Monday, September 25, 2017

O Kun de Kun Falls and the $2000-per-hike bridge

Another day of hiking Ottawa National Forest, with few breaks from 'green tunnel' trekking.  The highlight was definitely O Kun de Kun falls.  Named after a native American chief, this is a waterfall you can walk behind--my favorite kind.  But I didn't realize that until I looked at some of the online photos later.  I didn't explore the falls in depth while there because of the group of smoking, out-of-shape, middle aged folk crawling all over the area who had come down (illegally?) in a caravan of off-road-vehicles.  The really good places are often too popular, too trampled, and too crowded for my tastes.

I let Hat number 82 pose at another viewpoint and then headed on.

There's a huge sturdy suspension bridge over the Baltimore River that the national forest installed for hikers just below the falls.

Yet very few people hike the NCT beyond the falls.  As soon as I crossed the trace of the trail became faint, and remained so.  Several miles on down the trail there's another, nearly identical footbridge over the Middle Branch of the Ontonagon River. 

Yes, the faint track in the left foreground leading to the bridge is the North Country Trail.

Ontonagon means 'I lost my bowl' in Ojibwa.  The legend goes that one of the women in Chief O Kun-de-Kun's band was washing bowls in the river when a sketchy looking, unkempt white man came by in a canoe asking about the name of this river.  She was so unnerved by the man that she dropped a bowl in the river and uttered the exclamation - and the name stuck.

But I digress.  This bridge, set deep in the remote wilderness of Ottawa National Forest, clearly gets very few hikers.  Other than the infrequent visit by local chapter maintainers, it seems that only long distance section hikers and thru-hikers bother with this nondescript section of trail.  Probably only five or ten per year.  Making a guess about the cost of this bridge, including the not inconsiderable cost of transporting the materials to this remote location, and assuming the bridge has been in place for 25 years, the math produces an amazing number.  The bridge cost the government about $2000 for every hiker that crosses it.

The rest of this day's hike was about what I saw in the woods.  A few nice mini-landscapes like this one.

The second day covered in this report was cloudy and dreary after a heavy overnight severe thunderstorm.  I was supposed to ford another branch of the Ontonagon River this day, but because of the rain and the wet summer in general, I chose to do the high-water-bypass road walk instead.

Hat 85 shows the weather, the traffic-free US 45 through this remote area, and a view of an area called the Military Hills, named, apparently, for the original purpose of this highway.

Here I got a look at the muddy river from the highway bridge;

and that helped seal my decision to skip the ford.  As it turns out, taking the bypass may not have been necessary.  The ford is downstream of a dam, and is only dangerous when water is being released down the spillway.  Apparently the spillway has been closed lately, but I didn't know that until I talked to a local at the late 19th century log cabins of the Old Victoria mining town restoration later in the day

and then saw the dry spillway from a viewpoint the following day.

All this came too late to change my mind.  For me, by that time, it was already ... well ... 'water over the dam'.

Here are the GPS Tracks of the two hikes, the first in the woods, the second all on roads until the last mile near Old Victoria.

The $2000-per-hiker bridge is at the little squiggle right in the middle of the track.
The dam and spillway and trail ford can be seen center left in this view.


  1. Too bad you hiked off trail to avoid the river crossing. Normally there is not much if any water at the crossing except in early spring snow melt or if we have had a big rain storm. The water is diverted from the dam to the power plant in a flum pipe unless the water level is so high they have to release it over the dam.
    here is link to find out if UPPCo is releasing water or not over the dam so the river can or can not be crossed at Seg 19:

    UPPCo said anything between 200-600 cfs would probably not be releasing from the dam on the Ont River, Victoria chart.

    1. CJ - you should post that link on the Peter Wolfe Chapter web site under the info for that segment (if it isn't there already--don't remember seeing it) with what you said about 200 to 600cfs being "probably" safe to do the ford. That is much clearer than the wording and the links that are currently there. Thanks

  2. We were working on the trail in the Victoria area today too! It would have been fun to meet you! Do you have a dog with you? we saw someone walking with a dog as we were driving away.

  3. I work in the area (maintaining military hill) so today it was a beautiful fall day and I've been waiting for a day to see the falls near the roadside park. my hike down to o kun De kun falls today was great but rushed as I had to finish working.. such a small adventure, left me wanting more and I was interested in more hiking in this area. browsing the web I ran across this blog.. after reading it and seeing your photo I scratched my head in dismay before I realized that I've met you a several times now. the first time you startled me.. as I'm sure I startled you. haha.. thanks for cleaning the grill after using it.. no one does that. good luck on your travels.

    1. Hi Patrick - yeah, I remember seeing you there. I kind of 'appeared' from an unexpected direction after wandering around the park grounds. It wasn't me who cleaned the grill, though, because I didn't use it. Some other good Samaritan

  4. the grill comment pertains to last year when I was delighted to see you using it one day. rarely does anyone use them for there intended use. next day I walked up, grill brush in hand, but alas you already cleaned it. I'm always pleased to see people utilising and respecting the parks and land I care for. thank you. I'm excited to follow your blog.. also looking to make a trek out to the porkies from that area. the pictures you posted are great but I'm sure they do little justice to the majesty that is that land.