Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Mud Pond Portage by Sally Gill

This was written by Sally, my 8 year old daughter, for her third grade writing class. I have added some pictures.

When I awoke at 7:00 it was a bitter cold morning. I walked to the picnic table with sleep in my eyes. The sun warmed me enough. My hot chocolate was as warm as a fireplace. I was on day five on a canoe trip with my Mom, my Dad and brother Brad who is ten years old. The early morning bird songs and silence brought small but happy smile to my face. The water was glistening and the sound of our paddles was soothing. Then the wind picked up and my Dad said “sweep on the left draw on the right”. We got to our first portage and ate lunch. After the portage on Umbazooksus Lake that’s when in all happened.

When I first stepped on that tail I know it was not going to be good. I was going to portage the Mud Pond Carry. The first time I stepped in mud it was cold, wet and thigh deep. Then I heard a crinkle and my shoe fell off. I didn’t think I would get it back on my foot. Splitter splatter help! False alarm just a frog no a toad. Maybe if I sing I’ll have more fun than being alone 100 bottles of milk on the wall 100 bottles of milk so on. Maybe that won’t work. Yes, I got another frog for my frog count. I wonder how long…

“Oh no what have I gotten myself into now.” It was raining cats and dogs. Not another mud puddle! How about I go around it like my brother? But it’s to big I thought. I didn’t like this I just wanted to go home. I got really grumpy and bored. “Mom do you have a snack?” I asked. The mud was so very cold even my thighs were buried in it. This was hard for an eight year old. “Is that what I think it is?” I wondered. Land. One giant step for me one small step for earth!

Hiking all that was hard but I survived my big journey. I still had one day left and I was kind of glad about it. After all I will admit I did have a good time. My moments alone were full of silence and thoughts, not the regular kind of silence, the kind that helps you think good thoughts. But I did have a good time. By the time I was done I felt pretty good about myself, another small but happy smile.

Sally Gill

Monday, October 18, 2010

Dead River and Grand Falls Hut

Over the Columbus Day weekend I took my last NFCT trip for the season and headed up North to Dead River Township to paddle the Dead River from below Long Falls Dam to Spencer Stream. Until reading about this trip at Trash Paddlers site http://www.trashpaddler.com/2010/09/nfct-stratton-me-to-grand-falls-return.html
I didn’t know it was possible to do this section as a down and back trip.

After a nice stay at my sister’s house outside Lewiston I drove the remaining two plus hours to the put in at Big Eddy. It was cool and windy Sunday morning as I headed out, I passed a couple of late season fishermen who looked cold standing in the water.
The first ½ mile goes through some easy rapids and soon passes an alternative put-in at Spring Lake Landing. It’s possible to avoid the rapids by putting in here, this could be advisable in high water, during a dam release, or if you don’t want to line or pole back up the rapids to Big Eddy.
The paddling is very pleasant along the tree lined banks with occasional views of the surrounding mountains. This section of the trail heads generally northwest which means you’re paddling into the prevailing wind. By hugging the shore I was usually able to avoid the worst of the wind but occasionally I had to fight pretty hard to keep the boat going straight into some pretty strong gusts. At about half way to the carry around Grand Falls I passed Half Way Brook. This is a very pleasing looking brook so I followed it up stream for awhile until I came to a beaver dam. There are great views of the Bigelow Range in the distance. From Halfway Brook to the take-out the river begins to meander a bit so the wind can come at you from any direction. The scenery gets better especially at this time of year as you get views of the foliage on the surrounding hills. Five or six miles from the put-in you come to the NFCT carry on river left, it’s reasonably obvious and well marked to the left of the island in mid river. On river right, hidden just around the bend where the right hand channel goes around the island, is the dock and take-out for the Maine Huts and Trails trail. They told me there would be a canoe rack here but they haven’t built it yet.

I got the boat out of the water, up into the woods, and stored my paddles and PFD underneath the overturned canoe. I packed up my gear and headed along river right on the new Maine Huts and Trails trail which soon leads to the Tom & Kate Chapell Footbridge bridge across the river. The bridge is located just down stream of the old dam shown on the NFCT map. The trail follows the left shore to an outlook with beautiful views of the falls. After some pictures I continued on down some beautiful new stone stairs and was soon on the dirt road that follows the river up to the gated bridge over Spencer Stream.

A right turn after the bridge leads to the rafter put-in where the trail continues down river for about ¾ of a mile. This is fantastic walking, next time I come I plan on bringing my rod so I can do some fishing, and there are also a couple of nice beaches for swimming. About a quarter mile from the hut the trail heads uphill on an old skidder road. I soon arrived at the new Grand Falls Hut.

