Archive for May, 2011

In the morning, I drove my Subaru down to Newport to leave it at our take out.  On the way, I again took the side road to check on the section of rapids below Route 105 and Bridge Street that we had scouted on our way up.  I was glad that I did, because I saw a new tree that had fallen completely across the river in the middle of some fast moving water.  When I returned to camp (having gotten a ride back from another Clyde River Recreation employee) I gave Mike the heads up and suggested a route.

Mike enters Charleston Pond

Rather than put in the river and paddle a mere 500 yards to the beginning of the first portage of the day, we decided to put the canoes up on the wheels right away and just head down Route 105 right from Chris’s field, quickly banging a right onto Great Falls Road to get down to Charleston Pond.  It was a quick paddle across this pretty pond, and we easily found the take-out for the next portage.  Along the way, we stopped to talk with some guy who had designed and recently helped install a new power house at the Charleston Pond Dam.

Easy rapids below West Charleston

Having already decided that the Class IV ledges below the powerhouse were not in the cards for us, we rolled the canoes through “downtown” West Charleston to the Fontaine Road Bridge, where we were fortunate to run into the friendly people who own the homes on river-left downstream of the bridge and who graciously allowed us to travel across their back lawns to put in on the  rapids of the Clyde, which at this point have settled down to a lively Class II. I say we were fortunate, because the put-in options right at the bridge were downright ugly.  The rapids carried us away, and we finally had some serious portage-free water ahead of us for some time.

The dandelion harvest is mostly done on this farm.

From there, the river settles down pretty quickly and flows through more floodplain forest and marsh, passing an occasional home or what I liked to refer to as dandelion farms.  I mean, the dandelions are thick. When the river flowed into Little Salem Pond, we found it to be glassy smooth, and it was a pleasant paddle to the short section of river that connects Little Salem Pond to Salem Lake.  As we

“Dang it! I caught the wire AGAIN!”

came out from under the Hayward Road bridge, we saw utility wires festooned with dozens of bobbers and lures
dangling from miles of fishing line.  Must be some pretty bad fisher-folk in the area.

Salem Lake was also quite calm, and we had a pleasant paddle northward past many nice homes with plenty of flooded yards.  It was not long before we reached the exit. I have to say, it is really nice to paddle out of a lake and into a river without messing about with a dam.  That rarely happens in Rhode Island.  In fact, I can think of only one pond in the entire state where that is even possible.

The cedars close in and the river accelerates…

Nearly immediately after the Clyde exits Salem Lake, cedar and pine forests lean in from steeper banks and the river gets shallower, picking up speed. Mike and I rearranged gear, kneeled down in our boats, wiggled around to get comfortable, and put our game faces on. It was time to rock and roll.

The first few rapids we encountered were easy, but the power of the water was evident.  Mike took the probe-boat position in order to find clean routes for my more-fragile Kevlar boat, but initially we had no rocks to worry about.  Around the first sharper bend, the river threw some larger waves at us, but we kept the open sides up.  Our maneuvering was just getting pretty busy when the Route 105 bridge came into view, with a much steeper, gnarly-looking boulder-strewn drop between us and the bridge.  Adding to the intimidation factor was the remains of a green plastic canoe still plastered against some trees on the right.  We both followed the main current down the right side, and quickly maneuvered back center to avoid some other rocks.  We both made it through cleanly, and eddied out under the bridge.  I would rate this rapid above Route 105 as an easy Class III at the water level we had.

Looking upstream at the rapids below Route 105

We had agreed ahead of time to take out around the bend at a river-side park for lunch.  Mike peeled out first, and threaded his way around some more rocks.  The evergreens had disappeared in favor of oaks and maples.  I tried to see where he was going, but my focus was initially right in front of me, dodging some sharp rocks.  Too late, I saw I needed to be on the other side of another  boulder and swept on the right to turn the bow left.  At the same time, a cross current caught my stern and sent it to the right, swinging the boat perpendicular to the current, resulting in my sweep stroke sending the boat right into the river-right bank.  The

The pace picks up again around the bend from the park

stern completed its arc and lodged on another rock, and the boat started leaning up into the current.  This was my cue to hop out of the boat before it filled with water, and taking a couple steps I reached shore, hauled the boat ashore, and told Mike “I’m taking out here”, like I meant to do that.

