A few weeks had passed since I had visited Otter Falls. Well, attempted to visit the falls. I ended up turning around near some small downstream drops, deterred by a combination of black flies, summer heat, and a riverside cabin. Today I set out to approach the falls from the west in hopes to shave off some distance and minimize the chance of trespassing.
This was the first big hike for Logan with Katie gone. He was rearing to go, all bundles of puppy energy on the drive down. I drove us straight down to Alston and then over to Nisula, turning north on Pike Lake Road. There's a small maze of two-tracks that lead off of this road along the north side of Otter River and I planned to drive east along them, as some of them get pretty close to the falls. Less than a mile along the maze and the roads became too overgrown for my small car.
I parked and we headed down the grassy roads. It was cloudy out, just barely enough sunshine filtering through to get rough compass directions, so I tried to lead us correctly along the scribbles on my map. We had to go east for a while longer, then north, then cut back east, and then (hopefully) south. There was only one confusing moment when a two-track cut across our path, one that wasn't on my map, but I managed to get us pretty close to the bank of Bruno Creek. We headed down the creek's path, pushing through thick undergrowth along the bank until we finally reached Otter River.
Sounds of rushing waters drifted towards us but it was hard to tell if it was up or downstream. Going up the river only thickened the undergrowth and softened the noises. To follow Otter River down I had to get in the water, though, as the banks were too cluttered to walk along. I scooped up Logan and lowered myself knee-deep into the cool waters. It was sand underfoot and each step stirred up a bit of cloudiness in the clear waters.
We didn't spend much time in the water. One of the upper falls was just a few dozen yards downstream, so I crossed the river, tied Logan to a tree, and wandered around taking pictures. The drop was over smooth sandstone ledges, just steep enough to break the surface into foam at a few spots. They were pretty but not terribly impressive. I saw some downstream drops but there was something else there too, just on the bank: the cabin. With a sinking feeling I realized we were only a few hundred yards from my first visit and that the cabin was smack in the middle of the series of tiny waterfalls. Not only was Otter Falls small - it was definitely on private property.
It was time to head back. Wading across Otter River we followed Bruno Creek upstream in an attempt to retrace our route. I tried to make our hike easier by staying further up the bank this time, away from the thick undergrowth. There is one point when Otter River swings north, almost touching Bruno Creek, where I thought we had gotten turned around by accident. It took a few minutes of head-scratching before I figured out where we were and was able to keep us in the right direction.
When we were getting close to the logging tracks Logan made a strange noise. He was snapping and whining, as if something was bugging him. He had stepped on a nest of yellow jackets! Moving quickly I grabbed him, held him tight against my chest, and ran like the dickens. I didn't know how many stings it would take to bring down a small puppy but didn't want to find out.
After the cabin, thick undergrowth, and yellow jackets it was a huge relief to see a logging road again. It wasn't the same one we headed in on. That didn't matter - the small maze converged to the west near where I had parked. We made it back to my car without any more mishap and took Pike Lake Road north to M-26. Oh, and neither Logan or I had any stings, although we both had plenty of black fly bites and spent the rest of the evening picking ticks off of each other.