I was in the mood for a grand adventure to finish up some uncompleted areas of the general Baraga and Houghton areas. I was done with Marquette for now, and while there was plenty left to explore beyond Ontonagon towards the Porcupines, I was writing off that land for the future. Today I just wanted to spend a whole day re-visiting some of my favorite spots a bit closer to home.
When I reached Alberta the sun had yet to rise above the eastern horizon. Or so I assumed. It was misty and wet out with thick grey clouds that masked the time of day. It was so dark out that I had to pull out a hand flashlight to help with the first long trek. Logan and I headed east from Alberta, along a gated two-track that follows the south bank of Plumbago Lake, using my little light to avoid the deeper mud puddles and decide between the different forks that showed up along our way.
It took just over an hour to walk the three miles back. By now our two-track was more grass than mud and had several seasonal flows washing deep channels through it. I checked my GPS to confirm that this was the right spot and cut off to the left. There was no roar or rush, no sign that a waterfall lay down below the track, only our coordinates and my guesswork. We found Plumbago Falls nestled in a deep rocky gorge half-buried in melting snow.
Last year I had hiked up along Plumbago Lake from the road and found a few minor rapids in between deep beaver swamps. It had been a hard and joyless hike and I barely made it a mile from US-41 before turning back. After referencing a topographic map later I realized that the little creek made a suspicious drop a full two miles from where I had turned about. And now today I had gone those extra miles, using the logging road as a shortcut, and was standing at the foot of the real Plumbago Falls.
Curious I headed up to the start of the deep gorge. I could hear some tumbles in there, and there was plenty of mist rising to show that the cold water was getting jumbled around between the rocks, yet I couldn't really see any drops. Once past the first set of boulders things began to open up. The creek was splitting and rejoining within the rocky gorge forming a number of impressive little drops, similar to No Name Falls in the southeast.
Many of the individual drops were buried under the huge block rocks that filled the gorge, though. These rocks provided a sort of path up, a path still frosted with white snow and wet from the night's rains, and I had to take my time working my way from one boulder to the next. Logan quickly decided that this path was not for him. He circled back around to the bottom and came up the south bank, watching from the top of the gorge.
Once I reached the top I looked around briefly. The track was probably still somewhere to the right and would lead us back to the car, so I wasn't worried about the return trip. We had already found the waterfall we were looking for. I still wanted more. I led Logan further upstream to check out the upstream swamp, which he quickly attempted to cross via an old earthern berm. It was quite funny to watch him back out of that situation.
There were some other interesting things up besides the long, dark swamp. A huge stone ridgeline stretched east and west, which may have held back a much longer body of water. Today there was a sizeable break for the creek to pour down which formed the top of the main waterfall. Everything, including this rock, was covered in a thick layer of green moss and ferns, much more than I'd expect this early in the spring.
After playing around up here I decided it was time to head back. Before going too far I quickly cut back down to the base of the falls. There were a few smaller drops down here, much larger than the meager rapids I had found last summer, that I wanted to capture. The variety of direct plunges and slides reminded me of Harley Falls over by Silver River, though this stretch lasted only a few dozen yards.
Too soon it was time to head back. The hour-long hike in the morning had been mildly exciting in the darkness; now it was just dreary. We splashed through the mud and skirted around puddles on our way out, catching a few glimpses of the still-bare woods around us. When we finally reached the car back at Alberta I was ready for some excitement.
Middle Silver Falls seemed like a good second visit. I had been there several times last year, each time visiting the drops downstream of Arvon Road, and was curious about the stretch of river above the bridge. Logan and I headed back up US-41 and turned before reaching L'Anse. The dirt section of the road was sloppy and I slid and bounced around before finally pulling into the gravel pit on the far side of Silver River. The gate was open and I figured that it was worth it to shave off a few minutes of walking by just driving into the pit.
Wide mud puddles lay strewn about in the open gravel pit like forlorn ponds in a barren land. I followed a pair of tracks around a few of the larger ones before parking next to a huge pile of dirt that Logan and I had raced up last year. It seemed so long ago, back when I was first really getting comfortable with the area and was starting to be able to point out which hill was which just by getting my bearing. Logan took one look up at the pile but I didn't see any flash of recognition. We headed back along a trail through the woods and left those memories behind.
The trail led north before fading away to the right near an old cedar forest. A cedar forest like the one next to the lowermost Middle Silver Falls. We cut down off the trail into the woods and soon heard the roar of a river echo up at us. A few minutes later and we stood next to an overflowing fury that looked nothing like the Silver River that either of us were used to.
Any scene or view I could have remembered from previous visits was hidden in an overwhelming mass of brown-white water and noise. It was insane. There was no drops here, no discernible waterfalls, just thousands of angry water rushing down. I ventured out as far as I dared for a view of the lower drops which are so pretty and layered during most of the year. Sure, I had been expecting more water with the spring melt, yet this was far and away too much.
