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Day 66: “…now go home!!!”

Bloggers note: For consistency, I am dating this for the date actually paddled, but seem to somehow gotten very late in actually writing up this last day of the segment, which actually happened in the fall of 2015.  Oops! Sorry so late!

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We get a message

Somehow the previous evening I never bothered to read any of the various witty carvings that previous visitors had scribed into the picnic table, and for all I know someone snuck in during the night and added to it.  Nevertheless, the first message I saw as I made my coffee was unequivocal:  “Welcome to Maine, Now Go Home!!!”. Not one, not two…but three exclamation points! My first thought was, “how did they know this was our last day?”

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Packing for the final leg

The last day is always a little bittersweet.  I have to say this was particularly true on this trip.  The Allagash Lake Loop has it all.  Lakes and rivers, forests and mountains, upstream and downstream travel, standard portages and The Mud Pond Carry…and all available without the need to shuttle vehicles. Without question, I consider it the most challenging and most rewarding trips I’ve ever done. I hated for it to end. But as always, I looked forward to real food and hot showers.  So as the coffee went down, so too did the tent for the final time this trip.

The morning was sunny and warm, with very light breezes, which is exactly the weather I like to have when paddling on Chesuncook Lake.  This is the only lake (so far) where I have been surfing downwind paddling in a tandem canoe in 30 knot winds with three and a half foot breaking waves.  It was a brief experience, but one that always comes to mind when I am on this lake now. I’m never comfortable on it. But today it was being very nice.

We headed down the lake (which here is a flooded arm of Umbazooksus Stream) towards Gero Island, which none of us-not wanting to be trapped there by wind-had ever visited. As we got closer to the island, and as the weather continued to cooperate, we debated taking advantage of the benign conditions to check Gero Island off our bucket lists.

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Tommy, and Gero Island, in my sights.

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Looking down the eastern arm around Gero…and Jim

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Gero Campsite

Every once in a while the breeze freshened a bit, but never enough to send my wind-sensor into red alert, so we chose to paddle along the western shore of Gero rather than to shade further west towards Caucomgomoc.  After a brief break on shore, we continued further down to where a large bedrock outcrop came out from the island into the water.  On the other side of it we found an expansive, beautiful beach backed by the massive shoulder of the outcrop we had paddled around, on top of which was one of the nicest campsites I’ve ever been on.  It even had a lean-to! And the view down to the beach, and across to Chesuncook Village, was exquisite.

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A commanding view.

After exploring the camp and the surroundings, and a quick snack, we returned the boat for our final crossing to close the loop back to where we started in Chesuncook Village.  Paddling conditions remained perfect, and we crossed quickly and uneventfully.

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Jim on the final stretch. For Chesuncook Lake, this is FLAT!

It was still before noon when we reached the beach and loaded up. All that remained was to hit the road back to Greenville in search of lunch.

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On the road back to civilization.

And there, sitting in the Stress Free Moose, ordering our food and beer, we finally saw our first moose of the trip.

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Total Mileage for the day: 5.8 miles

Total Mileage for this Trip: 57.5 miles

Total NFCT Miles (minus those already traveled): 43.34

Total NFCT Miles to Date: 721.8

Day 65: Got Mud?

Blogger’s Note: Grab a coffee or something and get settled in. The day we did the Mud Pond Carry was a long day indeed. And so is this post.

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Morning at Mud Brook Campsite

Today was the day that we would finally meet the challenge of the Mud Pond Carry. Today all the stories and legends would be measured against our own experiences. Today it was time to put up or shut up. We knew it was the crux of the trip, and would be a long day. We could only hope we were up to the task. Speaking for myself, I woke up ready to git’er done.

Nature favored us with a sunny, cloudless morning, and we chose to consider that a positive omen. Breakfast and breaking down camp was a business-like affair as we mentally prepared ourselves for whatever the deep Maine woods could throw at us. I took particular care to organize my gear into as few packages as I could to ensure that I could successfully get me and all my belongings over the Carry in no more than two trips.

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Mud Brook is right there. Really.

Since we had already scouted it out the previous afternoon, getting to the mouth of Mud Brook was easy. From there, we all got out and started wading, tracking our canoes up the small brook towards Mud Pond.

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Tommy tracking up Mud Brook

Other than the need to work under a couple low-leaning trees, it was a fairly easy drag up the brook. In what seemed like no time at all, we had covered the half a mile or so to Mud Pond, which was pouring itself over a small beaver dam that had been built at the rocky outlet.

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Approaching the outlet from Mud Pond

We were greeted to the Pond by a couple eagles…another positive omen!

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Tom used his beaver stick to pole his way up into the pond while Jim and I took the more traditional wet-feet approach.

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Entering Mud Pond in style

Not much is written about Mud Pond. I think since most people arrive at Mud Pond from the other side, after themselves experiencing the beat-down that only the Mud Pond Carry can deliver, they treat the actual pond as a mere footnote. If anything, they only describe in detail the muddy slog they have to endure from the end of the carry trail just to get far enough into the pond to reach water deep enough to paddle.

From my perspective, Mud Pond is beautiful. It is ringed by tall pines, and low valleys filled with bogs and marsh.

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Jim crossing Mud Pond

There is a view of Katahdin off to the south. And I don’t know if it was due to the recent rains or not, but we found the pond to be plenty deep enough, even when we reached the take-out for the Carry on the other side. Sure, we had about ten feet of very shallow, muddy water, but it was fluid enough to pretty solidly ground the canoes up on the bank before committing ourselves and our feet to terra-somewhat-firma.

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Tommy got some mud before we had even started!

