Posts Tagged ‘moose’
O, The lovely rivers and Lakes of Maine!
I am charmed with their names, as my song will explain;
Aboriginal muses inspire my strain,
While I sing the bright rivers and lakes of Maine-
From Cupsuptic to Cheputmatticook
From Sagadahock to Pohenegamook-
‘gamook, ‘gamook, Pohenegamook,
From Sagadahock to Pohenegamook.
For light serenading the “Blue Moselle”,
“Bonnie Doon” and “Sweet Avon” may do very well;
But the rivers of Maine, in their wild solitudes,
Bring a thunderous sound from the depth of the woods:
The Aroostook and Chimmenticook,
The Chimpanaoc and Chinquassabamtook-
‘bamtook, ‘bamtook, Chinquassabamtook,
The Chimpassoc and Chinquassabamtook,
Behold how they sparkle and flash in the sun!
The Mattewamkeag and the Mussungun;
The kingly Penobscot, the wild Woolastook,
Kennebec, Kennebago and Sebasticook;
The pretty Presumpscut and gay Tulanbic;
The Ess’quilsagook and little Schoodic-
Schoodic, Schoodic; The little Schoodic;
The Ess’quilsagook and little Schoodic.
Yes, Yes, I prefer the bright rivers of Maine,
To the Rhine or the Rhone or the Saone or the Seine;
These may do for the Cockney, but give me some nook,
On the Ammonoosuc or the Wytopadiook.
On the Umsaskis or the Ripogenis,
The Ripogenis or the Piscataquis-
The Piscataguis. “Away down South,” the Cherokee
Has named his river the Tennessee,
The Chattahoochee and the Ocmulgee,
The Congaree and the Ohoopee;
But what are they, or the Frenchy Detroit,
To the Passadumkeag or the Wassatoquoit-
‘toquoit, ‘toquoit, The Wassatoquoit,
To the Passadumkeag or the Wassatoquoit-
Then turn to the beautiful lakes of Maine
To the Sage of Auburn be given the strain,
The statesman whose genius and bright fancy, makes
The earth’s highest glories to shine in its lakes;
What lakes out of Maine can we place in the book
With the Matagomon and the Pangokomook
”ommok, ‘ommok, The Pangokomook,
With the Matagomon and the Pangokomook?
Lake Leman, or Como, what care I for them,
When Maine has the Moosehead and Pangokwahem,
And, sweet as the dews in the violet’s kiss,
Wallahgosqueqamook and Telesimis;
And when I can share in the fisherman’s bunk
On the Moosetuckmaguntic or Mol’tunkamunk?
And Maine has the Eagle Lakes, Cheppawagan,
And the little Sepic and the little Scapan,
The spreading Sebago, the Congomgomoc,
The Milliemet and Motesoinloc,
Caribou and the fair Anmonjenegamook,
Oquassaac and rare Wetokenebacook-
Oquassac and rare Wetokenebacook.
And there are the Pokeshine and Patquongomis;
And there is the pretty Coscomgonnosis,
The Pemadumook and the old Chesuncook,
Sepois and Mooseleuk; and take care not to miss
The Umbazookskus or the Sysladobsis.
‘dobsis, ‘dobsis, The Sysladobsis.
O, Give me the rivers and lakes of Maine
In her mountains or forests or fields of grain,
In the depth of the shade or the blaze of the sun,
The lakes of Schoodic and the Basconegun,
And the dear Waubasoos and the clear Aquessuc,
The Cosbosecontic and Millenkikuk-
‘kikuk, ‘kikuk, The Millenkikuk,
The Cosbosecontic and Millenkikuk!
Transcribed by Janice Farnsworth
“The rivers of Maine, in their wild solitudes, bring a thunderous sound from the depth of the woods.” The places of the wild solitudes shrink every year yet the Passadumkeag and the other rivers of Maine still have them. You can still canoe around a corner on a misty morning, gliding by the steaming banks to surprise a moose, or a bear, or have your fishing line tighten with the bite of a wild brook trout.
Before the highways and byways of our time, waterways were used for travel, and America’s history is full of tales of the rivers used for travel and trade.
