August 22 East and Main Branch of the Black River
Linnaea Melcarek | Published on 8/22/2022
Six adventurous souls (Ron, Jackie, Jocelyn, Mike R., Mike Z., and trip leader Linnaea) ventured down the East Branch of the Black River through the Black River Ranch property, starting at Blue Lakes Club Road. The East Branch joins up with the main branch halfway through the trip and continues through ranch property until the takeout at Clark Bridge Road. Linnaea was the only one who had done this stretch of river before, having paddled it with the West Michigan Kayaking and Canoe Club in 2021. That trip had about 20 participants, but we were glad we had a much smaller group, because it took a long time even with just the few of us to get through the numerous obstacles!
The trip is a little over 10 miles total, which took us almost 5 hours. The majority of the time was spent in the first half of the trip, on the East Branch, which had at least 5 portages, most of them difficult. There were also numerous other tricky spots such as bumpovers and squeezing through tight corners. The first couple miles of the trip were easy as we slowly meandered through an open swampy area, and Jocelyn remarked that the river seemed pretty tame, seemingly doubting Linnaea's warnings that the river has "a few issues."
Then abruptly the river took a turn west into the cedar forest, and that's where the excitement started. The river quickened and obstacles appeared. There were many spots where we had to react quickly to avoid being swept into log jams. All the maneuvering was pretty fun for an experienced paddler, which we all were, but for a beginner, it would have been difficult or even dangerous. But there were an excessive number of portages, which took a lot of time and tired us out. At one of the portages, there was a large number of bones scattered around, which was somewhat mysterious to us.
Eventually, we made it through the gauntlet and joined up with the main branch. From there, the river was mostly slow and easy, except for one slightly exciting spot. We all arrived at Clark Bridge Road tired, but with a sense of accomplishment at having tackled a truly wild river in a beautiful remote wilderness!
All photos by the multi-talented Jocelyn!
At the launch on Blue Lakes Club Road
Jackie bumping over one of many down trees
Mike Z. and Linnaea
Jackie and Mike R. making their way through the cedars
Ron and Jackie
Mike R. getting back in the water after a portage
Once we got on the main branch, we were able to see many burnt trees from the Blue Lakes Fire that swept through the area in May 2022.
Mysterious bones at one of the portages.
Mike R. squeezing under a newly-fallen birch at the only tricky spot on this section of the main branch.
Linnaea rescued a can with koozie that read "White Water Junkie" on one side and "River Runner" on the other (not a very skilled one, apparently)
A map of the Black River Ranch property, with the East Branch and Main Branch running through it.