Day 2 On The Allagash River
The north Maine woods were once the home of Native American tribes. It is believed they first appeared in the tundra-like environment left by the last Ice Age about 10,000 or more years ago.
Groups of Paleo Indians traveled through region between 12,000 to 9,000 years ago. A larger population during the Archaic period from10,000 to 4,000 years ago followed. These people were generally nomadic, using nets for fishing and stone or wood tools. Artifacts discovered from these periods include arrow and spearheads, scrappers, stone cutting tools, stone axes and gouges for woodworking.
The Ceramic Period from 3,000 to 500 years ago is named for the emergence of the use of pottery. This enabled cooking directly on the fire, rather than heating stones and placing them into a bark or wooden container. Archaeologists have found pottery in the Allagash region at least 2,000 years old.
The arrival of Europeans slowly forced most of the Indians to move away from the Allagash area. By the early 1800’s, after thousands of years of Native American occupation, the area was ripe for the lumberman’s axe.
As the story is told by historians at Maine’s Department of Conservation, about the time Maine became a state in1820, a businessman from Salem, Massachusetts, named David Pingree, inherited large tracts of land in the Allagash region. His keen eye for commerce eventually gazed upon the seemingly unending tracts of timber-covered land in the northern half of the state. Basing his new enterprise in Bangor, a town that hosted more than three hundred sawmills by the mid-1830s, Pingree, under the guidance of his partner Ebenezer Coe, began to profit handsomely from his operations, wresting mighty trees from the wilderness, running them down river to Bangor where they were milled into lumber and put aboard ships that could carry them wherever a market beckoned.
In 1837, the first of several financial panics struck the region, and though Bangor’s lumber interests suffered under competition from states to the west, Pingree expanded his holdings and pressed on. In time, he owned more than one million acres of Maine forestland, was the state’s largest taxpayer, and held more land than any other private entity in New England.
Before long depots or small villages associated with the lumber industry were scattered throughout the region. Farms sprouted to provided food and forage for the many villages and logging camps. At one point the 3.5 million acres that is the North Maine Woods today, supported seven softball teams among the villages that traveled the rivers and roads to play against one another.
By the mid 20th century the logging boom was past. By the 1970’s the big river drives had ended. New building materials replaced wood and big lumber operations in the west claimed a large share of the market. The camps were abandoned, as were the depots and villages. Small logging operations remained, but for the most part, the woods were turned back over the nature. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway was established in the 1960’s to preserve the river corridor. Conservation organizations moved in buying and preserving land. Today organizations like the North Maine Woods oversee the land managing recreation alongside lumbering.
Before dawn of our second day on the Allagash, we awoke to what sounded like an angry loon. There was plenty of commotion going on at the water’s edge. It seems we had pitched our tent in a spot popular with the pond’s loons, ducks and geese. It might have been one of the few grassy spots, and the amount of bird poop we found when we arrived certainly did suggest that this was a gathering spot.
Some creature, be it bird, rodent, or other actually bumped our tent several times letting us know we were unwelcome. It was barely daylight and too early to get up and shoo whatever it was away. It had not gotten as cold as the night before, but it was still chilly and it was going to take something a lot bigger banging on the tent to get us out of our warm sleeping bags.
The commotion outside the tent finally stopped, but the angry loon splashed a bit more then continued to screech as it paddled off. It was loud in the otherwise still morning silence. We listened for about 10 minutes as the bird’s voice grew fainter as it swam away.
At 6:15 we poked our heads out of the tent and the pond was wrapped in fog. By 7 o’clock we could see patches of blue sky overhead and figured it wouldn’t be long before the fog disappeared.
I cooked pancakes with hot maple syrup, bacon and some fried potatoes in onion and garlic for breakfast and made coffee while Chris packed our gear. As he gathered our equipment a hawk swooped down to the water’s surface and with its claws caught a fish for breakfast. As we ate our breakfast a cow moose and her calf popped out of the woods next to our camp. She took one look at us and pushed her little one back into the woods.
While we waited for the fog to lift we washed up a bit and each took the soap to our hair.
We were on the water by 10 o’clock
It was a still morning, the water surface was smooth, the air cool, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. A cow moose and her calf wadded into the water to our right as we paddle toward the rips where the pond met the river.
Long before we could see it, we heard an airplane. Behind us on the pond with his pontoons just out of the water a seaplane raced toward us. He must have been on the pond at the far end. We had not heard him arrive. The plane broke free of the water’s grip and flew along the surface gaining speed. It began to climb slowly and was less than 100 feet when it flew over us. It was Jim Strange and his Cessna 206. We had flown with Jim two years back. Jim dipped his wings to say good morning as he passed overhead. I’m sure from his perspective we were just two canoeists alone on the water.
