Timber Wolf, Lake Superior, Ontario

A lone timber wolf greets
paddlers along the north shore
of Lake Superior, Canada
(Photo by Michael Neiger)

The Rucksack Masthead
By Michael A. Neiger, Marquette, Michigan
Wilderness tripper: backpacking, winter camping, swift-water canoeing
Web site URL: http://therucksack.tripod.com • E-mail: mneiger@hotmail.com
Contents copyright © 1984-2007 by Michael A. Neiger • All rights reserved.


Old Town Canadienne

The De Kock's
Old Town Canadienne
awaits a fine morning
of paddling
on the wild and scenic
Fox River near
Seney, Michigan
(Photo by Gary De Kock)


Trip journals and photos

on the
Fox River

A late season
on a
and scenic
Upper Peninsula River

Schoolcraft County
October 5-7, 2001

By Gary De Kock
   Fruitport, Michigan
   Copyright 2001

E-mail author at

The wild & scenic Fox River

"Wild - Scenic" is the designation of the Michigan Natural Rivers Program for the Fox River, and those words perfectly describe our Sierra Club trip down the river. The Fox promised our small group both wild challenges to our skills and scenic rewards for our efforts. I had kayaked down the river a few years ago and could still replay the boisterous sound of coyotes barking in the cool evening of a fall day.

When promised crisp October days and the musty smell of yellow leaves lingering in the woods, Linda, my wife, quickly signed up for this trip as bow paddler. With the Old Town Canadienne on the roof, we drove north for the Thursday night rendezvous at the Fox River State Forest Campground a few miles north of Seney. Already there was trip co-leader Mike Neiger. Joining us at the campsite that evening were Mary Powell and Bill Host.

In the morning, Jim Orris and Randy Orchard arrived with another tandem canoe. We dragged the boats to the stream where the sounds of "Chickadee, dee, dee" gave way to the "tap, tap, tap" of brittle leaves dropping gently on the bare, stiff twigs of the streamside brush. After the cold Six paddlerslight of the full moon, even the low morning sun helped warm our faces and spirits.

Mary Powell, Linda
De Kock, Randy Orchard,
Bill Host, Michael Neiger,
and Jim Orris, left to right
(Photo by Gary De Kock)

The river trip began at 10:30 AM when the five canoes floated free of the bank and snaked down the winding river's course. Linda and I led and worked on resurrecting the teamwork skills necessary to get a seventeen foot canoe down an Upper Peninsula river.

Scouting for trout

At one point we stopped and watched as Jim and Randy came around an upstream bend. Suddenly their canoe tipped and the two men were dumped with an icy splash into the cold water. Because they were on the inside of the bend, they found the water shallow and the current slow. This allowed them to stand and work to retrieve their equipment.

One glove was lost but all else was collected. A quick streamside change into dry clothes broke the chill of the swim and both paddlers were soon back in their canoe and ready to continue the adventure.

Chains saws & lawn chairs

As we regrouped after the spill, another group of canoeists moved past us on the river. From my point of view, they looked poorly prepared for travel on this stream. Each canoe was top heavy because it was piled high above the gunwales with equipment.

These heavy loads of unnecessary gear would require backbreaking efforts to get around and over the many trees that would certainly block this narrow, winding stream. I had the feeling that the river had much to teach these paddlers and that they had chosen to learn the hard way.

We caught up with them at the next portage where a large tree had fallen clear across the stream. One paddler wearing waders was struggling to drag a huge pile of gear through the bush.

Mike and I volunteered to carry one of his coolers and found it heavier than some solo canoes. We did not offer to help carry the chain saw or lawn chairs. The better paddlers in their group Soloist Mary Powellwent on down the river and left the beginners to struggle with the river.

Mary Powell enjoys the
pleasures of paddling solo
in a group on the remote,
unspoiled Fox River
(Photo by Gary De Kock)

Steering an overloaded canoe from the back is not easy for an experienced paddler and these frustrated beginners kept getting pushed broadside into trees downed on the outside of many turns. We helped them to keep going but they were ready to quit their trip at the first chance. Eventually their entire group pulled over and we were free to move ahead for good.

Whistle of wings at the spreads

Our group was better prepared and could therefore enjoy the river. The frequent whistle of wings as ducks burst from around the next bend let us know that the Fox had pleasant surprises in store for us. Shortly after the M-28 bridge, the stream made its first split at the beginning of the "spreads".

