The Pup Creek Loop
Big Pup and Little Pup Creek are two fairly typical creeks in the Huron Mountains. Little Pup, the smaller of the two, starts right above the hairpin curve on County Road 510 and is only a few miles in length. Big Pup Creek is much more ambitious, almost twice as long and stretching far west towards Mulligan Plains. They join up before flowing into the Yellow Dog River below the main Yellow Dog Falls. There is a well-known, easily accessible waterfall on Big Pup Creek just downstream of County Road 510. Tipped off by a fellow hiker that there may be more falls downstream I planned a loop here, a stretched triangle that included both creeks and a few hills along the way, and waited impatiently for the spring melt to arrive in the Upper Peninsula.
Warm temperatures turned 510 into a rutted, puddled mess of a road. By the time I made it to the Wilson Creek Trail both sides of my car and windshield were covered with splats of brown. There was just enough snow melted away at the start of the two-track to pull off and park - beyond this was a solid white cover. In fact the woods around me held more snow than not, a deeply disturbing view. I had expected a few drifts, not a slushy knee-deep blanket.
Throwing my gear over one shoulder I headed down the road, sloshing on the mixed ground. Sinking in every few steps, sometimes up to my ankle and muddy brown water below, I tried to make quick time to the first destination. Little Pup Creek has a substantial drop far up above the hairpin, one that was too far upstream to interest me much, so I aimed for a different elevation drop a few hundred yards into the woods.
The creek passes Wilson Creek Trail a few times, simply flowing over the road around rocks and boulders. It was full enough with the spring water to completely fill the banks and be difficult to leap over. Enough noise was pouring out from overflowing cluttered rapids to drown out any potential waterfalls and I kept sneaking over and peering over the bank to make sure I wasn't missing any significant drops. It was a good twenty minutes before I bumped into the main drops, a rugged chute squeezed between huge rocks followed by a shorter tumble.
This waterfall was pretty cool, much more than I expected from such a small creek. After taking a few photos and checking for more drops downstream I cut back to the road in hopes of avoiding the deeper slush that surrounded the water. Ahead of me, to the north, the woods began to open up with some logging activity. A huge swath had been clear-cut from the hill to the right, exposing the ground like a bare patch of raw skin. I don't understand clear-cutting: suppose that there are either economical and/or environmental reasons why it's a good idea, but it's always painful to stumble upon a section during a hike.
The thinned out trees around the logging road let more sun in and my trail browned up. I slowed down, thankful for the chance to stride normally through the soft mud, and looked around. Little Pup Creek had swung over to my left, where it would stay, as Wilson Creek Trail soon turns sharply to the east and leaves it for good. A few hills poked up ahead of me and I could barely make out a thin line of blue Lake Superior in the far distance. I've been thinking about climbing those peaks, the few south of Yellow Dog close to 550, although I think they are all privately owned. After one last look around I headed down into the snow, leaving the road for the creek.
Logging peeps are usually fairly good at keeping their distance from creeks, not wanting to start an irreversible erosion problem or clog up the flow too much. There were a few trees and limbs hanging down over the water, probably indirectly related to the logging, but it wasn't bad. I found a few small drops here, nothing more than a foot high, that probably shrink down to nothing during the summer. Impatient to start the next leg of the hike I soon cut away from the creek, making my way north when the Little Pup veers northeast.
After a few trips down small seasonal cuts in the woods I made my way to the base of a steep slope. The slope was angled just right to get the full force of the southern afternoon sunshine. It was void of snow, brown leaves and grey rock underfoot. I've rarely been so excited to climb a hill.
It didn't take long to climb the 200' slope and come out on a south-facing bluff. Glaring right in front of me was the clear-cut section I had passed by earlier on the hike, less than a mile away. I tried to ignore it and look around. To the right I could make out a few taller hills on the far side of 510, one of them probably the tall mound that the hairpin winds around, others reaching towards the Yellow Dog Plains. To the east I could make out hints of Lake Superior past some hills. I thought awhile of following this ridge west, getting some better views of the Yellow Dog and maybe Alder Hills to the north, and decided against it. The northeast face seems much more appealing.