Round Pond Rips is a series of class I rapids. Chris continued to find the channel and we got through the first few spots easily. There were areas in which, because of the water level, we found ourselves among a closely gathered collection of rocks and bounced off a few as we splashed our way down the river.
Once past the rips, it was off and on quick water all the way to the Musquacook Deadwater. The Deadwater was a favorite place for the Native Americans to gather birch for canoes and shelters.
The Deadwater begins about two miles before Musquacook Stream. This section of the river is like paddling on a lake surface.
A string of about eight small ducklings raced back and forth in front of us as we slowly paddled. They were all web-feet and wings as they splashed in perfect chorography from left to right squawking at the top of their lungs. When they had had their fun, the entire line took off in unison down the river out of sight.
A sandbar stood at the entrance of the Musquacook. We could see a large beaver dam about 50 yards up the stream. We paddled around the bar and pushed our way up the Musquacook as far as we could, then stepped out of the canoe and walked in ankle deep water up to the dam. What a marvelous piece of engineering. The dam spanned the river, which here; near the mouth, was about 40 yards wide. On the other side of the dam the water was in some spots six feet or more deep.
We would have liked to paddle up the Musquacook for a mile or more. It runs into the chain of five Musquacook lakes, but the river rapids a half dozen or more miles down, before First Musquacook Lake, are pretty challenging and we would have had to portage back.
Lifting our canoe over the dam would not have been a problem; however, we chose to continue on the Allagash.
Back in our boat, as we exited the mouth of the Musquacook, we ran into another moose and a calf casually browsing along the shore. She watched us for a while and apparently decided we were not a threat as they continued their lunch.
We ran into a few more spots of quick water, which Chris guided us through. Rounding a bend we notice another moose ahead browsing on the left bank. We let the canoe float, carried forward by the current. Every time the moose stuck its head beneath the water’s surface to browse, I slipped my paddle over the side to steer us closer.
We drifted to within about 30 yards and I was about to take a picture when loud splashing and grunting interrupted us. We turned and another moose had entered the river behind us and was aggressively high-stepping its way across. Neither one seemed to care that we were there. We gave them their space and as we floated down the river we watched as one joined the other for lunch.
We slipped past an area known as Hosea B. Three years ago further down river at Michaud Farm a man arrived on the shore, just after Chris and me, in a kayak. He was bloody from the knees down. He wore sandals and even after stepping out of the water, his feet were still bloody.
“You’re hurt,” I recall saying as I pointed at his legs.
“Oh no, I’m okay,” he answered. “Last night I camped at Hosea B and wadded into the river up to my knees for a bath. When I walked out I was covered with leeches.”
We may have paddled a little faster past Hosea B.
There were a few more spots of quick water as we approached our intended campsite for the night. Three years ago we camped on a bluff called Five Fingers North. It was Chris’ favorite spot. The bluff overlook a westward facing bend in the river and had a nice view to the north.
Five Fingers Brook enters the Allagash from the east at this point, but years ago beavers built a dam across the entrance. It’s easy to miss Five Fingers Brook today as the dam has come to resemble the river bank.
It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, but we liked the spot and decided to camp for the night. Chris immediately got out his fly rod, but didn’t have any luck. We pumped some water for lunch and for supper and got our tent set up in a nice grassy spot on the edge of the bluff about 25 feet above the water.
With the canoe pulled out of the river and up onto the rocks and everything hauled up to the top of the bluff, we sat down for lunch. I made some ham sandwiches and we had potato chips and dill pickles, all washed down by cool Allagash river water.
I remember three years ago camping here soaking wet and cold. It rained most of the time. This year was the complete opposite. We didn’t have any sunscreen and while on the water we were burning up. We both had sunburns after two days of paddling under cloudless, bright blue skies.
Chris went for a swim and while in the water came across another moose. He climbed back to the campsite and handed me the binoculars. Just down river about 100 yards a cow moose was browsing for supper. We sat and watched for a while.
I hiked down our side of the river to where I was across from the moose. I was hoping to take a picture, but the sun was getting low and my shot would have been into the sun. The whole area was balsam pine. The area must have been logged, as all the trees were about the same height. They each stood approximately 10 to 15 feet high. It was like walking through a Christmas tree forest. And it smelled just like Christmas too.
We gathered some firewood and that night we hung a pot of water over the fire and cooked tortellini for supper. With a little butter and parmesan cheese it was just right. The sunset turned the river to a sparkling golden color with bursts of silver where the water splashed over the rocks. We watched the sun set behind the pines and then played cribbage while we waited for the stars to come out. There was another breath-taking display in the heavens overhead as we climbed into the tent and got into our bags for the night.
The views and opinions in the Enterprise blogs are those of the author and are not neccessarily shared by Falmouth Publishing.