Thursday, July 30, 2009

NFCT Jackman to Rockwood, ME

We left Carrabasett Valley at a reasonable hour and drove the circuitous route to Jackman arriving at about noon. Out first stop was at the local grocery store where I purchased some last minute lunch items while listening to Nancy Sinatra sing “These Boots Were Made for Walking” on the stores sound system. It was a bit surreal but the folks were all very nice.
I put-in at the Rte 201 Bridge over the Moose River. It took a few minutes to get all my gear ready and to do the last minute idiot checks to make sure I didn’t forget anything. I was soon off and paddling, after the first mile there are only a few camps along the river and it was a peaceful ride. The wild flowers were excellent and I saw several great examples of Canada Lily.
It’s about 7 miles to the west end of Long Lake, the drizzle and hopes of seeing a moose kept me going at a steady pace. Near the entrance to the lake the river opens up a bit and I got to see my first moose of the trip, a large cow who looked a bit bothered that I was on her river. She slowly climbed the bank and headed to the woods. Since it was alternating rain and heavy mist I didn’t have my camera ready to get a picture.
As the trees transitioned to wetlands I realized that I had been sheltered from the wind and that the trip down the lake wasn’t going to be as easy as I hoped. The wind was out of the northwest and made the paddling strenuous as it pushed the canoe around. I made good progress mostly because I was alone and needed to continue paddling in order to keep the canoe going in the correct direction. Long Lake was very nice, it has camps sprinkled along the shore but it’s certainly not over developed. I was 1/2 way to the eastern end before I saw two kayakers near the Lower Narrows. They were the only two boats I saw on the 7 mile long lake. I didn’t see any of the marked campsites but I really didn’t look too hard. I got a little confused entering the Moose River again as there are some islands not shown on the map. The easiest way to find the outlet is to look for The current bending grass on the bottom of the lake. The 2 miles of river were great. It was nice to be out of the wind again, the scenery was fantastic, and the white water was either easy or just challenging enough without being scary. I got to see my second moose and if there had been more time I would've liked to have done some fishing because the trout were rising. The landing at the Demo Road Bridge was a little difficult because there’s a strainer at the take out which sort of forces you to head into the current, additionally the water was high due to all the rain. I wouldn't have wanted to get sucked into the drop below the bridge. I got all my gear up to the road and organized in the canoe and began the three mile Demo Portage. At least the rain had stopped. The NFCT map is incorrect and the description is misleading. The first fork is at .5 miles and then you go an ADDITIONAL 1.5 miles to the turn-off on the one lane track in the description. The turn is AFTER the Demo Brook at the top of rise and at the beginning of a gentle turn to the north. The turn-off was well marked. I then headed down the single lane overgrown dirt road, at one point I had to wade through knee deep water and the cart flipped. After getting everything back together I began looking for a good camping spot. It was late and I was tired and it had begun to rain again. I'm glad I did the portage on a cool cloudy evening rather than during a hot sunny day. I got the hammock set up and dinner cooked and I went to bed. About a 19 mile day with a 1:00pm start.

It poured rain during the night but stopped by the morning. I got the gear packed up and decided to wait until I got to the water to eat because the mosquitoes were horrible. After a short walk on the road I got to the final .25 mile section through the woods. Once again the turn was well marked, it’s on the right. I had to carry the boat for the final section which probably isn’t .25 mile and is relatively easy. Judging from the footprints on the trail it is very popular with the local moose. I didn’t see any human tracks. The put in was small but nice and the campsite at the opening to Brassua Lake looked excellent. I wish I hadn’t run out of daylight the previous night and had made it that far.

The wind was quite strong on the lake and I had to hug the south shore to keep out of the worst of it. As I headed around the final point I was headed straight south into the wind and had a hard time fighting the waves, I estimate the winds at 20 to 25 mph. I was averaging about 1.5 mph on this section. I could see the dam I needed to get to 1.25 miles away across open water but there was no way I was going to be able to do the crossing so I stayed near the shore and went the long way around probably about 5.5 miles. In calm waters the trip across Brassua Lake is about 7 miles, I estimate I paddled about 12 or 13 doing my best to avoid the wind and waves and taking the safest route. Sometimes solo paddling comes down to plain old hard work and conservative decision making.