The carry starts out auspiciously enough. For some reason I had pictured this end of the trail to be only a somewhat dryer but still marshy flat area that in a pinch could be used as a campsite. In reality, it seems more like a narrow old fill bank, a good 3 feet in elevation above the surrounding pond and wetlands that in a pinch could be used as a campsite. So it was a pleasant surprise to be able to use it as a dry staging area for our gear as we readied ourselves for the carry. It was also nice to find that this dry hump, as it were, continued some distance before we descended into wetter environs.

Specifically, this distance was about 20 feet. From that point, the trail started getting serious about asserting its usual reputation as a muddy, soupy bog that was more river than trail. It was a fine introduction to the route that we would be spending the next several hours getting familiar with.

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Welcome to the Mud Pond Carry!

For my first trip, I shouldered my large back-pack dry bag, on which I had secured my folding camp chair and my Teva’s. In one hand, I carried my Gamma-lidded bucket and in the other I carried my now useless canoe cart. Tommy took a pack and his canoe and a paddle. Jim took a couple packs. And so we started, with me in the lead.

As already noted, once we descended to water level, the water was plenty deep. Like, thigh deep, at least on a short person such as myself. But the footing was solid, and so long as I took my time, progress was steady. Vegetation on either side was quite thick, and in a couple places I tempted calamity, trying to contort my body one way or the other to work my backpack under low-hanging branches and leaning shrubs without toppling into the water.

Fortunately this first deep-water stretch did not last long, and soon I was walking along what essentially was a shallow stream with solid footing, flowing back towards Mud Pond.

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Is it a trail? Or is it a stream?

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Foam sculpture.

The thick shrub layer receded, and I could see some distance into the woods on either side of me. The flowing water created occasional pockets of foam, and at one point I found a rather interesting foam sculpture. There was a good carpet of green moss, ferns and fir saplings. Despite the load on my back and in my arms, the Mud Pond Carry had turned into a pleasant hike through the Maine woods.

Of course, that feeling didn’t last. After a little ways along this stream, after ascending a sort of stair-step rocky portion, the trail changed character again to another deep-water segment. This was more like a deep, soupy mire than water, and was a real slog. This section went on for some distance, with occasional short stretches where water was shallower and footing more solid, as well as occasional stretches where previous travelers had beaten down a drier trail up on the banks.

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Sometimes there are alternatives.

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I found your shoe!

Many fallen trees and occasional boulders in the path required some careful planning of one’s footing. I found a stray, abandoned, partnerless Keen sandal on this section of the trail and hung it up on a branch (unbeknownst to me at the time, one of my Teva’s had also chosen to go off exploring on its own). This stretch may not have been very long, but it sure felt it, and definitely slowed the pace. Nevertheless, we definitely picked a good day for it…the weather was clear, with an occasional breeze, not too hot, and there was not a mosquito or blackfly to be seen. Had we been doing this at the height of blackfly season, I am sure all of us would have gone batshit crazy, especially in the “hog pits”, as I started thinking of this section since it reminded me of hog wallows I would find in the Great Smokies when I worked there in 1987.

Just when I thought that we might be walking through this crap forever, the water started clearing up and taking on the appearance of a stream again and, at some point, the Mud Pond Carry all of a sudden turned into a normal walking trail! Solid ground, a little moist, but very easy walking, and the pace quickened again.

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Finally, an actual trail!

This pleasant portage path lasted maybe, oh, 150 yards or so, and then it was back into the water, quickly deepening, but with a solid base and clearer water. I began to sense that the direction of flow was now headed in the same direction I was walking, and shortly after that discovery, at about the same time I noticed the woods thinning a bit to my left, I heard the sound of a truck on a logging road not too far ahead of me. The Winter Road? Sure enough, after a short distance walking through shallow stream water, I walked up the bank and onto the road. There was not too far to go from here!

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Look both ways before crossing the Winter Road.

I needlessly looked both ways before crossing, and then waded in (literally) again. Right past the road there is a narrow passage between two boulders where I found a DEEP hole, but that was just an anomaly, and it was right back to stream wading. This did not last long before the trail diverted out of the ditch to the left and through the woods to get around a number of fallen trees. It was just before I rejoined the stream again that I found the campsite that numerous other paddlers had mentioned in the many blogs I had read. It was a nice, clear site under towering pine trees with plenty of firewood, and if we weren’t intent on reaching Chesuncook Lake that night it would have been a fine place to camp.

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A campsite at the Umbazooksus end of the trail.

A few hundred feet beyond this, the vegetation started getting thick again, and after a short stretch of walking through wetland grasses and weeds and a thick growth of alder, I broke out onto a small beach on the shore of Umbazooksus Lake. Mud Pond Carry, Round One was done! I was there for maybe a minute before Tommy made his entrance into the clearing.

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Tommy arrives at Umbazooksus!

It wasn’t quite lunchtime yet, so I had a couple bites of power bar and some water and headed back for Round Two, now a few minutes behind Tommy who was already on his way back.

The Mud Pond Carry is pretty much just a muddy hike and slog when you don’t have to carry a bunch of crap, and far more enjoyable. I hadn’t gone far before I came upon Jim carrying his large packs and cart, and encouraged him that he was nearly at the end. He said he was doing OK when I asked.

It was during the trip back that I ended up taking many of my photos of the trail…funny how one tends not to take photos when one is having a hard go of things. It was also on the return trip that I found my stray Teva before I even knew it was lost, sitting up on a rock where I was sure one of my companions had left it for me. I grabbed it and continued on.

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Got mud?

Other than walking again through the “hog pits” (which were not that pleasant even with no gear other than a stray Teva), it was a pretty pleasant, uneventful walk back to my boat and the rest of my gear. Tommy again passed me on his own second trip with gear. I had another drink of water and looked over the remaining items. This is where I was going to find out whether my plan to two-carry this muddy portage was going to work.

