Thursday, October 9, 2008
First off I would like to thank my brother and parents for watching the kids so Patty and I could take off for a long weekend of paddling by ourselves. Our options for sections of the NFCT to paddle are getting smaller because I am running out of new places to go that are within a reasonable driving distance from home.
This would be our first “big water” section of the trip and the first time I had canoed on any large lakes since the late 60’s when I was a camper on Lake Winnipesauke in NH. We originally planned to start at South Arm and head to Rangeley trying to take advantage of the west to east winds. Sometime on Wednesday night a front came through and there were VERY strong winds out of the north which made paddling north on Lower Richardson dangerous and probably foolhardy. We altered our plans and drove to Rangeley to do the trip in the direction suggested by the NFCT folks. With the wind out of the north we could hug the north sore of Rangeley Lake and be protected from the wind.
After saying goodbye to my nephew who helped us with the shuttle and talking to a very nice elderly man about the trail we headed west along the lee shore. None of my pictures show it but there were large whitecaps out in the lake that were very intimidating. We passed by several houses with interesting docks. These were made with a wooden cribwork around a large pile of rocks. The crib work had planks attached to it at about a 30 degree angle to the water. Obviously this was to protect them from ice in the winter. In all our travels across NY, VT, and NH this is the first time we had seen these. The trip across Rangeley was uneventful, we had to cross a few small bays where the waves were bigger and the wind was stronger but nothing to serious. At the west end of the lake the trail heads northwest into the bay leading to the first portage. This turn exposed us to the full force of the wind and for the first time I was a bit worried. We stayed close to the shore while we fought the wind and waves and eventually paddled into calmer water. I took no pictures of this as I was busy paddling and keeping the boat headed in the right direction. Right at the takeout we saw our only motorboat of the day, a tour boat full of cold looking folks all bundled up in warm clothes and life preservers.
We got the boat ready for the portage and ate a snack while we rested in the warm sun on the public dock. We had it all to ourselves except for one friendly duck. The kiosk had an old NFCT trail marker on it from when the trail was only 700 miles long and the canoe on the logo had only one fir tree in it. We started the portage and immediately stopped at an outfitters and bought some gifts for the kids. A little further down the road we stopped at the Oquossoc Grocery Store and bought a grinder for lunch. Very good. We got the usual odd looks from people who have never seen people portaging a canoe before. After lunch on the deck we finished the carry at Haines Landing. One person stopped to offer us a ride, we politely turned them down. As usual all the folks we met were very friendly. At Haines Landing we entered Mooselookmeguntic (Moose Feeding Place in Abanaki) Lake. Unlike Rangeley this lake runs North/South and we were faced with the full force of the wind. Even though the wind had let up a bit it was still quite strong and the waves were intimidating but probably only 2 feet at the most. We decided to head north along the shore towards Cupsuptic Lake to the spot where we could make the crossing at the narrowest point. The crossing was not as bad as I anticipated, the wind was gradually abating and we passed quickly to the more protected western shoreline. Now we were headed south and Patty got to try the sail which worked quite well at times. By this time it was getting later into the afternoon and the wind was getting weaker all the time. Mooselookmeguntic as a very beautiful lake with long stretched of wooded shoreline. We began to look for a campsite; Patty was adamant that we find one that would get the morning sun. The weather forecast was calling for temperatures in the low 30’s.
Eventually, after paddling around the archipelago on the west side of the lake, we found a campsite acceptable to both of us. We did run aground a couple of times looking. I think that the powers that be are lowering the lake level for the winter. By this time the wind had mostly stopped and the loons were out in little rafts getting ready for their trip south to stay in open water. The temperature also began to drop as the sun went behind the trees to the west.