I eventually got to the dam about when the sky cleared and the sun came out. An easy carry led to the river below the dam. I guess there was a front passing through because the air dried out and the wind died down as well. I took a brief 15 minute snack & nap on the grass by the dam. My wife had been tracking me on my SPOT messenger. She would call my father in law who would look on his computer and then relay my position to Patty. Unknown to me she was on the other side of the dam at one point but couldn’t get to the side I was on.

A couple of easy rapid lead to the heavily developed river at the entrance to Moosehead Lake. Mount Kineo is an impressive landmark to head for. I eventually met up with the family at out predetermined meeting point at the bridge over the river. We went downstream and had a snack and made plans. While I paddled the last few miles to Rockwood Patty and the kids took the boat shuttle over to Kineo and hiked to the top. I organized the gear, put it into the car and took another nap. The people-watching was pretty good at the boat launch. I can’t wait to go up to the area and do some more paddling.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

NFCT Flagstaff Lake

The weather on the drive north from Sebago lake was partly cloudy and windy as we headed north up to our put-in at the rte 27 bridge just outside of Stratton, Me. We shared the launch with a pontoon boat, a very friendly driver gave us an flag which we mounted in the bow of one of our canoes. It blew straight out in front of the canoe for most of the day indicating the strength of the tail wind. The water level in Flagstaff Lake is up, I have been told that in drier years there are lots of big beaches but we saw none on our whole trip. The first few miles are relatively protected but we hugged the north shore in an attempt to stay out of the wind. Out in more open water the waves and whitecaps were growing as the wind gained strength. We saw our first moose in a cove, a big bull with antlers dripping with water. A classic moose sighting that unfortunately I wasn’t close enough to to get a good picture. He slowly ambled away, like most moose I don’t think he was really scared but perhaps the WindPaddle sail Patty was using bothered him enough so that he decided to head to the woods. We did a short crossing to a stump lined “beach” after about 3.5 miles. We decided it would be a good place for lunch so we landed and got the food out. Even though we were standing directly in a steady wind of about a 15mph the mosquitoes were bothersome. This caused me some concern about dinner time that evening but the bugs weren’t too bad later.
Flagstaff Lake is shapped lie a big frown so we chose to stay on the south shore until we got to Jim Eaton Hill and could follow it’s shore west. The afternoon consisted of 7 or 8 miles of paddling and dealing with various amounts of wind and waves. We were fortunate enough to see some bald eagles. The sky threatened with some ominous looking clouds but rain never materialized.

The weather was cool but we were comfortable in our PFDs. At the end of Jim Eaton Hill we paddled .5 miles across a bay with protection from the wind and then we headed southwest along the shore. From here we had to paddle with full exposure to a strong cross wind to get into the channel that leads to Hurricane Island, our intended campsite. We made steady progress while pitching, rolling, and yawing. Soon enough we covered enough distance to get into the protection of the southern shore. It figures that right about then the wind began to die down and the sky began to clear.

We saw maybe 5 powerboats all day and I lost count of canoes after about 25. We were the only non camp canoe trip, they were all headed into the wind, I hope they made their final destinations.

11 or 12 miles wasn’t a bad day. Although we didn’t cover a lot of distance I was tired from constantly correcting the canoes direction as we got pushed around by the wind. We circumnavigated the island to find the best landing spot which is in a little cove on the South side. As is our usual practice the kids were free to explore while Patty and I set up camp. I put up the tarp and Patty set up the tent and got the sleeping stuff out. I made an attempt to start dinner but I bet two minutes didn’t go by before I had to go help one of the kids get a fishing lure out of a tree or tie a new one on. Brad caught 2 perch which made him very happy. I taught him how to remove the hook figuring he was old enough and I didn't want to have to keep doing it for him. Sally is only seven so I spent lots of time undoing tangles and retrieving stuck gear. Eventually, in spite of many distractions, I got dinner cooked. Ramen with chicken breasts and veggies. After dinner I cleaned up and sent the kids out for firewood. As usual this results in enough wood for about a 10 minute fire so Patty and I did some additional wood collecting with the kids. At some point Brad fell into the lake and had to change his clothes. We had SMORES for desert and headed to bed under a clear sky and loon music.

