Black - E) Lower: Conglomerate Falls to Lake Superior (2.0-2.6 miles)


Black, Michigan, US

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E) Lower: Conglomerate Falls to Lake Superior (2.0-2.6 miles)

Usual Difficulty IV-V(V+) (for normal flows)
Avg. Gradient 110 fpm
Max Gradient 126 fpm

Rainbow falls 3rd in sequence


Rainbow falls 3rd in sequence
Photo of Andy Lichtenheld by Steve Corsi taken 04/17/05 @ 200 cfs

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
BLACK RIVER NEAR BESSEMER, MI
usgs-04031000 200 - 500 cfs IV-V(V+) 01h22m 180 cfs (too low)


River Description

Quick Facts:

Location: Western Upper Peninsula, about 10 miles North of Bessemer.
Shuttle Length: 2.2 miles. (See details in "Directions" Tab.)
Character: AMAZING geology creates some classic drops.
Drainage: 200 sq.mi. (at gauge site upstream).

Google Maps has excellent resolution aerials of this reach. We highly recommend going to the "Map" tab, clicking 'Satellite', double clicking near (not on, but near) the Powotomi Falls location icon (resolution at put-in is not good, so don't click up there), zooming to the maximum resolution (without losing image), and doing a 'virtual tour' to 'walk' down the reach.


Amazing geology creates some of the most interesting and unique drops in the midwest. Due to the constricted nature of many of the drops, the range of runnable levels is somewhat narrow. Also, scouting is highly recommended at virtually all of the drops, as once you start into a drop, there is often no way out. A snag in the lower part of any drop could be exceedingly problematic. Some of the drops do not lend themselves to setting any 'meaningful' safety, nor to convenient rescue setups. Best to be cautious.

While the reach is listed as starting at Conglomerate Falls (mostly for continuity and completeness from prior segments), many boaters will choose to put in about a mile downstream, below Gorge Falls. Even with the shortened run at just about two miles, allow plenty of time for this awesome run. You will be scouting most drops, and you'll probably want time for photos and video.

(The 'short' run stats are: length=1.95mi, ave.gradient=95fpm, max.full-mile-gradient=108fpm.)

While extreme boaters have run every drop on this reach, less experienced (or let's be kind and just say less 'adventurous') boaters may find themselves portaging the big stuff. (My standard line was "you carry your boat almost as much as it carries you.") Even with up to three portages, there is more-than-enough remaining whitewater to enjoy, and the scenery is outstanding.


Drops in the upper part of this reach (which many will choose to bypass) include:
0.0 miles Conglomerate Falls (25-30'): A large dome of rock divides the flow into three channels. The main (center) channel has a sweet, simple slide into a generally not keepy hole. There are, however, some known piton possibilities, particularly on the right side of the slide/hole.
0.5 miles Potawatomi Falls (40'): Again, a large dome of conglomerate rock spreads the flow across a wide span of river. With runnable levels for the rest of the river, flow across this rock is exceedingly sparse. Attempts at running this drop are often amusing and scary, as boaters have trouble maintaining their lines as they slide down the rock sideways and backwards.
0.7 miles Birth Canal (4'): Just around the bend from Potawatomi, the river is squeezed into a narrow slot and over a short, but decidedly ugly pourover. Water boils up throughout the length of the pool (about 40'?) before Gorge Falls. It is hard to imagine a boater escaping the boiling backflow in this drop at most water levels. While I have heard of a run of this (though I have no idea at what flow), most boaters at most levels would do well to be certain to stay well clear of this drop.
0.7 miles Gorge Falls (20-30'): Flowing out of the other end of the boiling pool, the river is squeezed to about 10-15' in width as it pours over a sloping lip and into the depths of a grotto in the canyon below. Many will choose to just view it from overlooks above and again from below as they carry down steep stairs and slide boats over a locked wooden gate to drop to the rocky shore and the eddy in the canyon below.