When you look at a topographic map of Maine, you can begin to easily pick out the routes that our forebears used to travel from one place to another. The Passadumkeag River’s translation to the native tongue means above the gravel bar, and is named for a distinct gravel bar in the Penobscot River. That gravel bar is an old river highway exit sign when traveling upstream. The Passadumkeag River was a very important route as it allowed for easterly travel. The Native American language also incorporates an easy way for you to tell whether or not the river is hard or easy to paddle by the name itself. If the river is relatively easy to paddle, it has a “keag” at the end – such as Passadumkeag, Mattawamkeag, and Kenduskeag. If the river is hard to paddle it has a “hunk” at the end such as Nesowadnehunk, Madunkehunk, and O’zwazo-ge-hunk streams. Interestingly the translation of O’zwazo-ge-hunk is “when they come by here they wade their canoes”. So, the Native American names for rivers and lakes in Maine are not named randomly – they all have a specific meaning, worth looking up if you can before attempting a first paddle. My experience with the Passadumkeag begins where the entrance of Cold Stream enters the river a few miles up from Route 2. The river is flat, calm, and deep here and has a marshy/boggy area that extends some distance on either side. Paddling up Cold Stream is fun as well, winding through the marsh. I have yet to paddle down, but someday I want to paddle the length of the stream from Cold Stream Pond down to the Passadumkeag, I think it would be a great paddle.
Last year while slowly paddling and trolling upriver there was quite a disturbance on the bank to my right. I watched for a bit as the commotion continued, and got a glimpse of what I thought was an otter. I whistled and gave a little call out, and shortly a mother otter appeared, steaming across the water with two babies rapidly following her right towards the canoe! They got close enough for me to get a little nervous and she alternated between whistling and hissing at us. She and the young would swim far out, and then back again to the boat, vocalizing all the while. I pulled up my line, and when she would go under, I would give chase, stopping when she came up. We then alternated, and I would paddle away fast with her giving chase. Finally they tired of the fun and swam off downriver in search of other adventures. Otters are such curious creatures – their curiousity is quite similar , in my opinion, to that of a cat, if not more so. My friend Peter once saw one playing with a stray balloon on a stream in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve also seen some large moose roaming the banks in the summer time, and found it interesting that back in the day the Passadumkeag “had some of the best hunting in Maine.” It certainly is teeming with wildlife.
I learned something new when I was looking at things to write about the Passadumkeag. On the knoll that overlooks the Passadumkeag and Cold Stream confluence there is a small farm (Hathaway Farm) and there is also an old cemetery there, references for the cemetery and history of the region can be found here, here, and here. Take the time to scroll down and through the last link – it’s a good read.
And interestingly in reading about the cemetery there on the hill they talk about the “Red Paint People”, a mystery in and of itself. The Red Paint People flourished between 3,000 and 10,000 BC and were found from Labrador to New York on the coasts and rivers. For their time, they had elaborate burial ceremonies and used Red Ochre to paint shrouds and gravesites. Olamon stream, which is very close to the Passadumkeag and also flows into the mighty Penobscot translates to “Red Paint” and is known for its naturally occurring Red Ochre. They used tools, but did not have pottery or metal. They fished the Passadumkeag before the pyramids of Egypt were even built. They are somewhat of a mystery because they seem to have disappeared without much of a trace, other than their elaborate burial ceremonies and leaving lots of speculation as to what happened.
I find it very fascinating that a cemetery used by the Red Paint people is overlooking my little piece of the Passadumkeag River where I love to go fishing, and apparently where people have loved to go fishing since 10,000 BC. Now that’s transcending history!
I knocked on the door, and the old man opened it and seeing the big ham I had for him said “what’s that for?” “You” I replied. “Jeez, you didn’t have to do that” he said in his downeast Maine drawl. You didn’t have to show me how to get to that pond either” I said as I handed him the Christmas ham. “Now we’re even”. “Ha Ha, ok then, we’re even” he said as he shut the door.
I wonder if that term came from the Great Depression, or even before, when people did a lot of bartering and trading instead of just outright buying things. It certainly has persisted here in Maine. “Making it right”, “settling up”, and “we’re even” are still used quite a bit. Often times a passer by will do something to help someone out, for example, a few years ago my truck slid off the road during a snowstorm and one of the people in town that was driving by helped to tow me out. A few days later I bought him a bottle of rum. I “made it right”.
