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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Monday, September 7, 2015

Allagash Wilderness Waterway Trip – 8/31/15 – 9/4/15, Days 1 and 2

Before-thoughts of the Allagash

     Excitement and nerves characterized the days of planning. None of us (daughter E, her boyfriend M, and I) have ever done anything like this before: four days and three nights on a remote river in northern Maine, without roads, stores, electricity, motors, phone service. We’ll carry everything we need in canoes, and of canoeing we have some lake experience but not river, and certainly not of fast water. The Waterway is 92 miles long; we will travel about two-thirds of it, skipping the big lakes at the southern end and ending nearly in Canada.
     Nerves: How often will we capsize? Will it rain? Will the insects be vicious? Can we accomplish the portages? Will our food last?
     Excitement: Will the beauty be overwhelming? Will we see moose? How wonderful will it be to glide on a river, sleep under the stars, sit around a campfire?
     This and following posts will mostly be an account of what happened. The photos were taken by my daughter. I’ll save editorializing (which is impossible for this writer to avoid) for after-thoughts at the end.

Day 1 – Owls Head/Deer Isle to Millinocket

     This was a car travel day. I left Owls Head about 2:00, stopped in Rockland for groceries, and arrived in Millinocket about 6:00. E/M arrived from Deer Isle shortly thereafter and we checked in for the night at the Pamola Motor Lodge. We had dinner at the nice little Appalachian Trail Café. Millinocket, still in the throes of the closing of paper mills, has not much else to offer.

Day 2 – Millinocket, to put-in at lower end of Umsaskis Lake, to Cunliffe Island campsite

     We drove both cars to Katahdin Outfitters just outside Millinocket and left them there. All of our gear was loaded into a truck and we were driven to the put-in at Umsaskis Thoroughfare Bridge by Doug, the father of the owner of KO. He is a native Mainer and interesting mix of conservative and liberal. We talked about local politics and economics, including the controversial proposals for a national park in the area, the wildlife in the area, adventures in Maine. Most of the roads we took were rough logging roads, and we met a number of transport trucks, empty, having delivered full loads to Canada (!). Oddly enough, Maine has very few sawmills, just as it has very few lobster processing plants. It’s still largely a place for harvesting natural resources. The real wealth is elsewhere. Even the timber companies, some of whom are good stewards of resource and roads, and some of whom are not, are on shaky financial grounds these days.

                                 Umsaskis Bridge from downstream 
     We arrived at the Umsaskis Bridge about 10:00, unloaded the truck, and were left with the strong feeling of being very alone. Doug, don’t leave quite yet! But activity helped, figuring out the best way to load the canoes and getting on the water and into Long Lake. Bliss descended as soon as we started paddling. It was a clear, slightly breezy day, and it was good to start with an easy paddle, about four miles to the north end of the lake, before the river turned narrow and the water fast. The map showed no rapids here, but our inexperience said there certainly appeared to be. Several mishaps occurred, all relatively minor, involving shoals and hang-ups, but the river was surprisingly warm and generally shallow (we discovered afterwards that the cubic flow per second was around 800 cubic feet per second for our trip, well below the “comfortable” level of 1,000), and it was easy to get out and push the canoes over sandbars and off rocks.

                                               On the river at last

                                               Lunch on a sandbar

     We ate lunch (sandwiches, fruit, candy) on a sandbar and then had a brief paddle through Harvey Pond to Long Lake Dam, just the remnants of a dam, that is, and here the rapids were strong enough, and the left-over dam bits protruding enough, that a portage was recommended, which we took. It was just a short one, easily managed. We thought about staying at the campsite there, since it was so pretty, but the rapids were quite loud, and we saw another canoe approaching, and we decided to try the next site, Cunliffe Island, and were very happy we did.
     Approaching the island, we saw a cow moose standing in the right channel, eating. Very slowly we drifted past, watching quietly, then parked at the campsite to unload and set up. In the middle of setting up, we heard splashing and ran down to the water’s edge to see our cow slowly crossing the river to the left channel, then meandering down the opposite bank, stopping to eat river grass. All in all, a 20-minute viewing of this great animal, who, by the way, saw us just a few yards away and didn’t seem to give a damn.

                                                 Meandering moose
     The lakes we paddled through were calm and beautiful and serene, but the river is what really makes you feel that this is a wild place.
     One of my hammock anchors on the river edge was a huge white pine close to 100 feet high and three feet thick. It was complete bliss to listen to the sound of water moving over stones, to look up at sky through the branches of trees.

                                             Cunliffe Island campsite 
     Once on the water, the only people we saw all day were those two people following us at Long Pond Dam, where they must have stayed the night. A helicopter did fly over (twice) and a small plane (once) but the intrusions were quickly gone.
     For our guilt-free (free of vegetables, basically) dinner, we ate sausages and bread grilled over the open fire, plus beans and Rice-a-Roni, and were in bed by 8:00.
     Distance paddled: about 8 miles.

     Wildlife seen: moose, loons, kingfishers, mergansers

Next: day 3

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