Back in June, a group of us paddled the St. Joseph river from South Bend out to Lake Michigan and it was a pretty excellent trip. This weekend we decided to explore a bit of the upstream section. The original plan was to start at the very beginning of the headwaters, but warnings of unnavigable canals and terrible portages made us change plans. We settled on launching from the dam at Union Lake. Five of us drove out Friday night, shuttled some cars as quick as we could, and paddled for about ten minutes in complete darkness before finding a reasonable place to pull off and camp.
Saturday morning we set off, with 18 miles between us and our campground. It wasn’t long before we realized that upstream, the river presents different challenges. There were a lot of submerged trees. Sometimes this required fancy maneuvering in the water. Other times we just had to portage. Amazingly, nobody ended up in the river. Things got interesting just before Sturgeon Lake when a pretty intense downpour hit us. Things got even more interesting when we got to the lake and the lightning began. Not wanting to get struck, we sought refuge on the shore, which turned out to be more of a muddy bog than actual land. A few of us took shelter under a tree while the others sat in their boats. Luckily the worst part of the storm soon passed and we continued on our way. We made it to En Gedi campground where the very nice host let us dry out in the game hall where we cooked dinner and played table tennis while waiting for the rain to stop and our other friends to arrive. The forecast said severe rain all night long, but the skies cleared up and Amy and Sara (and the always wild dog Lucifer) showed up to join us for the night. We set up tents and a fire and filled up on s’mores.
Most of the group opted to go home Sunday morning instead of more paddling. I still had a set of dry clothes and the will to push on, so I covered another 12 miles of river through gusts of wind and rain and went home that afternoon.
Despite the hardships, we had a pretty good weekend. It’s interesting to see the river that far upstream. It’s way narrower and more full of debris than the St. Joseph we’re used to seeing. This stretch had hardly any houses on it and looked pretty wild. I’m still hoping to explore even further upstream despite the warnings, so stay tuned for the next trip.