Thick, muggy air swam around me on my walk home from work. There was a good chance of thunderstorms hanging overhead but I wasn't too worried. The last time I got stuck in the woods with the thunder and lightening I ended up visiting seven waterfalls and had a real fun adventure. Today I only planned on visiting three spots out near Herman - three tough, remote hikes - that would be more than enough to handle anything the weather would throw at me today.
Once I got past L'Anse I continued south to the Herman-Nestoria on my way to the tiny little town of Herman. Lahti Road continues east, past the town cemetery, until it bumps into Silver River. I ended up taking a rutted two-track that branches off of Lahti and parallels the river all the way to an earthen barricade. The road technically continued on, over the barricade and fording the river; there was no way my car could handle either obstacle. It was five in the afternoon by the time I reached this spot and the sky had darkened during my drive from Houghton.
Harley Creek flows into Silver River from the east, upstream of the road. I cut down to the river and followed it, looking for a good spot to cross. The banks were difficult to walk along, all tangly green brush and dead branches that reached out and grabbed me with clinging fingers. After a tough quarter mile and a quick splashing ford to the other bank I reached the creek and left the difficult riverside behind.
It was dark under the thick green trees. Harley Creek is small, a rocky trickle that wasn't near large enough to force the woods apart, so I was able to stroll along the water easily without worrying about the thick undergrowth that an open sky would bring. I slowly gained elevation as I walked away from the deep river valley and was careful not to wander too far from the tiny creek. Thunder was starting to close on me by the time I reached the first drop, a splitting cascade over large, mossy boulders.
This drop was not a very impressive destination considering the tough hike, muggy air, and coming storm. I took a few photos and headed upstream, hoping that taller waterfalls were waiting for me. Sure enough, a few dozen yards away was a wide, smooth slide that would be very neat if there was more water flowing in the creek. A dribble of white slid down the far left side of the falls, a faint reminder that this was an actual waterfall, but otherwise the rock was just damp and mossy.
I continued upstream past more small drops and rapids. One nice surprise that the creek ran through was a box canyon. The canyon was small, maybe six feet wide and less high, and the pool inside was deep and murky. Small stepping drops emptied into the pool from the other side. The dark woods combined with the enclosed little canyon made for a really spooky spot that was well worth the tough hike.
Thunder was all around by now, the bright flashes of light far too close for comfort. This was nothing like my earlier stormy hike this summer. For the first time today I began to get worried. A quick peep uphill from the box canyon showed only a few more small drops so I turned around and half-ran back to my car, cutting a bee line to where I thought my car was parked on the far side of Silver River.
There is a second, smaller creek that runs into Harley Creek before it joins up with Silver River. I missed it on the hike in, as it comes in from north and I stuck to the south bank. When I bumped into this creek I got turned around, thinking it was a dry section of Harley, and ended up following that down. Any distance I saved with the beeline was lost here. The heavy clouds overhead opened up just as I reached the wide Silver River, still a quarter mile from my car.
Not waiting for a good spot to ford I slogged straight into the river, cold water up to my thighs. Huge drops pelted down, cutting my visibility to a few feet and soaking me to the skin in minutes. When I came out on the other side of the bank it was hard to tell what side of the river I was on right away. The deep booms and lightening were so close and consistent I found myself holding my breath before each strike. I needed to get back to my car, and fast.
Leaving the river behind I cut through the woods, attempting to make a path to my car and the road. Five minutes later and I found myself right back at the river, my straight line bending in a circle by some inexplicable trick. I gave up on and followed the river downstream, thrashing through the undergrowth like a half-drowned beast, until I made it back to the road. With no hesitation I threw my jacket and hat on the passenger seat and squelched wetly into the car.
Between the cold air that swept in with the storm and my soaked clothes my windows fogged up in seconds. I turned on my car and crept back to the main roads, using my jacket as a rag to wipe down the fog, trying to keep my tires out of the deeper ruts. The once-dry two-track now had torrids of rushing brown water running over it. About half-way back to the main road the rain began to let up and I thought briefly about making an attempt to find Upper Silver Falls. A few deep booms of thunder kept me in the car.
There were still hours of daylight left as I drove back to Houghton, defeated. Sure, it was nice to find Harley Falls, a relatively unknown set of drops, but it hurt to give up on Upper Silver Falls. Also, while I had spent a good amount of time fighting the undergrowth on my path the hike had not been a long one, maybe a few miles total. I shivered miserably, the outside drop in temperature flowing through my car, and then something clicked. This storm was a big one, and that the rain I had experienced on the hike was a fraction of the overnight predicted total. Every waterfall in Baraga County would be overflowing tomorrow. This trip might have fallen short, but tomorrow promised some epic sights and adventures.