The park was nice and sunny.  It was getting downright hot, probably close to 80 degrees, and quite humid.  We chowed down some chicken salad and drank a lot of water, re-packed the boats, and were again on our way.

Right around the corner was a tough rapid above and below Bridge Street, what I would rate a tough Class II or an easy Class III.  Mike and I both took a reaction

Entering more ‘boogie water”

wave that filled the boats with some water, so we quickly pulled over and bailed out some water.  Around another corner we came across the fallen tree I had spotted in the morning.  The river was pouring over the trunk on river-left just deep enough to paddle over, in between two branches that were just a canoe-width apart. We both ran it clean.  Around the next corner, we passed “Babe Rock”, as someone had dubbed it in spray paint, and finished out another mile or so of “boogie water”, generally good read-n-run Class I and II rapids.  We paddled under Interstate 91, and started seeing evergreens again.  In fact, a couple had fallen almost completely over, one from each side of the river. After hovering above it for some time and  considering our options from an eddy, we decided to just get up some steam and bash through the branches, like parting a stage

No more rapids, portage ahead…why is Mike celebrating?

curtain.  Soon afterwards, at the bottom of a final Class II rapid, we entered Clyde Pond. We muckled up for a short bit, cracking open some celebratory beverages. That three-mile stretch of the Clyde is one of the nicest stretches of rivers I have paddled, and I have paddled many. I was really happy to get through it with my SRT still intact.  The boat stayed very dry and, aside from a somewhat sticky stern, it maneuvered admirably through the waves.

Rolling down the Clyde Road

The portage around the Clyde Pond Dam was quickly reached, and we set up the canoes on the carts again for our last portage.  The air was VERY hot…much warmer than I would have expected.  The wetsuit I was wearing may not have been the best choice, but better safe… Down the dirt road we trudged.  The NFCT signs point down the access road to the hydro plant, but based on travelers that had gone before us, we knew that this access put one on some difficult, log and tree-choked rapids, so we carried on further, all the way to where the road crosses the river again.

Squeezing low under the park bridge

Back on the river, we cracked open another beverage to celebrate the end of our last portage, and floated the river through town.  We passed under a road bridge, and then floated along side a park that reportedly had been under water a little over a week ago.  We squeezed under the park entrance road bridge with nary an inch to spare, and then at South Bay, we hung a right and paddled under both Route 5 and a railroad/pedestrian bridge to enter Lake

Entering Lake Memphremagog from the Clyde

Memphremagog.  The distant peak of Owls Head greeted us.  As we paddled around the docks at the harbor and pulled up to the boat ramp, Chris from Clyde River greeted us, claiming we had arrived close to an hour before he expected us! Hmm, is he stalking us? Mike wondered.

Thus, another segment of the NFCT has been completed.  We quickly loaded up the Sooby, and raced back to Clyde River  Recreation to pack up our tents before the gathering clouds could start pouring rain. We just made it.

Later that day, hoping to add the last remaining segment of the Upper Ammonoosuc to our list, we headed to the Stark Inn, hoping to get a room and perhaps talk Nancy into setting up a vehicle shuttle the next morning.  Alas, it turned out she was on vacation in Alaska.  So, we’ll have to postpone it to another future date.  And believe me; I have no problem coming back to the north woods, over and over.

