The Great Dismal Swamp

A friend and I made a few trips back into the Great Dismal Swamp in February of 2009. We wanted primarily see what was back there, and also get some cool pictures. We made three expeditions and each time pushed farther back into the swamp.

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We set out from a field and it quickly became swampy. This area was mostly a forrest of dead trees with clumps of switch cane scattered around. We walked on a maze of trees that had fallen over, often zig-zagging around deeper water and thickets. The water in this part was about 1.5 to 2 feet deep.

Dismal Swamp

Once we got through the swampy part, we came to a forrest of pine trees. These were all fairly young and quite thick. From satellite photos, we found a thinner section that really helped us get through in a timely fashion.

After the thicket of pines, we came to the "North Ditch" that was dug to help drain the swamp for timber. It's about 15-20 feet wide, but there were a few trees that had fallen across it. Once on the other side, we found an old access road that ran parallel to the ditch. We followed that for the rest of our exploration.

We found a giant hollow oak tree on our second trip. It had recently fallen over and we think it was struck by lightning because the inside was charred. It was almost big enough to lay down inside and we thought about camping in it just to say we had. You can see it from aerial photographs while it was still standing. Quite a bit bigger than anything around it.

Giant Hollow Tree Stump

Following the access road on our third trip, we came to a lake. It's not Lake Drummond, but from satellite photos it seems to be the second largest in the swamp. We named it Bear Lake because we're pretty sure there's a man-eating grizzly bear just waiting to rip the heads off unsuspecting hikers.

Bear Lake
The ominous Bear Lake

Continuing along the path, we decided to take a shortcut across a half mile strip of swamp to get to a railroad track. From there we could walk along it back to the car and we wouldn't have to backtrack over territory we'd already seen. That turned into a disaster as we quickly got into hip deep water that was about 35 degrees. We spent 45 minutes fighting through it only to find we'd gone practically nowhere. So we turned around and made our way back to the North Ditch. We weren't able to find any logs across this time, and things were really starting to get bad. I wouldn't say we were hypothermic, but I couldn't feel anything below my knees and it felt a lot like trying to walk on a pair of stilts. We threw our jackets across and then swam through the ice to the other side. Once on the other side we made our way back to the car and decided the swamp was explored.

We had grand ideas of walking straight across the swamp over 3-4 days and writing a book on the experience. But after that last trip we decided we couldn't be bothered.