Last days on the Allagash 8/3 — 9/2/12

Many outdoors people say that canoeing the Allagash Wilderness Waterway is the trip of a lifetime. I have always been curious about that.

If a person has paddled this river once, it is a mystery to me how they could be satisfied for the rest of their life without doing it again. It would be a heartbreaking journey if approached with the preconceived notion that one would never repeat the trip.

I hope that on my very last Allagash trip, whenever that might be, I will be making plans for my next one.

The stretch between Round Pond and Allagash Village lends itself to contemplation about the next trip down the river. It’s a big waterway here, wide and gradually curving in huge sweeping turns across miles of northern forest.

From a standing position, seeking out the deepest channel, the canoeist can see the gradual tilt of the landscape toward the St. John River Valley. The horizon line, described by the tops of the tall spruces that line the river bank, slowly falls away ahead of you under a vast northern sky.


After a solid month of being on the trail the realization that this trip will end soon has seeped into my daily thoughts. A few short days from now I will no longer be traveling under my own power.

Even two days upstream from Allagash Village, the sense of impending closure hangs in the clear late-summer air. How long before I can get back to the now-familiar routine of breaking camp, loading the boats, then canoeing downstream along pristine shores, then unloading , setting up camp and repeating the next day? The rhythm is intoxicating.

The Commander and Bob Goldman search for a channel.

The single-time Allagash traveler could never understand that the river is a different place on every trip. This late-summer river is a very different one from the Allagash that the Commander and I have paddled in past years. Rapids that can be challenging in high water have disappeared, and the only obstacle is finding enough water in the channel to float the loaded canoes.

 

 

Allagash Falls

Allagash Falls is reduced to a muted roar and the landing area for the portage trail is a big dry field of exposed rock.

Portage Trail

 

 

 

 

 

It is our last night on the river and we have our pick of campsites along the portage trail. Despite the fact that we have cached some of the heavier gear at Michaud Farm — there is plenty left to carry

Heavy Gear at Michaud Farm

From my sleeping bag I can hear the murmur of the falls and the last few cracklings of the dying campfire. It’s difficult to imagine that there is any life in modern-day America that could not be improved with more nights spent like this.

In the large pool below the falls the conditions are ripe for salvaging gear lost by other canoe trippers. I have often seen the Commander bring his truck to a full stop on Interstate 95 to retrieve a roadside bungee cord or tie-down strap lost by less prudent travelers.  The sighting of  a pancake griddle stuck in the sand under four feet of water proves too much of a temptation for his thrifty nature. And so the first swim of the day comes shortly after embarking from the downstream portage landing

Sunken Treasure

The final day of river travel is a long one. The distance to Allagash Village is only a moderate day’s worth of ordinary canoeing. But under these water conditions every mile is more like two. The deepest channel is sinuous, twisting ghost that sometimes disappears altogether.

The saving grace is the dry, clear air and the incredible view of the river falling away down into the St. John Valley.

Reaching Mrs. McBreairty’s Landing at the Route 161 bridge in Allagash Village is always bittersweet — but never more so than on this long strange trip that I am committed to finish tomorrow.

McBreairty’s Landing

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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.