Monday, August 1, 2016

Fort Kent or Bust!

Well, I am happy to tell you that I am writing this final blog from the fine town of Fort Kent!  We awoke early at McBreairty's campsite as it was an exciting day - last push homeward!  Up by 5:11 (but who's counting?!), we had a quick breakfast and cleanup, then pushed off by 6:45 into the low-hanging fog along the Allagash River.  
  By 10:00, we had conquered the Cross Rock, Golden, and Rankin Rapids, and we'd merged into the last waterway of our voyage, the St John River.  
The clouds slowly burned off into a beautiful day and we had fun paddling with the fast flowing river. Boy, did it feel like we were flying along!  Just outside Fort Kent, we were fascinated by banks along the river that were littered with ingrown rusting hulks of old cars - originally used to protect the banks from erosion.  
As we neared Fort Kent, the anticipation mounted.  The banks of the St John River were studded with large rock outcroppings that were very scenic.  
Passing under the International Bridge (from Fort Kent to Canada), we let out a big "hurray!"  
About a half-mile down the river on the right, we found Riverside Park whose boat ramp led us to the NFCT Eastern Terminus kiosk.  After photos and more cheering, we headed into town to the Northern Door Inn.  It was a welcome sight!
Day: July 31 (day 39) Start: 8:30, McBreairtys, Allagash Village, ME End: 6:15, Northern Door Inn, Fort Kent, ME (Eastern Terminus!!) Today's mileage: 27   Total mileage: 709!

Rapids and Riffles on the Allagash

We were up early, lured by Lyell's delightful crackling fire and the fact that the bugs don't seem to like the fire's heat.  
We were on the water by 7:40, after a quick breakfast and camp pack-up. Our delightful, downstream paddle was rapid, and we got to The Michaud Farm ranger station around 10:00, where we checked out of the AWW, used their satellite WiFi, and checked the weather. 
After that we paddled for about an hour, passing the Elm trees on islands - the only trees to survive the Dutch Elm disease. After that it was a quick portage past Allagash Falls. 
NFCT Paddler's note: the first take out before the falls, marked by a fluorescent orange bordered sign is a safe place to take out, but if you are comfortable and the water is low, you may choose to paddle class II whitewater for 300 yards or so to a lower takeout (unmarked) which is a trodden path up the bank. There is a nice pool there, before the class III+ before the falls begins. 
We were then back on the river, finding our way through the intermittent rips, which turned out to be both quick and fun! 
We continued down the river, barely taking a break. We had planned to go to the "Michaud Inn" campsite just after Eliza Hole Rapids, which was not to be found because lack of a sign. We ended up camping 3 miles further on Debbie McBreairty's field (for just $4!) next to the Route 161 bridge in Allagash. 
  It's a great stopping point for us, because tomorrow we plan to make it the NFCT's Eastern Terminus (Fort Kent) !! Today was an average ME day, with 3 eagles. Day: July 30 (day 38) Start: 7:40, Five Fingers Brook South, Allagash River, ME End: 4:30, McBreairtys, Allagash Village, ME Today's mileage: 23   Total mileage: 692

Just another day on the Allagash...

There is a reason that the organizers of the NFCT put the Allagash at the end of the trail.  The Allagash is dessert.  It is the reward for the portages, the upstream sections, and any of the less attractive destinations on the trail.  First off, the Allagash is all downstream.  Second off, the Allagash is all downstream.  And as much as you are betting that the third point will be that it's because the Allagash is all downstream, I'd like to add that it's also gorgeous, remote, has few short portages, fun riffles and rapids, and offers amazing wildlife...and did I's downstream.     We got up at a reasonable hour, joined Garry and Christie for breakfast and were on the river by 7:30am.  There was a light fog and mist on the river, and the air was still.    
We enjoyed paddling as the sun came up and made short work of the portage at Long Pond Dam.    
The day progressed easily as we paddled from rapid to rapid.  Three wildlife highlights are worthy of note.  The first is that we saw our first moose and calf by the river.  
They were awesome, grazing quietly on the opposed bank.  They watched as we floated silently past - it was a lovely river moment.  On the not so lovely front, the second note is that we had our first leech removal.  
Mason came out of the river after a brief stop and found a leech on his ankle.  He calmly invited Lyell (in the other canoe) over to perform surgery. Teri produced a credit card and with a quick slide, the leech was back in the river.  No screams or wails - piece of cake.  Last, another good eagle day, with a total of 5.  At 4:00pm, we stopped at Five Fingers South campsite.  
On the plus side, a beautiful flat site with a great view on the river.  On the minus side, home to what we have come to affectionately term the "little eagle""...that's right the dreaded midge.  I'm off to hide.  Wish me luck.
Day: July 29 (day 37) Start: 7:30, Jalbert, Long Pond, ME End: 4:00, Five Fingers Brook South Site, Allagash River, ME Today's mileage: 32 (est.) Total mileage: 669

