7/25/2014 0 comments

Black River: East Fork

Overguard Road to East Fork Campground
☆ ☆ ☆

The East Fork of the Black River is a wide river and pleasant paddle through classic Central Wisconsin Pines with occasional rapids but none too dangerous at these levels.

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Date:
June 29, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Class I(II)

Gauge:
Neillsville: ht/ft: 6.22 | cfs: 1,940

Put-In:
Overguard Road, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
East Fork Black River Campground boat launch, Campground Road

Time: Put in at 12:20a. Out at 1:50p.
Total Time: 1h 30m
Miles Paddled: 4.5

Wildlife: Blue heron, woodpecker, a (possible) muskrat, a snake, fish and turtles.

The East Fork has been high on my list of paddles to kayak after seeing the Morral River Films folks paddle it a few years back (and as featured on their excellent River Trails of Southern Wisconsin video).

Knowing nothing of the area or water levels, I traveled to Black River Falls in 2012 to encounter a dry river. It was disheartening and I nearly (and stubbornly) tried to paddle it since I was there. You want to know if it’s unpaddleable? On the Eastern most part of the East Fork Campground is a trail that leads you to a lookout point to scout Campground Falls, the last rapids on the East Fork. If you see more rocks than water, it’s non-navigable. In hindsight, I’m happy I didn’t attempt it because I ended up scouting Robinson Creek and even more surprisingly, paddling it even though the water was incredibly low (that was a beauty of a paddle).

Our initial plan (as it was in 2012) was to paddle from Pray Road (the put-in is under a bridge, with a slightly steep incline) to the East Fork Campground. However, a day earlier, we met a local at the put-in to (the stunning) Halls Creek and he recommended a put-in further downstream because, in his opinion, the best of the East Fork was between the Overguard Road and Campground section.

So with water levels up early in the middle of summer, we took advantage of the East Fork’s levels and since we had camped the night before on the river (camping at East Fork Campground is one of my favorites, especially river-side. For those of us who like to passively fish, there’s nothing better), it seemed like a good opportunity to keep our footprint small.

So we set off on The East Fork the next morning.

What we liked:
There was nothing particularly spectacular about the East Fork but it sure was pretty. It’s a classic Central Wisconsin river with pines flanking both banks. It’s an easy paddle with easy rapids at these levels. It paled in comparison to the excitement we had just experienced the day before at Halls creek but it was still a very beautiful paddle.

The East Fork is wide and yes, quite black and deep and the current has a way with your boat but it’s also much tamer than I expected.

There are three listed Class IIs which were nothing more than Is if I compared them to the classified Is. They all kind of felt the same. In higher water, I can’t imagine these rapids geting any Class II-ier (is that a word?) and in lower water, you’d be scraping so it’s quite the conundrum as to why they are classified as IIs or when/if you could potentially run them as such.

The best part is the isolation. There is almost no development, just one cabin ideally located on an outcrop overlooking Cabin Falls, which is no doubt, where it gets its name.

The take-out is at the entrance to the East Fork campground so it’s maintained and is of the traditional boat-landing type of exit.

What we didn't like:
The put-in sucked. It’s a hike of a few hundred yards in tick-laden tall grass and while I’ve experienced much more difficult put-ins, it’s just not ideal. The road to the put-in, Overguard Road, is also not clearly marked. It eventually opens to a sandy parking area. It’s here you’ll find trails leading off in two directions at a fork in the road. You’ll want to keep left/straight. To the right, is a longer hike which contrary to my initial thinking, actually opens up to a beautiful little pond/lake that doesn’t actually connect to the river.

With only one cabin the whole stretch, we expected to see more wildlife. Of course, being such a wide river, it made sneaking up on wildlife a bit harder. We didn’t encounter much, just turtles, a heron and a snake.

Lastly, I was expecting a little more excitement on this paddle with three rated Class IIs. They felt pretty tame for my liking but are still fun enough to keep the casual paddler happy. There was also a lot of straightaway paddling, which again, on a wider river with a decent headwind, can be a bit bothersome.