My kneeling pad got bungied around the canoe seat. The paddles were bungied onto the thwarts, and I clipped my pfd and throw ropes to either end of the canoe on the carry handles. The folding saw was already secured onto one of the thwarts and my water jugs got clipped onto the other. My small pack went onto my back, and I threw the shoulder strap of my now nearly-empty soft-sided cooler over my head and onto a shoulder. Finally, the stray Teva was strapped on the thwart with my saw. Up went the canoe, and off I went into the third and final round! Holy shit, this was going to work!

I debated whether to just keep the canoe up on my shoulders with occasional rests, or whether I would take advantage of whatever deep water I encountered to float it along. Almost immediately, I had an opportunity to try the float plan, and it worked like a charm, so that decided it.

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First time I’ve done THIS on a portage.

In fact, I probably overplayed that card a bit, choosing to dish out abuse to my poor canoe’s hull by dragging it over shallow spots or the occasional boulder or tree when the next pool was “just right there”. It just seemed more expedient than heaving it onto my shoulders and then easing it back down every hundred feet or so in some spots. Either way, I made steady progress, but I can at least report that carrying a canoe, even a light canoe, is more of a pain in the ass than carrying backpacks and other gear. Or maybe it was just that I was finally starting to tire and was looking too much forward to again emerging on that glorious smidge of beach. It was certainly slower going, what with the frequent trips the boat made between my shoulders and the ground.

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One of many rest stops.

As I again neared the logging road, there was no reason any longer put the boat down, and the sooner I finished this damnable hike the better I would be. Besides, I was getting hungry and lunch was in my bucket!

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The view from under the canoe.

Just before I got there, I met Tommy once again, walking back once again. He had just finished lunch, and advised that I do the same and then follow him to help Jim with the rest of his stuff. Good plan. Both Tommy and I suspected that Jim would have a tougher time on his second trip than we did.

So I went on, dropped my boat on the beach, and dug into my beef jerky and trail mix, chased by copious amounts of water. I was there for maybe 15 or 20 minutes, munching away and wallowing in the glow I felt at successfully meeting the challenge of the Mud Pond Carry and emerging mostly unscathed. There was a celebratory beer in my future, but not until the entire crew was together, so off I went on my fourth trip down the path in search of Tommy and Jim. No man left behind!

When I started out, I guessed that I might make it most of the way, or maybe all the way, back to the logging road before I ran into them. So when I reached the road without any sign of them, and with no sound of their approach, I began to worry. When I made it back to the height of land and that glorious stretch of dry path and still had not reached them, I really started to get worried. I started envisioning the worst, wondering what we were going to do if Jim (or even Tommy) was having a significant health crisis. Or worse! When you are alone in the Maine wilderness on a tough portage and things do not seem to exactly be going according to plan, it is very easy for one’s imagination to go a little wild.

It was therefore with extraordinary relief, and a twinge of dread, that I finally ran into Tommy coming around a corner carrying Jim’s big pack and reporting that Jim was a short way back making slow progress. Relief because no one was hurt, and dread because now that Tommy had laid claim to the big pack, I was likely going to be stuck carrying Jim’s big Royalex Courier. Round 3.5, here I come! The Mud Pond Carry was not yet done with me.

Sure enough, a few minutes later I found Jim still battling the last of the Hog Pits. Evidently, he was in fact unable to carry his remaining gear in one more trip, so he would carry half of it some distance, and then go back for his boat and the rest, and in this manner he had frog-hopped his way along the trail. So I told him to grab his paddles and bucket and that I would carry his boat.

So up the boat went onto my shoulders (Jim had fashioned a pair of nifty padded metal braces that fit nice and snug on the shoulders). About five steps later, it came crashing down on my head when the kneeling thwart (on which the shoulder brackets were mounted) was wrenched free of its screws! Ugh! Okay, Plan B. All of Jim’s gear went into the boat, and he and I used the carry handles to struggle along for a while. It was slow going, since we were both tired and Jim was quite sore, and, of course, finding solid footing was a bitch and a half. I finally suggested to Jim that it may be most expedient if we take advantage of the fact that his boat was made of Royalex and simply drag it along. He agreed.

We were almost to the road when Tommy arrived again (trip number 5 for him if y’all are counting) and found us dragging things along. He then traded places with Jim, and we went flying down the rest of the trail, leaving Jim behind. When I say we pelted down the trail like a couple possessed madmen, with the canoe flying over rocks, logs, the road, mud, and slow squirrels, I only slightly exaggerate. At least, it seemed we did. There was no obstacle in our path that couldn’t be overcome with Royalex. Man, I’m gonna miss that stuff!

So in no time, it seemed, we were finally all on the beach and cracking open beers that we had saved for the occasion. The Mud Pond Carry was behind us! We could finally actually paddle again for the first time in what seemed like days! But the day was not yet over, and we still had some miles to put in, and possibly one more portage, before we reached our goal of Chesuncook Lake. So we quickly loaded our gear, and headed out onto Umbazooksus Lake, each taking the opportunity once we got to deeper water to replenish our water supplies with our filters.

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Finally paddling again on Umbazooksus.

One uncertainty still lay before us: the stretch of Umbazooksus Stream between Umbazooksus Lake and the northern arm of Chesuncook Lake. When last we had visited this area in September of 2009, we had not been able to paddle all the way up to Umbazooksus Lake from Chesuncook due to a lack of water. If we were to find the same thing this time, our alternative plan was to portage from the dam along the Longley Stream Road to the bridge right where the stream flowed into Chesuncook.

Fortunately, when we got to the dam, there seemed to be plenty of water flowing through the dam outlet. Sweet! None of us really wanted another portage that day.

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Tommy exits the Lake into the Stream.