It was great to get up to sunny skies and smooth waters. I got to have a cup o’ coffee before the kids got up and I also got a jump on organizing the gear. After breakfast we got camp taken down and packed up. I got mad at the kids for not helping at all, Patty pointed out that I need to communicate my expectations better. She’s probably right as usual. A pleasant paddle for 3.5 miles with spectacular views of the Bigelow Range led us to our final obstacle, a 1.2 mile open water crossing to the eastern shore. We stopped and the kids climbed on rocks for while Patty and I did some map and compass work to make sure we were headed to the right place. We were in time killing mode because we had a short day, probably only 7 miles from Hurricane Island to the new Flagstaff Hut. The crossing was uneventful except that the wind decided to pick up a bit to make it interesting. It wasn’t nearly as strong as the day before but it was a direct cross wind so we had to fight a bit to maintain a straight course. We ended up at 1 mile beach which was, because of the water level, 1 mile dry-ki. We swam and had a leisurely lunch, I would have napped if I could have. Our next objective was finding the hut. From doing research I generally knew where it was but I had heard that it wasn’t visible form the lake. We paddled north along the shore and headed into a cove where I thought I heard a generator. I later learned that it was the huts generator and they were doing some maintenance on their solar electrical system and were balancing the batteries. We paddled out of the cove, around the point, followed the shore and eventually discovered the dock. Sally and Brad headed up to check things out while Patty and I unloaded gear and got the boats up on shore. The kids helped carry gear up to the check in.
The hut is beautiful and well worth the stay. It cost us $185.00 and included a 4 person bunkroom, dinner and breakfast. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable and very accommodating. They have nice bathrooms and showers, the food was excellent and plentiful. After checking in and getting settled I read and took a nap, I’m not sure what the others did. My cousin and his wife and son shuttled our car and then walked in for 2 miles to have dinner with us. The staff let us eat on the screened in porch. After dinner we talked while the kids played hide and seek and generally had a great time. The next morning we got up and had a great pancake breakfast before loading up and heading north to the takeout at the boat launch just above Long Falls Dam, about a 2 mile paddle. We packed up, looked at the seaplane that was tied up and then drove to below the dam to look around and scout a future trip.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Clyde River 5-18-09

This trip was a bit of a catharsis for me. Full of hubris I set out early in the morning for a quick day trip to finish the final section of the Clyde River between Lake Salem and Newport, VT. The route description said steady class II rapids but I figured I could deal with it especially on such a small stream.

When I left Massachusetts the weather was fine but it was overcast, cool and breezy when I got up to northern Vermont. I scouted the river as I headed from Newport up to Salem Lake. The water was high and I decided that I would portage around the bend at the 105 bridge mainly because there was some Fish and Game Trap in the middle of the river and I didn’t want to get trapped in it if I dumped upstream of it.
I put in and headed into a decent breeze as I crossed Lake Salem. After a mile and a half of steady paddling I reached the Cedar lined entrance to the river. It’s a pretty spot and I stopped to take some pictures. After a bout a half mile of powerful quick water the whitewater starts. After some class I I eddied out, landed and got out to do some scouting. I took some pictures of some old milk cans and put the camera away. I didn’t take another picture until the rapids ended at Clyde Pond five miles from my put-in.

I decided to run a bit of relatively easy looking water and eddy out above the 105 bridge and scout again. The rapids weren’t bad but I overshot the eddy and ended up backwards on a rock. I slowly but surely tipped and pinned the boat. I managed to get away safely but I lost my portage cart and water bottle. I saved the camera, pack, map, and paddles.

It was touch and go for a few minutes as I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to free the boat, it seemed like any effort only made the situation worse. Fortunately I was able to lever the canoe against the rock and with a great deal of effort I got it unpinned and eventually to the shore. I was totally wet at this point and I spent some time bailing and emptying the canoe. I made the decision to keep the wet clothes on. I didn’t seem to be cold and I didn’t want to use my last set of dry clothes in case I dumped again.

I had lost my confidence so I lined down to the little park by the 105 bridge in Derby Center and prepared to portage around the nasty looking bend with the obstruction at the end. I rigged up a yoke out of paddles, and bungee and headed off. At least the exercise was keeping me warm. For the next several miles I lined, carried, dragged the canoe and even paddled a little bit in order to get to Clyde pond. In the process I wrenched my knee and was very close to giving up and limping out for help. I knew I was in way over my head and had made a bad decision to even attempt this section in these conditions especially alone. Eventually I reached Clyde Pond and a little bit of easy paddling to the dam. Once again I had to portage and buy this time I was very, very tired. I rigged up the paddle yoke again and headed off down the road. I was soon met by a very nice gentleman out for a walk. He offered help me carry the boat but it was easier for me to carry it alone rather than having each of us carry and end. This would have been an easy one mile pull if I hadn’t lost the wheels earlier in the day. My knee was really hurting at this point but I made it to the put in and paddled the rest of the way to the waterfront in Newport.

