Katie surprised me this morning by asking if she could come along on a springtime adventure. I didn't think that she'd want to, not with our upcoming move to Wisconsin around the corner and her lack of interest in my tough snow-slogged spring hikes. Well, I had hoped she would, because I really wanted to show her the fantastical Slate River Gorge while we were still in the area. We packed up Logan and headed south towards L'Anse for a few quick adventures.
No visit with Katie to the general Skanee lands would be complete without a pause at Lower Silver Falls. It was where our first date was, where we often stopped for a Subway dinner break, and where we brought our closest friends to show off the area. The road was muddy yet clear and I drove us right to the main parking lot with little trouble. Below the lot the river roared, still full from the spring melt.
We walked a short distance down from the lot to the lower chute, keeping a wide berth from the angry river, and were shocked to see the waters washing right up out of the deep channel onto the nearby rocks. Even Logan kept a safe distance from the edge of the river. Katie and I had to shout over the noise to hear each other. This visit was quite as intimate as I was hoping it would be. We headed back to the car, made a quick sidetrek over to the upper falls under the railroad trestle, and then drove the rest of the way to Slate River.
Now, I was a little worried about this stop. On my previous visits I simply walked up in the river and let the water run up and over my boots with no qualms. However, if Silver River was still running so high, I had to imagine that Slate River would also be pretty full. Full enough to make walking through the river a cold and dangerous idea. When I pulled over the bridge and up the small drive my fears were confirmed. There was no way we could ford the springtime river safely.
Remembering that there was an alternative path far up on the eastern bank I led Katie over to the steep hill and we climbed. She wasn't a huge fan of the sudden steepness, expecting an easy walk along a riverside, but we made it up just fine. We were perched up at least thirty feet above the car and our path wound slowly uphill from here.
We had a pleasant stroll, hand in hand, along the needle-covered path. Most of it was wide enough to let us do that, anyways. There were some sections when it narrowed and we were forced single file. We walked past pines and young saplings and a few empty hardwood stands before I could hear Slate River Falls below us. I could barely make out a wide splash of white below. The usual jagged chutes were completely flooded by a huge gush of water that spanned from bank to bank. Katie wasn't terribly interested in walking down the steep bank so we simply continued on, passing by the first drop.
Further upstream our path split. Hoping to get a little closer to the river I opted to take the right fork downhill. If I remembered correctly this would take us down a mild slope to the main drops of Ecstasy Falls. I was right. We stood on the bank of the wide river here, gazing out over the brown waters. What is normally a set of rock stairs with a mild flow pooling and flowing around little breaks was now a powerful and wide set of stepping drops.
Our path stayed close to the river, following the long curve over to the base of Slide Falls. Aside for having more water flowing down it, which was by now a common theme to the drops along Slate River, this one didn't look too different than normal. Even when the water is low this drop is always completely covered by sliding water. We spent little time here, partly because we were close to the end of the drops and because there was a decaying deer along the path that we didn't want Logan to get any ideas about.
We climbed back up the steep bank to the top of the river gorge to continue heading upstream. Katie was ready to turn back by now, satisfied with our little outing, but I really wanted to see how the last drop looked. The path seemed to get a little rougher, a few spots sliding down the slate banks and a couple of little climbs along the way, before we reached a view loowing down to Kukuck's Falls. I took a few quick photos before we turned and headed back.
The walk back to the car was quick and easy, all downhill and now familiar. Our drive was somber, though. This was our last trip out, the last time Katie and I would be together in the wilds of the Upper Peninsula for the foreseeable future. At least we did get a few cool spots on, though it would have been nicer if we had had the entire afternoon to explore some more.