We paddled down the chute and, after a brief sojourn in the wrong direction, headed downstream. It was a pleasant paddle down the stream, with one beaver dam to work our way over and a few shallow sections that required some maneuvering and scraping. Most of it was easy paddling, though, and a pleasant return to this lovely marshy area. Last time we had seen a few massive moose, but no dice this time.

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Umbazooksus Sream

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Approaching the last bend

As we rounded the last corner and the bridge came into view, we got a real good idea as to how low the lake had dropped. When we had visited six years ago, a couple of the guys who were sailing had to take their masts down to get under it. Now, they would have fit with room to spare! And where we had easily paddled up flatwater, we now looked down a stretch of Class I rapids that seemed to drop down into a shallow canyon.

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Dropping down into Chesuncook Valley

I led the way, and dished out some more abuse to my poor hull, but made it all the way down to lake level with relative ease, followed in turn by Jim, and then Tommy, who again employed his beaver pole for assistance.

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Tommy snubs his way down.

The skies were still clear, but the sun was going down and the air was cooling, and dammit, it had been a long day, to put it mildly, so we were ready to set up camp somewhere. The closest campsite on the map appeared to be close by on the eastern shore, so we headed in that direction and kept our eyes out for a sign. We never saw one, but we pulled up to what appeared to be a manmade jetty (now high and dry thanks to the low lake level), and after walking way up the beach along it, we found some nicely mowed grass, that led a ways inland to a large open area equipped with a post-and-beam shelter, fire ring, privy, and fire ring. Home! The campsite could also be accessed by a dirt road that came down from the Longley Stream Road. A sign identified the site as “Umbazooksus East”.

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Shelter, fire ring, and dry firewood? We’ll take it!

We were pretty tired when we arrived, and setting up camp and preparing dinner pretty much finished us off. It was still nice to get a fire going so we could sit around, sip our last beers (and pass around the last of the Sailor Jerry) and speculate about the total lack of Maine’s most famous wildlife species: moose and mosquitoes. Reflecting back on the day we all agreed that we had caught the Mud Pond Carry at a good time, weather and bug-wise. Jim vowed he would do it again. The jury was still out on it as far as I was concerned. The only fact I could testify to with any degree of scientific certainty is that I was damn happy, and damn tired. Time for bed.

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An evening sky and moon from our jetty.

Total Mileage for the Day: 6.7 miles (not including the multiple trips up and down Mud Pond Carry)

Here’s the thing about the Mud Pond Carry: The thing is, any way you slice it, you’re probably in for a long day. Even if we successfully two-carried all our crap over the portage, we’d probably need a good amount of time to do it. And we were hoping to make our way into Chesuncook Lake that day. It would therefore behoove us to camp as close to the start of the carry as we could to take advantage of the longest stretch of daylight we could.

And that meant the best campsite choice for this evening would be “Mud Brook”, the last decent campsite reached before we needed to tackle the Carry. And, thanks to our epic day yesterday, it meant a real easy, lazy day today, with just a little under 6 miles to get there from Lost Brook. Needless to day, we slept in and took our time in the morning, finally getting under way by 9:30 or so.

Tommy gets under way

Tommy gets under way

We had finally had a night with no rainfall, and the morning was warm and sunny.  There was a bit of a breeze, but it was coming right out of the west so we were nicely tucked into the wind shadow.  Jim set the pace for the first stretch down to Ellis Brook.

Glassy conditions as Jim paddles the horizon line.

Glassy conditions as Jim paddles the horizon line.

Dragonfreeloader

Dragonfreeloader

The campsite at Ellis Brook was occupied, so after a short water break in the cove, we carried on at an easy pace, occasionally picking up dragonfly hitchhikers. Katahdin was a constant companion off our bows, and we saw one bald eagle in the pines on the shore. We saw only one other canoeist who passed us heading north, saying he had been wind-bound on Gravel Beach the night before. At about 12:30 we reached Donnely Point and stopped for a lunch break.

Nap time at Donnely Point

Nap time at Donnely Point

We decided not to hang out too long, just in case Mud Brook campsite was occupied and we had to paddle back here to camp, so we set off across the cove near Lost Pond to the entrance leading into Mud Brook. We arrived to find that Mud Brook indeed had vacancy! Happy Day!

Entering Mud Brook "Bay"

Entering Mud Brook “Bay”

Vacancy at Mud Brook

Vacancy at Mud Brook

Looking out towards Chamberlain from our beach

Looking out towards Chamberlain from our beach

We enjoyed a leisurely, lazy set up for camp. We had brought leftover firewood from Lost Spring, and had augmented it with some unguarded pieces from Donnely Point, so we didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking for more. I found a path leading past the outhouse into some of the nicest woods I have seen anywhere, complete with a wall-to-wall shag carpet of sphagnum.

A peaceful green forest.

A peaceful green forest.

Later in the afternoon, we decided to hop in the boats and scout for the mouth of Mud Brook proper. The area surrounding this inlet, as had many places on this trip, gave the impression that a moose was just about to walk into view, but again, our ventures turned out to be moose-free.  The mouth of Mud Brook turned out to be pretty well hidden until we were right on top of it, but we did find it, and were happy to see that it actually had some water flowing out of it. This boosted our hopes that we would have a relatively easy time tracking our way up to Mud Pond.

Looking towards camp from the mouth of Mud Brook

Looking towards camp from the mouth of Mud Brook

Back at camp, there was not much left to do but have dinner, crack open some beers and sit around a crackling fire. My mission was to ensure that I had no more than two beers to haul over the Mud Pond Carry. Cooler air invaded the camp, and the stars stayed out. At one point, we were out on the beach gazing at the milky way, and I kept seeing random flashes of light out of the corner of my eye. When I zeroed in on it, I found my first-ever glow worm! They were scattered all over the beach! It was a cool experience.

