Herman was getting to be a thorn in my side. There were several waterfalls that I had not yet found in that area, even after multiple attempts, and the ones I had found were not easy adventures. It took three separate trips to visit all of the drops of Upper Silver Falls (after two failed attempts). With waning daylight hours and the coming winter my time was running out. I left work early on Wednesday, determined to find No Name and Upper Sturgeon Falls today, and parked on the shoulder of the Herman-Nestoria Road around three in the afternoon.
The plan for No Name Falls was simple. I had already tried the easy route along two-tracks. Now it was time for a blunt approach. I would follow the swampy creek downstream and check every foot of it for a waterfall. It would be a tough, long hike but at least I could be sure I was on the right path.
Hoping to save some time I parked beyond the main two-track in, planning on cutting a direct line west to the creek. It was cloudy out, giving me no sense of compass directions, and between that and the lack of distinguishing features in the woods I managed to make a complete circle within a half hour. Logan and I had totally missed our creek. Disheartened we drove back up the road towards to the two-track, parking in a driveway, and headed past a cabin along an overgrown road west. I had hoped to avoid this route and cabin but the woods had other plans today.
This overgrown road soon took us to the swampy creek, running alongside it before fading into nothing. We had three swampy sections to pass through today. Each section was connected by a narrow run of water with some elevation drop. I figured that No Name Falls would be located either in one of these runs or at the end of the last swamp, where the water flowed down to Sturgeon River. I hoped that the hike wouldn't be that long, though, as that would involve several miles of tough bushwhacking along the swampy creek.
Where the road faded away we found the beginning of the first swamp marked by large beaver dam and dark, stagnant water trickling through the branches. We crossed here, as I knew from maps that the west bank would make for a shorter route. The first swamp is the smallest one and it didn't take long for Logan and I to circle around it. Our route wasn't as bad as I expected it to be. The undergrowth had died away and most of the trees had already shed, letting the sky filter through to the colored floor underfoot. There was a lot of rocks and sudden outcroppings, forcing us to climb and weave our way south with an occasional slip or tumble on the uncertain ground. At least we were able to stay dry and avoid the open grassy swamplands that hid pits of mud and decaying matter.
When we reached the end of the first swamp we traced our way back down to the water and followed the flow closely, looking for possible waterfalls. Aside from a few tiny tumbles over loose rocks we found nothing. I wasn't in the mood for any more drops like Gardener's Falls today, not if we were bushwhacking this deep in the woods, and we quickly heading along the second swamp. This one was much more difficult. A small, marshy tributary trickled in from the west across our path, surrounded by thick cedars and pines. I was forced to duck and crawl here, frequently untangling Logan's leash, cut down to a few dozen feet of visibility. I started to get worried that we would get turned around but we got through it okay, pushing through to the other side.
When we reached the end of the swamp we found an earthern dam instead of a beaver. This was a bit odd. Maybe it was just overgrown. A nearby USGS benchmark only deepened my confusion. Perhaps this small pond of stagnant water at the end of the swamp was manmade in an effort to increase the mosquito population.
This set of rocky rapids was longer and featured a few impressive rock walls along the sides but didn't have anything resembling a waterfall. With a heavy sigh I set off with a long stride to tackle the third and final swamp, by far the largest one. Immediately it threw some obstacles our way.
For most of our hike the creek had remained deep in a swampy clearing, far from our route, but now it swung close to a cluttered bank. Logan and I were forced to hug rock walls and push through thick brush with the stinking water only feet below us. After a tough thirty minutes of getting scratched and struggling with Logan's leash I gave up and headed up the outcroppings and away from the swamp. I had tried to stay close to avoid getting lost in the woods but this wasn't worth it. When the slope lessened and woods cleared up we turned and headed south again, keeping the downhill slope to our left. The swampy creek was mostly out of sight.
There were a few rises and clearings that gave us a look east over the swamp. We were greeted by wide open expanses of grass with scattered ponds, With the dry brown grass and bursts of colors it was actually quite striking, even if we knew just how difficult it was to hike through or near. I could also tell that the swamp was coming to an end. We started cutting down the slope, back down to the water, hoping to find a waterfall here.
We could hear the rushing water ahead of us but there was no easy way to reach it. A steep, narrow canyon was cut in the stone at the end of the last swamp, too treacherous for Logan and I to attempt. We were forced to climb back up the bank on the east side. It was worth the climb, though, as the bare trees granted us a view over the wide upper Sturgeon River valley to the south. It was more than a little daunting. I peeked down to the falls, far below us now, and decided that it'd be easiest to approach this from the bottom.
Together we trotted down the long hill, down toward Sturgeon River, turning back around near the bottom rapids of this unnamed creek. No Name Falls is easily one of the tallest falls in the area even if the individual plunges and cascades are only a few feet apiece. I crept up the dampy, leaf covered rocks, taking photos of the individual drops, happy to finally find this remote spot.
Logan had been more of a hassle than an asset during this trip. I enjoyed bringing him along and spending time with him in the woods, especially as he is able to sense wildlife and other interesting points long before me. Today's bushwhack had tangled his leash more times than I cared to think about, and now the steep creek and slick rocks had him whining and protesting each time I crossed for a new view. On one particular crossing he had enough and yanked backwards, right out of his collar. I let him go. Katie and I had been training him off-leash but never in the woods with so many interesting smells and sights. I was fed up with the dog, though, and willing to take the risk.
I continued up the falls to the top. The bottom sections were very pretty, if barely flowing, and the top third was almost completely covered with huge boulders. After reaching the crest I headed up the steep rock bank to the top of the hill we had started at. Logan was there waiting for me, tossing the leaves and branches around playfully. We headed back along the swamps, occasionally playing fetch or just wrestling around. He was more than ready to be off leash, even if it took a stubborn yank for him to let me know.
We made it back to the car after the sun had set, the overgrown road barely visible in the dying light. Upper Sturgeon Falls would have to wait for another day. I was more than happy with today's adventure though. Not only was Logan just fine without a leash, never running more than fifty feet from me, but I had finally found No Name Falls.