**NOTE: This is a long post–but please read all the way through! Lots of good info and laughs along the way!**
Throughout the years we haven’t always made a big to do about our anniversary. It can be difficult with jobs and financial situations. The Champion family cabin has been our respite for the past few years. I had a growing desire to go on a new adventure this year. To try something that I’ve never done before. We decided to celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary at the beautiful Copper Falls State Park just outside of Mellen Wisconsin. I didn’t think about it or realize that the traditional wedding gift for year number seven is usually something made of copper. How serendipitous that I randomly chose this park to be our anniversary destination, especially since I’m not really one to keep up with traditions like that. :)
Chet grew up camping and was one of the highest decorated eagle scouts in his troop. He is what I consider to be an expert on survival techniques and roughing it in the wilderness. I grew up in the country running around in the woods and learning from my grandmother and mother the art of plant identification, care, and conservation. While I never camped or learned how to survive in the wilderness, there has always and will always be a special place in my heart for being deep in the woods.
I think that was part of the reason I was attracted to Chet to begin with. I admired his ability to tie all different kinds of knots, make a fire for just about any situation, create a shelter out of whatever was around him, be able to find his way through the woods in the dark with no compass, etc. He is and was an outdoorsman with clear passion. Also, I feel incredibly lucky to know that should the zombie apocalypse arrive I have someone who will keep me safe and kick some ass.
Anyways, back to Copper Falls….
We chose to camp at the hike in back packing site. I have only tent camped on maybe two other occasions, and both times were car camping which makes it all the more easy. Backpack camping is another animal. One that I admittedly didn’t fully realize until we showed up. This site was about a 2.5 mile or 45 minute hike from where you park your car. Chet and I both suspect that it is actually more around 3 or 3.5 but we never tracked it so I can’t say for sure. The trail is well maintained, though arduous in some spots.
We arrived about an hour early from our check in time of 3pm. The front office said that if there wasn’t a car in the back pack site parking lot we were free to set up camp early. There was, however, a car in the parking lot. We decided to grab a few lighter items and make our way to the site to see exactly what we were getting ourselves into. This site is deep deep in the woods. We kept thinking, “oh the site will be just around this corner!” Each corner led to another corner until finally we ran into the people who had the site before us. They were a couple who renewed their vows right in the river by the campsite. 25 years married! They were clearly experienced backpackers and told us right away what we could leave in the car. We left the small amount of gear that we brought at the site and trekked the 2.5 miles back out to the car to get the rest of it. We ditched quite a bit of equipment because while the hike to the campsite sans gear was relatively enjoyable, we knew that the last trip back out with everything on our backs would be no fun.
We set up camp and then ran down to the river to enjoy some river walking in the shallow rapids. We decided to make it a early evening as the following day was the primary day to hike and view the rest of the park. After planning out our route we turned out the light and let the gentle sound of the rushing water lull us into a deep slumber.
The next morning we slept in for a bit. I began making a tasty campfire breakfast while Chet went to the river to filter water for our afternoon hike. We had breakfast burritos with banana peppers, green peppers, green onions, diced ham, and cheese. While we didn’t see any bears during our visit to Copper Falls we made sure to hang up our food at night and when we wouldn’t be around the site just in case. Matt and Amy our friends who live in Ashland (about 30 mins away from the park) have a saying “If you are North of HWY 8, hang it up!”
