Allagash Wilderness Waterway
Tammy and I were fortunate enough to snag a spot on a September trip to the Allagash Wilderness Waterway with Chip and Lani Cochrane of Allagash Canoe Trips! We decided to stay in Maine for our yearly adventure vacation as there is so much to explore right here in our back yard.
Tammy and I and twelve other paddlers from around the globe met at The Cochrane’s summer headquarters in Greenville, Maine at 7:30 AM on September 15. After loading all our gear and canoes, we piled into a passenger van for the 3 plus hours to our put in location at Churchill dam. After unloading the canoes and paddling gear and eating a quick riverside lunch, Chip shuttled our personal gear a few miles down stream while we had some paddling instruction from Lani below the dam.
When Chip returned it was time to begin the trip starting with Chase Rapids; a couple mile section of class 1 and class 2 rapids. Tammy, as always when there is moving water involved, was pretty nerved up. We navigated the beginning with no problems. A couple from Israel weren’t so fortunate. They dumped their canoe in the class 2 shortly after our starting point. They made it to shore safely and one jumped in Chip’s canoe, while Lani hopped in with the other. Tammy took her glasses off as they were wet and she was afraid of losing them even though they were strapped. We proceeded to relax a bit as we were through the class 2 and just class 1’s ahead…. it should be a breeze. Right….. At the last minute, I saw a rock ahead of us, tried to go to the left of it, hit it sideways, leaned in, thought we would scrape by… and dumped the canoe! Tammy was soaked from head to toe, but we got the canoe to shore with our paddles and one water bottle. Sam, another tripper, helped me roll the canoe to empty the water and off we went.
We picked up our gear at an old washed out bridge location a bit down stream and headed for Chisolm Brook at the very upper end of Umsaskis Lake, our campsite for the night. The first night was spent getting used to the camp procedure of unloading all gear, finding a suitable tenting location, and setting up camp. Our first dinner was a treat. Chip and Lani scouted for wood and Chip cooked out entire dinner over an open fire. This evening was steak and potatoes. We also had something cooked in their reflector oven, but I don’t recall now what baked goody it was.
Overnight it rained off and on and continued into breakfast time. Breakfast consisted of a huge frying pan of bacon, eggs, and home fries made from the leftover potatoes from dinner. Camp coffee never tasted better! By the time we packed our gear for the day and were back on the river, the rain had stopped. The day started with gentle paddling into Unsaskis Lake, but soon headwinds hit us straight on relentlessly for the entire day as we paddled Umsaskis Lake and Long Lake. We had a lunch somewhere along the lake shores and were thankful for the break from paddling. It seemed that we paddled constantly while making little headway. Paddling got better in the narrows between Long Lake and Harvey Pond and shortly after we reached our destination for night two…. Long Lake Dam. This is an old washed out wooden dam that apparently has large spikes and other nasties that lurk just underwater. We couldn’t see anything as the water was pretty high. Not wanting to run the dam, we unloaded all the gear above the dam and made camp. Sam (Lewiston, Maine) and Zack (Waterville, Maine) ran most of the empty canoes over the old dam to an eddy below the camp site. Barbara and Jake (Oklahoma) ran their canoe, while Cam (Damariscotta, Maine) ran his canoe with Zach. Cam and Zack wedged the bow into a rock, the stern swung into the rapids and dumped.
Dinner this evening was keilbasa, beans, and raisin bran bread. Yummy! As the sun set it cast beautiful pink and purple highlights onto the bottoms of the clouds and reflected in the river.
Overnight we had a hard frost and it was downright cold in the morning. There was a fog on the river and I believe everyone was happy for hot coffee, tea, and cocoa to warm fingers and bellies. I believe we had pancakes and real maple syrup this morning! Once again, we packed up and headed down river. As the line of canoes drifted away from one another, they would disappear into the fog.
This morning was an easy paddle with some quicker water as we approached Round Pond. I think this is the day that we stopped to look at some old logging machinery by the river (at some point, the days blend together).
Since we were making good headway this day, we stopped for lunch at the Tower Trail camp site on Round Pond and hiked the 2 1/2 miles or so to the old lookout tower on Round Pond Mountain. It was an easy walk with only the last 100 yards or so having any significant elevation gain. A few of us climbed the old tower, which provided 360 degree views of the wilderness. We could see Musquacook Deadwater to the North, and the North side of Baxter State Park to the South.
After the hike, we ate a hearty lunch and got back on the river toward our next camp; Five Finger Brook – North. Dinner of chicken, rice, summer squash, zucchini, and onions, with strawberry shortcake for desert! Tammy and I jumped in the river to wash up. Two words to describe it….. ICE COLD! At least I felt clean and my head didn’t itch any more…..
Another chilly morning, but milder than the previous. Once again, breakfast, break down camp, load the canoes and on the river. The set up and break down have become routine by now. Today we tackle Allagash Falls! By mid morning we had reached Michaud Farm; the last Ranger Station and our check out spot. We had a snack while Chip and Lani discussed current happenings with the ranger. We made the falls by lunch time and Chip had us follow the shoreline below the normal portage take out and take out at a spot closer to the head of the falls to save us some portage distance. It worked out well enough and we were able to portage all canoes and gear to the base of the falls. After a lunch spent discussing with Tammy how we would navigate the major rapid at the base of the falls (if all went according to plan), we headed out. I don’t think she was ready….. After a quick blood pressure increase, we navigated the rapid as planned! Wouldn’t have been good to dump a canoe here with all of our gear in it.
We headed down stream once again to our camp destination of East Twin Brook. The river was wide and flowed nicely, but we were on the constant watch for slightly submerged boulders. We reached the camp site with quite a bit of time to spare before dinner so were able to relax. Chip poled his canoe a bit and Lani did a little fly fishing. I felt a little somber as it would be our last night on the river…..
We ate breakfast and carried out our packing routine one last time. We were all on the river before Chip and Lani, but all waited for them to take the lead. Our take out above Chase Rapids was only a short distance away. Tammy and I slow poked it to the rear of the canoe line. I wasn’t ready to go home…. We reached our destination around 9:30 AM and it wasn’t long before all the gear was packed and we were on the road for the 6 hour road trip back to Greenville.
Thanks to all who were on the trip with us. It was great to meet new people from around the world, listen to their perspectives and experiences and share ours. Most of all… thanks to Chip and Lani Cochrane of Allagash Canoe Trips. You made us all feel a little more comfortable in our abilities and helped us become better paddlers. I would definitely recommend their services to anyone thinking about paddling in one of the waterways in Northern Maine and Canada!!!!!