You can see all my Clyde River pics here:


Total mileage for the day:  13.5

Total mileage this segment: 30.5 miles

Total NFCT Miles to date:  384.1

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I left all alarm clocks at home, and had also left my watch behind, so when I was woken up by a series of splashes set off by some beaver that was clearly irritated that we were occupying his breakfast buffet line, I had no idea what time it was.  Turned out it was quarter to six.  And the sun was out! Good omens.  We had a

At the south end of Island Pond

quick breakfast of coffee and…coffee, and I took some time to install the float bags into my canoe.  At around eight, Chris came down and hopped into the Subaru with us, and off we drove to the southern end of Island Pond at Brighton State Park.  We unloaded, and Chris drove my vehicle back.

Island Pond was still quite high from all the rain Vermont has had recently.  Several lawns were still inundated, and we saw a few

Headed under the hotel

displaced docks.  A steady but not-too-strong southeasterly wind accompanied us across the pond into town.  The pond empties into the Clyde River just above Route 105 and under the Clyde River Hotel.  Fortunately water levels had receded enough for us to just squeeze our way under the hotel. We noticed clouds gathering.

On the other side, the river starts off quite narrow, meandering more than a spider with five legs.  We had been warned about a snowmobile bridge we would likely have to portage around,

"Squeeze Right at the former snowmobile bridge"

but the previous flood had thoughtfully pushed it aside.  Any beaver dams that had been in our way were either washed out or inundated.  Soon the marshes gave way to cedar lined banks, and before we knew it we came across one tricky set of Class II rapids that emptied into a former mill pond, which in turn emptied through a quick and easy drop.  Here, the rain started, and stayed with us for about an hour and a half. It was the only rain we would  encounter.

Soon after the river swung close to Route 105 again, near where Oswegatchie Brook flows in, we encountered a tree across the channel, and had to do a muddy portage through some thick alders.  As I tried to re-enter my boat I slipped off the bank, and although we were on the inside of the meander where such rivers are typically shallow, my feet didn’t hit bottom, and provided Mike some entertainment as I tried scrabbling up the bank on my knees hanging onto the gunnels on my right and grabbing at branches with my hands and teeth to extricate myself.  Mud city!

"Squeeze Low at The Tubes"

But I finally got myself together, dried myself up with a couple choice words, and saddled back up.  Minutes later we were paddling through “The Tubes”.  Here the river changed character again for a while, meandering in several channels through black ash floodplain forest.  We scared up a few mallards, wood duck, and teal.  The river meandered its way back and forth through a vast wetland, all of which was flooded.  We eventually emerged into Bucks Flat, a diverse marsh-fen complex, and were greeted by nesting osprey. It was a pleasant paddle across this expanse to the river access off Ten Mile Square Road, where we took a lunch break.

Past the bridge, the river changed character once again, with a large field to our right and massive flooded silver maple forests too our right.  Eventually, the silver maples dominated both sides.  It still meandered, back and forth, all the way through East

One of many bends

Charlestown and up to the School Street Bridge where, probably because it was getting dizzy, the river straightened itself out for a mile or so, flowing between evergreen forests on some steeper banks.  And then we discovered what meandering really was all about.

For a mile and a half above Pensioner Pond, as we re-entered more floodplain forest, the river meandered like a drunk on roller skates.  I’d be paddling north,

Mike takes a shortcut

and just behind me Mike would be paddling south. A patient compass would have given up.  I bet even the fish get frustrated here.  Fortunately, the water level was high enough that we were often able to cut corners across the meanders.  At any rate, I have no idea how Pensioner Pond got its name, but by the time we reached it we were ready to retire for the day.

We had favorable conditions to paddle easily across the pond, and just around the corner from where the river channel resumes, we were back at Clyde River Recreation under sunny skies, coolers of beer beckoning us to easy chairs in the field.  Seventeen miles in 6.5 hours, including lunch, without much effort.  That is certainly a nice thing about high water.  But would it cooperate quite so well with the rapids we would encounter the following day? We were certainly ready to find out.

Total mileage for the day: 17.0 miles

The Clyde River enters Pensioner Pond


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Mike and I took off Wednesday, May 18th for Vermont’s Clyde River,our next NFCT segment, amidst intermittent rain showers.  Much of Southern New England was forecast to be poured upon with a fury over the next three or four days, and how far north the deluge would travel remained to be seen.  Not quite as far as we did, as it turned out.