We have had lots of practice setting up camp this summer and it was especially easy without the kids, Patty began dinner and I set up the hammocks. It was a beautiful site but I’m glad we were not sleeping on the ground. There was not anywhere that was flat without any roots. This site was very clean as were all the sites we saw on this trip although it was obvious that they were well used. We are used to packing lite although on this trip we didn’t have to. We each brought a personal pack with our clothes, sleeping bag, hammock, and personal gear and we had another small pack with the cooking gear, food, first aid, and miscellaneous stuff. We were using my brother’s 17.5 foot tripping canoe so we had lots of extra room. Since we were on a small island I didn’t worry too much about the food at night only hanging it high enough to keep the rodents away. We had a small fire and went to bed early. I don’t think it got below freezing during the night but it got close. We both stayed warm, I got up early and Patty slept in to about 8:00 before I woke her up. I find hammocks comfortable to sleep in and very comfortable in the morning. While Patty was still sleeping I circumnavigated the island and took some picture in the fog. The best part was watching a squadron of common mergansers swim by looking for breakfast. Patty cooked coffee and oatmeal while I packed up the hammocks and got the gear ready to pack into the canoe. What a difference from the previous day. No wind and a calm lake to paddle in the morning. It was a cool morning with a warm sun, perfect for paddling. We cruised quickly ands easily down to Upper Dam and the carry to Upper Richardson lake. We spent some time looking at the dam and watching the fishermen below it. Lots of casting but we didn’t see anyone catch anything. I checked out the Porta-potty and Patty got the gear ready for the carry. We read the memorial for Carrie Stevens and walked the 200 yards to the put in. Portages don’t get much better than this: wheelable, short, nice view, picnic area, clean toilet, well marked, nice little beach, wow, the perfect carry. I stole a picture of this carry in April for another blog when it wasn’t so nice.
The end of the portage was beautiful so we had some lunch and I took a nap while Patty did some stretching exercises for her injured hamstring muscle. I guess I was snoring quite loudly so she had to move away to get some peace and quiet. She also filtered some water for the afternoon. We continued down Upper Richardson along the eastern shore, more long distances with few if any cabins. These lakes are certainly more remote that the lakes the in NY and VT. Gradually we came upon some beautiful long sand beaches that reminded us of the Caribbean except much cooler with pine trees. We missed the kids and talked about how much they would have liked this section. They would have loved running up and down the beach and swimming in the lake. Our campsite had a nice beach and a beautiful spot for me to set up my hammock right near the water. Big moose tracks on the beach. There was a nice fireplace, a picnic table, a crapper with a view, firewood, and no bugs. Life doesn’t get much better although we did discuss bringing the kids next time. This would have been perfect for them. After we got everything set up and organized we walked around the point and were surprised to see how big the waves were and how windy it was on Lower Richardson Lake. We hiked back to the campsite through the woods and collected firewood. Dinner was freeze dried but it tasted great after a day on the water. Patty built a fire and I totally burned a freeze dried Apple cobbler desert. I think the pot is ruined but we will keep trying to clean it out, it may take weeks. We started a fire and Patty stayed up writing a trip report for the kids and drawing pictures to go with it. I’ve known her for at least 20 years and didn’t know she could draw so well. I went to bed early as is my routine on trips and read for awhile before I fell asleep.
Another beautiful foggy morning although the loons were a bit loud. I was up first again and got the stove going to boil water for coffee. Patty was soon up and we ate and got packed up earlier than the day before. There were no new moose tracks but as soon as we paddled about 50 yards a bald eagle flew out of a tree near our campsite. We paddled along the eastern shore of Lower Richardson Lake as the sun slowly burned off the remaining mist. This was Saturday morning so we saw a half dozen boats on their way out to go fishing, we didn’t see any other canoes on the whole trip. The remaining several miles down the Lower Arm has more camps and cottages than the rest of the lake but they are fairly unobtrusive. Lower dam is in the distance to the west, the NFCT heads that way where a three mile carry leads to Lake Umbagog. We took the route to the south where we eventually came to the public boat launch where are car was waiting.
Friday, September 5, 2008
Several years ago my brother suggested that I paddle the
Perhaps it was fitting that Sally and I canoed this river on Labor Day. The Ashulot is a typical small
We put in at a small park near some strip malls in
The river become gradually nicer and as you go down stream eventually you get to really pleasant flat water paddling with the occasional short and easy rapids. Sally got to see a Great Blue Heron spear a fish with it’s beak ands them swallow it head first. She renamed some Cormorants “Kickers” because if how they run along the water as they take off. We were going to try and catch a turtle but could never get close enough to one ot make an attempt.
We came to our first covered bridge in Swanzey Station and met up with a family kayaking for the first time. They were trying unsuccessfully to tow a young girl and all of their boats were getting blown around by the wind. Sally and I tried to use our sail but the wind was too irregular for any success. We enjoyed the effort.
