Well after reading many trip reports on the Little Manistee it was time for my friend John and I to try it for ourselves. We had both been itching to get out and do an overnight trip so we packed our boats and headed North.
We arrived at Old Grade USFS campground North of Baldwin on M-37 and unload everything from truck. After setting up camp I ran the truck down to our intended take-out at 6 mile. We planned on staying Friday night at Old Grade, heading down to Driftwood for Saturday night, then on to 6 mile bridge Sunday.
After having dinner and enjoying the campfire we turned in around midnight Friday. I woke up around 6 AM to the sound of rain.... Great, I was sleeping in a bivy sack, not the best place to be when it was raining... After laying there for about an hour John finally got up and we decided to break camp and get moving, we had a long day ahead of us and I wanted an early start...
We were on the river by 9 AM, we put in behind the campground host's site per his invitation. This section down to the first bridge was narrow and at places the brush on both sides extended at the way across the river. Passage was possible but a little challenging. After the first bridge the river opened up a little and it was a pleasant paddle down to Driftwood not counting the heavy rain.... Paddle jacks and skirts helped keep us dry for the most part.
One word of caution about this river, it seems that this river was used for logging earlier in it's history. There a many places where the old logging flume posts are still in place. Some extend out of the water and some are under it's surface. Most of these are 2-3" diameter logs driven into the river bed. They can be challenging to notice until you are right on them and the current will easily push you up onto them. Getting off can be little tricky but the bigger problem is the old spike nails in some of them. I put a very deep 8" scratch in my hull day one that went almost all the way through. After that I made sure to steer clear on this old logging flume...
We arrived at Driftwood after close to 7 hours on the river. Hauled our loaded boats up the hill to the campground and set up camp. No water at Driftwood and it was our plan to get water down at Bear Track on Sunday so we were prepared with extra water on board for Saturday night. It rained most of Saturday night but we still managed to enjoy the evening.
Sunday morning still had a few sprinkles but we woke up and were back on the river by 9 AM. We were looking forward to the day, by now the river had widened considerably and the flow was pretty swift. We paddled down to Bear Track (1 hour)and stopped to fill our water bottles. After finding the hand pump, we found a sign on the pump and the pump handle removed... "Water was not fit for drinking until further notice" It was gonna be a long day with only 8 oz of water left.
We got back in the boats and proceeded downs stream passing several larger streams entering the flow. The volume in the river certainly was getting greater. We both wondered what lay ahead between 9 mile and 6 mile. By now the weather had improved and the sun was shining.
We stopped for lunch at 9-mile bridge about 3 hours down stream for Bear Track. Talked to several groups putting in here who all indicated the river gets moving along pretty fast and the navigation gets tricky. Just what the doctor ordered, I was ready to go with my LL Remix 10 but John was having second thoughts, he didn't relish the thought of a swim in the cold river water. At 12' the Dagger Blackwater can be a little difficult to turn when needed but we loaded up and proceeded down stream.
After passing the groups that had put in while we had lunch we had the river to ourselves. 20 minute from 9 mile the river started to pick-up speed and really get moving. Tight turns with log jams and small cuts through log jams just inside current lines became the norm for about an hour or so. John had a couple of close calls but nothing serious, the current was very strong and fast. I'm sure many people end up swimming on this section of river.
I was surprised at the number of people padding this section without PFD's on. It was pretty shallow for the most part but many places were a swim might happen were pretty deep. We took no chances and in the end no swimming was the result.
We arrived at 6 mile after a total of about 6 hours on river, sun was out in full force, we unloaded boats to dry things out. I jumped in river and washed off a three-day funk while waiting, then we loaded up and headed home...
Overall a fantastic trip, great little river, with a fun challenging finish... Highly recommended to the paddler who's looking for a challenging river... Oh, almost forgot, Bald Eagles are massive up close, we passed one perched about 40 feet above the river and saw several others over the two days. INCREDIBLE!!!
Old Grade USFS Campground - Very Clean
Driftwood USFS Campground - No Water
Bear Track USFS Campground - No water as of this report (8/01/10)
LL Remix 10
Dagger Blackwater 12