Friday, September 5, 2008

Ashulot River 9-1-08

Ashulot River

Several years ago my brother suggested that I paddle the Ashulot River from Keene NH south to the town of Ashulot. Beyond Ashulot it becomes Class III and IV as it heads to it’s confluence with the Connecticut, way beyond my skill as a paddler.

Perhaps it was fitting that Sally and I canoed this river on Labor Day. The Ashulot is a typical small New England river that powered the early mills, tanneries, and factories that started the industrial revolution in the area. All along our trip were the remnants of old dams and mill foundations as well as abandoned cut granite railroad bridge abutments from who knows when. The roads go through towns that still have the old row houses where the mill workers used to live. We often passed by fields that have been labored in for three centuries by generations of settlers, sheep herders and now dairy farmers.

We put in at a small park near some strip malls in Keene right below a dam. The first section is not very pretty but it’s still interesting to paddle through. One side seems to be mostly residential houses and the other is the local college. There’s a foot or bicycle path that follows the river on an old railroad bed occasionally crossing the river on an old bridge. The river is not to clean here and there’s lots of the usual junk on the bottom, the most common being old tires and miscellaneous car parts. There were lots of floating things caught in eddies and strainers, most of it was crap but we did find a really good soccer ball amongst the beer cans and Styrofoam. This was in obvious contrast to the beautiful Cardinal Flowers and surprising number of Kingfishers, Great Blue Herons, Green Herons and other birds.

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 West Swanzey came into view, it was immediately followed by a dam and our first carry. The portage was easy and we put in right below the dam across form a mill of some sort. From the pool below the dam there were a set of bony rapids that led to more flat water cruising through some nice tree lined farm land and Silver Maple forest.

There was a third covered bridge in Westport, NH and a mile and a half later a fourth in Winchester. This last one has a fun drop below it. I bet in higher water it is even more fun. For some reason I thought this was going to be about a 12 to 15 mile trip but when I carefully read the AMC guidebook I learned it was going to be about 20 miles. I was starting to feel it in my shoulders. The next landmark was a race cart track just off the river to the east. We couldn’t see it but we could sure hear it. Another 4 or 5 miles got us to a rapids in the village of Winchester. I had to half carry and half drag the boat past this rock garden. I think this one would be a lot of fun with higher water levels. I definitely want to paddle this trip again when there is more water.

The trip through Winchester is kind of cool there are houses on one side and the other side is lined with the back side of the village stores. Sally was fascinated by the rooms that were cantilevered out over the river. I bet it was fun to be there when the river was at it’s spring peak. There was a fair amount of stuff in the river here but not to bad. It’s a short distance after this to the bridge where we were to take out. We had left our car in a drugstore parking lot on the way up earlier in the day before Patty dropped us off in Keene.

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

Umbagog Lake 8/30/08

Umbagog Lake

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.