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PostPosted: May 29th, 2018, 11:38 pm 

Joined: November 16th, 2007, 1:11 pm
Posts: 124
Location: Mid-coast Maine
Well, since the wife said no trip to Canada this year, but we needed to get the docks in at our Maine camp before we brought the kids up, I concocted a plan whereby me and paddling buddy Tom would go north to get the Camp open, and do a little paddling while we were at it.

I spent some time in the books trying to find a whitewater river of any length in Maine. We'd done the St John and the Machias already. The East Branch of the Penobscot had too many portages for return on ww, so landed on the Big Machias Stream (BMS), which is a tributary of the Aroostock and their confluence is at Ashland, a little west of Caribou. I thought if we could put-in up on Pratt Lake, we could get a 3-4 day trip out of it if we really moved slow. First week of May is a pretty safe bet that the ice is out, though we were technically the last 2 days of April. The BMS claimed a 32 mile stretch of river with a lot of continuous CII/CIII water, which sounded great to us.

So we meet our shuttle guy Bryant from MaineQuestAdventures(.com) in Ashland. There are no gauges for the BMS so we have no idea what it will look like, but the Aroostock is running uber-rich at the takeout. Three different locals showed up in the parking lot at the takeout as we were switching boats and gear to warn us off canoeing the stretch. Ain't been this high in ten years... Our Virginia tags and big red ww boats made quite the scene. About an hour down the Realty Rd (which they pronounce Reality Rd) we get to the hunting camp at the bottom end of Big Machias Lake, and our first view of the lake. Totally frozen over still. So there's no sense in driving any further b/c with a frozen lake, we've lost the first 10 miles of our trip. The camp's driveway is open, so it becomes our put-in, but there's 50 yards of knee deep snow from the drive to the shoreline. And the 'shoreline' is a channel about 10 yards wide of ice-free water that goes out into the moosewood scrub. We are hoping that this channel will lead us to the river proper.

The day is sunny and warm-ish (45degrees? pushing 50 maybe?) and we don the long johns, wetsuits, etc, and get to hauling all our crap down to the water. By 1pm or so we are shoving off. The channel goes nowhere. I paddle out into a giant block of half rotten ice that is the surface of the lake to the other shore. So I turn around and see that Tom has noticed my predicament and has begun exploring a route through the scrub. We abandon the paddles and in a completely graceless act, pull our boats through the flooded scrub by simply grabbing trunks of trees and pulling ourselves through. But it worked, and 10 minutes later we hit the open moving water of the BMS.

Which was Rolling! It was big and fast and pushy and cold. And that was the flat stretches. Those continuous CII/IIIs became slalom courses of haystacks that went for miles. And with the river up in the trees, there was no place to eddy out. I don't think we approached CIV water until the last rapid the next day, and those wave trains were a ton of fun to ride. There were some big holes to avoid for sure - neither of us wanted to get soaked - it wasn't warm enough for that, and as the day progressed the sun faded. I think we made the 10 miles or so to the first bridge crossing in 2.5 hours.

We found a marked site upstream of the bridge - it sucked. It was up a super-steep bank, with no good landing for boats (or they were underwater). The site was in a bit of a bowl and the ground was covered with snow. What had melted sat on top of the still-frozen ground, making most of the site covered in 2" of ice cold water. We found a high spot that was kind of dry and pitched there. 2 separate rangers stopped to check on us that afternoon. Both were very polite and just a bit incredulous that any two idiots would drive to northern Maine in late April from Virginia (which has plenty of rivers and is warm) on purpose. And yet, here we were.

Tents up, tarp up, cocktails poured, we got into the croquet match, and played best of 5 which Tom won. Many more cocktails later, we fixed steaks and peppers and onions and mashed potatoes. I took the trivial pursuit game. About midnight, the rain began again.

Next morning was rough. Still raining and cold, with a hangover to beat the band, I abandoned the idea of cooking a real breakfast, and managed to make coffee and ham and cheese paninis out of our lunch fixings. It wasn't bad and mostly warm. Tom was in rough shape. Don't know if the panini helped or hurt. Doing the dishes sucked. Took an hour to feel my hands again. Packed up and made a terribly late put-in at 1:30!!! But we knocked out the 20 miles to the takeout by 5:30. There was a braided section that was strange in such high water, but most of it was more of that fast, pushy, slalom-y CII/III wave trains. Got a couple of beaver sightings and one moose - checked those boxes.

As the river got bigger the further we travelled down it, we hugged the inside bends and dodged the biggest stuff on the outside. As we came around the last big bend the CIII (now IV) was waiting on the outside. I drove to the inside, but looking downstream, noticed that the heaviest water of the rapid crossed the river and ended under the bridge I was headed for on the inside. So I switched direction and ferried across the waves in the middle of the rapid, just sliding off the last wave in time to miss the center stream bridge abutment. Tom followed my line, and a short time later we were at the takeout in Ashland.

Our 3-4 day trip was over in a total of about 6 hours of paddling. So we went down to Lake St George, opened up the camp, put in the docks, and spent a lot of time holding the deck down and eating and drinking our way through our supplies. I can think of worse ways to spend a week.

Hopefully someone will benefit from this - or at least get a chuckle out of it.


"There is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats." - WATER RAT, The Wind in the Willows

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