Turning away from the view I pushed through the scraggly brush that clung on top of the hill, a mix of stunted trees and undergrowth that pokes and bends around like stubby Velcro. It didn't take long to cross over to the north face and come out on wide bluff overlooking Lake Superior. The view was surprisingly open: everything from Alder Hills to the north to Saux Head Hill in the south was visible. I rested here, taking a few pictures and eating some sunflower seeds, and enjoyed the view.
A cool wind coasting off the lake eventually forced me to get up and continue on the hike. I wasn't looking forward to the next section, knowing that the protecting woods would shelter deep snow below. Skidding and sliding over the wet, deepening slush, I began to make my northwest to Big Pup Creek. The woods did not welcome me.
Snow covered large sections of ground, broken up in some places by sections of bare (and muddy) ground. I weaved back and forth, trying to stick to the bare ground, but often found myself sloshing through the snow up to my knees for dozens of yards at a time. I passed plenty of logging roads that ran perpendicular to my route, roads that had at least one bare shoulder, roads that would not lead me to Big Pup. It was frustratingly slow. When I first heard the rumbles of a creek below I wasted little time plunging down the slope in hopes of finding an easier route.
Big Pup Creek was swollen and much larger then I remembered from my summer visits. Usually a small creek, no bigger than Reany to the south and easy to step over, it now roared with all the force and flow of a river. Getting across would be about as easy as crossing the Yellow Dog River. I searched back and forth until I found a long-dead cedar bridging the banks, just rotten enough to sag uncomfortably as I quickly scampered over to the west bank.
I wanted to be on the west bank for a few reasons. The hiker who had tipped me off about the falls on Big Pup Creek had mentioned a two-track along the river that I thought was on the west bank (in retrospect I think it follows the east bank). Also, there did appear to be less snow over there. The snow, which had been frustratingly deep since I left the hill, was thigh-deep near the water. Daring the risky crossing was well worth escaping from the wet slush.
After determining that there were no drops of significance here I started heading upstream. The bank forced me up and down a steep slope, sometimes letting me stick right next to the river on muddy banks, other times pushing me forty feet up. In the summer it is probably possible to just stay in the creekbed - today the strong flow probably would have knocked me over. After about a half hour of this I came upon a calmer section, a swamp clogged with sand that promised easy going for a while.
The swamp was a nice change, even if it was only a few hundred yards long. There was no snow here, no steep banks, just giving banks of recently-deposited sand surrounding a quick-moving stream of water. It felt good to stride again, if only until the woods regained the creek to protect mounds of snow underneath.
Upstream from the swamp Big Pup Creek began to roar a bit more, churning between rocks and steep banks. Ahead I could make out a waterfall, a narrowing chute that spit out angry noises and white mist. I couldn't reach it, though, with slick rock banks and deep waters below it. Taking a few pictures I moved on, slogging through the deep, wet snow, and found a taller waterfall above it. This one was even more impressive, a tall cascade that crashed and splashed over tough rocks. With a shorter bank and some convenient rocks I was able to creep up right below and feel the spray on my cheeks as I took some photos.
From here I had to choose between three paths. I could continue upstream to the well-known Big Pup Falls, a long fight through snow. If I could cross the creek I could make my way up to 510 and follow the road back. Otherwise, as I had seen about as much as Big Pup as I had planned, I could just cut a line back to my parking spot. Torn for a while I wandered upstream, just in case there was another impressive drop, and found nothing but a few small drops and chutes. Finally I turned left and headed back to the car.
The walk back was not easy, even as I attempted to cut from one logging track to another. Everything was sloped away from the sun, forcing me to both climb up an elevation and push through snow. When I was within a half mile of my car I cut out of the woods, straight up to County Road 510, and followed the muddy road back. While the creeks were full and waterfalls impressive I couldn't help but think that I should have waited another week before tackling this hike as my jeans and boots dripped cold water down.