First Snowstorm of the Year

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Katie and Jacob head out in the first real snowstorm of the year for a full day of waterfalls and snowy hikes. published on by

Logan and Katie posing on the trail

Ontonagon County waterfalls had fallen off my radar as of late. Between trying to polish up Houghton and Baraga Counties and venturing into the exciting new lands of the Yellow Dog I had pushed everything to the west low on the priority list. I knew that some of the smaller ones, like Gleason and Sandstone, should probably wait for the swollen snowmelt. Still, there were other falls in the Ontonagon that I wanted to find this year. I woke up early in the predawn to start getting ready, hoping for the now-usual dark start, and several inches of snow waited for me outside. I went back to sleep.

Driving in the dark wasn't bad. Trying to drive through South Range in the middle of an early morning snowstorm was bad. Katie and I got up together when the sun started leaking light through the snowstorm. After a quick shovel of the driveway and sidewalk for our still-sleeping roommates we headed out of Houghton on M-26.

Driving was wretched. We slipped our way through South Range and Trimountain, all white knuckles and taunt muscles, breaking trail along the state highway. It didn't look like a single plow had been out yet. The snow was still coming down thick and wet to weigh heavily on the wipers. Once we passed Toivola things began to ease up, and the storm ended at Rockland, though we didn't see any sign of a snow plow until we passed the military hills area.

A very snowy trailhead

A very snowy trailhead

We were surprised to see a couple of vehicles parked at the trailhead here. They were all covered up in the thick snow, with no tire tracks from the road, so there must be a large group camping out here. Katie and I bundled up with a few extra layers (and made sure Logan's booties were on tight) and headed out into the thick wet snow, crunching a fresh path along the access road.

The North Country Trail makes a pleasant path out here, leading off the access road and following a ridge down to Baltimore River. It passes some rather large trees and an upper waterfall, known informally as Peanut Butter Slide, before leading right past O Kun de Kun Falls and crossing a wooden suspension bridge to eastern lands. We didn't take this route. The small access road was enough of a challenge for us today, slickened and cloaked by the white slushy snow.

Winter draped over the trail

Winter draped over the trail

It was lovely back here, off the highway and in the woods, with a few sporadic spurts of spinning flakes and fluff piled high on the branches and ground. We took our time walking to the falls, playing with Logan (who loves snow) and taking pictures of the woods around us. Winter was finally here, after so many cold rains and sleets, and it was gorgeous.

When we reached the falls I led us directly to the top, making a wide berth around the snowy tents below the falls. The crest was neat to wander upon, the flat slab of sandstone with a dusting of snow and thin sheet of water falling away from our feet, but we couldn't see much of the falls itself.

Looking down the snowy river

Looking down the snowy river

I crept down a bit to get some better views from the shelves below. However, if Katie was going to see the full drop we would have to head down to the suspension bridge and past the campers. Leashing Logan we cut our way quickly through the tents, trying not to intrude on the sleeping inhabitants. We weren't quiet enough, though. As we stood on the suspension bridge, looking back at the falls, we saw the tents bulge and tired people stumble out, rubbing their eyes and blearily gazing at the snowy scene around them.

Feeling rather guilty for waking them up we headed back. Katie had gotten her fill of the falls and we were ready to start heading back anyways. On the way I noticed a familiar face: Nik, a friend of mine from Tech. He was out here camping with some other college students. I learned that they had come in last night, in the sleeting rain, and had been hoping for an overnight snow. They were much better equipped for this weather than I would have been, with high-rated sleeping bags and propane stoves. As they started putting together a breakfast Katie and I wandered on, happy to see a friendly face.

I still wanted to visit the upper waterfall along the North Country Trail so we split above the campsite. Katie started heading up the access road slowly while Logan and I trudged along the river. It was difficult to make out the path through the thick snow, though simply heading upstream took us to the falls easily enough. They were pretty yet small after O Kun de Kun and we headed back.

Upper drops

Upper drops

I quickly trotted back along our tracks, hoping to catch Katie before she went to far on the access road alone. As Logan and I pushed along, climbing up and out of the river slope, a snowball crashed mere inches away from me. It was an ambush!

A brief but enthusiastic snowball fight ensued, with Logan barking and chasing our projectiles, uncertain on what team he wanted to choose. Each of us landed a few choice hits before we called a truce (one that she quickly broke with a scoop of snow over my head). Puffing in the cold air we headed back to the car, holding hands and smiling, just happy to be together out here in the snowy woods.

Hunger was starting to set in. Between the drive and the snowy hike the morning had been rather exhausting. I suggested checking out Silver City first so we drove past the options of Ontonagon. When we got to Silver City I explored a bit, driving down the different roads looking for an access route to Pewabeck Falls. There really wasn't one. All of the two-tracks leading south from town were gated and posted. Maybe the only way to reach that one is to come in from the east or west, a potentially tough bushwhack that would cross several sizable creeks.

