The following is a true story, only the names have been changed, to protect the guilty.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Devil Track

I didn't think there would be this much water
 I've been messing around on the Devil Track River on Minnesota's north shore for well over ten years now. Primarily it has been on wide, scaled, beat-up, nordic skis in the middle of winter when the river is frozen solid. I've also explored it on snow shoes and with cramp-ons. The main draw of the river is the depth at 180+ feet and the narrow path it has carved through the rock. The crown jewel of a trip down the river is the mandatory rappel at the high falls, about a mile or so from the mouth where it dumps into Lake Superior.It's not a big rappel, but it adds an element of danger, and lets you know your not on just a walk.
Piece of cake, right ?

I'd like to slide down this but you never know whats in the pool at the bottom
 I'm not the kind of person that lets opportunities escape me, I also have a way of creating these "opportunities" by piggy-backing one adventure with another. Weeks ago, while I was planning for the Gravel Conspiracy North Woods Adventure, I set aside an extra day before the race to travel the Devil Track in the summer.
I think the ladder on the right is for kayakers, the top rung  has an inscription, THE HOLE
 Several miles up-stream from Lake Superior, where a bridge crosses the river, I would start my run, but not before leaving my bike hidden in the woods near a tributary creek that I would use as my exit route. It's kind of nice having prior knowledge of these sorts of things since it saves lots of time and makes you feel like you might actually know what you are doing. When I got to the bridge there was way more water than I had expected, I was nervous! There are quite a few small water falls down river and one large one in addition to the High Falls, I knew I would rappel. This is when it's nice to have a friend along, I really needed my go-to guy,old reliable, never backs down, up for anything, tuff as nails, hard core mo-fo  Steve.
Looking down, it's hard to enjoy when your nervous as hell

Once I got underway it wasn't so bad, I did however rappel the first drop of the long water fall which is sort of a three-step that makes 90 degree turns with each plunge. The last one of the steps is pretty scary to look at and imagine rappelling since it has a huge amount of water flowing over it and has little room on either side if you did try rapping it. Fortunately it has an easy exit on the right side that sends you down an extremely steep scree slope.  I don't even go down this waterfall in the winter and always slide down the same slope, sometimes with a rope for a hand line.
The dark spot on the left of the falls is where the rappel is.
I made it past the first difficult spot feeling pretty good, minutes later I slipped and fell. I smashed my shin really good, fell in the water, and laid there for a minute cursing. I also hit my hand really hard on a rock, when I pulled it out of the water it was bleeding. Not only did I bruise it, but I cut the piss out of it on the very sharp rocks that calve off of the mother rock, the forces of nature are constantly gnawing at. I thought river rocks were supposed to smooth? Now I realized a different danger laying among the smoothly polished rocks that look so nice, and desperately wished for a pair of leather gloves. As the saying goes you can wish in one hand and shit in the other, less than ten minutes later I was face down in the water with another, deeper cut on the the same hand. This one bled like hell, I was starting to rethink my adventure as I walked deeper into the canyon.
 As I got closer to the last rap, my attitude was going from "I'm in control" excitement, to uneasy excitement  My hand was bleeding off and on for about 45 minutes made worse with each touch of the surrounding rocks, tree limbs or sticks. Even though I was wearing a wet suit I was getting a little chill, and I was getting hungry but didn't want to stop for anything. I just wanted to get to the bad part (the last waterfall) and then I could relax a bit.
More Pretty
The last bailout for my trip down river is a bridge crossing that is part of the Superior Hiking Trail. It can also be used as the starting point if you come up the trail from the spot where I left my bike. I've done this in years past on skis, but it's a lot of hiking, and you end up missing out on some really cool sections of the river upstream. Passing under this bridge was my personal "Crossing the Rubicon". When I finally made it to the rappel I was nervous and occupied my thoughts by quickly getting my rope set-up. There were already at least a dozen pieces of webbing set up on a tree, with some newer looking caribiners, so that went quick. My heart rate was really thumping when I started lowering myself over the edge, I think I could have heard it if not for the thundering sound of the water fall just a few feet to my right. The rock was so rotten it thought the whole cliff was going to give way at any second. There were huge vertical crevices, running parallel with the waterfall's face made up of smaller pieces of fractured rock that look as if they could simply be peeled away in chunks the size of refrigerators.  In the winter all this is held together by ice and covered in snow, I had no idea what lurked below the frozen mass until now. I slowly lowered myself, being careful not to dislodge anything. On my way down, a few hand fulls of rock glanced off my helmet, which I'm sure would have cut the hell out of me, wisely, I always wear a helmet on this trip. Once down, I pulled the rope as fast I could, one look up reveals the cliffs overhanging disposition, which sets up the perfect trajectory for rock falls similar to the ones at my feet I am now tripping over. There is definite warrant for my concern as it's easy to discern the "fresh rock" from the old stuff that's been laying in the river. The base of all the cliffs on this river are littered with new rock fall. None of it is very big, but it's sharp and could be quite serious or fatal if it hit just right, I'm sure it would hurt too.
I wish this had a motor

That was it, the hard part (scary part) was over, In my mind it was all done, I had an additional hour traveling further down steam and up my exit tributary to the bike. The ride was only about 25 minutes, but all uphill. I was quite satisfied with my success and was anxious to get a good meal, and relax back in Grand Marais with friends.  Here is a link to a short video I made of the trip 
Personally,on a summer trip, I will go back only with competent friends, and do not recommend traveling solo. I also don't like people telling me what to do, so if you really want to go solo, have at it, and I hope this post helps, Good Luck, and don't forget gloves, or a helmet.          Safe journeys space fans ................ wherever you are out there