Let’s just face it: this time of year in the south is the worst. The moment you step outside the air conditioning you’re drenched in sweat. It’s hot, humid and suffocating; I’d rather dress in a tutu and herd pigs in the winter than hike up Crowder’s in August. Only cold mountain water is enough to make me even consider being active outside between the hours of 8am and 11pm. In fact, I have a multi-stage process for when I feel like I’m becoming deep-fried in humidity.
Lake Wylie has the problem of getting hot and staying hot, and is made worse by overcrowding, sharp objects to cut yourself on, and the ever-present threat of the nuclear plant making you glow. The Catawba river though is a little better; while I’m not comfortable with swimming down 50-75’ to the cold water that is actually in Lake Wylie, I’m totally fine with meeting it when it comes out of the bottom of the Lake Wylie Dam. Your best bet for cooler water is in the section from the Lake Wylie Dam to River Walk or River Park. This section of the river is flat, wide, and is great for a nice easy float in either a kayak or an inner tube which you can get from Catawba River Expeditions. Yes…this is a shameless plug; Jan promised me cookies.
If that isn’t enough to cool me down, my next thought is, “I want to go to beautiful mountains, tube down rapids while sitting in water so cold I have to keep my license on hand to remember my gender, and watch people in the same situation as me and laugh my pants off.” When I can’t resist this thought anymore, I head to Saluda NC and go tubing on the Lower Green which is known for 3 things: Bikinis, Beer Guts, and Tattoos. All on the same person. Definitely a step up from the Catawba, the Lower Green is narrower and has a far better rapid selection making it a more exciting river. Also, the best people watching is when the cooler of beer, hung precariously inside an innertube, tips over in a rapid. “SAVE THE BEER!!!” is bellowed with the same gusto as “THAR SHE BLOWS!!!” by Captain Ahab, and a mad scramble to salvage all that can be saved gives me the same joy as clapping my hands to make a murder of crows scatter. There are plenty of outfitters in the area that can run shuttle and rent tubes; like in all things, Google helps track those places down.
If the frostbite hasn’t set in yet, it means I’m throwing kayaks on the roof of my car and driving to Lake Jocassee. Without a doubt the most beautiful lake in South Carolina, it’s also the deepest at over 300’ deep depending on water levels. Several mountain streams pour into Jocassee, dropping the temperature even lower, and the best one is where the Whitewater River drops 75’ into the lake. As the water fall comes down from the mountain, it has several tiers which form pools after each drop and are perfect for doing nothing but turning yourself into an ice-cube. At the bottom of the falls though is a huge sand bar, and if nothing else is a good place to warm yourself in the sun for the 4 mile paddle back to the parking lot.
As long as my teeth aren’t chattering so bad that I sound like a hedge trimmer, I get back in the car and head up to Pisgah for the granddaddy of cold water: Sliding Rock. It’s not that Sliding Rock is the coldest water on the east coast, but during the wait to get to the top of the slide you get nice and toasty waiting in the sun, so the shock of the 50 degree water after a 60’ slide is horrific……I love it. The only thing better is the hidden rope swing located across from the parking lot that’s on the right hand side after Government Road splits off from 276 that I’ve been sworn to secrecy about. Tucked back on the Davidson River, there’s a rope swing with a nice 15’ deep hole for you to swing into. Deep water doesn’t prevent bellyflops though, so remember to drop in feet first.
And, as with any cold water adventure, bring a change of dry clothes, a towel, and maybe even an emergency blanket. It’s hard to explain to the relatives why you lost your big toe to frostbite in July.