About a week had passed since Katie and I had last visit to the Marquette area. There were some waterfalls that I had pushed aside on purpose during that trip, falls that were within city limits and safe to visit during deer season. Still, these spots would be difficult to access. Snow was piling up fast on the Upper Peninsula, complicating driving and hiking routes.
The cold and snow tempered our motivation this morning. Only Logan was excited, tossing and leaping in the night's fresh layer of white fluff. The sky was already lit up when we passed Champion and fully bright when I pulled off the highway in Ishpeming. We wouldn't see sun today. It's usual to go days without seeing sunlight with all the lake effect snow, and between a dismal forecast and the thick flakes already drifting down it was easy to assume that this would be one of those cloudy, sunless days.
One look at the deep snow piled up on the plowed edge of the parking lot was enough to convince Katie to stay in the vehicle for the first hike. Logan and I barreled out of the car, excited to get outside, and plunged into the thick snow. I broke a trail in the thigh-deep fluff, weaving through the trees and busting up my shins on hidden obstacles. Trails were impossible to make out so I guessed at a direction. There was no way we could get lost anyways while leaving such an obvious trail.
Ten minutes into the woods and we both perked up, a gurgling sound filtering from the woods ahead. When we reached the river I was a bit disappointed to see so much of it already frozen. I knew that Marquette had been getting more snow than Houghton this last week but didn't expect the river to be icing over so soon. Of the three drops only the lower one still had an exposed cascade on the far side of the river, nestled below an sheer wall of rock. After some quick photos we headed back hoping that our other stops would have more water and less ice.
Katie had a good laugh at me when I stepped back in the car, my jeans showing more white than blue after the snowy tromp. We had towels already spread on the backseats for Logan's wet feet and fur, anticipating that he would be bringing in plenty of snow.
Our next stop was an easy roadside drop. Tourist Park Falls is the last drop on the Dead River before it flows into Lake Superior. The dam had washed out in the big flood of '03, when Silver Lake Dam failed, and today the reservoir was just a brush-covered sandy stretch along the river. Near the site of the old dam, water now flows over a huge and ancient rock well worn by the years. I've heard that this rock dates back to the Precambrian Era, some three billion years past, making it one of the oldest exposed outcroppings in the Huron Mountains.
We parked on the far side of the road and headed under the bridge, along a well-trod path, to the base of the falls. The smooth slide betrayed just how large these falls are, at least ten feet, and the water flowed wide and strong over. Katie and I spent a decent amount of time at this accessible and interesting waterfall, checking out the old dam and power station on the far side of the river, creeping around on the snow sloped surface.
I was on a roll now with the waterfalls on the Dead River. Last weekend we visted the stretch up by McClure Dam and Wright Street, and now we had made it to these small ones. We headed east searching for access to Forestville, or Three Lakes, Dam. A couple of dead ends and one private drive sign put a quick end to our adventure. I was hoping to approach the dam from the north, which I expected would give us the best views, not knowing that it was just a short walk up from Wright Street Falls. We gave up and headed to the main destination.
Katie and I had already been to a segment of Dead River Falls just this summer, a trip that ended in tragedy when one of our friends took a tumble down the gorge wall. We planned on being extra careful today, thick snow and clothing muffling our awareness. As I led us up the steep hill the sun began to peak out, chasing away our worries and putting a halt to the falling flakes. We made it to the river with no problem and started the long trudge upstream in good spirits.
The McClure penstock was still out of commission letting the Dead River flow at its normal, pre-dam levels. The powerful flow did an effective job at pushing back the ice to give us unobstructed views of the different drops. We took our time, carefully easing our way along the steep snowy riverbanks and enjoying each section of the waterfalls individually. The taller cascades had mist rising from them in the cool air, coating the surrounding rocks and branches in thick shells of uneven ice. There was no schedule to follow, no more drops to visit, just Katie and Logan and I and the various sites of Dead River Falls.
We came upon the uppermost waterfall just as Katie was starting to complain about her snow-wet and heavy jeans and I had a horrible idea. I knew that the McClure Penstock was somewhere to the north and, thinking that it would be a flat and easy route back, decided that we should attempt to cut over to it. We walked up and down the jagged hills, searching for the penstock, not realizing just how much shorter the river route was. After multiple tough climbs and tumbles we were done with this 'shortcut'.
Heading back to the river was not easy, though we did bump into the pretty and tall bridal-veil drop on the way. We were content to follow the river trail back to the small, unnamed tributary near the lower falls and took that up to the penstock, saving us a little bit of river walking. While on the penstock we bumped into a hunter strolling down the path, rifle out and ready. I don't think he was supposed to be this close to town but I wasn't about to question a man with a gun. We headed back down to our car a bit shaken. The whole point of sticking close to Marquette was to avoid the deer hunt, not wander into the middle of it.
There was shopping to be had in Marquette, dry socks and rawhides for Logan. We were done with waterfalls for today. I did have half a hope earlier today on tackling Reany and Holyoke, two hikes that Katie would have absolutely hated, but today's adventures with her were much more fun than trudging through the deep snow to find small frozen drops.