We tidied up camp a bit and began the trek back to the main hiking loop to see all of the waterfalls. Shortly into the hike back up to the main trails I heard Chet swearing behind me. I looked and found him holding his hand with a pained look on his face. He had been stung by something. We looked around and didn’t see exactly where it came from. Chet had his revenge as he killed the bee that stung him. His hand continued to swell throughout the hike . The swelling started to shift to the other hand at one point. I didn’t make matters better for him. The bugs weren’t bad, but you still needed to use bug spray. I had found some “natural” bug spray consisting of lemon and eucalyptus. He asked me to spray him and without thinking I soaked his recently stung hand. :( We later found out on our final trek to the car on our last day there that he was stung by a ground bee. There was a hive of them hidden just to the right of the trail in a rotting tree stump. Chet walked past them first, which allowed me to see about 50 of them angrily swarm around the space Chet had just occupied. We figured this is why he was stung the first day. I walked past and pissed them off and he just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The loop around the main waterfalls was easy to navigate and didn’t take very long to complete. I think once we had reached the main loop trail from our site it was around 11. By 12:30 we had visited all the falls. Most of the falls you are only able to view from a distance. Understandably so, much of the rock that can get you closer to the falls looks unstable. My favorite of all the falls was Brown Stone Falls. Here are a few pics of the falls that I took with my phone. I eventually went back and took some with my real camera, when the lighting conditions were better. In order to photograph waterfalls where the water appears silky and smooth versus crisp and rushing the camera shutter needs to be slow. This means that your exposure time will increase, which allows for the movement of the water to look fluid like silk. However, it also means that you are increasing the amount of light touching the sensor. When it is high noon the sun is at it’s brightest and does not allow a photographer to easily capture waterfalls in this way. That also requires special equipment called neutral density filters. I don’t own any of those right now, so I was unable to photograph until later in the day when the sun was lower. (AND PEOPLE WONDER WHY PHOTOGRAPHERS CHARGE SO MUCH!! There is A LOT of equipment needed to do the job right. Photoshop isn’t magic and neither is your camera)
When we were finished with the hike around the main loop we needed to burn up some time as I waited for the sun to go down to take some better pictures of the falls with my real camera. We decided to go into town to get some medical supplies for some of the aches and pains our hikes had caused us thus far. We also decided to get some Gatorade in hopes that the electrolytes would help re-hydrate us in addition to our water. That didn’t take very long, so we decided to lazily eat lunch at one of the picnic areas in the main camping area. We then reconvened to decide what to do with the remaining 4 or so hours before I could photograph. I had done some research on the park beforehand and it seemed that there was another set of waterfalls on the south end of the park, which was not part of the main loop. The internet boasted these, as they were falls that you were allowed to get closer to in comparison to the others…
“Red Granite Falls is well worth the hike as you can climb right up to the falls and enjoy your lunch while feeling the mist of the falls on your face.”
The internet did not fail me. These falls were very much worth the trek. However, where I was failed was the park map. While eating lunch we looked at the trail and park maps to figure out the best way to get to Red Granite Falls. I was baffled that there appeared to be no parking lot on the south end of the park aside from the check in parking lot. We both assumed that it was in poor taste to stay parked here, so our best bet was to stay in the picnic parking lot and take a side trail down to the trail that eventually loops around Red Granite falls. It was going to be a good 5 mile hike round trip, which was perfect as we needed to burn some time. We embarked on the trail and quickly started noticing something strange. Compared to the rest of the trails this one seemed a little less cared for. The grasses were over grown, ferns were poking straight through the middle of the trail; at times they stood a few feet tall. The map also didn’t show all of the turns and forks in the trail as we would come across. It became a guessing game for us. Chet followed his instincts and training from scouting and bit by bit we kept making our way towards the falls. At one point we came across a large fallen tree in the middle of the path. It was obvious that the tree had fallen fairly recently, but no one had come to clean it up yet. We hopped over the tree and shortly after we came across our first and ONLY wooden trail posting. The Red Granite Falls loop was just a few hundred feet in front of us. Once on it we ran into a woman. We felt relieved to see another person and thought we must have gotten it right. I politely asked her if she was headed back from Red Granite Falls. She confirmed that she indeed was. I made a comment about how tricky it was to get to this point and how the park should really consider updating their maps. She gave me a sort of nasty look and curtly responded “Well no, it is pretty easy if you just follow the signs.”
We were peeved at her blithe response and thought “well soooorrrryyyyy if we aren’t master wilderness people. We stomped ahead muttering under our breath. Shortly after that conversation we came across another wooden trail sign. This one read “Parking lot .30 miles –>”. Suddenly what I considered as a bitchy response from the woman earlier made much more sense. She was just confused. How can you go wrong, the parking lot is just a bit behind you and the signs very clearly tell you the way. SERIOUSLY? There really was a parking lot to this place the whole time?!? Information that would have been helpful about 2 miles ago. All we could do was laugh and settled that it was all part of the adventure. Our legs might not think it is so funny, but it’ll make for a good story in the future.
