the tree.

I decided to paddle around to where Jane had gotten out, and help her look for it. As I exited my boat, she descended the steep rocks to where she had docked. She asked if I had brought food, and I told her yes. I was hungry and looked at my watch. It was past noon so we decided to eat here and rest our arms. I noticed something white on Jane’s dry pants and realized it was a huge patch of bird poop. She had gotten it on her pants while butt-scooting down the rocks. The whole island was white because of the numerous birds that perch here. Jane said to make sure if she got sick in the next few days, to let the doctors know it was probably bird flu.

After we had eaten, I climbed up on the island to look for the cache. I realized once I was up there that I had directed Jane to the wrong cedar tree, and I spotted the cache hanging right where I had hidden it.

There was another cache on a nearby island that I had not yet logged. I asked Jane if she minded paddling over there on the way back so that I could find it. It was somewhat on our way, so she agreed. We paddled past some other islands, and reached the large one that the cache was hidden on. As we made our way along it, I looked for a good spot to make land. The best spot appeared to be at the far end of the island, so I headed in that direction.

Jane had found this cache a few years previously while paddling with another friend. However, she did not remember anything about the hunt or where it was hidden. Once we were out of our boats, I pulled up the cache on my app and saw that it was 500 feet away. We had obviously overshot it quite a bit, but the route from here looked far less steep and treacherous than if we had docked closer to the cache. In fact, when I thoroughly read the cache description later, I learned that this is where the owner suggested making land for that same reason.

We walked uphill through the forest until we reached the coordinates, and then began our search. The hint was not much help: “A loss between two friends.” I assumed this meant two trees with perhaps a downed tree between them. I kept going back to one fallen tree and looking along it, but wasn’t finding the cache. I missed having my hiking stick along to poke through  the leaves. I picked up a couple of different sticks for poking, but they kept breaking.

I finally stopped to look at previous logs on the Geocaching app, hoping someone had mentioned something that would help. In one log was a photo of finders standing between two trees, as I had suspected. I scanned the area looking for trees that looked like those in the photo and spotted some a short distance away. When I walked over to them, I found a pile of bark covering the cache.

The cache was an ammo can. I had read in some of the logs that it was a mess inside. In fact, when Jane had logged it, she wrote that it was a “petri dish”. When I opened the can, I found that the situation had not improved. Everything inside was covered with black slime, making it just about the grossest geocache I have ever found.

Fortunately, Jane and her caching companion had left a small “cap-on-cap” in the cache with a log sheet in it. This is a homemade container using two soda bottle caps. It had kept the log sheet fairly dry and free of slime. This cache had last been found in August 2017, making it a cache resurrection.

We made our way back down to the boats, and continued our trip back to the dam. The current was helping to push us along, but we were paddling into the wind, so it was no easy ride.

We paddled close to the Lake View Dock. I told Jane to slow down because this was a “No Wake” zone and she laughed. The temperature had warmed so that it was quite pleasant on the water, despite the wind. Jane commented on how the sun sparkling on the water looked like diamonds. It was a beautiful sight.

My arms were sore and tired, and my right foot kept going numb. I felt like the foot peg on that side was pulled forward too far, meaning my leg was bent at too much of an angle. occasionally I would take it off the peg and lay my leg flat. But then my back would begin to ache, so I would have to put it back.

Finally, we rounded the last bend and neared the spot where we had started our journey. We could see several people lined up along the shore fishing. Great. We were going to have an audience to watch us flail around getting out of our boats.

I picked a spot between fishermen and nosed into shore. One turned out to be a young girl of about 10. She said, “Do you need help getting out?” Since there was not much room between them to pull up sideways and exit, I said, “Sure.” She started to get up but her mom said, “I’ll get her.” She grabbed the bow of my boat and pulled me ashore. I disentangled my legs and clumsily rolled out of my boat. I moved my boat out of the way, and then helped the young girl pull Jane ashore.

We spent a few minutes talking to them about fishing, kayaking, and other mundane topics. We then each grabbed an end of our boats and started the trek uphill toward the parking lot. We had to make a couple of stops going up. After the long paddle my arms felt like lead. We both agreed that we needed to start doing something to increase our upper body strength before kayak season is in full swing.

This was a good first paddle of the season. I look forward to many more as the weather grows warmer.

PS: Since kayak season is starting, I’ve completed the next installation in my series of “My Gear” pages. If you are interested in learning more about my boats, paddle, life jacket, helmet, etc., click here.

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