A bit put off by how much was hidden by the flooding waters I skipped ahead up on the bank, climbing up the steep cedar-covered banks instead of staying close to the river's edge to capture each drop. I reached the next group of falls, what I usually call the middle group, just below Gomanche Creek's confluence and swung back down. Everything was brown and white and frothing. Even the tiny Gomanche Creek Falls across the river was nothing but a wide dash of white water.
There was nothing really left for me to see here. The next group of drops, near the Paige Creek confluence, was nothing more than a long set of rapids. If I couldn't make out the larger drops than the rapids didn't stand a chance. Logan and I headed back to the car and I planned my next leg.
There is about three miles of Silver River in between Arvon Road and Silver Road. However, there was only two or three areas in that length that I expected to find waterfalls. I didn't really feel like walking the full three miles just to turn around and follow Silver Road back to my car. Instead I decided to cheat. I drove the car a short distance and parked just past the first small creek south of the planted forest. There was a convenient overgrown track that looked like it would lead me straight to the river.
The track did lead me right to the river, right in middle of a long group of falls that stretched away in both directions. And a bridge. There was a wooden footbridge that spanned over a churning chute that connected the rocky banks. It was just too tempting. I took a few quick photos from the western bank before stepping out onto the slick and angled bridge.
I didn't spend a lot of time on the east bank. As soon as I crossed the bridge I saw a camp perched up on the side. Not wanting to trespass I took a quick picture of the uphill drops before crossing back. These falls seemed much taller than the downstream ones past the bridge, though if I had to guess I'd say that most of them were chutes and slides. Not quite as scenic. It was just a guess, though - everything was a flooded roar today.
Back on the west bank I headed upstream a short distance, checking out the different angles and plunges, before stopping. The river continued to churn upstream even if the drops were shrinking in size. However, I was getting close to a cabin on this bank. Silver River has a number of cabins along this stretch. Trespassing to see a few drowned rapids didn't sound appealing. I called it good and turned back to the car.
There was one last group to check out, just below Silver Road's bridge. A few cabins clustered around this one as well. I decided to play it safe and parked near Indian Road before heading north on logging roads. Logan made a thorough investigation of the old track before we started down it.
After wandering along the old track for a half mile or so I cut down to the river and ran right into another decent sized drop. This one was much rockier than the alleged chutes downstream and I had some trouble navigating the banks for a good angle. I crept up along the river, getting at least one decent photo of it along the way.
I popped up from the river's side in hopes to continue further upstream and was staring right at a huge truck idling along a track. An angry-looking man rolled down the window and asked what I was doing. Turns out that he owned the land around this section of falls and was not very happy to see me on it. I apologized profusely, explaining that I was merely following the river and didn't know where the property lines were, and then turned to head back to my car. He drove slowly behind me and watched until I had started my car, then he revved his engine and roared out towards L'Anse.
Most landowners in the Upper Peninsula have been pretty friendly to me. I've had numerous chats with them and have never been yelled at or warned or anything. This experience really shook me. I get that each owner has the right to do what they will on their land, it was just very unexpected. I was so worried about bumping into this guy again that I decided to head east instead of back to L'Anse, deciding to try my luck with the Peshekee Highlands route rather than risk bumping into him again.
My next planned destination was down near Covington. The easiest thing to do would be to drive back to Dynamite Hill and take 41 down. Or I could try to get onto the Herman-Nestoria cutoff, but Indian was still clogged with snow. Or I could take the riskiest and longest option and try to find my way to the Peshekee Grade. At least the swamps along it were pretty.
The first few miles went just fine. Silver Road was muddy and sloppy yet it was plowed. I made it all the way to the Peshekee Grade, just south of the old Arvon Lookout Hill, before I ran into problems. There was only two directions to go. Left on the grade was literally dug up, a huge six-foot wide trench spanning the road. And to the right was huge drift of snow pushed up. With no other choice I turned around. I drove back west on Silver Road, past the angry landowner's land, back to Dynamite Hill Road, and then turned south on 41 towards Covington.
Between the multiple stops along Silver River and the wasted time driving around I was now comfortably behind schedule. There would be no Canyon River Falls or Tibbet's Falls today. Instead I headed down past Kenton and pulled into a tiny side road off of NF-16. It was time to find Duppy Falls.
Last time I tried to find Duppy was right at the start of winter and a thick, wet blanket of snow had been draped over everything. Today there was the start of green grass and a few patches of mud. The road was nice enough for me to drive the steep hill and park near the green clearing that I assumed would be the start of the trail. An obvious break in the pines ahead meant there was something to find around here.
The break led to a small footpath that crossed Slate Creek and wandered through a patch of tag alders on the other side. Slate Creek - that's what got me so confused on the last visit. I didn't realize that there was a creek to cross before Jumbo River. Today I simply skipped over and continued on along the narrow trail until I heard the sound of a waterfall ahead.
This waterfall was wide and solid, pouring down the solid rock slabs, with almost no valley to speak of. This rock didn't appear to have given much over the years. The busy river merely pooled up and ran over the ledges and then continued on its way.