But we didn’t hang out too long, We faced the crux of the whole loop trip the next day. We were finally going to find out first hand how bad the Mud Pond Carry really was. So before the moon got too far along its arc of travel, we were in the tents and resting up.

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Mileage for the day: 5.71 miles

At this point, we were behind schedule a bit and needed a big day, so there was no messing around camp this morning. The weather had cleared out and we were greeted with sunny skies and a moderate west-northwest wind. A perfect wind direction to canoe up the west side of the Lake and make a visit to the ice caves! But we were expecting a brutal beating getting down Allagash Stream, so we were all up, packed, and on the water by 7:45 a.m.

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Why so early? And why the concern with Allagash Stream? Well, ever since we started planning this trip, Jim had regaled us with tales of having to walk a canoe nearly the entire length down the stream in the fall of 1993 due to shallow water, and how he couldn’t walk well for almost two days afterwards due to the beating his ankles took from all the slippery rocks. I was picturing a road of rocks with trickles of water making their way downstream. Ranger Jay did nothing to dispel these concerns when he heard of our plans. Despite all of the rain we had had over the last day and a half, the lake did not rise a single iota, and Jay had told us it usually took a few days for the lake level to respond to any significant rain. So, needless to say, I was envisioning either having to call it a day at Little Allagash Falls or, ideally, making it to Chamberlain Lake by dusk, just before the vampires came out.

But it makes no sense to live in the future, and the “now” was turning out to be a far preferable time frame to dwell in as we paddled north into an absolutely beautiful Allagash Lake.

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As we turned the corner just north of the “Cove” campsite, we ran into the wind, which only slowed progress a little. We also ran into civilization, in the form of a mob of fisherman (after four days of encountering nearly no one, a half dozen guys constitutes a “mob”). Mid to late September is a good time to go after spawning brook trout. We pulled into the Ice Cave campsite which was festooned with tents and tarps and stacks of coolers and half a supermarket piled on tables, with plenty of propane and a stack of dead trees for fuel.

The Ice Cave Entrance

The Ice Cave Entrance

The trail to the actual cave is pretty short, up a hill to a complex of ledges. The caves themselves are pretty much located at a junction of two large ledges that cracked apart sometime at least a couple weeks ago (centuries? millennia?), leaving behind a few chambers.  It is said that there is ice in these caves year-round, but in mid-September, likely the only ice to

Looking out from the first chamber

Looking out from the first chamber

be seen would be down in the third chamber, and none of us were about to try to squeeze our way even to the second chamber and maybe block the way for future visitors until we decomposed enough for them to yank us out of the way. We satisfied ourselves with a quick visit just inside to the first “chamber”.

Back at the boats, while chatting to the occupants of the campsite, we learned of two young college kids that had taken over 7 hours to get up Allagash Stream from Chamberlain a couple days earlier. Just what we needed to stir our concerns back to the surface.

We noted the northwest wind was more west than north, and moderately strong, so we paddled across from the campsite to the north shore and followed it around to the east, headed to the outlet where Allagash Stream left the lake. By the time we reached the east side of the lake, the wind fetch had kicked up some decent waves to rock and roll in.

Looking back west.

Looking back west.

We found “Outlet” campsite, which was quite nice, and took a short break before headed down to assess the condition of the stream. We took the opportunity to change into wetsuit booties, figuring them to be suitable for the task at hand.

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At last, it was time to head downstream and take our medicine, whatever flavor it would be. And almost immediately, we were out of our boats to walk them through shallow water. Ruh roh! But it wasn’t all too bad, not nearly as bad as I envisioned. The lining was pretty easy, the water was warm, and the stream was absolutely beautiful. And there were frequently lengthy stretches that could be paddled, so long as one was willing to abuse one’s paddle. Still, for the first mile, it was mostly walking and lining.

Allagash Lining

We saw plenty of evidence of beaver activity, and even a couple breached dams.

Broken beaver dam

Broken beaver dam

Tommy found himself a serviceable beaver-chewed pole and used it to start poling his way downstream.

Tommy using a beaver stick to pole an Osprey.

Tommy using a beaver stick to pole an Osprey.

And soon enough, we found ourselves paddling the entire time, with plenty of water, as we got closer to Little Round Pond.

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Little Round Pond

Little Round Pond

Overall, we made good time getting to Little Allagash Falls, arriving at the campsite about 12:30. We ran into a couple guys in a tandem canoe (one from D.C., one from Indiana, who turned out to be the guys that had come upstream a couple days ago) who were just finishing their portage around the falls. We walked up to the campsite and had our lunch, before doing our own portage around the falls. What a spot! Beautiful grassy area, plenty of room, and the falls were gorgeous! I would have loved to camp there, and I will likely return some day to do just that. But we still had plenty of daylight, and decided to use it.

Little Allagash Falls.

Little Allagash Falls.

Downstream of the falls there were a few ledges that I was worried about, but there turned out to enough water to go over or around them.

Ledge drop

First ledge drop

We were pleasantly surprised to find that we were able to paddle most of this lower stretch without any lining or walking, and before we knew it, we were at the bridge for a logging road, just upstream of which was the last ledge to run.

A view of Jim's run from the bridge

A view of Jim’s run from the bridge

Before long, we had made it to Chamberlain Lake, which was not as low as we expected it to be. The wind, still out of the west, pushed us on out, towards and past the remains of the railroad trestle formerly used between Eagle and Umbazooksus Lakes.

Trestle in the distance.

Trestle in the distance.

As we got further into Chamberlain Pond, Mount Katahdin once again came into view and dominated the horizon like only a mountain can, even when viewed through a distant haze.

