Waterfalls of East Huron River Gorge
Once, on a very snowy spring afternoon, Faith and I followed the East Branch Huron River from Erick's Road all the way to Big Falls. The hike was a challenging one. Located in a deep gorge for most of the route, the river twists and turns suddenly and does not offer much in the way of a river bed to follow. We spent most of the time climbing up and down the steep gorge through thick powdery snow. Most of the river had been covered in ice, hiding all of the waterfalls and rock formations that I had hoped to find. Years later I returned alone on a dreary spring day. There was no snow on the ground, though a cloudy sky promised me day-long drizzles.
Cutting off of Erick's Road at a familiar creek I headed into the brown, crunchy forest. There is an old logging track that ventured a short distance away from the road, providing an easy route before I cut down into the river valley. East Branch Huron River soon showed up in front of me. Below the gorge the river widens out over a shallow, rocky riverbed, so I simply jumped down into the river and followed it upstream on the rocks, occasionally wading through a few inches of water. Below the first waterfall there are some interesting rock pieces that I stopped to take a closer look at. The jagged wall rose sharply out of the water in crumbling blocks, an odd and fragile-looking formation.
The first waterfall on the river is not a tall one. East Branch Falls is a gentle cascade of water over smooth rock only a few feet high. A deep pool under it makes it difficult to photograph and I had used my zoom feature liberally on previous visits. Today I climbed up the western bank and creeped up much closer, getting some interesting angles from the mossy bank. Upstream of the falls the river is cluttered with rocks and little rapids and the gorge truly starts up, with hundred-plus foot heights topped by towering pines.
Similar to Slate River to the west, the winding river and steep gorge forced me to cross repeatedly. If the river is curving one way, than that bank is bound to be steep and the river deep, and I'd be forced to aim for the opposite bank. This happened many times during the hike. I could have made it easier by climbing over some of the bends, cutting past the tougher sections, but I was determined not to leave the river. Without ice to hide the water away I wanted to make sure to visit every possible fall along the river.
The next waterfall is unnamed even though it is much taller and visually interesting than East Branch Falls. Water falls down a tall, narrow chute before churning east quickly and flowing over a set of smaller cascades. It is quite difficult to hike directly here, as the gorge is near its tallest in this area, yet the drop is very unique and worth the approach.
Getting around this curve in the river was not easy. Rain had been falling randomly throughout the morning and had slicked up the worn rocks. After taking a slow and wet route around the falls I continued upstream, which actually meant heading north for a brief time. Some of the walls took on a decidely younger look here, with at least one section being composed mostly of dirt. A short section of rapids later and I bumped into another waterfall. Feeling a bit creative I tried out some manual settings on my camera to get a different view of the rushing water.
Now over half way through the gorge I noticed the walls were letting up. The rock formations were still interesting, steep and dramatic, just not quite as tall. The rapids and waterfalls continued ahead, and I passed a number of small unnamed drops. Some of them were little more than rapids over a cluster of rocks while others had legitimate bedrock bases.
The gorge ended suddenly. Woods stretched around me in a large, flat plain and the river widened and calmed. Big Falls was probably about a mile ahead of me. Instead of following East Branch Huron River I decided to cut the bend off and head through the woods. I slowly wandered away from the calming water sounds and making my own crunching, cracking sounds in the spring forest. These trees were not old growth, just mid-aged, and did a decent job at littering the ground with leaves and branches while blocking undergrowth. Distance passed quickly and I soon found myself at the base of Big Falls, an impressive split waterfall that I've always enjoyed.
Cutting back into the woods I wandered east for a bit before bumping into an overgrown two-track. This sped up my return trip quite a bit until it ended suddenly near some recent logging, above the gorge I had left earlier. Recent logging is always annoying, the piles of brush strewn about and few animal paths to follow. After some slow meandering I found another two-track on the far side that led me right out to Erick's Road and my car. It's hard to say what is and isn't a waterfall on this river, but I didn't care too much. The gorge makes for an excellent, if challenging, hike and I was glad that I had returned.