That was exactly the situation May 6-8 in Northeast Wisconsin. For those who haven’t been there, it’s a beautiful area with several fun class II-IV whitewater rivers set in white pine forest. It’s where I spent much of my early paddling days, and going back always feels a bit like going home.
Bill K, Brian J, Nora, Amy, Mike T, James I, and I all played hookie from work and drove out Friday morning. Amy and I arrived at Bear Paw in the early afternoon and shortly afterwards James and Mike arrived. Nora, Bill, and Brian had all arrived earlier and were out on the mountain bike trails in the area. Once they returned, we all headed out to the Peshtigo.
The Peshtigo is about 40 minutes from Bear Paw and has some the most continuous whitewater in the Upper Midwest. There’s a bit of a paddle from the put in, but then the fun is on for the next couple of miles. It was around 700 cfs (8” on the bridge) for our trip.
The first three rapids (creatively named First, Second, and Third Drop) are packed close together and include a big side curling wave feeding a hole in the middle and several river-wide ledges that had to be punched. Our group tried various lines through and around the features, and everyone styled it.
On Five-Foot Falls Bill led us through a sloping river-left line with 3 consecutive holes at the bottom. It was a fun route I hadn’t tried before and everyone made it through, though me and one other paddler got flipped in the final hole.
The final rapid on the Pesh was Horse Race, which is a long, curving rapid with a fun and chaotic final slope to it. I had Amy follow me down and she absolutely nailed her line. Everybody else picked their way down, taking a couple different variations of the same line. Great rapid, great fun, no flips.
Wolf, Section IV
Section IV is one of my favorite runs in the Midwest. It’s a long, its got a lot of flatwater on it, and you have to pay to run it, but those downsides are more than made up for by the beautiful scenery and fun, unique rapids.
There are 6 main rapids on the run and 5 or 6 more minor ones. The entire run is within an Indian Reservation, and the Menominee have kept the shorelines almost completely natural. There are no houses, no docks, and almost no man-made structures at all. Instead, it’s white pines, leafy trees that turn beautiful colors in the fall, and lots of wildlife. The only exception is the rafts. If you go between Memorial Day and Labor Day, it’s generally jammed with rafts. If you go outside of those times, though, you can pretty much have the river to yourself.
Each of the main rapids is unique from the others, and each changes significantly with different levels. When we ran it, the level was just under 700 cfs. That level opened up some different lines in Upper Ducksnest and both the Upper and Lower Dells. The line we ran through The Upper Dells involved riding the top of a barreling side-curler into a large, chaotic hole. The left line through the Lower Dells was looking very sketchy, but the far right was good and there was an easy line down the middle from left to right. There were also a few awesome surf waves in the canyon.
The biggest difference was Big Smokey Falls, which was about 4 times wider than it usually is in the fall. Instead of a narrow slip-n-slide lead in, it was more like a normal rapid with holes, waves, and side-curlers leading toward the falls. There was a bit of a hole at the bottom of the falls, and those that didn’t boof generally got flipped, but spit back out relatively quickly.
On Sunday most of us had to get back to teach at the intro night for Canoe U, so we opted for a quick run down Section 3 of the Wolf. The level was high enough to let us shoot right through the boulder gardens.
Boy Scout was a fun dodge and eddy fest with about a million possible lines and good river-running fun. Hanson’s had good surf at both the upper and lower tiers. There was also an audience of several fisherman on the rocks on river right.
Gilmore’s had several good, lively surf spots in store for us. It was at just the right level that you could wash off of one feature and right onto the next most of the way down the rapid. The surfs were mostly fun, bouncy pinball fests and it was a great way to end the run.