Thursday, July 31, 2014

Moosehead lake to Chamberlain lake (start of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway)

Continuing the post-trip recount of our journey through Northern Maine.

Awake early at the hardscrabble point campsite, on Moosehead lake, so we could try to skip across calm waters, as the big lake can generate some large waves. Onto the water at 5:45, and we made good time, but not quite good enough. We were paddling along the shore, and jumping from point to point, and as we neared the final cove where the northeast carry was, the waves got large. We were trying to cut across them, so we didn't have to take them sideways, but we just couldn't make it where we needed to go. So, we pulled up to shore, and carried to a road. A short portage to a boat launch around the last point, and we were able to paddle trouble free to the northeast carry. On this whole trip, there were 5 times I was seriously concerned we could capsize. Each time was on large lakes. Lake Champlain, going to North hero Island, Lake Memphremagog, at Perkins landing, Umbagog lake, crossing the large part of the lake, Upper Richardson lake near upper dam, and now Moosehead lake. However, common sense and a bit of luck prevailed, and on none of these lakes did we capsize the canoe (although we did at one point)
Anyways, onto the northeast carry, a historical portage between Moosehead lake and the West branch Penobscot river. There used to be horse and carriage shuttles to transport people and equipment on the portage. There happened to be a small country store along the route (it was the ONLY thing on the route) and we stopped and bought some snacks and a loaf of fresh, homemade bread, delicious.

The Northeast carry was not difficult, a dirt road and we used out portage wheels. The end however, was extremely buggy- the mosquitoes were swarming around us, and we hurriedly loaded the canoe up and launched onto the river. We ate our lunch floating along, to escape the bloodthirsty creatures.
The Penobscot river was large and wide, with a decent current and we made good time. Stopped at Thoreau's Island campsite, evaluated the day, and decided to push on to the next set of campsites. Home for the night was Smiths halfway house campsite, a nice place.
The next day found us paddling down the Penobscot, and onto Chesuncook lake, another of Maine's largest lakes, although we were just crossing the tip of the long wide lake. We decided against a side trip to Chesuncook village, a town with 12 year round residents, and homemade fudge and root beer. Returning from the village would mean a couple miles paddle right into a strong headwind, which we were sheltered from at the moment crossing the lake. Oh well...
Across Chesuncook, and up Umbazooksus stream, really an arm of Chesuncook. Camp at Umbazooksus East campsite, a site with a picnic shelter, and mowed grass.
We spent the evening and next morning preparing ourselves for the next day, the infamous Mud pond carry...
A short paddle the next morning found us carrying the canoe around a low bridge, and onto a marshy stream, where we saw a pair of moose, and we watched them for a few minutes. We then ascended a beaver dam, and paddled up through a permanently open dam (took a couple tries) onto Umbazooksus lake. We began searching for the poorly marked start to the Mud pond carry portage. Found a rock cairn, and an old T-shirt. There was shoe-soles, a broken sandal, and numerous discarded socks. Like those aren't ominous signs or anything.

So, what exactly is the Mud pond carry, and why is it infamous?
Well, the portage trail (a historic route, used by Henry David Thoreau and a transport route for heavy equipment on the tramway carry) follows what appears to be a brook, through a dense forest of spruce and fir. The “trail” goes right up the stream, which at nicer parts of the trail has a gravel bottom and cold water. Other parts of the trail consist of muddy puddles, and deep, sticky mud. The trail is about 3-5 feet wide, and it is often easier to just keep walking through the mud and water than try to stay out of it (as I would find out). The portage ends by wading through a beaver dammed pool at the end, and onto shallow mud pond. It is also notoriously buggy, as you can imagine.
We began following the stream through some bushes, and I found a nice nalgene bottle and a nasty hat in the mud. I kept one of these things, guess which one?
The trail soon crosses a logging truck road, then we dive into the heart of the carry. Ankle to calf deep mud and knee deep stagnant puddles. We saw numerous discarded and broken sandals, and a pair of shoes someone unsuccessfully attempted to duct tape to their feet. Our own sandals were staying on, and we had each put on a pair of sacrificial socks as a barrier against the mud. We were double carrying this nearly 2 mile long portage, so that means carry our packs and food over first, walk back to the beginning, then carry the canoe over, so we traversed the muddy trail 3 times in all. As we near the end, the water in the trail gets deeper, we are approaching the beaver pool. It gets up over my knees (I’m 6’2”) and then we reach the end, and mud pond! Then, it’s back again….