Allagash Katahdin

IMGP0177The afternoon was passing and it had been a long day, so we started looking for a campsite. We first stopped at Crows Nest, which would have served, but which featured a narrow boardwalk over a marshy area and a steep uphill trail to the outhouse. We passed on it, and continued on to Lost Spring, which was absolutely beautiful. We decided to call it home for the night, totally pleased with our progress for the day. It left us with a very short day the following day, since we only had to get to Mud Brook Campsite, our planned staging area for our assault on the Mud Pond Carry two days hence.

That night we heard owls hooting and coyotes howling. And the stars were finally out in force for the first time on the trip yet. The Milky Way was epic. It had been a long, successful day, and I think we were all looking forward to sleeping in.

Total Mileage for the Day: 15 miles

Another Gray Day

Another Gray Day

Last night, raindrops began falling intermittently by 9:00 am.  It got serious after midnight or so and kept at it all night. It showed no inclination to stop in the morning. Since we still had some flexibility in our schedule, we decided to plan on staying put for one more day.

That did not mean, however, that we’d spend all day sitting on our asses under the tarp and drinking. There was plenty of time to do that in the afternoon! After a leisurely breakfast, Tommy and I geared up to hike the trail up to the Mount Allagash summit, where a fire-tower exists. Jim decided to stay behind and do some cart wheel repairs, firewood gathering, and generally recovering from all the walking we did yesterday.

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Not the most cartable of portage trails.

Rather than paddle back to the Ranger cabin (behind which the trail starts), we decided to hike back along the “official” carry trail to the carry trail we rolled along yesterday. It was abundantly clear nearly the entire way why the route we took was preferable, at least for those of us who like to roll our canoes rather than carry them. The trail was chock full of rocks and roots and a couple stream crossings.

The trail up the mountain is clearly marked behind the ranger cabin, and initially its rate of ascent is more than manageable, with a few muddy spots to contend with…at least with the fine weather we were experiencing.

A fine walk in the woods.

A fine walk in the woods.

Soon enough, the trail steepened and we seriously went about the business of getting our altitude adjusted.

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The tower would have been easily accessible by ladder, and perhaps would have improved views, but we figured that the door would have been locked and neither of us climbed it to find out for sure.

Allagash Mountain Fire Tower

Allagash Mountain Fire Tower

We weren’t sure what we would find on top as far as views were concerned, but we needn’t have worried. There was no total panoramic 360 degree views, but the clouds would alternately reveal and obscure different views as they scudded past the peak. We stayed for a good half an hour, watching the views around us constantly change.

Allagash Lake

Allagash Lake

Upper Ellis and Lower Ellis Ponds

Upper Ellis and Lower Ellis Ponds

Round Pond

Round Pond

Poland Pond & Wadleigh Stream

Poland Pond & Wadleigh Stream

The rain had given us a break while we loitered on the summit, but at some point it started again as we returned down the trail, being careful not to slip on the rocks.

Tommy, getting a grip.

Tommy, getting a grip.

It was good weather for mushrooms.

Please don't eat us.

Please don’t eat us.

As we were walking again past the Ranger cabin the rain was getting pretty heavy, but we heard a hail from within as Jay invited us in for a spell. Those Allagash Rangers are good folk! He offered tea, which we declined, and we spent a pleasant hour or so just talking about the Allagash, our previous canoe trips, and his life as a Ranger. It was a nice break from the weather, and by the time we left, the rain had stopped again.

But not for long. It was raining again as we arrived back at camp. Lunch time! Time to spend some time under the tarp drinking! Jim had replaced the tube in my cart, and tried to repair his tube, but found that the rubber cement in the

refilling water bottles

refilling water bottles

repair kit had hardened and was useless. So, Duct Tape was employed with mixed success. He also gained hero status by finding some good dry stump wood. Tommy mixed us up some Tequila cocktails, and as it got chillier, we discovered that Sailor Jerry rum goes quite good with coffee. Several heavy rain squalls gave us the opportunity to fill our water bottles from the tarp.

Loon Luck? Maybe.

Loon Luck? Maybe.

Eventually the rain tapered off and we spent quite some time watching the clouds range by our campsite, and seeing the opposite shores far north of us light up as occasional sunny spells broke loose. Moose continued to fail to arrive for the benefit of our cameras. Loons arrived with positive omens for a good day ahead.

 

Any winds we had during the day disappeared, and the still lake provided the perfect mirror for epic cloud formations. That night, we saws some occasional stars, and over a pleasant campfire we looked forward to a long, but productive, day of canoeing ahead tomorrow.

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Total Mileage for the Day: Zipskee. And loving it.

The rain started again around midnight. Ten minutes later, I heard Tommy get out of his tent and throw his tarp over it. Those mare’s tales from the day before weren’t lying!

It was still raining and dreary when we got up, and since we had not set up a communal tarp, breakfast and coffee was a soggy affair.

A soggy start to the day.

A soggy start to the day.

We didn’t waste any time packing up our stuff and hauling it out over the Mud Pond Lite trail out to the canoes stashed in the gravel pit. IMGP0057By the time we got moving along the road, the rain had stopped and the mosquitoes were out in force.

The portage that saved a lot of tracking.

The portage that saved a lot of tracking.

IMGP0061We hadn’t gone far before Jim announced that he was losing air from one of his tires. We found a little turn around (that had clearly been used as an impromptu campsite not too long ago) and waited while Jim installed a new tube.

With the tire repaired, we continued on, keeping our eyes open for a trail on the right that would lead us to the big ledge on the stream where, had we decided to track and paddle all the way up the shallow stream, would have been where we would have pulled out to another portage option to get to the road. I’m glad we took the option we did…the take out turned out to not be great here, and the banks were quite steep. The ledge was nice, though, and worth the detour to see.