Overall, this trip was part surprise, part disappointment. I was surprised the excitement level wasn’t ratcheted up a bit. Had we paddled this before Halls Creek, I probably would’ve enjoyed it a bit more. But then again, it’s hard to compare the beauty of Halls Creek to the East Fork. They may be connected but they’re quite different.

If we did this trip again:
I’m glad we truncated this trip because if this was the best section, than it would’ve been a whole lot of flatwater paddling until the put-in on Overguard Road. But for those looking for a longer and leisurely paddle with just a splash of excitement, than Pray Road to the East Fork Campground is perfect. If you’re paddling right up to your campsite on the East Fork, it'll make the trip even better.

***************
Related Information
Black River: Black River Falls to Melrose
Halls Creek: Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
Robinson Creek: Old County Road I to Kelly Road
Camp: Black River State Forest
General: East Fork of the Black River State Natural Area
Good People: Friends of the Black River
Map: Friends of the Black River
Map: Wisconsin DNR
Outfitter: Hatfield Sports Shop
Overview: Blackriverfalls.com
Overview: The East Fork of the Black
Video: Morrall River Films
Wikipedia: Black River


Map:


View Black River: East Fork in a larger map


Photo Gallery:

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At the parking area, you'll come to this fork in the road. Stay left/straight.

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Going right will lead you to this idyllic pond/lake but it won't get you to the river.

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A muddy trek on your way to the put-in.

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A cramped little put-in.

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Flatwater paddling for a good mile before any excitement.

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This is how you stop in the middle of a river.

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East Fork Road bridge.

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Visual gauge on the downriver side.

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The take-out at East Fork Campground.
7/24/2014 0 comments

Sugar River Video

Here's a look at the Albany to Brodhead section of the Sugar River.

Sugar River VI
Albany to Brodhead
May 18, 2014
7/24/2014 0 comments

Halls Creek

Trow Lake Dam to Halls Creek Landing
☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Halls is a creek for creek lovers and it’s exactly the kind of destination that keeps us searching for the next great paddle.

It’s exciting but not overly-complicated. With near constant riffles and Class Is, a few exhilarating (but manageable) drops, natural springs that trickle down the banks into beautifully cut sandbars and pools and endless, sometimes jaw-dropping, rock formations in a canyon-like setting, it has everything you’d ever want but are unlikely to expect from a creek. It’s a thing of beauty.

Creek lovers will find true love on Halls Creek.

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Date:
June 28, 2014

Class Difficulty:
Class II

Gauge:
Neillsville: ht/ft: 6.68 | cfs: 2,160
Gauge note: This gauge doesn't directly correlate to the creek. It does, however, give a good idea if there has been recent water in the Black River Falls area.

Put-In:
Trow Lake Dam, Beach Drive, Black River Falls, Wisconsin
Take-Out:
Halls Creek Landing, off County Road E

Time: Put in at 12:25p. Out at 4:05p.
Total Time: 3h 40m
Miles Paddled: 11.5

Wildlife: A blue-winged teal, an osprey, two deer and a bald eagle.

Ever since paddling Robinson Creek back in 2012, the next must-paddle destination in the Black River Falls area was Halls Creek. Spotted on a map given to me by the Park Ranger at the Black River Falls East Fork Campground, (and subsequently destroyed in that night’s rains) I knew there was more to these feeder creeks that needed exploration.

Halls, like Robinson, typically has very little water this late in the season to paddle. Part luck, part global warming, here we were in late June with enough water to give it a run.

The night before we left, the Neilsville gauge unexpectedly shot up over two grand (some lingo I picked up on this trip and will adopt henceforth) in the overnight hours. Karma was clearly on our side when that gauge moved from 5.3 to 6.68 in depth and 1200cfs to running 2160cfs. It was meant to be…

Now, in reality, the gauge has arguable correlation to the creek, as Halls is controlled by a dam and it is the Neilsville gauge (on the Black, much further upriver) but for our own benchmark and the recommendations via American Whitewater, it’s what we have to go on for comparison’s sake. If anything, it’ll give you an idea if there’s been recent water in the area.

