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Difficulty IV-V(V+)
Length 0 Miles
Gauge BLACK RIVER NEAR BESSEMER, MI
Flow Range 200 - 500 CFS
Flow Rate as of: 3 months ago 180 [CFS]
Reach Info Last Updated 12/31/2017 7:30 pm

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.


Rapid Descriptions

Great Conglomerate Falls

Class - IV Mile - 0
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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

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 - 0.69
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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 (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

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

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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 - 2.01
Rapid Thumbnail Missing

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 (~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.

Comments

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Brock Royer
|
13 years ago

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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Jonathan Sisley
|
4 years ago

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.

Summary of Gauge Readings

Levels from around 200 to 500 cfs should provide good flows for most groups though it has been run much higher.

Boaters historically (while the USGS gauge was inactive) have measured down from the bridge deck on a road off of Hwy 513. Readings on the order of 13'(156") down are taken as runnable.
-153" is about 350cfs.

Note: Be aware that indication of a 'runnable' level does not mean that the river is necessarily runnable. In winter, readings may be 'ice affected', and/or sections of the river may be impassable due to ice.

Offseason ('Ice') stage-gauge conversions
2.75 = 451 cfs
2.50 = 371 cfs
2.25 = 300 cfs
2.00 = 236 cfs
1.75 = 180 cfs

Gauge/flow analysis (cumulative data through water year 2016): Drainage area at gauge is 200 square miles. Minimum mean daily flow 6.6 cfs ( 2007.09.06), 90% of time flow exceeds 29 cfs, 10% of time flow exceeds 560 cfs, maximum mean daily flow was 12,700 cfs ( 1960.04.28). That makes a 10/90 ratio of 19.1 ('flashy-ness': under 3 is fairly steady, over 10 is quite 'flashy').

Gauge NameReadingTimeComment
BLACK RIVER NEAR BESSEMER, MI
AW Gauge Info
180 cfs 95d09h00m Gauge (200 sq.mi. drainage) is about 15 mi. upstream, and a number of decent tribs come in. Actual flows are thus likely a good bit higher than gauge reading.
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Directions Description


As stated in the description area, many boaters will start put-in at (above or below) the Potowatomi/Gorge Falls area instead of at Conglomerate Falls as listed here for the full reach. The carry in to Conglomerate Falls is fairly long, while the carry at Potowatomi/Gorge is far more reasonable.

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