This was the first night the hut was open to the public, the previous night it was only open to invited guests and VIPs for the grand opening. I checked in with the staff and went to my room to do a little reading and take a short nap. Sometime during my siesta one of the other guests took some pictures of a big bull moose just behind the bunk house. Dinner was great and so was the conversation with the other guests. The hut was half full with 16 out of 32 beds taken.

The sunrise on Monday morning was excellent as was a breakfast of scrambled eggs and sausage with hot coffee and juice. After cleaning my room and packing I headed back to my canoe. My GPS says its 2.1 miles from the hut to the take-out. It’s mostly flat with a couple of short hills, one at the hut and another at the falls.

The return paddle was wonderful, both the sun and wind were at my back. The sun lit the foliage beautifully and the wind made the paddling quick and easy. There was enough wind to form whitecaps on the river in the final stretch up to the rapids. A fellow camper was at the Spring Lake Landing take-out and I accepted a ride to my car rather that working my way up the rapids back to Big Eddy.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Day 6 and 7 Mud Pond Carry to Chamberlain Bridge

At about 7:00am I looked at Patty who said “I’m not going anywhere until the rain stops”. I’m not sure if it was raining or whether the water was dripping heavily off the trees but we got up about an hour later and began our day. We ate, got everything packed up and organized into efficient loads, put on our wet clothes from the day before, and all headed out with a load, no need to get another set of clothes wet. We each carried a pack including Sally who was determined to contribute her fair share.

We were back at the east end in about 45 minutes and with only 2 loads left we dicided that the girls would stay, get the boats in the water, and boil some water for a mid morning cup of soup. Brad and I returned for the last two packs. We were back in an hour and a half, got everything into the canoes and set off across Mud Pond after first post-holing through knee deep mire getting to water deep enough to paddle. The sun came out right about now.

Soon we were at the opposite shore and it was immediately and painfully obvious we could not float down Mud Brook and would have to portage over to Chamberlain Lake. We double carried this one but it was difficult and Patty and I were very tired. The trail is quite rough and you need to concentrate to avoid any mistakes. The water in Chamberlain was low so the portage was .45 mile long. With higher water you would be able to shorten the carry significantly and in high water you can float the brook.
A ¾ mile paddle leads to a nice campsite but Brad insisted we do another ¾ miles to cross over to Gravel Beach in case the wind picked up over night. This turned out to be a wise decision on his part and I’m glad he convinced us to do it. It would have been easy to stop early and we would have paid for it the following morning. Gravel Beach was very nice and we set up a clothes line, swam to get clean, admired the brand new outhouse and generally relaxed in the sunlight with dry clothes on.
The next morning it was cloudy again with a strong wind out of the north, thankfully we would have a tail wind for the day. We cooked our final meal and headed out. Unfortunately Patty and I had to get into the water and line the boats around the point before we could get in and paddle. Patty and Brad practiced surfing in the waves. Sally and I watched the water crash onto the rocky islands and we enjoyed easy paddling for a couple of hours. We stopped at an island to go to the bathroom and found a broken loon egg and carcass of a loon chick. We watched the whitecaps out in the middle of the lake and observed a few powerboats trying to make headway into the wind. All too soon we arrived at Chamberlain Bridge got the car packed and headed south.

Day 5 The Mud Pond Carry

Day 5 Boom House to Mud Pond Carry

We had learned the day before that the water in Chesuncook was down 12 feet and was going to be lowered another 5 feet so that the dam at the south end could be worked on. This explained the extremely low water levels in the lake. We woke to nice calm weather and had a pleasant breakfast and un hurredly broke down camp, loaded the boats, and started out for the day. I was, of course, aware of the weather approaching from the east, it was to grow steadily worse all day.

The initial paddling was windless and pleasant, not unlike low tide in a marsh. As soon as we passed around the point and onto the North end of Chesuncook Lake we were greeted with a strong southerly wind which hit us broadside and made the paddling difficult. We both were blown onto the beach on more than one occasion and Patty and I had to fight hard to make decent headway. Gradually we progressed into the lee side of Gero Island and the traveling became much easier. We were sheltered from the wind until well into Umbazooksus Stream where we had a tail wind to help us forward.