We, of course, were going regardless of levels (because we're stubborn like that) but damn did we get lucky with that late-water arrival because the levels were perfect and I can’t imagine (nor recommend) paddling this at lower levels. We rarely scraped but it could be a potential walker at lower levels.

So me and fellow-Miles Paddler, Timothy, set out to feast on the beauty that is Halls.

What we liked:
This is a beauty of a creek.

There probably aren’t enough superlatives to describe how fun and naturally breathtaking it really is. It’s the pinnacle of creek paddling for me, personally. This creek doesn’t quit and you’ll be rubber-necking the entire way as you make your way past canyon walls, through seemingly non-stop riffles or splashy Class Is. You’ll pass numerous natural springs that create little photographic nooks and inlets and the occasional small waterfall. Capped off by three exciting drops between Garage Road and the take-out, this is like a movie you'll want to rewatch as soon as you’re finished.

We met a friendly local at the put-in who told us we were going to love it. He was about to take a friend down Halls but was taking-out at Garage Road because his buddy was new to kayaking. He told us that below Garage, the paddling is a bit more technical. After running it, I’m not convinced it was anymore technical than the first four miles but one man’s technical is another man’s median (and at this point, we’re probably just splitting hairs). However, the three drops that reside on the downstream side of Garage are indeed, drops, so he was probably (and correctly) erring on the side of caution.

Fun fact about this guy. He’s got his own unique bike shuttling setup. A van with enough room for his kayaks and a moped (this being the first moped shuttler I’ve met).

The section to Garage road is indeed great for beginners but it would be hard to recommend this creek without recommending the whole stretch. It’s just too damn beautiful and since the drops are easy to run, they are similarly easy to portage if you wanted to opt out. Plus, it only took us an hour to paddle to Garage Road in these water levels. Much too short of a trip if you’re making the drive to the Black River Falls Area.

The put-in at Trow Lake Dam isn’t the easiest for the casual paddler. It’s a bit of a downhill hike through some tall weeds and grass and it involves a bit of climbing over a tree.

Once you’re on the water, you’re immediately greeted by riffles and swift currents and you might not know it yet but you’re in for something special because it just doesn’t quit. It's corner after corner of something new to look at or currents to negotiate.

The water changes from clear and clean to brown muddy root beer (most likely due to all the recent rain) which is common to the creeks in this area and very different than the black of, well, the Black river.

I was surprised by the width of the creek. It’s much wider than I expected, having Robinson Creek on my mind as the only other paddle in the area to compare it to. It’s not like Robinson at all - in fact, it’s completely different. Robinson is more intimate with less of the majestic rock formations. Halls is much wider and just a bit more breathtaking with every turn.

And it’s not Carroll Creek even though I wanted to compare the two because it shares so many similarities with its rock formations and constant riffles. For my money, this holds an edge on both the Robinson and Carroll but shares similarities to both. It’s just a helluva lot of fun.

Prior to Garage Road, there was one tree to portage. Well, it appeared to be a portage at least. Turns out, it can be limboed under river-right, something I didn’t think was possible until I was standing on the log and watched Timothy float under unscathed.

Past Garage Road, where again, it gets arguably more technical, there are three distinct drops to contend with but all three can be portaged.

The first, is an old dam. On river-left is a concrete slab that makes a very convenient slide - a little chutes and ladders if you will - with a bump in the middle. It’s pretty easy but it can also be portaged river-right with some creative climbing and scooting.

The next two are before the County Road E bridge and they are nearly consecutive. The first is a play spot with a few different lines to choose (in fact, Timothy ran it twice for varieties sake). I chose the pool which was a blast. This is easy to scout and portage if need be.

The final drop is a few hundred yards downstream from the second and it’s more or less a gradual slope. I likened it to a shallow gravel driveway incline because I was scraping and scratching my way down. We both ran it river-right where it’s also easy to portage.