The horserace ledges.

The horserace ledges.

It wasn’t far past here that we intersected Caucomgomoc Dam Road and, shortly afterward, arrived at the dam itself, as patches of blue sky started to arrive.

Caucomgomoc Dam

Caucomgomoc Dam

The put in for Caucomgomoc Lake was found to be a steep trail a little before getting to the bridge over the dam spillway. Winds were moderate, but out of the east, and we had good conditions to make our way over to Ciss Stream.

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Ciss Stream was easily found, and easily deceived us into trying the wrong channel first. Stay left! Once we got oriented to the proper channel, we made our way past marshy areas, dry-ki shores, and the odd upside-down tree flower.

Tree Stump Bloom

Tree Stump Bloom

Tommy on Ciss Stream

Tommy on Ciss Stream

Ciss Stream is prone to wandering, winding its way back and forth among its bordering marshes, leading us on a tour that touched upon each side of its shallow valley. It is a place that just screams “Moose!”, but once again, we saw none. There were plenty of spotted sandpipers and greater yellow-legs, the occasional merganser gang, and a flight of green-winged teal. Clouds whizzed by, occasionally carrying along blue patches of sky.

Mountains and mergansers.

Mountains and mergansers.

IMGP0076A little before we arrived at Round Pond, we came upon a logging road bridge.  No logging trucks visited us, although we had heard occasional pickup trucks in the area. It was bear hunting season, so we were expecting company. It was getting to be around noon, so we decided to drop in at Loon Lodge to see if they might serve us some lunch. So onward we went!

It was not long before we entered beautiful Round Pond.

Jim paddles up into Round Pond

Jim paddles up into Round Pond

Round Pond Landscape

Round Pond Landscape

We eventually found the dock and beach for Loon Lodge and pulled in. I walked up and reported into the office to inquire about lunch, but alas…they serve meals to guests only. Which was too bad, because it really smelled good in there! They did allow us to hang out at their dock for our own lunch.

Lunch on Loon Dock

Lunch on Loon Dock

After lunch, it was onward to the campsite at Round Pond North, were we picked up the road that would lead us to Allagash Lake.  This campsite had several separate sites, and a nice beach, and overall was pretty good, but right on the road. And as we readied our portage carts, we were passed by a line of something like 20 high-powered four-wheel-drive pickup trucks out on a club riding trip.

The road to Allagash Lake

The road to Allagash Lake.

This three mile portage to Allagash Lake would likely be our last for which we could use the carts, unless we later found out that the water flow leaving Umbazooksus Lake was too low and would divert us onto the Longley Stream Road to get to Chesuncook Lake.  The road started out very nice, in good shape, and things were rolling along nicely when, within minutes of each other, both Jim and I developed flats! Ugh.  Neither one of us really wanted to install a new tube (and actually, I had one tube, Jim was down only to a repair kit) so we both shouldered our heaviest packs, inflated the tires a little bit (it seemed a lower pressure was adequate, and just gingerly continued.

IMGP0087At a fork in the road, a white sign and arrow points the way to the “AWW”. It soon crosses over a marsh (still no moose) and then starts to become considerably rougher. Tommy forged on ahead as Jim and I nursed our injured carts around a series of rocks, dips, and muddy puddles. One particular stretch, just before we reached the gate, was brutal.

Umm no...we went straight.

Umm no…we went straight.

Past the gate, however, with a few notable exceptions, we came upon nice grassy stretches.  At the sign pointing the way to the “official” carry trail, we stayed on the road, having read numerous reports that the Ranger does not mind folks using the road to access the lake. After one more short, brutal hill, and dodging some more rocks on the other side, we arrived at the rangers cabin and a gorgeous Allagash Lake.

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Jim took advantage of a nearby roller ramp to have Tommy launch him.

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We left the cabin behind (no ranger home) and headed to the Carry Trail campsites, since the day was starting to wind down.

Ranger Cabin (L) with Allagash Mountain...topped by firetower

Ranger Cabin (L) with Allagash Mountain…topped by firetower

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Soon after we arrived, we heard a motorboat, which could only mean one thing…ranger. Sure enough, he made a beeline right for us, and we met Jay. Boy, could he talk!  We summarized our trip to date and our future plans, and he opined that we could definitely have some low water issues going down Allagash Stream.  He confirmed reports that the following day was expected to be very rainy, and we indicated that we may decide to stay here two nights and just make a rain date of the next day…perhaps doing a hike up the mountain.  He reported that a lot of the other campsites were already filled up, since this was the fall trout spawning season.

An hour later, he finally left, and we could set up camp an get to dinner. All the tarps went up this time. We looked like a commercial for Kelty Noah’s Tarps…Tommy had the 9-foot and 16-foot versions. I had the 12-foot version. Jim rigged up his blue tarp. This site was pretty well scavenged for firewood, and we had to range far and wide to find some good stuff that could be split to burn, since things were still pretty wet. Once again, the saws and the hatchet provided us with a nice campfire. Tomorrow, we could sleep in.

Carry Trail Tarp City

Carry Trail Tarp City

Total Miles for the Day: 10.9, including 4.8 miles portaging (all NFCT Miles)

A rain-free morning.

A rain-free morning.

We woke up to low, but quickly thinning, clouds and a light breeze. Jim, who was up first, had most of his gear packed by the time I got my coffee, and he decided to hike back to Graveyard Point in order to unload what he deemed some unnecessary gear. He was having some doubt that he could manage a two-carry of the Mud Pond Carry so he packed an extra cooler with some unnecessary items and walked off on the trail to the village…which was reported a few years ago to now end in a mess of logged land.

Thus, as Tommy and I packed up, Jim returned to report that this was still the case.  The wind was manageable, so he decided to leave ahead of us and paddle back to the point, and then meet us at the mouth of Caucomgomoc Stream.

