Spring Creeking

For a couple weeks out of the year, the Upper Midwest defies conventions and boasts some of the best whitewater paddling in the country. Two things we’re generally lacking – gradient and moving water – are present in abundance in the Spring. The gradient is generously provided by the creeks cascading down the bluffs into Lake Superior. The water comes courtesy of the record-breaking snowfall this winter. And for me, a new creek boat, courtesy of the fine folks at Pyranha.

After putting our time in at Midwest Mountaineering’s “Spring” Outdoor Expo last weekend (it was snowing Minneapolis all weekend!), a couple of us escaped to the Northwoods, to the border of Wisconsin and the UP. We had a chance to paddle a couple of creeks that run only after a bunch of rain and a delayed snowmelt – like this year. Unfortunately, it was also one of the coldest creeking weekends in recent memory. Usually nighttime lows hover just above freezing (thus the rapid snowmelt). This weekend we were bottoming out around 20 at night. Daytime highs were barely in the 40s, and far colder in these canyons. Water temp? I’m guessing 34 (lakes were still frozen an hour south). But enough complaining – we consumed enough eggs, cheese, and sausage to send my metabolism into overdrive and lead me to consider a 6 month vegan cleanse – on to the trip report.

We hit Tyler Forks on Sunday at an unusually high water level, a terrifically scenic run with some fun ledges and a very sweet waterfall.

Wren Falls had a very clean approach, but a 15ft backwash, where the entire creek flows back into the retentive hole at the base of the falls. We gave it some serious consideration, but the likelihood of a thrashing combined with the extremely cold air and water temps led us to regretfully decline this time.

Monday we hit the Lower Montreal – a short section of fast water and big wave trains in a very steep conglomerate gorge. Relatively straightforward, this was to be a warm-up run for the West Branch of the Montreal, where we wanted to document the character of the river at this high water level for American Whitewater’s flow study for future recreational releases from the hydro dam. But alas, we encountered some access issues at the put-in for the Lower Montreal, delaying our start time.

We managed to get on the Lower (legally, probably), but decided to pass on the West Branch on account of the time. (Actually, that was just an excuse for our hesitancy to run the W.B. at a really pushy level in really cold temps. But we’ll blame it on the time.) Nevertheless, it was a good weekend, with good water. Here are a couple more photos of the Montreal, as it makes its final descent into Lake Superior.

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