At the northeast end of Umbazooksus Stream one can normally paddle under a bridge and work their way up do the decommissioned dam at Umbazooksus Lake. Due to the low water levels we were forced to disembark well below the Longley Stream Bridge and then portage east on the road until we could turn north on an obvious side road and re-enter the water on Umbazooksus Lake. We had lunch at the start of the portage. The South end of Umbazooksus Lake is shallow and filled with long abandoned pulp logs. After a short paddle through the reeds we reached the west end of the fabled Mud Pond Carry. Both Brad and I were excited to see what this was all about, Patty and Sally, not so much. It began to rain, how appropriate. Time to make some decisions, we reasoned that we could camp here if needed and would look for better options as we started the carry. On our first trip we would bring the canoes and everything paddling related and leave the sleeping gear, food and cooking gear for later trips reasoning that we could return and camp for the night if needed. So, up with the big green umbrellas and off we went. The first section up to the road is rocky and dry(ish), about 250 yards in there’s a good campsite on either side of the trail by some old 55 gallon drums. Once you get to the road the water and mud begin. From here to the height of land there are sections of water and mud, some worse than others. In some places you can walk on the side of the trail and stay out of the worst bits but in other places you have no choice but to walk knee deep in the mire and muck.

These wet sections are not continuous, there are also sections of better and drier trail to walk on. When carrying the canoes it is probably best to just walk in the middle of the trail and not waste energy trying to avoid the nasty stuff, the trail is often very narrow so you'll have no choice. Once you near the height of land the trail dries out to a beautiful gravel path through a lovely mature forest, enjoy this section. This is the half way mark so when you start down and the water flows east toward the Allagash you will know you’re more that half way done. When you reach a clearing on your left you have about half a mile to go, the worst water is just before the end.

There are no steep sections on the trail; it's gradually up and then downhill. There are occasional blow downs but only one or two are at an inconvenient height. At the east end there are two overhead blow downs that are a real pain in the ass. The trail is really to narrow and the water section to short to make floating the boat an option. I don’t think it would be worth the effort to get the canoe off your shoulders and then back on just float the canoe a few feet, your opinion may be different.
You're going to get muddy and wet so accept it and don’t waste energy trying to avoid it. Wear shoes that are snug on your feet, some of the mud will try and suck your shoes off, don’t even think about wearing Crocs. If you have a bow saw you could clear some trees for huge karma points. Once you reach the end you'll still need to post hole through the muck in Mud Pond in order to reach water deep enough to paddle so don't change clothes right away.

It took Patty and I an hour and 15 minutes to do the carry with the boats, we took our time and rested as needed. The rest of the trips took about 45 minutes.There's a very nice, small, grass clearing on the eastern end to leave equipment at, it would also make an adequate camping spot if necessary.

We were all soaked to the skin when we arrived at the east end and Sally was starting to show some signs of hypothermia so we headed back right away, Brad and I took about 40 minutes for the return. By this time there was a hard and steady rain so we quickly set up the tarp and then the tent. We stripped the kids and Patty put them into warm dry clothes and then into sleeping bags while I boiled water and made soup and then dinner. The kids were warm and happy especially because they got to eat inside the tent, something I never let them do. We read how Thoreau got lost on the carry and discussed how similar the conditions still are 150 later.

If you are into fungus and amphibians of northern Maine this is the trail for you. We saw several different frogs and toads as well as three Spruce Grouse. There are lots of different ferns, mosses and lichens growing as well. I must have seen a dozen different types of mushrooms.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Rockwood to Chamberlain Bridge Day 3 and 4

Day 3 Big Duck Cove to Thoreau’s Island

Patty and I were well into our morning routine by the third day. It’s nice to peacefully prepare breakfast, sip coffee, and start packing gear before the kids get up. This morning was nice with broken clouds and sunlight occasionally lighting the opposite shore. The wind was calm and the water quiet. We got going early in anticipation of getting off of Moosehead and onto the West Branch. The paddling was very agreeable and the shore was craggy and interesting as we headed north. We were sheltered from a Northeast wind by Norcross Mountain. Along the way we saw two very interesting things. The first was a brand new beaver lodge on the rock shore of the lake. I cannot see how this beaver is going to survive the winter especially if the water level fluctuates and the ice moves around at all. My guess is that it’s a yearling animal that is in search of a place to settle down. We did get to see the beaver do the tail slap thing. We moved on to leave him in peace in his new house. The second event was much more interesting. There are lots of Spotted Sandpipers on the shore and we observed them regularly. At one point a small hawk, probably a Coopers, attacked one of the flying sand pipers, we had great seats for the show. The sandpiper dove into the water and totally submerged for a moment, he then floated with just his head out of the water. After a few seconds he took off and the whole process was repeated again. After the second failed attempt the hawk headed off towards Kineo and the sandpiper returned to hunting along the shore. It’s not very often you get the chance to see a real life hunt in the wild and we discussed and theorized about it for quite awhile.