I carried the canoe by myself, as I am pretty sure-footed while portaging the canoe, and it’s actually easier in the long run for me than having both of us carry it over a tough trail. Meghan took the paddles and some miscellaneous gear. At one point, when I was trying to avoid a particularly deep mud hole, my sandal snagged a root, and I tripped and fell with the canoe over my head. Luckily, I only got a few scratches. This was one point in the trip I could have gotten seriously hurt, and we would be in trouble. Thankfully, no harm done, and I just walked right through the mud the rest of the way, except for the beaver pool. I set the canoe down and lined it over the pool, with Meg riding (she wasn’t too fond of the beaver pool)
And we were done! I actually enjoyed the portage, in the sense that it was a difficult challenge, and completing it was satisfying. Meghan thinks I'm a bit crazy about that. She dealt with the portage in her own way, and we made it.
Across mud pond, and down mud brook. Mud brook was a narrow, rock strewn brook and for most of it, we needed to line the canoe. But, for a short stretch, we had a fast, exhilarating ride. The water was deep enough, the rocks few enough, so we went for it. It was fast, and 6 feet wide. We were directing the canoe by pushing off the shore with the paddles. And then, our fun stopped. The rocks came back and we had to line onto Chamberlain lake. 
We ate lunch at the mud brook campsite, and that was the end of our MUD for the day.
Paddled up Chamberlain lake, which was surprisingly calm, and into the crow's nest campsite, near an old railroad grade, part of the logging history in the area. We had our one and only campfire here, after a long, hard day. We slept well, and knew that one of our last "hard parts" of the trip was complete, and it should be smooth sailing from there. 
Chamberlain lake is part of the AWW (Allagash Wilderness Waterway) the official start of the end of our trip!
The next post will detail the historic tramway carry, and our first couple days on the Allagash river.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Jackman ME to Moosehead Lake

Chris here, we are back! We finished on Saturday, 7\26 and drove back Sunday. The last week was a slow week for us, as we were trying to keep time and meet our rides in Fort Kent Saturday. We could have easily finished Wednesday, 7\23. We got into campsites at 12, 2,3, most days and had a zero day at Pelletiers campground. Slow week, but a very enjoyable week!
But, enough of that for now. We will save the "final post" and such things for later. Now, I will fill in the large gap from after we left Jackman ME (more picture intensive now), and had no cell service or contact (yes, it was nice).

I would also like to clarify a few things from my Dad's (Earle) last post, when we called him in Jackman. Something must have gotten lost in translation.
He said "Monday: Up Spencer Stream. A rainy day, wet from above and wet feet. Most of this waterway has to be lined, walking in the stream, slippery rocks, poor footing, but no choice as there is no portage trail and insufficient water to paddle. Many places, they even had to take gear out of the boat and carry it, so as not to damage the canoe dragging it over the rocks. Took six hours to cover only 10 miles. Reached Spencer Lake, the planned campsite and decided to keep going. Paddled across the lake and across Fish Pond. Than onto Spencer Road for the 7 mile portage to Spencer Rips. Familiar territory now as they have both been on the Moose River here on a previous trip. Stayed at the Spencer Rips site where they reached the Moose River."