That’s where we thought all the excitement would end but again, this creek doesn’t quit and Halls continues to surprise. Figuring we were nearing the confluence with the Black where the current would slow down, we were both caught off guard by a boulder garden lying just beneath the surface on our approach to County Road E. Neither of us lost it but it was touch and go there for a bit. It was a good reminder to not get too complacent and keep seated until the ride is over folks. In hindsight, we probably should've expected the boulder garden since this is where the visual gauge is located looking down from the bridge.

Finally, past County E and closer to the confluence, you’re greeted with one last wink from Halls. The largest natural spring waterfall on the trip greets you on river-right, just tumbling down from the high cliff onto some large slabs of rock. Halls made us feel like we were welcome company with this last send off. It was an unexpected and pleasant surprise capping off an exciting trip.

Just a few more paddle strokes and you’ll spot the Black, in all its true blackness and noticeable contrast to the brown of Halls. The Black River itself, was raging after a couple weeks of rain so paddling to the take-out situated right at the confluence took one of us (ahem, me) for a ride (had it not already been a perfect paddle, I might’ve continued downstream to who knows where?).

The take-out is a legit landing on the Black River, officially named Hall’s Creek. There are no facilities but plenty of parking.

Unrelated to the paddle and on our way to the campground, we detoured to the Black near the dam to scout the rapids. There, we met some folks from Milwaukee, one a serious whitewater kayaker who was scouting the rapids for a potential run. We hiked for about an hour, in awe of the massive amount of water churning downstream. He pointed out the lines (or lacktherof) he was looking for and explained the classes at each section, including a class V+ that had his gears turning. We watched as this guy struggled with an internal argument over the reality of successfully running it. Who knows if he did (he had planned for the Monday after that). Check out some of the scouting pics here, here, here and here.

We spent the night at campsite #9 at the Black River East Fork Campground, one of my favorite places to tent when you're riverside. For me, there’s nothing better than fishing from your campsite (sorry to the walleye I accidentally murdered). A storm rolled in that night, which led to some creative emergency shelter building/scrambling but that just made the day even more memorable. More importantly, it was keeping the water levels up in the area (and for the next day’s paddle too).

Lastly, of all the things “We Liked,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that it was on that night, I had my first ever homemade She-Meh-Neh burrito over an open-fire (Burrito Drive fans will understand the impressive nature of this feat). I didn’t even know it could be done but Timothy outdid himself and solidified his status as camp chef from here on out (kidding, I’ll help, if I have to).

What we didn't like:
This is the least I’ve ever written about “didn’t like”. There really isn’t much to say. We saw very little wildlife but I’m stretching here - there’s just too damn much to look at and love otherwise.

If we did this trip again:
I’d go again in a heartbeat. The weather was perfect, the water was perfect and it doesn’t get much better than this for creek connisuers and lovers alike. It’s worth calling in sick to work if the water is up.

***************
Related Information
Black River: Black River Falls to Melrose
Black River: East Fork Overguard Road to East Fork Campground
Robinson Creek: Old County Road I to Kelly Road
Camp: Black River State Forest
General: American Whitewater
General: Riverfacts.com
Good People: Friends of the Black River
Map: Friends of the Black River
Map: Wisconsin DNR
Video: MnktoDave
Wikipedia: Black River


Map:


View Halls Creek in a larger map


Photo Gallery:

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Visual Gauge off County Road E. Close-up here.

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The put-in below Trow Lake Dam.

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The one portage that in hindsight, didn't need to be portaged.

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Garage Road bridge.

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Footbridge.

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Dam ahead.

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Looking upstream at the dam.

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The chute/plank/concrete path is in view on the right (or when paddling downstream, river-left).

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Stay splashy.

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The best drop on the trip.

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We reco the pool on river-left.

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Upstream of the last drop, a relatively easy sloped descent on river-right.

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County Road E bridge.

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The beauty of this creek doesn't end until the end.

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One last waterfall as you make your exit.

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Confluence with the Black River.

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The take-out at Halls Creek Landing.

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