Before continuing onto Bergland on our quest for lunch we made a quick stop at Greenwood Falls, a long chain of sandstone drops on the Big Iron River. I had seen a few pictures online of a shallow river creeping around sandstone rock outcroppings and was surprised to see a swollen brown flood charging north to Lake Superior, flooding over the individual channels and outcroppings. Logan and I followed the river for a half mile downstream, taking photos of the engorged falls, surprised at the power in the water.

Muddy water pouring over shelves of rock

Muddy water pouring over shelves of rock

The only restaurant in Bergland accepted cash only, and with no ATMs in town we were forced on to Bruce Crossing. By the time we reached this little town at the intersection of 28 and 45 we were ravenous. Here we found a wonderful little diner, Char's Café, and enjoyed (devoured) a warm lunch. The little building was not very busy, only a few locals avoiding the snow sipping some coffee, and we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere. We planned out our next moves. Neither one of us were terribly tired yet, but we also didn't feel like swinging back west to where my other planned visits were. I decided to take Katie south to a more popular location, one that probably would not have much traffic with today's weather.

Bond Falls is not my kind of waterfall. It has several parking areas, gift shops, and a steady stream of people visiting during the summer. Logan and I had left rather early on our first visit, driven out by the crowds, and there was no rush to return. Today, though, may make for a better visit. When we pulled up to the gift shop and only saw one other vehicle parked it seemed that my hope would turn out.

Snowy Christmas trees around the pond

Snowy Christmas trees around the pond

The falls were running, clear white plunges over the dark rock. The three of us followed the river down from the gift shop, finding multiple upper drops that I didn't see on my last visit. Our path was covered in snow but easy to follow, with only a few icy spots from the river's overflow. Today's storm seemed to be confined to the north side of Houghton County: there was hardly a dusting at Silver City and only a thin layer down here by Bruce Crossing.

It was a fun, relaxing visit. Logan and I played around in the snow, chasing each other around and playing fetch with snowballs. Katie was laughing at our antics and enjoying the wide, pretty waterfall. We stopped a few times for photos or to work with Logan on some tricks, as Katie was smart enough to bring some liver treat with us today. The trail from the gift shop traveled all the way down the river to the main drop of Bond Falls, the impressive dome over worn basalt. There was not a single person here today but us, a nice change from the cluster over the summer, and the falls were amazing.

Logan and Jacob being silly

Logan and Jacob being silly

Logan begging for a treat

Logan begging for a treat

Reluctantly I decided we should move on. It was late afternoon now, and us being so far south there was one last stop I wanted to make today. Duppy Falls, a short distance upstream from Jumbo Falls, was just a short jog over to the east. The snowy roads began to worsen as we got close to Kenton and I was extremely hesitant on driving down the narrow two track that led down to the falls.

We only made it a few dozen yards before it was apparent that the SUV wasn't enough to handle the snow and mud on this hill. Not wanting to take the chance I quickly got the car to a secure location and headed out on foot, taking Logan with me on a quick trip down. Katie wasn't interested in bushwhacking to an unknown location and stayed in the running car.

Small, fluffy path into the woods

Small, fluffy path into the woods

Once I reached the bottom of the hill, at a small parking clearing that seemed like the right place, I looked around for trails. The directions I was following had mentioned an obvious trail leading west from here to the river. There were a few small trails, none of which were 'obvious'. We tried two before finding a small, trickling creek surrounded by thick brush. I didn't realize at the time that the trail continued past here to the larger creek and falls. Caught up in the disappointing creek and thick snowy branches we turned around and called it a bust, wondering if we were even in the right location.

Instead of the usual route back up 41 I took us to NF-16, a road I had frequented on my trips to Sparrow Rapids and Vista Falls. The drive is usually a pleasant winding route through swamps and thick woods. Today it was a treacherous plow through snow. The snow was higher than our car's bumper for the entire drive, and we pushed through the thick stuff before tires crunched down lonely tracks. When we finally hit M-38 neither one of us wanted to attempt the backroads up through Pelkie. We swung over to Baraga and drove up the cleared and salted 41 in the dark, tired and worn after the long day.

Trip Photos

  • A very snowy trailhead
  • Winter draped over the trail
  • Logan and Katie posing on the trail
  • Fresh snowfall
  • Looking down the snowy river
  • Upper drops
  • Muddy water pouring over shelves of rock
  • Up at Bonanza Falls
  • Barren, muddy riverbed
  • Snowy Christmas trees around the pond
  • Snowy pine on Bond Falls
  • Logan and Jacob being silly
  • Smooth upper drops on the river
  • Jacob trying to slip into the river
  • Logan begging for a treat
  • A snowy two-track in
  • Small, fluffy path into the woods
  • Thick snow in the woods

Comments (2)

  • Katie Jan 20, '09 This is probably my favorite waterfall trip so far! It was great, aside from the slippery roads!
    • Jacob Emerick Jan 20, '09 The roads were sooo bad that day! However, it was nice that there was almost no touristy business going on at Bond falls.
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