From here (the more common put in) one will encounter the following drops (I think I have them in the correct order . . . but a couple could be 'juggled' . . . I haven't run this reach enough to recall for certain):

RollerCoaster: The river takes a sharp right, pours across a short irregular ledge, about a hundred yards down a 'hallway' through a couple offset diagonal waves, before dropping through another hole which will give most boaters a good shot-in-the-chest/face and completely stall their momentum. While it may flip you, at levels up to 350cfs it has not seemed overly retentive. A large pool and eddy lies below.
1.6 miles Sandstone (25' of drop spread between a main falls and a series of ledges below): A dike of rock with a slot in the center, looking almost like a breached dam. There is a potential line down the center, but there is some upturned jagged rock to either side (at the least, boat abuse, at worse, piton potential). This line feeds you into a meaty looking hole which wants to shove you out left, toward the undercut left wall. Another line is to 'sneak' off to the right into a hanging eddy/pool, then slide around the 'breach wall' to ride down a narrow tongue, avoiding the worst of the hole. Many will portage (left) around the large entrance falls to put in immediately below and enjoy the series of diagonal waves and holes which follow.
Surprise: The river splits around a large island. The right channel stays 'high' as it slides past the rock/island, through a couple diagonal waves, then pours over a 3-4' ledge (surprise!). The best line is usually staying left down the 'hallway', then crossing to drop off the final ledge tight to a rock on the right. (Not to be mistaken with going tight right early, ending up right of that rock, in a narrow channel, which is not generally recommended.)
No Surprise/Over-the-Falls: The left channel around the island mentioned above has a couple good, potentially playable waves, and doesn't loose as much altitude as the right channel. As it wraps around the backside of the island, it drops over a taller falls as it rejoins the right channel. Far left appears a fairly smooth slide, while some other lines may provide a boof into the flow below. Avoid getting too far right, as the landing will be on a spline of rock. (This is the route less taken, as most folks enjoy running Surprise, and at least looking at Under-the-Falls.)
Under-the-Falls: One of the tougher drops to run, to scout, to set safety, or to portage. The right bank is high and well wooded, and rocks at river level are sloped and slippery. A couple ledges form powerful offset holes, leading to odd currents where the flow from the left channel dumps in (see above). Rocks from the left shore (the island) are overhanging (undercut). Caution is urged for those deciding to run this. A common 'bypass' route is to do a 'double portage,' beaching on the island, carrying across, getting in the boat to ferry across the left channel (above it's falls), then beaching again to carry across a hump of rock to a convenient spot to re-enter the river below the drop.
Bump & Thump: A fun stretch of offset ledges, waves, and holes leads toward and past a large conglomerate outcropping on river left. None should cause particular trouble. More often (at levels up to 350cfs) the challenge is to keep from 'grunging out' in this stretch. A 'stealth rock' does exist in the center of the final drop, so stay left or get well to the right to avoid piton or gouging your boat.
Jills Delight: The river divides around a rock/island. Taking the right channel, a high ridge of rock rises on the left (the island) leading to a slide down sloping bedrock into a (usually) fairly tame hole. The usual line is left of center for a smooth slide, though I have seen some folks take the right side for a more abrupt drop. (Not sure about depth and 'cleanliness' . . . boof highly recommended.)
Jill's Bypass: The left channel (at the above mentioned island) has a steep pourover into a short boil, followed immediately by a narrow constriction, then slams a wall and is diverted to the right. A short ledge/wave precedes the confluence with the other channel.
2.1 miles Rainbow(45'): One of the most beautiful and ugly, bizarre and intimidating falls in the Upper Peninsula. Take a dome of rock, then imagine taking a drill press to cut a vertical shaft out of one side of the dome. Water pours in, pounds and swirls around furiously before spewing out over a short drop into the pool below. The left side (where water sheets over shallow conglomerate) drops toward a wall, then is diverted to the right over the dome, clear of the vertical shaft, and plunges into the pool below. Again, this has been run, but most will enjoy the esthetics as they portage, usually on the left, where there is a viewing deck, and access to the river below is easier. However, to really appreciate the full beauty (and 'ugliness') of this falls, take out well above the falls on the right. Hike down a path to viewing areas above and downstream of the falls, then get back in your boat to ferry across to the left shore for the easier portage. (Access to the river on river-right below the falls is possible, but can be difficult.)
A brief, generally flatwater paddle leads to the harbor in the park at the mouth of the river.


AW members may click here for Part 1 of an article from the AW Journal, way back in 1981!
AW members may click here for Part 2 of the article.

In addition to this reach, the article also describes the following:
Michigan's

     Upper Presque Isle, 
     Lower Presque Isle
     Middle Black
     Upper Silver
     Lower Silver
     Falls, and 
     Rock,
and Wisconsin's 
     Lower Brunsweiler
     Montreal, W.Fk., and 
     Montreal Canyon.



StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-04-04 03:41:14

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0Great Conglomerate FallsIVPutin Waterfall
0.5Potawatomi Falls5.0Waterfall Photo
0.7Birth CanalN/AHazard
0.7Gorge FallsIV+Access Waterfall Photo
1.0RollerCoasterIII+Photo
1.6Sandstone FallsIV+Waterfall Photo
1.7Right Channel: Surprise/Under-the-FallsIVHazard Waterfall
1.7Left Channel: No-Surprise/Over-the-FallsIV+Waterfall
1.8Bump & ThumpIII+
2.0Jills DelightIII+Waterfall
2.0Jill's BypassIVWaterfall
2.1Rainbow FallsVWaterfall Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Great Conglomerate Falls (Class IV)

A large dome of rock divides the flow into three channels. The main (center) channel has a sweet, simple slide into a generally not keepy hole. There are, however, some known piton possibilities, particularly on the right side of the slide/hole.



Potawatomi Falls (Class 5.0, Mile 0.5)

Potowattomi Falls

Potowattomi Falls
Photo of Potowattomi Falls by Nate Alwine taken 05/25/03 @ 300cfs

Potawatomi Falls (40'): A large dome of conglomerate rock spreads the flow across a wide span of river. With runnable levels for the rest of the river, flow across this rock is exceedingly sparse. Attempts at running this drop are often amusing and scary, as boaters have trouble maintaining their lines as they slide down the rock sideways and backwards.



Birth Canal (Class N/A, Mile 0.7)

Birth Canal (4'): Just around the bend from Potawatomi, the river is squeezed into a narrow slot and over a short, but decidedly ugly pourover. Water boils up throughout the length of the pool (about 40'?) before Gorge Falls. It is hard to imagine a boater escaping the boiling backflow in this drop at most water levels. While I have heard of a run of this (though I have no idea at what flow), most boaters at most levels would do well to be certain to stay well clear of this drop.

Watch a one-minute surf of it here:



Gorge Falls (Class IV+, Mile 0.7)

Gorge Falls

Gorge Falls
Photo of Brock on Gorge Falls by Brandon Royer @ 270cfs

Gorge Falls (20-30'): Flowing out of the other end of the boiling pool, the river is squeezed to about 10-15' in width as it pours over a sloping lip and into the depths of a grotto in the canyon below. Many will choose to just view it from overlooks above and again from below as they carry down steep stairs and slide boats over a locked wooden gate to drop to the rocky shore and the eddy in the canyon below.



RollerCoaster (Class III+, Mile 1.0)

Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster
Photo of Anthony Collins taken 10/27/13 @ high runnable

The river takes a sharp right, pours across a short irregular ledge, about a hundred yards down a 'hallway' through a couple offset diagonal waves, before dropping through another hole which will give most boaters a good shot-in-the-chest/face and completely stall their momentum. While it may flip you, at levels up to 350cfs it has not seemed overly retentive. A large pool and eddy lies below.



Sandstone Falls (Class IV+, Mile 1.6)

Sanstone falls backdrop

Sanstone falls backdrop
Photo of Pete Witucki by Steve Corsi taken 04/17/05 @ 200 cfs

Sandstone (25' of drop spread between a main falls and a series of ledges below):

A dike of rock with a slot in the center, looking almost like a breached dam.

There is a potential line down the center, but there is some upturned jagged rock to either side (at the least, boat abuse, at worse, piton potential). This line feeds you into a meaty looking hole which wants to shove you out left, toward the undercut left wall.

Another (preferred) line is to 'sneak' off to the right into a hanging eddy/pool, then slide around the 'breach wall' to ride down a narrow tongue, avoiding the worst of the hole.

Many will portage (left) around the large entrance falls to put in immediately below and enjoy the series of diagonal waves and holes which follow.



Right Channel: Surprise/Under-the-Falls (Class IV, Mile 1.7)

Surprise: The river splits around a large island. The right channel stays 'high' as it slides past the rock/island, through a couple diagonal waves, then pours over a 3-4' ledge (surprise!). The best line is usually staying left down the 'hallway', then crossing to drop off the final ledge tight to a rock on the right. (Not to be mistaken with going tight right early, ending up right of that rock, in a narrow channel, which is not generally recommended.)

Under-the-Falls: One of the tougher drops to run, to scout, to set safety, or to portage. The right bank is high and well wooded, and rocks at river level are sloped and slippery. A couple ledges form powerful offset holes, leading to odd currents where the flow from the left channel dumps in (see above). Rocks from the left shore (the island) are overhanging (undercut). Caution is urged for those deciding to run this. A common 'bypass' route is to do a 'double portage,' beaching on the island, carrying across, getting in the boat to ferry across the left channel (above it's falls), then beaching again to carry across a hump of rock to a convenient spot to re-enter the river below the drop.