This can be a difficult section of the river for newcomers who may end up in a dead end channel or wedged in a tight turn. Fortunately Mike has been here frequently and steered us through the maze without a wrong turn. By always keeping the canoe behind in Flora on the Foxview, we were able to keep the group together at every fork in the channel. In this low-lying area, there are few high spots that make good campsites.

Forget-me-nots and a
fresh blanket of snow
create a unique,
streamside sight for paddlers.
(Painting by Mary Powell)

Our goal was one of the first areas of high ground downstream of the spreads. Around 6:00 PM, an excellent spot was reached and all were ready to get a hot meal going on the stove. No coyotes called that night. Instead, the wind pulsed though the empty branches and rattled the leaves. We slept knowing the wild, scenic river would welcome us to another day of exploration and discovery.

A freshly fallen pine

Saturday looked like another day of surprises. Our first challenge on the river was to maneuver around a nasty tangle of fresh fallen pine tree. Trees newly fallen have more limbs than those chewed up by spring floods. There are also no limbs removed by earlier canoe parties with saws.

We began by paddling upstream. This left us room to turn around and line up with a narrow opening on the inside of the bend. This approach kept us out of the fast current, deep water, and tangled logjam on the outside of the bend. One by one each canoe threaded the narrow gap between branches and bank. It's easy if you work with the river and use your experience to avoid A sweeper on the Foxoverestimating your ability to move the canoe against the flow.

and strainers are
common on
the Fox River
(Photo by Gary De Kock)


Rain & snow

The weather alternated from rain to sun depending on if a big dark cloud was overhead at the time. A sunlit spot of warm dry grasses made a perfect lunch stop. The group was moving confidently and smoothly down the river and late afternoon saw us reach our planned campsite where the stream made a tight loop.

Two heavy pines had recently lost their toehold on the undercut bank and now lay uprooted in the streambed. The campsite was now also a portage trail. Tents and tarps were quickly set and soon the only sound was the occasional stirring of an aluminum pot on a simmering stove.

The river had saved the biggest surprise for Sunday morning. Rain had turned to snow. For some this would have been a change for the worse. For us, this was the creation of an enchanted forest. In the still night air, every limb and twig had been piled high with the fresh flakes of white. In the morning sun, all was draped with sparkling crystals.

Snow shadows

We ran about taking pictures of the black limbs outlined in white and tangled against the sky. I had laid the canoe upside down next to our tent the night before. Now it was covered with snow. When I rolled it over, a patch of bare ground appeared from underneath. Snow flakes

Because the canoe had sheltered the ground from the gently falling snow, the shape on the ground looked like a canoe. It was a "snow shadow".

October snow flakes
(Drawing by Mary Powell)

Our cooking tarp, strung between trees, had also left a snow shadow. A tap on the straining fabric and an avalanche of snow slid down the sloping nylon to the ground.

Later that morning, the occasional plop of snow loosened from a treetop perch by the warming air caused me to duck my head for fear of a collar full of the cold, wet stuff.

The Manistique River

The Fox ends when joined by the smaller Manistique River. Here the channel is wider and the going is easier because fallen trees never block the river.

The day continued to warm and blue skies reflected in the slow moving water. When we reached the town of Germfask, an outfitter saw us pass his property and correctly guessed that we were the "Sierra Club" group.

I like to think it was because we were on schedule, well equipped, and smiling. He knew the other group was on the river and was concerned about them. Rightly so because, unlike us, they were behind schedule, poorly equipped, and probably not speaking to each other by now.

Ten Curves Road & home

The bridge at the Ten Curves Road signaled that we were nearing the final take out. A few more bends and we reached the parking area at the M-77 bridge. After a quick change of clothes and good-byes to old and new friends, we drove south with thoughts of snow shadows melting on the banks of the wild and scenic Fox River.


Read another journal...

Return to top of page  |  Return to home page

In God's wilderness lies the hope of the world,
the great, fresh, unblighted, unredeemed wilderness.
— John Muir 1838-1914, Alaska Wilderness, 1890

Content Copyright © by Michael A. Neiger
All rights reserved.
Comments? Suggestions? Dead links? Inaccurate info?
Contact the WebMaster at mneiger@hotmail.com