The general overview here is correct. We had to track (pull the canoe upstream) for 10 miles on Spencer stream and Little Spencer stream. It only took us 5 hours however. This is a notorious section for through-paddlers, known for having low water and being a difficult ascent. However, we did not have that bad of a time with it, I actually enjoyed that part of the day. The stream was wild in appearance, a burbling brook, and the weather was far from rainy. It was a gorgeous day, and this certainly helped our outlook on the task ahead, along with a dry night at the Grand Falls Hut. The water was crystal clear, the day was warm (hot actually) and walking through the stream felt good. The footing was not the best, slippery cobblestones in places, but gravelly in areas also. I think I only slipped and fell in once. We reached Spencer lake and looked forward to some paddling. We made good time up Spencer lake and to Fish pond, and then we decided to push on. A 7.25 mile portage to the Moose river. It was a long walk, but all on gravel logging roads. Still took us some time, and we got into camp at Spencer rips on the Moose river around 8:00PM.

When we reached Jackman ME, we stopped at Pomerleau park, and walked into town. Bishops convenience store was our destination, and we ordered a small pizza for lunch and split that, and it was delicious and filling, much better than our standard fare lunch of peanut butter on a sandwich flat. Then, it was to the other end of town, to the post office where we picked up our final food package. The Moose river out of Jackman was lazy, meandering along, and we took a page out of the rivers book and did the same, with our stomach’s full of pizza and a cold refreshing beverage each. Long pond was windy (headwind) so we crossed the bay and stayed at Last Resort campground. Mostly a rustic cabin campground, the tent sites were cheap so we took one of those. The owner graciously let us use the porch of an un-reserved cabin, and we read, wrote in our journals, and ate dinner on the screened in porch, away from the bugs and out of the rain.

The next morning found us packing up the tent in the rain, wet, and that was to be the story of the day. Once we got onto the water, it only rained harder. Up Long pond, back onto the Moose river. This part of the river has some whitewater, class 1 and 2 rapids. For sure we would have enjoyed this stretch more if the weather was fair, but as it was, we were cold and soaked and just plodding along.

We did spot a moose on the Moose river, and this brightened our day a bit, as the weather had no intentions of doing so. We were both soaked through, our rain-jackets wet, but we kept them on as they at least kept some warmth.


Take out at the Demo bridge, to begin the Demo road portage which loops far away from the river and avoids some class 3-4 rapids that can be dangerous and we had no intentions of running. The gravel logging roads were muddy, and we turned off the main track to an overgrown road, followed that for awhile, splashing through the puddles.

 Finally put back onto the Moose river, and followed that into Little Brassua lake, which led us onto Brassua lake. By this time the downpour had stopped, and it was only sprinkling rain on us, a welcome change. We stopped on the shore of Brassua lake and ate lunch. As we headed down the lake towards the dam, we followed a pair of Bald Eagles along the shore for a stretch, 2 of 6 we would see on the day.

We found the Brassua dam, did a short portage around it, and back onto the Moose river. This stretch of the river would lead us right into Moosehead lake, Maine’s largest lake at 75,471 acres, and a perimeter of 280.8 miles.  We only had to cross the top 1\3 of the lake, but still a daunting task for a 16 foot canoe. As the river approached the lake, we saw boats tied up that would look more at home on the ocean than a lake, further reinforcing how large this body of water really is. As we get paddle along, Mount Kineo looms ahead. 

We cross straight over to the shore of this point, often called an island. Our campsite for the night will be at Hardscrabble point, on the isthmus of land that Mount Kineo sits on. The weather has cleared up for the moment, thankfully, and we are able to dry things out. In the distance, on a far shore, lies the Northeast carry, a goal for tomorrow morning. It is barely visible at 12 miles, straight away.

As we look around, admiring the scenery after dinner, we spot some bad weather heading towards us again. We begin to put stuff away, get ready to shelter in the tent. We look again, and the shore is no longer visible, there is a wall of rain heading across the lake, and fast! Scramble to get everything under cover now, and dive into the tent just in time. Wow, that came on fast! It rained hard too, but didn’t get us wet this time.

Next post will detail the crossing of Moosehead, the West branch Penobscot river, and the infamous Mud pond carry. After that, we will be on the Allagash Wilderness waterway, and the final leg of our trip!