Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall Creeking The Upper Pennisula of MI

 Japs on our second lap of Slate Falls

The cold winds had migrated from the North and settle about the Northern shore of Lake Superior. My thoughts had not strayed to paddling as the water levels seemed inevitably low and had begun to think I should prepare for the winter ahead. But the paddling community eagerly caught wind of the possibility of flood watch for much of Minnesota and Wisconsin. As I woke in the morning to rain falling the windows and found a steady drizzle falling from the grey hued sky. But throughout the day, staring through the hospital windows at work, no heavy rains seemed to come. It would not be enough to rekindle paddling on the North Shore. However thing appeared to be different in Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan.

On a whim I found myself driving in the darkness after a unexpected invitation to paddle the L'Anse area of Michigan, hearing that the level had become more than favorable. The drive through the darkness went quickly as I pulled into the "Hilltop" Motel and found my friend Justin. I slept soundly and awoke to the familiar grey, cold, and soggy paddling weather. We snatched breakfast at the local greasy spoon and met up with a couple other paddlers who knew the area better.

Myself and Japs eye-ing Slate Falls before suiting up

We drove out to the Slate River and hiked up to scout the final drop on the river. There before us stood a 20-25 ft drop of boney and narrow proportions but safe of all wood. We checked the river level using the old method of a tape measure and measuring the distance from the river to the top of a crossing bridge. It was deemed that the levels were of medium character and we set up shuttle. Having geared up and put onto the river it became quickly obvious that the river levels were fairly boney. I put aside the thought and figured the small creek just needed to constrict a little and conditions would improve. But as we reached the first major drop I was aware that this was going to be a boat abusive run.

Myself on the first drop of the Slate River
The first falls, flowed over a manky ledge dropping off a 4 ft shoulder onto a long slide. We all fired it off hearing our boats scrape loudly. The river then mellowed and the boon-doggle ensued. The river meandered and forked amongst flat marsh land and was choked river wide log jams. We creatively found our way above, below, and around them. However, by the time the 5th or 6th log jam showed up in the river ahead and my boat yet again scraped along the gravel bottom, I was about to lose my patience and was seriously considering walking out and calling it quits.

Japs amongst one of many slides on the Slate

But the river began its gaining gradient as cliff wall began to line the banks. The river dropped over several large sets of stair case ledge drops and pour over a 30 yard long constricted slide. While the action was fun, I still could help but wince at the plastic my boat was losing. Finally the ahead we could see a distinct horizon line of Slate Falls the final and most burly the Slate has to offer.

 The Horizon Line Above Slate Falls

We had already walked up and scouted it for wood previous to putting on the river. Slate Falls is a 20 ft drop that pours awkwardly jutted slate slabs that diagonal the river’s flow, and in large part looks to be of grave risk for pitoning. However on river right the Falls flows through a narrow gap, hitting a small ledge of rock on the way down, and terminates in the pool below.

We all fired into it without hesitation. I lined up for the river right slot and rocketed into verticality. I braced on the descent and felt myself auto-boofed from small ledge in the falls. I felt my boat sailing into a mild side-boof as I impacted the water. I braced up with little need to roll. Myself and Japs finding the drop to be the only redeeming quality of the Slate River at this point decided to run it again. I rocket down again and found a way to miss the awkward boof ledge and mildly plugged into the pool meanwhile emerging upright. We continued onward finding our shuttle vehicle near the river and left the Slate River behind us.

Looking back at Slate Falls
With fellow paddlers having arrived in the area our phones were ringing. The consensus was to run the Falls River right in L’ Anse. We rendezvous with some Duluth and Milwaukee boaters and scoped out the biggest drop on the river entitle “Power House Falls” in which the run begins with. Power House Falls is a 15 foot drop whose width drops onto mangled rock ledge with the exception of the extreme river left. Unfortunately at the top you have to ferry across the slow moving lip of the falls to achieve the left hand line.

Gearing up we put on as the sun was falling in the sky and the temperature was slowly falling. The first few rapids went quickly and I was surprised to find myself at power house falls already. The paddler ahead of me was eddying out above the falls and I quickly decided that I was feeling confident and blew by the eddy aim for my line. I waited patiently with myself armed for a boof

Myself on Power House Falls of the Falls River

One by one the crew nicely dropped powerhouse and continued down river. The river flowed over multiple sets of bedrock ledges and slide and arrived at multiple drops of varying height (5-8 ft). Arriving at a pour-over named “Ass Hole” we stopped to look. I felt pretty confident and only looked at the drop briefly. The river constricted between two boulders created a jetting pour-over that collided dead center with a rock at its base. I went last and lazily dropped in.

Anthony runs "Asshole"

 I didn’t throw much of a stroke and plugged the drop deeply and found myself in a bit of a situation. Completely underwater I maintained my boats balance submarined and upright yet completely submerged. Meanwhile I wondered calmly if I would get plastered on the rock directly ahead of me or stuck in the hole created by the pour-over. Fortunately neither occurred as I was shot out upright into an adjacent eddy. I shrugged and grinned at my fellow paddlers who had looks of concerned as I ferried back into the hole in front of the boulder and into safety.

 Myself running one of the myriad of moderate drops on the Falls River

We continued onward and shot through the final drop through a concrete dam with a narrow chute through it. We paddled into the cold wind that whipped across Lake Superior. Hours later with a belly full of food we drove through the darkness to Ironwood, MI with hopes to run the Presque Isle in the morning. Through the night I I slept soundly awaiting the morning.

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