Eventually we came to the falls. They were indeed beautiful and much more accessible than the others. We took pictures together, Chet made more gifs with his phone. I climbed around on the rocks getting as close as I could to the water. I felt the mist on my skin and delighted in the refreshing breeze that helped me forget about the many miles I had already walked that day. We took off our shoes and dipped our feet in the water, eating a few snacks together in silence. I listened to the water rushing, the birds chirping in the trees. I wanted to sit longer but my aching feet and knees began to remind me that if I sat much longer they would go on strike and I’d never get back to camp.
We decided to say screw the way we came, and went to the parking lot and walked the road back. It might not be as scenic but it was much more direct and would get me back to the main trail loop to start my photographs. Chet had pretty much had his fill of hiking for the day. He agreed to wait at the car and take a cat nap while I went back through the trails solo, stopping along the way to take as many photos as I wanted. :)
Once I was satisfied with my photos we went back to the campsite. We didn’t arrive until close to 8pm. By that time I had walked a grand total of 13.5 miles that day. My legs were well aware of this fact. Chet and I struggled to keep our energy long enough to do another dusk river wade. We made a loaded baked potato soup and I was hungry enough to make myself some hebrew national hot dogs. We reminisced on our day and adventures by the campfire. I had hoped that the weather during our trip would lend itself nicely to do some milky way and star trail photos. Alas, each night the clouds rolled in and spots of rain trickled down our tent. I only did one night shot, which was a photo of our camp site lit up by the fire and our tent lantern. I thought it turned out pretty neat.
We were exhausted and knew that the morning brought a lot of packing and a grueling trip back out of the campsite to our car. We passed out quickly once again to the sound of rushing water just beyond the tent walls.
The next morning we woke up and ate up the random leftovers we had and enjoyed a last little jaunt in the shallow river rapids. Chet began packing up some of the gear while I organized the items I would be carrying. It didn’t take us long to pack up camp, maybe an hour and some change. We said goodbye to our river and beautiful viewpoints. With my cool new iphone clip on lenses I thought it would be fun to take a time lapse of our final trip back out. I put on my back and helped Chet put on his. Chet then place my phone in the front pocket of my phone so it could record our journey out.
We made our way back, once again passing the angry hive of ground bees. We made it once again to the what seemed like giant and steep incline from the valley to the woods path. It was here that I really felt the weight of my gear and the many miles my legs had endured. I have asthma and felt my lungs grasping for air, wheezing in and out as the weight of my pack burdened their ability to expand. I took a few hits off my inhaler and made a squeak of exhaustion. Chet turned and sarcastically told me that there was no crying and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself DO IT FOR THE TIMELAPSE!! Eventually we made it back to the trail head. I took of my pack and Chet went to stop the timelapse. He made a comment that it must have turned off. I chalked it up to not having enough memory in the phone, or maybe a dead battery. Nope. After review the timelapse stopped the moment Chet placed the phone in my bag. All you see is a blur of trees and then Chet’s smiling face. I was so pissed, I felt like all my hard work up that damn hill and trail was ruined. I turned to Chet and snarled at him to go get the car. You usually had to walk maybe another mile to the parking area, but we had decided about half way into the last trip back that we were just going to bring the car down. When Chet was walking back to the car I started to get really dizzy and felt sick to my stomach. I ended up puking in the brush, probably from a combination of exhaustion and dehydration. Luckily we had more Gatorade and water in the car so I was able to feel better right away.
We waved goodbye as we drove out of the park and back towards Ashland where our friend Amy lived. She and her husband Matt were kind enough to care for Monty and Frankie our dogs while we camped. THANKS GUYS!!! Matt and Amy both have been to the backpack site before and Copper Falls is a very loved spot for them as well. I hope the photos I took did this place justice in your eyes!
If you ever get a chance please visit this place. Well worth the drive…and if you do the backpack site just remember…your company will mind your stench a lot less than your body will mind the many pounds of gear you have to haul in and out of that place!! LESS really is more in this case. :)