Less than a week had passed since Logan and I braved the deep snow to play around Hungarian Falls and cabin fever was already coursing through our veins. The plan was to wait for the spring, that the snow was too deep to continue hunting waterfalls, but we both yearned to be out in the woods. I caved on a long weekend and drove us down to Baraga. Maybe the strong waters of Sturgeon River would be enough to keep winter's ice and snow back.
We had to park on the shoulder of US-41, with the roadside park closed for the season. Judging from the tire and snowshoe tracks we weren't the first ones here this winter, even if it had been a few days since the last visitor. These tracks did little to ease our route across the open parking lot, with every footfall sinking into the crisp snow and Logan falling into step behind me.
Cold air grew sharp as we headed down the path near the river. When I first saw the river I got a little worried, the snow and ice creeping in from the shoreline and masking most of the water. A few small drops along the slate riverbed still poked through, everything else was a solid sheet of smooth snow. As we got closer to the falls my fears disappeared when I saw rising mist and heard the familiar roar of Canyon River Falls.
Getting down to the viewing slab was difficult over the slick rocks. Wet air generated by the plunging river coated layers of snow into ice, forcing me to crawl on all fours as I neared the waterfall. I did not want to fall in, not today. Logan watched me carefully from above as if he knew just how stupid my route was. I managed to get some nice photos from the edge before edging back.
There were still a few more drops along the river so we headed downstream. Most of the tracks also continued past the main drop, making it easy to follow the trail, especially on the tricky parts where you cut close to the canyon's edge. It was muffled and peaceful in the white woods, a thick pillow of snow muting everything, and after being so close to the river earlier I had adjusted to the cold temperature.
I was not able to get a good angle on the middle drop. It is hard enough to make it out during the summer, deep below the canyon's edge at the popular 'cliff jumping' spot, and the snow-slick rocks did not encourage pushing the limit. The tracks were starting to thin out by the time we reached the last waterfall, that long slide that empties Sturgeon River from the canyon. Snow and ice hid most of the waterfall from the river's edge and I was not willing to wade into the rocky waters to try for a better angle. A few quick photos and Logan and I headed back to the car.
There was only a slight hint of disappointment as we walked back. Of course I expected the river to have snow on it. There had been several heavy blizzards in the last few weeks and more days with snowfall than not. However, Canyon River Falls was one of the places I had placed some hope on for making it through the winter. Sturgeon River is huge in comparison to many of the creeks and streams in the Upper Peninsula. If this canyon and falls was already mostly covered, with winter just starting, then nothing was going to be visible until the spring.
On the way back to Houghton I decided to make a quick stop to a very familiar spot. I parked off of US-41 in L'Anse near Burger King and made my way down to Falls River. Not expecting to see much action through the snow I quickly headed down the path all the way to the bay without looking around much. There were a ton of tracks on the path, enough to make the walk icy, and Logan bounded around happily smelling up the past visitors. I started to notice something interesting along the walk: there was a lot less ice on this river.
This was surprising to me, as the size of Falls River is a fraction of Sturgeon. Then it sunk in. I was over six hundred feet lower in elevation. I never thought to factor elevation in to winter accumulation. Maybe some of the shoreline waterfalls would remain accessible and visible through the winter.
After we reached the plant at the base of the river I turned around and starting taking pictures of the falls. There were a few icy sections on the river thanks to exposed outcroppings, just enough to make the scenes interesting. Huge flakes of snow were starting to drop down softly, muffling the noisy town and roads around us, and at times it was easy to forget that we were in city limits.
The main drops had a lot of ice built up thanks to the multiple outcroppings on its length. I still took some time to sit at the bench here, which was barely covered in snow, and relax. Logan was a bit confused, as he thought we were heading back to the car already, and eventually settled with me and enjoyed the calming snow. It wasn't until I was starting to get a bit cold and had collected a dusting of snow that we left the bench and continued upstream.
Curious about how the upper drops were doing with the snow and ice I led Logan up and over the railroad trestle and under US-41's bridge. These drops were still mostly exposed, with some ice following the water's path over and down the rocky ledges, making interesting ice formations.
Finally done we went back to the car and picked up some Subway for the short drive home. Our cabin fever was cured, at least for now, and we were able to visit some familiar waterfalls. The snow continued to drift down, trying to hide the rivers and drops, and I hoped a few spots would be spared for winter hiking.