Wilderness Tripping: Swift-water
September 30 to October 4, 2005
By Mary Powell
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We began our journey farther upstream on the Fox than most people do, camping on Thursday night at the Wagner Dam access before launching there on Friday morning. The Fox is a narrow, twisty river requiring some technical paddling skills to navigate. In addition, Friday's segment was obstructed by numerous blow downs, some of which were massive and had to be lifted over or portaged around. This made the going slow, but we were fresh, the weather was superb (cool and sunny) and we knew that we had plenty of time to complete the trip. Near sunset we found a comfortable campsite under some large pines. We settled in to have dinner and watch the stars come out.
In the days that followed we weaved around many more logs, paddled through tunnels of tag alders and past high sandy banks topped with pines. We traversed the spreads, a large wetland where the river divides into many fast moving channels. We paused to explore an island there. Though we camped most nights in wilderness sites, we stayed one night in an established site and used its fire ring to bake a homemade pizza.
One afternoon we hiked several miles along the east side of the river to check out the area's potential for a backpacking trip. Each day we identified campsites along the water for possible future paddling trips.
The fall colors were near their peak at the beginning of the trip and became more beautiful as it went on. The bright reds of the maples and the yellows of beeches, aspens, and birch contrasted with the varied greens of pines, spruces cedars and hemlocks. The lacy brown of ferns covered much of the forest floor. The few remaining asters and goldenrod were splashes of color in sheltered places. Mornings were especially pretty: at sunrise the woods seemed to fill with a golden glow. The clouds then were pink against blue sky and all the colors were reflected in the dark water of the river. We could just sip our coffee and enjoy.
Drifting or paddling on the river, we saw quite a bit of wildlife. Assorted ducks and numerous herons rose from the water. There were deer and kingfishers and at least one eagle. We also spotted a couple of otters scurrying along the bank. Near the end of the trip, as we paddled in a steady rain, we passed a raptor, possibly a peregrine, perched soddenly on a snag near the shore.
The pleasant weather we started with held 'til Tuesday morning. We were allowed our breakfast in the morning glow before a gusty breeze heralded the rain. We paddled the last few miles of the Fox in a drizzle of variable intensity. As we turned up the Manistique where the Fox joined it, the rain began in earnest. We paused at several points under large pines to let major downpours abate and we emptied gallons from our canoes as we portaged around a dam. Water ran up my sleeves as we lifted the boats onto the van and loaded our gear. The warm dry air from the heater was welcome when we climbed in...
After retrieving my car we drove into Seney for a post trip lunch. We watched the steadily increasing downpour through the restaurant window and talked of the possibilities for paddling again in the spring.
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