Above the first large drop was a series of twists and angles that created a series of smaller, but pretty, falls. It was still surprising to see how shallow the river valley was. I stood on the forest floor next to the water mere inches above the frothing surface. If there had been more snow to melt, or if a heavy storm was to hit with the ground already this sodden, Jumbo River would have no trouble spilling over its banks.
My footpath continued upstream so Logan and I followed. A few minutes later and we found an upper drop about the same size as the first on we had found. I took a few photos before checking upstream from this. The trail died out but I wanted to make sure there was nothing lese left up here. A swamp grew and stretched to south, promising no more drops on this section. I turned and we headed back, taking a more direct route up and over the tall hills that rose above the riverside paths.
There was no more to find further up the river, though I knew there was more downstream. We headed back to the car and drove back through Kenton and over to Golden Glow Road. The dirt roads were cleared and let us through with little troubles and soon I was parked near the start of a path to Jumbo Falls. Might as well visit both drops along Jumbo River.
This path was much more maintained and much soggier than the lands around Duppy Falls. It was a real struggle to follow it and keep my boots out of the deep mud puddles. Even Logan had to pick his path carefully to avoid getting too dirty. He's a surprisingly clean dog. Other than the soggy trail we had little trouble finding the roaring waterfall.
I was starting to get a bit tired now. Even though we were in the area I didn't feel like hitting up Agate or O Kun de Kun or even Victoria Dam. Instead I just drove us up to M-26 on the way back to Houghton. Well, almost all the way. There was one stop that I absolutely had to make on the way.
Spring melt over Wyandotte Falls was something I had been looking forward to for months. I had been here twice already this year, once in March and once a few weeks ago, hoping to catch any form of decent flow over the craggy rock. Both times I had been thwarted by a thick layer of snow and ice. I just had to find something today.
Logan led me over the moss and around huge old cedars to the creek, right where it empties out of a series of swamps next to the golf course. The creek was flowing deep and fast. I let myself get a little excited. We followed the river downstream with only the barest glances at the small drops along the way. When we finally reached the main drop I finally let excitement sweep over me. The falls were flowing, and they were flowing incredibly well.
Happy I headed back along the paths to the trailhead and my car. I had finally captured Wyandotte Falls in full force, not a weak trickle or hidden behind mounds of snow and ice. Now it was time to head back to Houghton for one last stop. If there was one other waterfall I wanted to see in full force it was the one that flowed down Mont Ripley in Hancock.
I parked at the familiar old Ripley schoolhouse and followed the hidden trail up into the woods. Before I could get to the falls, though, something showed up in the way. A truck-sized boulder had crashed down from the hill above and was sitting right in the middle of the path. Maybe this hillside wasn't as sturdy as I had assumed.
The boulder hadn't been there long. Dirt still dusted the sides and top, not washed away by rain or snow yet. And the path it had taken down the hillside was loose mud and dirt. Knowing that everything around here could still give easily I crept carefully around the boulder and took a few photos of the lower falls before scurrying upstream.
I wasn't too interested in the lower falls. They were pretty, and fairly easy to reach, but last fall Faith and I had found a sharp drop that I wanted to see today. When we had found it there had been only a bare trickle to wet the wall of rock. Today there would be much, much more.
We headed up the lower drops and climbed up a long chain of steep rapids. Soon we were in the narrow little rock canyon that held a floor of sweet-smelling mint during much of the year. Now it was only dead weeds, though I tried to remember the sharp fragrence and tart taste from previous visits. From the head of the canyon came a roar, and when we turned the corner the main drop showed up. And it looked fantastic.
Overflowing creek water gushed out over the plunge, skittering and splashing as it hit the different rock formations before meeting the canyon's floor and sliding out. I stood close and let the mist flow over me. When it was time to continue on I noticed one small problem; there was no easy way up the rock wall. I had to backtrack up and around to push forward.
Above the main waterfalls there were a few more drops, some several feet in height, though all paled compared to what we had just seen. I took a few quick photos and continued on as the creek tamed into a series of rapids in a deep little creek valley. A railroad grade rose up as a high barrier, blocking the way forward, so we tackled it directly and peered over the edge. The little creek continued further up the hill, tiny rapids stirring up the waters to give it a white look. There was nothing really left for me to explore up there.
Instead of following the creek back down I headed over to the west to the ski lift. We were now on top of Mont Ripley proper and could see the terminus of the lifts close by. There was some snow up here, probably left from any artifical machines they use on this hill, though most of the woods and slope were more brown mud than white.
Taking down the eastern run gave us several great views over towards Michigan Tech across the Portage. When we reached the bottom of the run there was a small problem… Logan and I were standing right above there the little avalanche was. I led us around into the woods to the right to avoid that area. We came back to the path and headed back home, only ten minutes away. It had been a long day, a full day, and we were both ready for a warm house and good food.