Nevertheless, it was with us for a good portion of our trip, with the skies darkening as I turned into what I have come to refer to as the Canoe-land Exit.  You probably have one of these…the exit onto a highway that you rarely if ever take unless you have a canoe on your car and are headed into the wonderful land of canoe tripping.

We managed to arrive in West Charlestown, Vermont, without paying a single highway toll.  Along the way we saw odd highway signs (“squeeze left”), many state troopers, very few road-killed deer (but a lot of cows in the fields)and enjoyed an awesome burger(me) and lunch buffet (Mike) somewhere in rural Vermont at a restaurant called “Father’s”.  We also saw a lot of water in the rivers, since over the last couple weeks, Vermont had seen far more than its fair share of rainfall.

We took the opportunity to road-scout the rapids wherever we could, noticing that the Clyde River was running pretty high. The rapids running under Route 105 and Bridge Street were impressive, but seemed well within our abilities.  Not so the rapids below Charlestown Pond…big ledges!  We decided we would portage all the way to Fontaine Street when we got there.  Further upstream, Salem Lake was in the trees.

Setting up camp below Pensioner Pond at Clyde River Recreation

When we reached Clyde River Recreation the sun was peeking through the clouds and we were able to set up our tents in a field where the proprietor, Chris, provided free camping.  We made our shuttle arrangements for the trip with him, enjoyed a quick campfire, and hit the sack.  We fell asleep to the sound of toads in the marsh, tail-slapping beavers in the river, and trucks on route 105. Tomorrow we would set eyes upon Island Pond for the first time.

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After a couple three hours of organizing and packing, everything is pretty much ready to throw in the Subaru tomorrow and hit the road for Vermont.  According to the National Weather Service, the Clyde River is behaving (not flooding) and should give us minimal problems.  I think the usual beaver dams will be non-issues.  It won’t be the most pleasant camping weather, but it will be far from the worst I’ve endured.  And temperature-wise, the forecast for up north is warmer than here in RI!

We’ll be camping at Clyde River Recreation, with whom we have made shuttle arrangements.  Day 1 should end there, and day two will start there, and between both days we’ll get the Clyde River Segment completed.  For an encore, we may also go and finish up the Upper Ammonoosuc, and say howdy to our favorite breakfast host, Nancy at the Stark Inn.

I’ve decided to take the Hemlock SRT instead of my faithful Mad River Explorer.  I need to give the SRT some loving…she has been mostly neglected on these NFCT trips while the Explorer gets the glory.  Not this time.  Hopefully she treats me well on the river.

Future tales of adventure, comedy and tragedy are sure to follow, so check in to the blog in a week or so for updates. Paddle on!

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Well, it was a long winter, and it has been a busy spring, and I don’t mind saying, “Good Riddance!” In a week and a half, I’ll be heading up to Vermont to visit the Clyde River, to “Git ‘er Done!”  I’ll be joined by my friend and constant NFCT companion, Mike “Wickerbutt” Bussell.  This will be the first NFCT segment since our very first one that it will only be the two of us.  The other usual suspects are otherwise occupied with other spring paddle trips.  Or work.

Based on what I am reading on local message boards, it looks like we’ll have plenty of water.  Maybe too much!  The Adirondacks and western Vermont (Missisquoi River) are experiencing some impressive flooding.  I don’t think the Clyde is quite as high or dangerous, but I also don’t think we’ll be dragging bottom.  If the river hasn’t dropped appreciably by the time we get up to Island Pond, we won’t be able to paddle under the Clyde River Hotel without submarines or scuba gear.

If all goes well on the Clyde, we may also take a day to finish up the last half of the Upper Ammonoosuc in nearby New Hampshire, a stretch we missed a couple years ago due to the need for an early exit for an unexpected home emergency.

It’ll shoah be gud ta git on da trail ageahn!!

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