Paddling the Montreal River Canyon, at last!!

Ever since learning about this amazing canyon from a close friend a few years ago I've wanted to explore it! The Montreal River forms the border of Michigan and Wisconsin for many miles and below Saxon Falls it runs through a deep canyon.

Andy and I got a taste for the place earlier in the summer as we hiked to the put in to scout things out and to explore the impressive Saxon Falls.

With only 2 fingers of the falls we were seeing very low water, which was fine since we didn't have plans to run it on that day. When free time and water levels lined up during mid-Fall, we had to go!

With a whitewater raft, kayak, and canoe, we really embodied the attitude that you can paddle whatever you like. One Love, One River! Check it out:

This paddle was everything we could have wanted and then some! The views don't even make sense.

This is a very scenic and remote canyon, once you are on the water the only way out is basically downstream. In theory you could devise a plan to scale the walls and all, but actually no you really can't. We paddled at 550 cfs which we found to be adequate, albeit on the low side of runnable. If you plan to paddle this, make sure you have the necessary skills for the whitewater and are prepared to handle any unforseen challenges 100% on your own. Ain't nobody comin' down there to help.

The American Whitewater link has a bit more info and logistical help. For flow information you can call directly: (715) 893-2213, this hooks you up with an automated line that will tell you the most recent cfs. As of September 2016 this hotline was down for the season. Apparently the automatic gauge got a bit wallaced during a large storm. I spoke with one of the dam controllers and he told me it will be online and running by next spring, hopefully in time for the runoff!

One last cool detail? The takeout is very close to Superior Falls, the final plunge of the Montreal River before it meets Lake Superior. Make sure to check out the falls! Here are some videos and pictures from our side adventure after the paddle:

Kayaking Lower Cato Falls, Manitowoc River, 132 cfs

I grew up in Manitowoc and spent many evenings fishing at Lower Cato Falls County Park. Here the Manitowoc River is constricted through a small gorge, with impressive rock formations and a small rapid as you enter this canyon. The clip below shows my run of the rapid at 132 cfs which is pretty low water levels. The thing about the Manitowoc River is that there is a lot of pasturing and agriculture in the watershed, which means at higher water levels the water quality gets a bit dicey, so one advantage of low water is less potential for dodgy bacteria. COOL!

I arrived at the county park around 8am on Sunday morning, not quite sure if I was going to be having a nice hike or a nice little paddle, to be honest I figured at this level there would hardly be a trickle over some rocks. I hiked down the steps and into the river valley without my gear or boat at first, to get a look at things. To my surprise, there was definitely a smooth line through the rapid and below, with juuuuust enough to float a boat leading up to the rapid. Since I wasn't planning to find any whitewater at all this weekend while I visited family, this was more than enough to merit a hike back up for the boat. After stripping to my undies in the parking lot and giving no one a free show I was in warmer gear and carrying a bunch of kayaking things down some steep steps back to the river. Here's how it went:

There is much more information about the river upstream from here and what you can expect at higher water levels at American Whitewater. Higher water is likely going to be much preferred for this river and run.

Exploring 61 miles of the Totogatic River

Andy and I met at our takeout, Namekagon Trail Landing, around 4:30 pm on Friday and got to work transferring his boat and gear. From there we headed up to our put in below the dam on the Totogatic Flowage. Right away things were a bit quick and peppy, and it was raining! We didn't need to cover much ground before we made camp for the night and set up to get out of the rain. The spot we chose was a mile or so past our entry point.

It rained pretty hard all morning from about 2 am on. We packed up pretty quick and hit the water. The cool thing is that once you are on the water and all packed up you are set to get wet so the rain doesn't make a difference and actually felt pretty nice. We quickly arrived at High Falls and portaged on the right side over some bedrock.

The falls is an impressive 20 foot cascade that can be paddled with enough water. Given the gear-heavy boats it wasn't one to run this time around.

Shortly after High Falls things slowed down a little bit and the landscape changed to wetlands and marsh, it seemed like a good backdrop for the rain. At one point to our right we heard a loud honking which sounded like a trumpeter swan and as we came around the next bend there it was....huge! We tried to give it space and eventually it turned to face us and flew around. Quite the sight!

After this we arrived at Small Falls which was a fun little rapid. We noticed here that the large rapids had these hand powered trolleys across the river that appeared to be operated by the person on the tiny little board "seat" of the trolley. They were attached to a thick cable and appeared to be able to hold a person just fine.

From here it was more swift riffles and bends until reaching Buck Falls. After giving Buck a good scout I decided I wanted to run it. Here's the run:

Everything was going perfectly until I pitoned a rock pretty hard in the foam pile. Luckily my boat quickly floated through things and I gathered my camera box from the pool below. Ended up putting a hole in my kayak bow about an inch or 2 above the water level that was pretty big. The hole didn't impede paddling much, however I did need to bilge out a gallon or 2 every half hour to hour. For 24 miles that really isn't so bad. About 9 miles into our day we came to the dam at the Colton Flowage. What an impressive cascade below it!

We decided to portage this today, haha. From here our day was 19 miles of nimble river and numerous down trees to portage in varieties of water depths, speeds, and shoreline types. It was certainly a challenging day and when we got to camp we scarfed a bunch of food and passed out. Didn't take much pictures due to the portaging and hefty rain.

We woke up to a sunny morning on Sunday and got some camp coffee going before hitting the river by 8 am. Expecting a ton of portages we were surprised not to find a single downfall to carry until 53 minutes in. That turned out to be our last down fall to portage of the entire trip. 7 miles into the day we came to the Minong Flowage which was pretty large. We crossed it in under 2 hours and portaged the dam without too much effort. Not a lot of water coming out of the dam at this point and at higher water levels the takeout area on river left seems pretty sketchy to me. There is a sign that points you to the left bank but the takeout is actually past the buoys more or less, way too steep of a bank before them. Use good judgement if you portage this one. Once on land however, not too bad.

From the Minong Flowage dam it was 18 miles until we reached the Namekagon River. Although there were plenty of trees that had fallen into and over the river, none mandated portages. This made the day and I would certainly recommend the adventurous paddler check out the Totogatic below Minong Flowage. It was a mix of slower meandering and faster bends as the river makes its final miles down to the confluence. As always its a nice sight to join a new and larger river and Namekagon dwarfed the Totogatic. Just a short paddle to our takeout on river left past the next bridge.