As we neared the northeast carry the camps and homes became frequent and Sally and I discussed what we liked and disliked about all of them. The large white house at the start of the carry is a beacon that seems to get closer only very slowly. The wind was no longer deflected by any hills so we fought a crosswind that made the paddling more difficult.

Eventually arriving at the start of the carry we unloaded the boats and set them up on the wheels preparing for the two mile walk (640 rods)on the dead straight road over the gentle divide. All the while we talked with some folks who were very curious about our trip. The people were very nice and very inquisitive about our family vacation. This is a very easy portage with wheels as it's a very gradual up hill and then downhill with only a little bit of roughness at the end. We almost immediately passed a couple of large bear scats in the road, its berry season the ursus kingdom. We had hoped to stop at the general store along the carry but unfortunatly was closed. Brad did a great job pulling a boat by himself and occasionally Sally rode along in top of the gear. The put in at Pittston Farm was spacious and we had lunch while we reorganized the boats for the afternoon. We met a nice family doing the trip up to Lobster Lake and we swapped stories about camping with kids. Unfortunately the wind had picked up and we spent the first hour or so paddling into a head wind, I’ve paddled in worse and with the help of the current we made good progress. At the turn off to Lobster Lake the river veers north and the current picks up. We floated and fished for the final two miles to Thoreau’s Islands which we found empty. I did some fishing above the bridge at Hanibal’s Crossing and caught 5 fish in six casts much to the dismay of Brad. After grudgingly helping us get the packs up to the site the kids were free to do whatever they wanted while Patty and I set up the tent, tarp and got going on dinner. We had tuna helper for dinner along with some vegetables. I burned the milk and Patty took over the cooking while I pumped a gallon or so of drinking water. The island seems to have a large and healthy Red Squirrel population and I amused myself watching them race around the campsite. We had plenty of wood for a fire and got to bed early for some reading and story telling.
Day Four Thoreau’s Island to Boom House Campsite

This one of those perfect days that happens occasionally on a trip. I woke early to a heavy dew, fog, and a temperature of 42 degrees. It was a good morning for hot cereal and hot chocolate as the fog slowly burned off and the mist rose from the river. We started out early paddling in magical sunlight and perfect conditions. The day alternated calm sections of flowing water with great, easy white water sections. Brad and I saw an animal swimming across the river and tried to figure out what it was from a distance, it was small. A mink, an otter, muskrat, small beaver? Nope, it was a red squirrel! We laughed about this and tried to figure what would prompt it to attempt such a dangerous mission, after all we had seen plenty of bald eagles and hawks that would love a nice easy dinner. A little later on we saw a second one and this time I got pictures. We checked out many campsites all of which were vacant. The sky was blue, there was no wind, the current was strong, and overall it was an incredible section of paddling. We stopped for a nice lunch at some flat rock in a bend in the river and then again shortly later to use the outhouse at one of the many great campsites. Soon the river entered Chesuncook Lake and we were paddling current-less flat water again. There was only a minor headwind with beautiful scenery and pleasant paddling. The water seemed very low and we observed lots of signs of the old logging operations that used to take place here, I think we even paddled a set of rapids that only shows up in these rare low water conditions. We arrived at Boom House Campsite at about 3:00pm; the site is named after the house that protected the winch that controlled the log boom at this location. I told the kids it was named after the sound that the house made when it blew up but they didn’t believe me.

The landing was very muddy and it was a pretty long way up to the site because of the water level but we were soon set up and ready to walk into “town” for root beer and fudge at The Store. There’s a sign that says Store and points to the outhouse but it really is pointing to the path that starts behind it. After a pleasant walk of about a mile we came to The Store which is very hard to miss, unfortunately they were closed for the day to go to doctors appointments. The kids were upset but a neighbor told us to keep walking to the Chesuncook House because they also sold soda. I’m glad we did because we got to see the church and the rest of the town. Two of the owner’s kids were out in the yard spraying each other with fire hoses when they were supposed to be watering the garden. Mrs. Surprenant was busy canning vegetables but she was happy to sell us some home made home made birch beer. We sat on the front porch and looked at Katadin in the distance and hummingbirds in the foreground as we drank our sodas. We realized how disgusting we were and headed back to clean off in the river. The trail back has several relics from the logging years.
We swam in the river cleaning the grime and sweat off in the process, had a nice dinner of Ramen and vegetables, and watched the sunset under a cloudless sky, I had nothing but high expectations for the following day. At 3:00am I awoke to prove that I had re-hydrated sufficiently and noticed some cirrus clouds moving in, not a good omen.