Onto the Allagash

We were up exceptionally early this morning, thanks to a new discovery: today we discovered yet another flying, biting insect - in our opinion, perhaps the vilest, they are so small they can come through our tent netting. (See my mad face.) No-see-ums. Midges. Moose flies. Oh, my! (to quote the Bible.)   
Up by 5:00, we were on Eagle Lake paddling its gloriously still and mirrored waters by 7:00. We passed under John's Bridge but didn't see any town (despite its being marked on the map!) so we kept going right to Churchill Dam. 
Because the dam releases water from 8:00-12:00 each day, there are Class II rapids right past the dam. We opted to skip the rapids as we didn't want any risks to gear or boat (or people) damage this close to our finish line. 
The Ranger offers a gear and/or canoe and/or people shuttle down the river 5 miles past the rapids (any or all transported for the princely sum of $10 total!!). As through-paddler hopefuls, Lyell & Stuart weren't able to take advantage of the shuttle, but Mason and Teri sure were! We had a lovely wait by the Allagash River for the strong portagers.  
We didn't waste any time getting back on the river, however, and continued through a few Class I rapids then onto Umsaskis Lake.  We were loving the fast moving water!  
We passed under the bridge for American Realty Road and were onto Long Lake.  But most importantly, Mason announced that we had just moved onto NFCT Map 13, the LAST MAP!  After 2 miles of paddling up Long Lake, we reached Jalbert campsite, where we found one of the two campsites free. We were warmly welcomed by Christie and Garry who'd arrived earlier and already had set up camp.  We quickly set up camp and then got to chat with Christie and Garry as we had dinner. Eagle count = 0   Day: July 28 (day 36) Start: 6:30, Little Eagle Campsite, Eagle Lake, ME End: 4:30, Jalbert Site, Long Pond, ME Today's mileage: 19   Total mileage: 637

Two Lakes & a Tramway

Today was a simple day, and we knew that leaving the campsite in a relaxed fashion this morning, at 8:30. 
We left Rocky Cove campsite and continued up Chamberlain Lake past Lock Dam, into a grassy area where a sign conveniently pointed out the Tramway Carry takeout.
The remnants of the log moving tramway are amazing and positioned right at the takeout. 
We snooped around for a little while before bringing the first wave of packs to the other end of the portage, 3000 feet away on Eagle Lake. Then a second load was made to haul the canoes to the Eagle Lake end, where two huge locomotives and several log hauling train cars are left abandoned in the wood. NFCT Paddler's note: The portage is not wheelable, wet or dry, and the put in (or take out for Paddlers going from Eagle to Chamberlain), on Eagle Lake is still marked with a beaver lodge within the small channel (as described in The Bible). 
The put in had 2 free swimming leeches when we got to it, both who looked newly fed, and as such we would not recommend walking into the water.  After putting in on Eagle Lake, we paddled to Farm Island, scoped out the campsite and decided to keep going because it was a mere 1:00pm. Then we checked out Priestly Point campsite, and also opted to keep going. Finally, we made it to Little Eagle (all names are AWW site names) and decided to camp there. 
Having gotten a fire started and tent up, we swam, "washed" clothes (hanging to dry on Stuart's clothesline!), and rolled "dinner roulette," yielding Chili Mac With Beef, Macaroni n' Cheese and Mexican Style Chicken & Rice. Wow!  Eagle count = 4. Day: July 27 (day 35) Start: 8:30, Rocky Cove, Chamberlain Lake, ME End: 3:30, Little Eagle Site, Eagle Lake, ME  Today's mileage: 18   Total mileage: 618

The Mud Pond Carry (...alternative)

We were awake at the usual hour, that being 6:00 am. Stuart and Mason went out and started the fire and made coffee. 
The bug count was low, but still enough to get us on our way by 7:30. We paddled the 5 miles on a glassy calm Chesuncook Lake. 
We got to the take out for the 8 mile portage on a road. 
We had selected that option over a 6 mile trek in the mud, which the Bible describes as "notoriously buggy". We walked for the first hour with Stuart pushing the canoes, Lyell saving baby frogs, accompanied by Mason.   
Teri was behind the boys, going strong at her own pace. We made 3 miles. The next hour, some of the group members getting more tired than others, was less productive, with more frequent water stops and pauses in pouring rain...
Teri managed to get ahead of the group around the canoe. After about 3 hours of walking, we met Teri a few yards from the put in, and we all headed down to the water. 
We slowly loaded up the boats and began our small journey to a group of potential campsites. As we got out on to Chamberlain Lake, we started a hard upwind slog to Rocky Cove campsite. It's not the best of campsites, a bit overgrown, but we're tired enough to not notice it. Some of us went for a quick dip in the lake and then "dinner roulette" yielded Beef Stroganoff, Cheesy Bacon & Tomato Noodles, and Chicken Rice. Yum! (Late note: things here nearly took an interesting turn as 6 canoes each with 3 teenaged girl canoers just showed up for the adjacent campsite!  They needed more space, though, so are heading to another nearby campsite ). Eagle count today was 0.
Day: July 26 (day 34) Start: 7:30, Boom House Campsite, W. Br. Penobscot River, ME End: 3:00 Rocky Cove Campsite, Chamberlain Lake, ME Today's mileage: 16.5   Total mileage: 600