Tommy and I embarked on Day 2 about ten minutes after Jim left. The sky hinted at notions of Norse Gods.

Cloudy but calm.

Cloudy but calm.

We knew that Chesuncook was low, but we really got a good idea of how low at the mouth of Caucomgomoc Stream. There was a lot of exposed mud flats and dewatered backwater marshes. It was quite river-like before we broke out into the first wide area southeast of Canvas Dam. We reached this lovely campsite shortly after, where Jim found a nice seat someone had handmade for the site (the second such seat we had seen…there was another at Boom House). It made a nice place to look back over the way we had come.

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Looking upstream from Canvas Dam

But we weren’t going to get anywhere looking backwards, so we turned our eyes upstream towards Black Pond and beyond. The low water levels were even more noticeable as we headed north, weaving back and forth on a winding channel where the maps showed a wide pond. We saw our first eagle, perched on a stump, as well as a couple merganser gangs, Canada geese, a kingfisher, and a couple great blue herons. No moose.

Jim on Black Pond

Jim on Black Pond

The sun was blazing and the clouds had been replaced by wispy mare’s tales, which usually mean more rain is coming. We knew we had reached Black Pond when the water became more consistently deep and we didn’t have to search so hard for deeper water. It was tough to find a good place to stop to take a break because all of the shores were pretty muddy.

Castle of the Fae

Cathedral of the Fae

As we continued upstream, the open waters contracted again and we were once more looking for the proper route where the buried channel of Caucomgomoc had been exposed by the dropping water levels of Chesuncook Lake. This resulted in a greater paddling distance than predicted since we couldn’t just straight-line it all the way north. Finally, in the early afternoon, we reached the upper limit of the impounded waters and began to detect actual flowing current. We also found the “Cathedral of the Fae” as Tommy called it.

And then we ran out of water. Or, at least water that we could paddle up.  On the map, when this is all flooded, there is a narrow bend of the river that hooks around a steep peninsula. When we reached it, this bend consisted entirely of quickwater and rapids. So out of the boats we came so that we could track our way up, leading our boats upstream.

The walking begins.

The walking begins.

I came up with a pretty good system, using a paddle in one hand as a probe and a support ahead of me, and a painter in the other hand, leading my boat like a well-trained dog. I made steady progress up the rapid, with Tommy not too far behind me using the same method.

Tracking the Osprey

Tracking the Osprey

Jim, who has a condition that affects his balance sometimes, had a much harder time of it, and fell behind. At first, he used two hands holding his painter to his paddle, and then using his paddle as a support to slowly walk up. He abandoned this method and then just used his paddle to walk upstream, paying out rope from his throwbag until he reached a nice stable spot well upstream, at which time, he simply reeled his boat up to him.

Jim reels in his boat.

Jim pays out line from his throwbag on his boat.

IMGP0044When it was clear that Jim had a method that was working for him, I continued upstream to find the Horseraces campsite. On the other side of the peninsula, the channel had deepened again, so the paddling was easy. I flushed both a great blue heron and a kingfisher as I paddled past large pines and spruces. Shortly after the channel turned back northerly, and just past another shallow but short riffle, I found the site.

It was definitely what I would call a primitive site. No picnic table. No outhouse. A nice campfire ring, though, and plenty of tent space and available firewood.

So, once Jim and Tommy arrived, we discussed options: 1) Continue up what was expected to be another mile or so of rocky, shallow rapids (not a preferable option, considering the difficulty Jim had in walking up the short stretch we did); or 2) find the alleged portage trail that led to an old gravel pit nearby, from which a decent road led up to Caucomgomoc Dam. We did not know the condition of this portage, which had been reported to Katina Daanan (in her excellent “Through Paddlers Guide to the Northern Forest Canoe Trail”) to be “difficult to nearly impassable” as recently as 2012. Either option was not guaranteed to get us to Caucomgomoc Dam and find that campsite unoccupied.

Mud Pond Carry Lite

Mud Pond Carry Lite

So, given that we were already pretty tired, having had a long day of it coming up Caucomgomoc with all its mud and winding and shallow rapids, we decided to camp. In the meantime, we scouted the portage, which someone had recently and conveniently marked with orange surveyors tape, and immediately dubbed it “Mud Pond Carry Lite”. The first couple hundred feet went through a very mucky swamp. If one was careful, it could be managed with a minimum of mud and muck in the toes, but it is tough to be that careful with a canoe in hand. Past the wetland, the trail goes up a couple steep slopes and ends up at the lower end of the gravel pit. From there, we could wheel our way up to the road, and onward.

Mud? Bugs? No problem.

Mud? Bugs? No problem.

So, after the boats got unloaded and we had a bite to eat and some liquid courage, we helped each other portage the boats and paddle gear up to the pit so that we would not have to deal with them in the morning. This was a muddy affair. The mud was so slick, I had trouble keeping my feet in place in my Tevas while walking downhill. It took several trips (in more than one sense of the word), but we managed to get it all out and stashed. One man’s “impassable” is another’s practice run for the real Mud Pond Carry, I guess.

After that chore was don, we set about getting our tents up and getting some firewood cut and split.  The weather forecast did not call for rain until later the following day, but the mare’s tails clouds I saw had got my guard up, so I decided to get a tarp over my tent.

Firewood duty.

Firewood duty.

Once all that was done, there was naught to do but have dinner, get a fire going, and sit back with some beers and a nip or three of Sailor Jerry. We kept glancing at the sky and seeing stars disappear. Hmmm. We also saw a pretty cool dragon in the fire.

Fire Dragon Head

Fire Dragon Head

Total Miles for the Day: 12.0 (including 11.0 new NFCT miles)