It’s not uncommon for paddlers to encounter a portage while on a float trip, particularly during low water. In fact, most canoeists and kayakers expect it; some even going as far as to carry along a saw for clearing debris. But on a recent outing on the lower section of Five Runs in Conecuh National Forest, Ala, to the Yellow River, the author traveled with a group of paddlers through what can only be described as portage hell.
Prior to the trip, water levels across lower Alabama and the Florida panhandle had been falling for several weeks due to drought-like conditions. The gauge at the CR4 bridge on the Yellow River, which Five Runs flows into, measured in at less than a foot on the day in question, but did not deter the group of intrepid adventurers.
After dropping off kayaks and shuttling vehicles to the take-out, the group set out on their adventure. Five Runs had been chosen because it was only 1.2 miles from the Yellow River and the put-in farther up the Yellow had been deemed impassable. Thus began nearly three hours of of heaving and hauling kayaks and canoes up, over and around log jam after log jam.
Upon finally reaching the Yellow River, which flows from Alabama into the Florida panhandle, paddling was akin to nirvana with no major obstacles to speak of. Low water levels revealed magnificent limestone formations and hidden spring flows. It was truly a reward after such a struggle.
Paddling on the Yellow River during normal conditions is a real treat. The Florida portion, a state designated canoe trail, offers 56 miles of trail to tackle with the most popular section being from CR2 to Hwy 90 near Crestview. Just remember that in order to have an enjoyable paddle with minimal portaging, keep an eye on the water levels.