The old man owned a sand pit where he would crush rock and then sell it. He had a big front end loader and a dump truck. It appeared that he did all the work himself. There was a small road going through the pit that led to a very large tract of woodland that I was using for hunting and fishing. I was always thankful when he wasn’t there when I drove by, I had the impression that he was ornery. It appeared that he had been irritated by the ATV’s that had been accessing the same woodland that I was, so he went up there with a back hoe and dug a big hole so they could get through anymore. In addition, he took a chain saw to one of the old wooden logging bridges up there as well. I didn’t want to cross him.
I was on vacation for a week from work, and was up there each morning. And each morning he would drive up near where I was, and then loop back around to where he was going to work for the day. I thought it was a little odd. So, one morning I walked up to his truck as he was looping around. He rolled down the window, and showed a bit of surprise when I asked him if I was in his way where I was parking. “Hell no” he said sticking his head out the window. “What are you doing up in there?” he asked, looking me over. I replied that I was doing a little hunting. “Do you ever hunt coyotes?” he asked. “Sometimes….” “Well”, he replied, “the state ought to give you a medal for doing that.” I laughed. We actually talked for some time, and I could tell that he thought I was OK. Finally he put the truck into drive, and as he was pulling away he told me to park there any time I wanted.
We would see each other on and off when I would go up there – now he would wave from inside of the cab on the loader. He was a Mainer, tried and true. An old cap jaunted to one side, with a black lab that was always with him. Pierce blue eyes that had energy in them, and looked younger than the rough skin surrounding them. The inside of his truck had probably never been cleaned, and had a layer of dust, receipts, and other flotsam and jetsam within it.
There was a pond up there I had spied on a map that I wanted to get to. I looked at the layout of the land surrounding it, and tried to make it in there on a couple of occasions without success. One day I was talking with the old man and I mentioned I was trying to get in there to check it out, but I couldn’t seem to make it. “What do you want to go way up in there for?” he said and without waiting for a response – “you can’t find a place like that on your own, someone has to SHOW you….c’mon hop in”. It wasn’t really a question, so, I hopped in. As we rode down the woods road he was telling me hunting and fishing stories, and reminiscing about what it was like there when he was a kid. Finally we got to where we couldn’t drive anymore and we got out and started walking. The path was barely discernible and quickly faded out as we headed deeper into the woods. He told me it was a very old hunting trail, and showed me the faint axe marks on the trees made many years before by the people that hunted in there to mark the way. Eventually, he seemed to be lost, and started swearing. I was a little nervous that he was going to have a heart attack from the exercise, or that we would end up spending the night out there, lost. But eventually after much meandering we found a couple of the marks on the trees and pushed on, eventually making it to the pond. It was beautiful and remote, just as I hoped it would be. I looked down and found a giant moose antler there near the bank. We looked around a bit and then made our way out.
I wonder why the gruff and ornery old man decided to show me how to get to a place that was obvious a place that he considered “his” . Perhaps he was showing me because he thought I would use it “right”, or perhaps because he couldn’t get up there much anymore. Regardless, he was passing information to me that he considered secret and sacred. So, when Christmas came a month later, I bought a big ham and delivered it to his house for him and his family.
We were even.
As I approached the lip of the falls I had second thoughts about going over them, but it was too late for that. Suddenly I was thrown into the maelstrom and tossed about as if in a washing machine. I felt myself moving forward and opened my eyes briefly to see the rocks on the walls of the trench I was in whizzing by, and quickly closed them again. Then the current slowed, and my lifejacket popped me to the surface of the river. I grabbed the rescue rope and pulled myself to shore to join the others.
We were starting a Boy Scout trip down the West Branch of the Penobscot River, and one of the rights of passage to beginning the trip was going over the washed out Roll Dam in nothing but a lifejacket and a helmet. How fearful and exhilarating it was to swim out into the water above the falls, and feel the strong current grab you and pull you to the brink. Better than any amusement ride out there. This was my first long canoe camping trip, and I was quickly hooked. I remember a couple of highlights of camping on an island in the river and feeding fallfish we had caught to a nearby soaring osprey. One evening I went out for a paddle up a stream next to where we were camping, and on the way back down a huge moose crossed the stream just in front of me. It was amazing for me to watch, and I so wanted to move to Maine and see this every day.