I called the local cab company but it turned out that the driver is also a bartended and didn’t get off work until 9:00pm at the earliest. I walked down to the police station but there was nobody there. I called the taxi woman back and asked if she had any ideas. She suggested I walk to a local bar and ask for a gentleman who occasionally drove some people around. So I went to the bar and everybody in the place was incredibly drunk including the bartender but he made the call and in about 20 minutes the driver showed up. While I was waiting the locals and I had a conversation. Between them being drunk and having pretty think northern Vermont accents I didn’t understand much of what was said but I nodded my head a lot and laughed when they did. After the ride to my car I bought some coffee and downed some ibuprofen and headed home humbled and tired.

NFCT Swanton, VT to Lake Champlain

I set my alarm for 3:45am and had everything packed and ready to go. I drove the ¾ mile to the put-in below the dam in Swanton, carried my gear to the water and was paddling by 4:30. Even at this early hour, the sun wasn’t up and the sky was only beginning to lighten, I could hear the wind in the trees. This wasn’t a good sign but “hope spring eternal” and I kept on paddling.

I had planned this weekend for a while. Patty and the kids would be my “support team”, while I paddled they would find a beach to swim at and a Campsite for Saturday night. Occasionally they would see if they could spot me out on the lake. Unfortunately the weather forecast turned bad but since we already had a motel reservation I decided to get an early start and see if I could get at least some of the trip done.

I’m intimidated by big lakes and Lake Champlain qualifies as a big lake. The Northern Forest Canoe Trail enters at Plattsburgh, NY and exits via the Missisquoi River right near the US Canada border. I chose to paddle north to south mainly because I couldn’t get a motel room in Plattsburgh, something about a fishing tournament. There are several places where you have to cross open water, although none are more than about a mile and a half they do leave you exposed to the wind and away from the relative safety of the shore. Steady paddling with the current and growing wind from the south had me making good time as the sun slowly rose in the east and the light began to reveal the details to the riversides. I soon passed the boundary of the Missisquoi Nat’l Wildlife Refuge and then Louie’s Landing boat launch. With the sun up and the wind from my back I did some sailing for a mile or two before the river began slowly bending to the west and I had to paddle again.

There were lots and lots of birds around. I lost count of the great blue herons that I saw. I also observed several osprey, king fishers, gulls, swallows and I heard lots of warblers and other songbirds. As you gradually make your way into the delta you can see through the trees into the marshy areas on either side of you. The woods are very pretty with lots of ferns covering the forest floor and silver maples providing shade. The wind was steadily increasing as I paddled the 8 miles to the entrance to Lake Champlain. I pretty much knew what I was going to see and I wasn’t wrong. The winds were howling directly out of the south. The pictures I have don’t really do it justice. The wind was probably a steady 20 to 25mph with higher gusts. There were lots of whitecaps and the water seemed to be rolling toward me. I paddled out a short ways and tried to anchor the canoe in some reed so I could take some pictures but the wind was to strong. The only decision to make was to head back up river to Louie’s landing and call for a pick up. It would have been foolish and dangerous to try and continue south.
When we paddled a different sedction of the Missisquoi last summer we passed a very grassy section on bank and on two or three occasions some type of animal slid into the water just behind our canoe. I never saw the animal but I assumed they were muskrats. The noise sounded like someone dropping a bowling ball into the river. On my way up river the same thing happend only this time I saw the animal and it was a smallish beaver, the tail was obvious, it dropped into the water right as I passed it. The must either be eating or resting in the tall grass.

I made it back to the landing by 8:00am and woke up Patty with a call to come and get me. I told her that there was no rush as I was lying on the grass and planning on taking a nap. She arrived an hour and a half later. I’m looking forward to trying this section again. On the plus side we had a great time sightseeing with the kids on the Hero Islands.

2009 is the 400th anniversary of Samuel Champlain "discovering" the lake although he found it with the help of a local guide.