Self-Propelled Journal: August 10 -11 Flagstaff Lake

Rain.  My weather luck appears to have run out.

Set out from Cathedral Pines Campgound on the arm of Flagstaff Lake that runs parallel with Route 27.  The rain that had fallen all night had stopped – But I could hear thunder to the west.

A yearling moose along the shoreline didn’t seem worried about the impending storm – but I got off the water just before the skies opened.

I made coffee in a thick stand of fir trees that offered some shelter.  The canoe had at least two inches of water in it when I returned.


The Bigelow Range was lost in fog and clouds as I entered the main part of the lake. Silent loons coasted nearby.

Somewhere below the water laid the remains of Flagstaff Village – which had been flooded when the lake was created.

As the lake turned eastward a steady southeast headwind began to build.  The forecast had called for light and variable winds – this was neither.  The channel between Jim Eaton Hill and Bigelow Preseve became a wind tunnel.  Churning two foot whitecaps rolled head-on into the bow of the Old Town.

I stopped to rest and wait things out, but after 1 1/2 hours things seemed worse.  So I hugged the northern shoreline and struggled to make progress.

I reached Hurricane Island at about 5:00 pm.  A great campsite in better weather, I’m sure. No view of the Bigelow Range tonight.  I set the tent in between rain showers.  A quick supper and to bed.  Exhausted.

August 11

Rain and wind all night – slept to the sound of big rolling waves crashing on the southeast side of the island.  I had a wet breezy breakfast – but the showers had tapered off somewhat.  I found myself still staring at the oncoming whitecaps – coffee in hand – an hour later.  I dreaded the grind ahead of me.

Then at 6:30 am the wind suddenly shut off – as if someone had flipped  a switch – and the lake went flat.  I piled everything in the canoe and took off as quickly as possible.

Video – Flagstaff Lake – Day 2  (Click on Title)

With the lake flat progress was easy and I reached Long Falls Dam in only a couple of hours.  But the portage around the dam and the serious rapid below it took much longer.

Each portage requires 3 round trips – one with the canoe and two with gear.  This portage was a mile long.  I need to carry less stuff!!!

I made a quick lunch at the Big Eddy campsite where I could finally put the canoe back into reasonable water.  It was 1:00 pm before I set off again and started down the 6 mile deadwater to Grand Falls.

A long portage.

During the portage I met a guy doing the same back and forth gear dance.  A young guy from southern Maine, he had an old wood and canvas Chestnut canoe and was traveling solo.

He had canoed the lake, just as I had, and now planned to portage the dam, then portage Grand Falls, then run the Dead River’s 16 miles of continuous whitewater down to Route 201 and the Forks, then hitchhike back to his car in Stratton, then retrieve his canoe and be back at work in Portland Monday morning.

Just when I was starting to feel like a tough guy….

Some incredible eagle sightings on the deadwater run down to Grand Falls. At the top of the falls is an old dam I dared not run the Old Town through.  Up on the steep bank is an old logging camp owned by Matt Powers and his family  I spoke to Matt as I was scouting what looked like another long portage.  He generously offered to carry my canoe and gear in his truck to a parking spot near Spencer Stream – where my wife would meet me the next morning.  The incredible kindness of strangers!

Tonight after a hot meal and warm shower I am glad to be back under a roof.  The Maine Huts and Trails eco-lodge at Grand Falls is too nice to be called a “hut.”

Call it what you will – I am happy to be here – out of the still-damp weather.  The switch to the mountain bike tomorrow will be welcomed.

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About jimandrews

Jim Andrews is an attorney, Registered Maine Guide, writer, husband, dad and sixth-generation Mainer who grew up in the hills of Oxford County and now lives in Farmington. He is a monthly columnist for the The Maine Sportsman magazine where he focuses on muscle-powered travel in the outdoors and specific applications to fishing and hunting in Maine. Late in the fall of 2010 Jim suffered a mid-life crisis and decided that the cure would be a self-propelled trip from Kittery to Fort Kent in the summer of 2012. The preparation, planning and execution of that trip will be covered here -- as well as his own ongoing attempts to reintroduce physical effort back into the increasingly-motorized world of fishing and hunting in Maine. Find Self-propelled on Facebook: