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.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rockwood to Chamberlain Bridge Day 1 and 2

Day one, Rockwood to Hardscrabble Point.

After a long drive up to Rockwood we were forced to sit on the lawn at the public landing and stare at the cliff of Kineo. Although the crossing is only about a mile there was a considerable wind out of the north and whitecaps were common. The consequences of a capsize here are serious because you could be blown many miles south before reaching land. Moosehead narrows down at this point and then opens up again south of Kineo. It would be stupid to take any unnecessary risks at this point especially with a ten and eight year old. At one point we forayed out into the crossing but I was very uncomfortable in the choppy water and we decided to return to the grass to wait for the wind to abate.
Eventually, later in the afternoon, the wind let up and we made the crossing and then headed up wind, along the west shore of Kineo. The water was choppy but not to bad, the wind was strong enough so we struggled a bit as we headed north. The first campsite we came to was at Hardscrabble Point, a two unit site with one site open. Since it was Saturday night and the next site was several miles north with another large crossing we decided too take the site after a very short day on the water. Even if we had continued there was no guarantee that we would be able to find an open site in Big Duck Cove 8 mile further north.
We set up the tent and tarp and got a fire going and started on dinner, soup with noodles, sauted vegatables, and chicken. The kids explored, fished and skipped stones. We were visited by an older couple from New Jersey who told us stories of canoe camping with their kids when they were younger. We went to bed around nine after reading stories to the kid including excerpts from Thoreau’s Maine Woods. I woke at night to listen to two barred owls calling back and forth, one on the back side of Kineo and the other on Farm Island.
Day 2 Hardscrabble Point to Big Duck Cove.

We decided to paddle only as far as Big Duck Cove today, about 8 miles. Once past there the next campsite would be Thoreau’s Island several miles down the West Branch of the Penobscot after the 2 mile North East Carry. This would have been a demanding twenty plus mile day for the kids and since we were in no rush we decided to have another easy day on Moosehead.

The weather was overcast and calm when I woke at about 6:00. Our morning routine is for Patty and me to get up, make coffee, and start on breakfast. We can usually even get some of the packing done before the kid wake up, usually around 7:00 or 7:30. The breakfast menu is premixed granola and powdered milk and hot cereal and hot chocolate are available if wanted. While the kids eat one of us packs up the sleeping gear and the other takes care of the kitchen.

Once we have everything in bags the kids help carry things down to the boats and we load up. We try to make sure there is lots of snack food available and the lunch is easy to get to when we need it. We fill the canteens with drinking water and make sure appropriate clothing for the expected weather is on top of the dry bags and available if needed. The kids alternate days canoeing with Patty or me.

We started paddling about 9:00 and headed around the backside of Kineo and across the bay towards the east shore, there’s a nice view of the cliffs from behind. It was a nice paddle along the shore in calm waters. Brad had a Mayfly land on his hand, we passed a lone apple tree on the shore full of apples, and there were some interesting old piers to look at. We discussed the life cycle of aquatic insects, tasted the apples which were very tart and unappealing and talked about the history of logging and farming on the lake.

At about noon we entered Big Duck Cove and began to look for open campsites. The first one we came to was on the south shore and we decided to look for one further along. All the sites on the other side were taken but one of the groups was leaving. We spoke with them and they agreed to leave the fire going and leave all the extra firewood for us. Great. It began to spit rain but soon stopped, the tarp and tent were quickly up and the kids had a great time exploring on the pebble beach. They each walked out to the nearby island and took the canoes out for solo paddles. Dinner was early and so was bed because tomorrow was going to be a longer day. More barred owls and some coyotes yipping at night.