A bit further on the second covered bridge in
There was a third covered bridge in
The trip through
I probably should have left the car 2 miles down the road in Ashulot at the next covered bridge but at the time I didn’t want to spend the time hunting around for a good take-out when their was one right in front of me. Anyway it was getting late and Sally was getting hungry and tired. We had some great conversations on our trip and it was wonderful to spend time alone with her. After the take-out we loaded up and stopped at a nearby hot dog stand for some dinner and a treat. Sally got to try cole slaw which she said was spicy but good and I got to drive an hour and a half while listening to the Redsox. It’s one of my favorite things to do, drive home on a cool summer evening, tired after a great trip, while listening to the Sox and drinking a cup of good coffee. Sally slept.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
After packing on Friday night I woke at 5:00am for the ride up to Umbagog Lake on the New Hampshire Maine border, another section of the NFCT. I bought a large cup of coffee to go and headed north on the interstate to St Johnsbury were I headed northeast across New Hampshire to Berlin and then north to Errol and eventually the put-in at the public landing above the dam on the Androscoggin river.
The last hour or so of the trip was a pleasant drive along the Upper Ammonoosuc River and then the Androscoggin. It was nice to see sections of the Upper Ammonoosuc at a much lower water level than we had paddled it earlier in the year. I’m glad we did it when we did in order to avoid having to drag the boats over bony rapids and sandy flats. The Androscoggin River is beautiful and I'm both intimidated and excited to try the rapids. I’m sure we will carry the Class III sections when we do it.
I spoke with the milfoil guard for a few minutes and he told me to keep an eye out for the Bald Eagle where river enters the lake. He gave me a small sticker to put on my boat and was impressed with my knowledge of the issue of invasive plants. I wish I could take credit for research but I've met probably 8 different guards in 4 different states who have all given me literature to read. I usually read it while I’m cooking dinner or lying in my sleeping bag. I have seen the problems that milfoil causes in some of the lakes and ponds near my home so I understand the importance of keeping it out of lakes like Umbagog.
The three mile paddle up river to the lake was uneventful and pleasant, I passed several kayakers who were exploring the side channels and in general paddling at a much more relaxed pace than me. This section looks like a great place to poke around in. I like paddling solo because I can get into a nice rhythm and keep it up for a long time without any distractions. The trees are starting to change along the river and there's a good crop of berries on the Mountain Ash. As with many lakes and rivers I wonder what the Androscoggin looked like before it was dammed and the surrounding area was logged. The section was up river but there wasn’t much of a current and I had a slight tailwind so I made good progress, the lake opens up in a large reedy area with nice views in all directions.
At this point you have to do a 1 ¾ mile crossing of open water to get to the eastern shore and the bay that leads to the Rapid River. The crossing was a non-issue because the winds were gentle and the weather was good. On the lake I saw several power boats but no water skiers or jetskiis. The people using powerboats on Umbagog seemed to be either fisherman or sightseers. The former where either trolling or headed to a location to fish and always gave me a wide berth and a wave. The latter slowed to reduce their wake and also gave a nod or wave to say hello. I admire boaters like this who go out of their way to be courteous respectful of canoers and kayakers. They seemed very happy to share the lake with everyone who was out enjoying it.
At first glance Umbagog seems to be undeveloped but you soon notice the occasional camp located on the shore but set back behind some trees. Often there is a modest dock and a small powerboat. I suppose I would like all lakes to be without any buildings but if there are houses I like ones like this that attmpt to blend in. After the crossing I headed north around Pine Point and then east down the narrowing bay to the spot where Rapid River enters the lake. There are several islands to navigate around and some small coves to enjoy. The water is very clear and it’s fun to look at the boulders and cobbles on the bottom of the shallowing lake. As you approach the end of the cove the current picks up as evidenced by the grass on the bottom and the water pushing against the boat. Cedar Stump Campground marks the beginning of the three mile carry to Lower Richardson Lake. I spent some time here practicing my ferrying technique on the last of the Rapid River rapids. I looked but couldn’t find any NFCT signs marking the beginning of the portage but I did find a decomposed deer carcass. I wonder what the story behind it was, It certainly must have stunk up the campsite for a while but now it was just some bones and fur.
At this point I had to either find a place to camp or head back to the car. Since it was such a beautiful day I decided to head back. I stopped at an occupied campsite and inquired about the portage trail. The campers said that it started where the deer carcass was on what I thought was a fisherman’s trail. The muddy trail soon leads to a fire road that leads to Lower Richardson Lake. The return paddle up the bay was uneventful, I tried to go on the opposite side of the islands that I paddled past on the way up stream. I explored a few backwaters that had lots of Moose tracks on the edges and in the mud on the bottom. Either the Kingfisher population is up or I am seeing the results of a very productive breeding year. There seem to be lots of kingfishers wherever I paddle this year.
