Allagash Bushcraft and Guide Training Canoe Trip Journal

We had a great trip on the Allagash marked by warm weather and low water levels. Picking up two people on our drive north, we arrived at the bridge at the south end of Chamberlain Lake in the late afternoon, then loaded up the boats for the short paddle to Boy Scout campsite. Our party numbered 11 people in 9 boats. When we arrived we quickly set up camp and cooked dinner in the fading sunlight before turning in for the night.

In the morning we broke up into guide teams, then loaded the boats before pushing off and heading north into the lake. The weather was calm until about 11 AM, when the wind began to pick up. By noon there were whitecaps and we had pulled onto the western shore for lunch. We walked the short distance to the Gravel Beach campsite and gathered firewood, building a tripod to cook over the fire and having a lesson on the safe and effective use of the axe. As the afternoon transitioned to evening and the wind died down we walked back to the boats and paddled the short distance to camp. When dinner, which included sourdough biscuits cooked in the reflector oven, was finished, we did the dishes and settled in for the night. I didn’t set up a tent, choosing instead to make a shelter using our group tarp and three canoe poles. Several of us were up late identifying constellations and watching the moon rise through the trees on the far side of the lake. It was absolutely beautiful.

We were up early and on the water at first light in order to cover the remaining distance on Chamberlain Lake before the wind came up. Paddling into the mist was surreal, but we kept our wits about us and maintained eye contact with the boats in front and behind us. We pulled into Lock Dam campsite early, set up camp, and had brunch. We spent the afternoon exploring the area, discussing the history, and gathering firewood. Jeff Butler also spent two hours giving a talk on survival and survival kits. We had a strong south wind, so we set up the tarp and made sure camp was prepared for the rain that came later that night.

In the morning we bid Jeff farewell as he paddled south and we lined canoes down the brook towards Eagle Lake. We paddled together until we reached the Thoreau campsite on Pillsbury Island where we stopped for lunch. After lunch we split the group up, with five of the boats going to see the locomotives and three heading directly to Pump Handle campsite. I was in the Pump Handle group, and when we arrived we gathered some firewood and cooked dinner so it was just about done when the rest of the group arrived with tales of the locomotives. After dinner and dishes were done, we relaxed around the fire until turning in one by one.

In the morning we spent several hours on bushcraft. We covered wet weather firemaking, making net bags, and several other topics. We loaded the boats and were on the water at 2 PM for the short paddle to Scofield Point in Churchill Lake. After we arrived and set up camp we were entertained by the howling of coyotes from the other side of the marsh. We had been hearing loons the entire trip, but this was a different sound entirely. They called for about ten minutes, and we all stood silently listening.

In the morning we loaded the canoes and paddled to Scofield Cove to fill water bottles at the spring before heading north towards Churchill Dam. There we met the ranger who told us the water levels were too low to consider poling and lining Chase Rapids, so we had him shuttle us around to Bisonette Bridge, where we spent an hour poling upstream before loading our boats and moving on. We continued on to Chisolm Brook, where we camped for the night at the foot of Umsaskis Lake. We heard coyotes again there, calling from the other side of the delta.

In the morning we paddled into a strong headwind and it was a struggle to make it to the Ledges, halfway across Umsaskis. Once there, though, the wind shifted and became a tailwind. We rode this tailwind all the way to Long Lake Dam. Some of the boats experimented with setting up makeshift sails. Our two GPS’s were able to clock the speeds of the sailing experiments: 4.8 MPH for the catamaran (two canoes lashed together) and 4.2 MPH for a singe boat holding up a sail. I opted to stand and paddle and moved along quickly, but since I don’t carry a GPS I don’t know how fast I was going. When we arrived at Long Lake Dam it was warm and muggy and the midges (or noseeums) were out and biting. I had never seen the water so low as it crossed the old dam. Some of our party tried their hand at fishing, but were only able to catch chubs.

We pushed off early the next morning for the downriver run to Round Pond. With the low water levels there was usually only one channel deep enough to float through, so people quickly got the hang of using the pole to line up their boat in order to hit it just right. When we arrived at the Inlet campsite everyone was tired, so we decided it would be a layover day. We set up camp, ate, and sat around the fire for a few hours before turning in.

In the morning we worked on making cordage out of cedar bark, sharpened knives, and carved netting needles. We spent the afternoon relaxing around camp and making a big dinner.

The following morning we packed up and headed downstream through Round Pond Rips. We pushed on through the Musquacook Deadwater and camped at Five Finger Brook. When camp was set up a bunch of us swam in the rips for about half an hour. When we were done several people learned the basics of fly fishing and we ended up with two brook trout for the frying pan. One of the guys caught a beautiful 14 incher. It was all the more exciting because it was his first time fly fishing.

In the morning we loaded up for our final push to Michaud Farm. The wind came up and the temperature dropped, and by midday we had rain and sleet falling on us. Everyone was cold as we stopped at Cunliffe Depot to look at the Lombards in the woods. I warmed up the group by having them do deep knee bends before poling down through Ramsey Ledges and on to Michaud Farm. We took out in peak foliage and loaded the boats and gear in a stiff breeze before driving to St. Francis and spending the night at Pelletier’s Campground so we could get an early start on the drive home.

Jeff Butler canoeing on Chamberlain Lake

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