The bridge at Umsaskis Thoroughfare is not an imposing structure. From an approaching pickup on the American Realty Road it could be any one of a dozen bridges crossed on the long drive from Ashland or Allagash Village.
But for many canoeists this unassuming bridge marks the beginning of their Allagash adventure. At one time the quintessential Allagash wilderness trip began in faraway Greenville at the southern tip of Mooshead Lake. Modern trippers have less time, and arguably less tolerance, for extended periods of time away from modern conveniences. A canoeist who starts at Umsakis can comfortably be in Allagash Village in four days.
Purists detest this slow slide toward buffet-style snippets of wilderness snacking. They argue that the full-meal experience is necessary to fully appreciate the meaning of a wilderness river.
We arrived at the bridge on August 29. A bright sunny morning that seemed to finally promise an end of the fickle, gusty winds that had plagued us for several days. I landed ahead of The Commander and Bob and then napped on a sun-drenched picnic table at one of the thoroughfare campsites until they arrived.
There is a ranger cabin at the bridge — this was the year-round home of Helen Hamlin and her Game Warden husband “Curly” during a period in the 1950′s — as recounted in the Maine literary classic “Nine-Mile Bridge”.
The thoroughfare and the bridge mark the southern end of Long Lake. After the big Tripper canoe finally arrived — Bob switched into my bow seat and the Commander set out on a solo trip down the lake with his tiny outboard motor pushing the big canoe.
I recruited Bob because Long Lake is shallow and notoriously windy — it is oriented perfectly for the prevailing winds to pile up big curling, south-bound waves. But for the first time in days, the water was completely placid.
This is a more familiar part of the Allagash Trip for the Commander and I. It felt like home territory and I was able to act as tour guide for Bob — pointing out campsites and rest spots from past trips. It seemed luxurious to be able to paddle without fighting the wind.
The campsite at Long Lake Dam is Kevin Regan’s favorite in the State of Maine. A high
grassy knoll overlooks the remains of a cobble and log dam that dates from the 19th century logging days. Bob and I found him there resting comfortably after his motor trip down the length of the lake.
The Commander and I both marveled at how low the water level was compared to other trips. On early spring trips the whitewater at the dam can often be run without much concern. But at this water level — even lining the boats through was impossible– and a portage was required.
It was the first foreshadowing of the difficult water level that would make the remainder of the trip to Allagash Village a constant risk to the hulls of our canoes.
We pushed on toward Round Pond, anxious to spend our planned night at the famous and familiar Jalbert Camps . Jalbert’s is the northern equivalent of Nugent’s Camps on
Chamberlain Lake. And the two sporting camps share a common rogue history, When the Jalbert brothers established a sporting camp on Windy Point at Round Pond in the early post-war years the formalities of deeds, leases or other legal paperwork troubled them very little. When they were invited to leave they simply refused. And when the Allagash Wilderness Waterway was established in the 1960′s they persevered. While other camps and logging structures were being purchased and burned along the entire length of the waterway — the camps at Windy Point were granted a lease that permitted their continued operation.
Today the camps are still operated by the Jalbert family with the assistance of a few trusted local guides and extended family members. Our host for many years now has
been our friend Norman Marquis — a longtime guide and boatman from the Fort Kent area. Norman worked at the camps back in the heyday of their operation and he is an expert canoeist in the tradition of Allagash Guides — which means upstream with a side-mounted outboard motor or downstream with the current.
A wood-fired hot tub, a cold beer, an indoor meal and a soft bed to sleep in. After nearly a month on the trail I find that my thirst for such luxuries has no bounds — and no shame.