The wind had picked up during the afternoon and the trip back west across the lake was much more difficult than the trip over earlier in the day. The waves were probably about a foot high and I had to keep up a steady stroke rate to keep from being blown back. In order to make the shortest crossing possible I traveled south a bit before heading back to the Androscoggin. I passed a pair of very worn out looking kayakers. They asked for directions to the Rapid River and I told them they were close and that they would have a nice tail wild when the turned the corner around Pine Point. I suspect they had paddled the 6 ¾ miles up from the south end of the lake and had taken a wrong turn or two. They looked very tired, I hope they made out OK.
The crossing was challenging but not too bad and my canoe handled the wave easily. Right when I passed the Magalloway River outlet and entered the Androscoggin I saw the bald eagle perched on top of a dead tree in one of the meadows along the river. I passed probably the 6th pair of loons I had seen so far on the trip although I had probably seen this pair on the trip up river. The head wind easily negated any advantage I was getting from the current but I made steady progress and tried to stay out of the wind a much as possible by hugging the shore on the lee side whenever possible. The trip down river was uneventful although very pretty in the early evening.
I reached the car loaded up while I fought the mosquitoes and then headed out. The drive home was pleasant while the sun was still up. Very pretty driving in northern New England. I ended up getting home at about 10:00 but didn’t get to sleep until later because of all the coffee I drank to keep me awake on the ride home. I would recommend this trip to anyone with intermediate paddling skills as either a day trip or an easy overnight. It's about 8 miles from the put-in to the Rapid River. I used NFCT map #8.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
We stopped at Canoe and Co. in Glen Sutton to make sure we could camp there for the night. Francois is a great guy and he has a nice little business going. Since I forgot to bring a paddle for Brad so we rented one and headed up to Mansonville and the put-in. There were several other people putting in in kayaks so we chose to eat lunch and let them have a head start. I guess the trip from Mansonville to Glen Sutton is a popular half day paddle.
At the put-in we got our first experience with the incredibly slippery clay banks of the Missisquoi. The river runs through a layer of clay that makes even a small three or four foot sloped bank very difficult to go up and down. We slipped up and down while loading the canoes, an exercise that would be repeated many times over the next three days.
This section of river is very pleasant flowing through farmland with an occasional riffle or short class one rapid. There was a flood the previous week that left the bushes on the bank marked with grey silt several feet up. The water is muddy looking due to the clay, while the silting is natural the water is not drinkable or filterable due the agricultural runoff. If you paddle this section plan on bringing your own water. We
arrived sooner than expected at the beautiful stone steps leading to Francois's back yard. While we setup our tent the kids picked berries and played with the softball they found in the river. Patty and I cooked dinner. After dinner I cleaned up while Patty and the kids went into Mansonville for ice cream. When they got back they still had time to head up stream to the little rapids formed where Brock River inters the Missisquoi. The kids had a lesson in eddys and got to paddle the rapids several times. After a really nice sunset we went to sleep. usual we didn't get started until about nine the next morning. It was a beautiful day with a cerulean sky, gentle breeze, and puffy white clouds. The humidity was low and the air had a very autumn like feel to it. It was warm, in general a perfect day to paddle. After 5 or 6 miles of peaceful meandering paddling we passed under the international bridge, landed our boats and headed up the path to the border station. Once again the agents were very friendly and told us that they were not going to go down to the river to look at our gear. I was more relieved that we didn't have to bring it up to them for inspection. We went out on the bridge and took the standard pictures of the kids on each side of the border and spent some time scouting the rapids just downstream.
Once you enter theUS the river speeds up a bit and there are more sections of white water.
The first set of rapids was really fun, only Class I but there was some maneuvering required. We are not accomplished white water paddlers so even easy rapid like this provide us and the kids with some excitement and gratification. Quick water and riffles lead to Stevens Mills where there is a short class II rapid . We chose to scout and run these before we stopped on the stone bank for lunch. Patty got a bit sideways and I got a bit farther into the bigger waves than I wanted but we both made it through without tipping or taking on water. This rapid is about our limit with the kids. We chose to run it because it was short with a nice pool at the bottom, the water was warm, and we had one of us on the bank if anything went wrong. The kids thought it was great and wanted more. We had a great lunch and the kids got to play in the cold clear Stanhope Brook.
We had a lot more paddling ahead so we headed off towards Richford as soon as we cleaned up. More pleasant paddling with the occasional easy set of rapids, meandering through islands, and route finding trying to determine the channel with the most water. One of us occasionally chose wrong and we had to drag for a few feet to get to deeper water. If the water was any lower we would have had a lot more problems but fortunately it has been a wet summer.
