The fear of getting lost in the outdoors

By DAN GEDDINGS
Posted 1/21/18

One of our greatest fears is the thought of getting lost. There aren't many places in this part of the world to get lost in, but it does happen occasionally in Sparkleberry Swamp. Ever so often we hear about some duck hunter or fisherman that gets …

This item is available in full to subscribers

The fear of getting lost in the outdoors

Posted

One of our greatest fears is the thought of getting lost. There aren't many places in this part of the world to get lost in, but it does happen occasionally in Sparkleberry Swamp. Ever so often we hear about some duck hunter or fisherman that gets off track and spends the night in this vast swampland above Lake Marion.

There aren't any roads and not many marked boat trails in this largely uncharted place. Most outdoorsmen have learned to navigate the area by doing a little bit of exploring. You may also go a few times with someone who knows the swamp, then go back on your own to explore some more.

Of course, nowadays we have a Global Positioning System that will map your course and make it virtually impossible to get lost. That is, as long as you have good batteries and favorable atmospheric conditions to connect with the right satellites.

But, you know, we didn't always have handheld GPS units, and sometimes we had to do what I call dead reckoning. That is, using the best possible information that you have and some personal intuitive senses to chart a course. That's usually the best way to get lost.

Weather can play a big part, too, especially in rain or fog. Fluctuations in water levels in the swamp can also cause some confusing effects.

Years ago, I did a lot of duck hunting in the Upper Sparkleberry Swamp. One morning my brother Matt and I put the boat in at Pack's Landing and ran the Santee River up to Broadwater. There was a full moon, and it was as clear as a bell all the way up. We noticed that the river level was way up from the day before. That alone can make navigation somewhat tricky with a spotlight at night in the swamp.

When we ran up Broadwater creek we noticed that all the woods were flooded, and a thick fog began to set in as we turned into Little Otter Flat.

After a few minutes, I realized we were out of the main creek. The high water made it possible to go just about anywhere, but I didn't want to go just about anywhere. I wanted to hunt in the flats off Little Creek. We needed to follow Little Otter Flat up to Bass Hole and turn off into Little Creek.

When I realized we were out of the main creek I stopped the boat. With the spotlight on, it illuminated the fog, and you couldn't see anything but fog. With the spotlight off, you couldn't see well enough to navigate the logs and stumps and brush. So we just stopped and sat there.

It was still early, about 4:30 a.m., and we had plenty of time to get to our destination if the fog lifted.

I told Matt that we were still close to the main run, and surely another party of duck hunters would come along in a little while on Little Otter Flat. We would just pull out to the main creek when they passed by. But nobody came by for nearly an hour. The fog was slowly breaking up now, and I was anxious to get going.

Just then we heard a boat coming from the opposite direction toward us, and we could see their spotlight. They were coming up Little Otter Flat from the Dead River turnoff. When they were about 50 yards away I turned on my spotlight and shined it in their direction. They stopped and turned off their motor.

We couldn't see them for the brush but could hear several people talking. I told Matt that they were probably sitting in the creek, but just to be sure I called out to them. "Are you guys sitting in the creek?" I asked. They laughed, and one finally answered, "What's the matter, are you lost?"

"Well no," I answered, "we just got out of the main creek."

Those guys just howled with laughter.

"What creek are you looking for?" they asked.

When I answered "Little Otter Flat" they laughed some more. Quite frankly, I didn't see the humor in it and just out of curiosity asked, "What creek are you guys in?" When they answered "Pine Island Creek" I realized that they were lost!

They laughed and talked some more, then cranked up and headed off through the swamp. I hoped that they would make it home.

By now the fog had lifted, and when we pulled out into the creek where the guys had been sitting, I recognized it as Little Otter Flat. We went on to our destination with no problem. The water was so high we had to hunt out of the boat that morning, but we did manage to get a few ducks that day.

As it turned out, we weren't really lost, only turned around a little bit, but I'm not so sure about those other guys.

Reach Dan Geddings at cdgeddings@gmail.com.