Left Channel: No-Surprise/Over-the-Falls (Class IV+, Mile 1.7)

The left channel around the island mentioned above has a couple good, potentially playable waves, and doesn't loose as much altitude as the right channel.

 

As it wraps around the backside of the island, it drops over a taller falls as it rejoins the right channel. Far left appears a fairly smooth slide, while some other lines may provide a boof into the flow below. Avoid getting too far right, as the landing will be on a spline of rock.

 

(This is the route less taken, as most folks enjoy running Surprise, and at least looking at Under-the-Falls.)



Bump & Thump (Class III+, Mile 1.8)

A fun stretch of offset ledges, waves, and holes leads toward and past a large conglomerate outcropping on river left. None should cause particular trouble. More often (at levels up to 350cfs) the challenge is to keep from 'grunging out' in this stretch. A 'stealth rock' does exist in the center of the final drop, so stay left or get well to the right to avoid piton or gouging your boat.



Jills Delight (Class III+, Mile 2.0)

The river divides around a rock/island. Taking the right channel, a high ridge of rock rises on the left (the island) leading to a slide down sloping bedrock into a (usually) fairly tame hole. The usual line is left of center for a smooth slide, though I have seen some folks take the right side for a more abrupt drop. (Not sure about depth and 'cleanliness' . . . boof highly recommended.)



Jill's Bypass (Class IV, Mile 2.0)

The left channel (at the above mentioned island) has a steep pourover into a short boil, followed immediately by a narrow constriction, then slams a wall and is diverted to the right. A short ledge/wave precedes the confluence with the other channel.



Rainbow Falls (Class V, Mile 2.1)

Rainbow falls 2nd in sequence

Rainbow falls 2nd in sequence
Photo of Andy Lichtenheld by Steve Corsi taken 04/17/05 @ 200 cfs

Rainbow Falls (~45', sliding): One of the most beautiful and ugly, bizarre and intimidating falls in the Upper Peninsula. Take a dome of rock, then imagine taking a drill press to cut a vertical shaft out of one side of the dome. Water pours in, pounds and swirls around furiously before spewing out over a short drop into the pool below. The left side (where water sheets over shallow conglomerate) drops toward a wall, then is diverted to the right over the dome, clear of the vertical shaft, and plunges into the pool below. Again, this has been run, but most will enjoy the esthetics as they portage, usually on the left, where there is a viewing deck, and access to the river below is easier. However, to really appreciate the full beauty (and 'ugliness') of this falls, take out well above the falls on the right. Hike down a path to viewing areas above and downstream of the falls, then get back in your boat to ferry across to the left shore for the easier portage. (Access to the river on river-right below the falls is possible, but can be difficult.)
A brief, generally flatwater paddle leads to the harbor in the park at the mouth of the river.




User Comments

Users can submit comments.
July 12 2014 (1082 days ago)
Sizzler (156011)
Even though the recommended cut off is 500 cfs for the lower run, the middle stretch (Gorge to
Rainbow) is great over 500. A few of us ran the middle at over a 1000 cfs and agreed that is could
be run much higher yet, with new lines opening up. The bigger drops can still be run higher, but
the beat down factor goes up.
June 27 2012 (1827 days ago)
Passing along info sent to me: "I just ran the Lower Black yesterday at about 300 CFS and found a
couple hazards. There is a tree in the line on 'Under The Falls' at the narrowest constriction. (We
ended up running 'Over The Falls' instead.) There also is a vertical tree in the "death hole" on
Rainbow Falls which points out towards the line on Rainbow Falls. It could cause some trouble."
February 9 2006 (4157 days ago)
Brock RoyerDetails
I just have a few tips if you would like to run this river! First of all Conglomerate Falls can be
run on river right if river left looks too manky for you. In fact the right side is probably a
better high water line.

Second of all Potowatomi Falls is one of the most fun drops I have run but 'most' people decide to
portage it b/c the birth canal lies just downstream. Well, we found it is not too difficult to take
out on river left JUST after the falls! Then put in below the birth canal for a sweet run on Gorge
Falls.

This is one of the BEST hardcore runs in the Superior region so treat it with respect!

~Peace~
Brock


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