It's interesting paddling this section of river. The banks are high enough to hide many of the signs of civilization from view. Occasionally you get a view of a road or farmhouse but in general you are protected from seeing much other than the edges of cornfields and large stands of silver maple and cottonwood. All this ends when you take out for the portage through Richford. This is a classic NFCT carry though small village. We stopped and got a treat at a convenience store and became the town oddity for about a half a mile as we portaged down the main street. The normal portage trail crosses a bridge but it is being repaired so we had to follow a detour which added only a small distance to the carry. You would think that the locals would be used to seeing a family of four, covered with clay, with two canoes, one on a cart loaded with gear, all walking through town eating chocolate.After the put-in at Davis Park the nice paddling continues with really nice views of the northern Green Mountains. Magoon Ledges was a bit of a letdown, according to the map a class II rapid can form here but at this water level it wasn't much more than a riffle with a strong current. We passed under twin bridges which confused the kids because the bridges are different; we ended up having a long discussion about this.
Both Brad and Sally spent some time in the water hanging onto the back of the canoes as we drifted downstream. This is an activity that they both really enjoy, it makes for slow going but it keeps the kids spirits up.
Soon we arrived at the Doe Campground, it's obvious when you get there because it sits up on a bank about 75 feet above the water. The take-out is just downstream and once you negotiate the four foot high slippery clay bank the walk up the hill is not as bad as you would expect. It was nice to use our leg muscles for a change ferrying loads up the site. This is one of the best sites that I’ve stayed at on the trail. It has great views, a big picnic table, it catches a breeze to keep the bugs away, and there were lot and lots of blackberries. I wouldn't want to watch a big thunderstorm approach from Lake Champlain but we didn't have to worry about that.
The kids had a great time playing while Patty and I set up camp and made dinner. After supper I cleaned up the dishes and got the tent and my hammock ready for the night. Patty headed down to the river to wash off some of the mud and go for a swim to cool off. It was a beautiful cool late summer evening, it doesn't get much better than this. You could do a great overnight trip starting at the border, spending the night at Doe Campsite and then taking out at
Enosburg Falls.I really overslept on Sunday morning, my alarm went on at 6:00 but I went back to sleep until 8:00. Sally woke me up with a cup of hot coffee. I had really wanted to get an early start so that we would get home at a reasonable hour, oh well. It was a cool foggy morning so everything was damp. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and we soon were packed up and headed down to the boats with our gear. Sally wrote in the register book during breakfast and cleanup. Brad usually sleeps until the last possible minute so he was a bit groggy until we got going.
It’s only a short paddle to East Berkshire and we chose not to stop because the weather was looking threatening and I wanted to leave plenty of time for any carries we might have to do. You do get some nice views along this section but the mountains to our east were cloud covered. Sally was getting cold so we stopped to get her something warm to wear. Soon we were approaching the broached dam at Samsonville. The map says that this is easily line-able but we couldn’t figure out how. Maybe in the spring when there is no vegetation but in late August there was no way we could line this easily or safely so we portaged/dragged out boats about 100 ft to a nice put-in below the breached dam. I think we all really wanted to give this first section a try but it was just a bit too dangerous and there was a good possibility one of us (probably me) would have tipped. The next quarter of a mile is great fun with just enough excitement and white water. The big S-turn around the island leads to a short class II-III drop that we easily avoided by a lift and carry on the left.
After this the river begins its impoundment behind the dam in Enosburg Falls. I promised Sally we would stop at the next available spot for lunch. The river follows a large meander away from the road and there is only a step clay bank for maybe two miles. At two different times some animal dove into the water from the thick undergrowth on the bank as soon as I had passed. I am suspecting they were muskrats but the kids were thinking otters or bank beavers. We eventually ended up having lunch on a flat rock only about 6”X10” near the shore. We tied one boat on each side an all climbed up on top to eat carefully avoiding the bird droppings. After lunch we proceeded down stream to the takeout into a steadily increasing headwind. We moved from shore to shore to try and stay in the protected water below the banks. This was mostly a waste of energy because the wind was headed pretty much directly up stream no matter which direction we were headed.
The river begins to be more of a pond and soon we were at the take-out at Lawyers Landing. After packing up all our wet and muddy gear we headed north to the border to get our car back from Canoe and Co. in Glen Sutton. On our final border crossing into the US they decided to look at our stuff but as soon as border agent opened the back of my car and saw and smelled the wet socks, shoes, clothes, and muddy pack he decided to let us go. We stopped for ice cream and coffee and headed south.