Hiking up the Black River
After spending Wednesday night shooting at Quarry Point on Lake Superior’s south shore I headed west to Pattison State Park to make another attempt at hiking to the base of Big Manitou Falls. I pulled in to the park about 6:30am, double checked my camera gear, put on my knee high rubber boots, grabbed my bear spray and headed down the half mile path to the edge of the Black River.
I have made two previous attempts at this and have given up both times. I tried last fall but did not have the proper footwear for water so I tried hiking to the base of the falls through the dense forest. The difficulty of doing that was too much and after 45 minutes I gave up. Going off path is never easy and besides, it appeared to me that even if I made it to the falls I would still have to find a way down the cliff walls.
My second attempt was in early spring. I had my rubber boots on but the snow melt had raised the water level and the river was about 40-50 feet wide and moving fast. The speed and strength of the rapid water would have easily taken me down….and the water was cold! I hiked along the edge as far as I could but needed to cross when the rock wall became too sheer for me to continue. That’s where the problems began.
The river bed is comprised of rock, anywhere from a couple of inches to several feet in size. It is impossible to guess the depth of your next step. It can also be very slippery. So, with those challenges, no walking stick to check depths and the rapid water, I turned back and headed back to the top.
My most recent attempt found me fully prepared to take a decent shot at completing the task. I knew that the water level would be lower than earlier in the year and I now had a walking stick to check depths and provide additional balance as I moved through the water.
I was encouraged as I reached the bottom of the gorge, finding that the river was only about 25 feet wide in some spots and as little as 10 feet in others. The depth was mostly ankle deep but I soon found my boots filling with water as I hit the knee high areas. Walks over to the edge for boot water removal were frequent but not too bad. The falls are only about a quarter mile away from my river starting point but it feels a lot longer due to the length of time it takes to maneuver through the rocky river bed.
I was able to make it up the river without to many obstacles but eventually I ran into a wall of boulders that I probably could have climbed over had I been able to get to them. Unfortunately the only path was scaling a sheer rock wall. It didn’t help that the water below was now 5-6 feet deep.
I did make one attempt but slipped on the rock wall and came very close to going in. In the past I have put myself in some dangerous situations but this time my common sense got the better of me and I threw in the towel.
So, I conceded my journey to get to the base. Was I frustrated? Yeah, a little, but I had to laugh a bit knowing that this is how it usually goes when you go up against Mother Nature. Just because she has “Mother” in her name does not mean she is a kindly old woman that easily forgives. No, she will take you down if you don’t respect her. She is relentless in her pursuit to protect this amazing planet that we live on.
I also thought about the Lewis & Clark expedition. Their challenges were a thousand times harder than my small feat of going upriver on foot. It is truly amazing what they accomplished, in fact it’s impossible to comprehend. My trip took five hours, small in stature but it allowed my spirit to soak in the peacefulness, beauty and mystery of Wisconsin’s north woods. In the end, that’s good enough for me.