Northern Maine’s St. John River is the premier wilderness trip in the US east of the Mississippi. This year we’re running it May 10-17.
The natives called it Wallastook, or “Beautiful River”. It’s the largest river in Atlantic Canada, but starts from a series of small ponds deep in the woods of northern Maine, this unobtrusive stream grows as it flows north to the Canadian border, widening as numerous streams and river branches empty into it. By the time it passes Allagash Village it is large, powerful, and dramatic. Unlike its tributary the Allagash River, there are no large lakes at its headwaters. This makes it very responsive to rain, and also quite low in the summer. Because of this characteristic, we run it early, while the river is still swelled with spring runoff.
In years gone by, the river was reached by traveling up the North Branch of the Penobscot and through a small canal just north of Big Bog that led to Fifth St. John Pond. The canal has since been overgrown by Alders, but the river remains pristine. The St. John is the only drainage in Maine to have Muskellunge (or Muskie), the coveted game fish that’s been described as “an alligator with fins”. There is also good trout fishing along the river, primarily in holes not large enough to support Muskie, and at the mouths of streams. Wildlife is a common sight along the river, as I’ve seen bears, moose, deer, coyotes, bald eagles, osprey, beavers, muskrat, and other critters going about their daily business. Another possible sight are the northern lights, which frequently light up the sky with amazing displays of shimmering light and color.
The flora of the area consists of enormous white pines, spruces, firs, and cedars along the riverbanks, with hardwoods on the ridges and higher country.
Excitement builds throughout the trip like in a good novel. There are numerous short, easy rapids and lots of quickwater. In the second half of the trip, we navigate Basford Rips and Big Black Rapids, and in the last few miles we descend Big Rapids as a thrilling climax to the trip.
* Big Black Rapids are a mile long, and although usually rated class II, they can be Class III at high water.
* Big rapids are two miles of class III whitewater, and can be more difficult at high water. They are the heaviest water we see, but since they lie at the very end of the trip we have the option of taking out above them. A mile below Big Rapids is the Dickey bridge, the usual takeout.
* Basford Rips lies above the Big Black rapids, and consists of two short rapids. I mention it here only because I have seen several people get hung up there on the same rock, which lurks low in the water and is difficult to see.
The run from Baker Lake to the Dickey Bridge is 104 miles long, with no dams, towns or carries.
The 2010 trip is part of our Bushcraft Canoe Expedition Semester. There are several spots open for people to just join us for the trip. We’ll put in at Baker Lake and take our time covering the 104 miles to Dickey. Challenging whitewater and the cold water of early May add to the experience. The nights are cool, but this means no bugs.
If you’re looking for a great trip in early May, consider joining us.