The upper west branch that we were paddling drains into Chesuncook Lake, a reservoir formed by Ripogenous dam. It’s about 22 miles long and 1-4 miles wide, with a maximum depth of 150 feet. I’ll never forget coming around the corner into Chesuncook and seeing the Chesuncook Lake House, smack dab in the middle of nowhere it seemed so big. We pulled in to the grassy shore and went up to the house to check it out. They rent rooms and cabins, and at the time I was there, had a small store where we bought homemade root beer and homemade bread. We sprawled out on the grassy lawn overlooking Chesuncook and ate and drank our root beer. My Dad as a joke mentioned to be careful drinking the root beer, as it contained a tiny bit of alcohol, and after that one of the kids in our troop started acting like he was a little drunk. It was pretty funny. Chesuncook Lake House has a webcam that you can see here – this is the view we had while on the grass that day. Chesuncook is a crossroads of sorts, you can head down past Ripogenous gorge ( where they whitewater raft) into the Penobscot River, you can head north to Umbazookus Lake into Mud Pond , carry to Chamberlain and then down the Allagash, or you can head up to Black Pond, into Caucomgomoc Lake and then up stream to Round Pond which is what we did. I remember climbing the firetower overlooking Allagash Lake and picking fresh strawberries to put in the pancakes for breakfast. I paddled way up one of the brooks in the area, dragging over rocks and pulling upstream for a long ways. Suddenly, perched on a rock in the middle of nowhere was an old rusty lamp, probably from the logging days. It was magical almost, as if I was drawn to it somehow.
On the way back down from Round Pond to Chesuncook the wind was behind us, and we lashed the canoes together and raised a large tarp and sailed the 22 miles down the length of Chesuncook. This was one of my first encounters with the region, and the north woods with its adventures and secrets still calls out to me. Those of you who hear it know what I’m talking about.
The region is full of rich history, tales and characters, most notably Hiram Johnson.
The following story was printed in the Bangor Daily News on 12/19/2005, written by Wayne Reilly;
Mainers never cease to be fascinated by hermits. There have been an abundance of them immortalized in local histories or in the minds of older residents in nearly every community in the state. Most of these folks were harmless eccentrics, as was Hiram Johnson until one day in 1959 he shot and killed the logging contractor who had employed him near the bank of Chesuncook Lake, northwest of Mount Katahdin. Then he killed himself after setting his shack on fire.
Howard Collins knew Johnson when he was a boy growing up in Chesuncook Village. He recently discovered what is believed to be the only photograph of the hermit in existence. Johnson is displaying an auger, the device he used to bore holes in the ends of boom logs that were chained together and used to corral floating logs on their way to market. Why this stubborn, solitary man allowed his picture to be taken seems as much a mystery as the rampage that ended his life some years later.
Johnson was 70 years old and reportedly hard of hearing when he killed Leslie E. Spear after the logging contractor tried to enter the “horse hovel” he occupied. Spear was accompanied by two deputy sheriffs and an employee, according to the contemporary report in the Bangor Daily News on Sept. 22, 1959. The dispute, said the newspaper, was over pay, apparently aggravated by a second disagreement about whether Spear could take his logging equipment past Johnson’s squatter’s dwelling, located on land owned by Great Northern Paper Company. Today it is impossible to sort out all the nuances of this emotional dispute.
Howard Collins remembers Johnson well from when his father used to take him fishing near the hermit’s hovel, which was across the lake from Chesuncook Village, behind Gero Island. He lived in a clearing beside the lake in what is called the Cuxabexis region after a stream that flows into Chesuncook from a smaller lake by the same name. Collins recalls a man far different from the crazed “elderly woods recluse” portrayed in the newspapers in 1959.
“Hiram was not a bad guy. Some who didn’t know him just painted him that way because of the murder. All of the so-called ‘old timers’ at Chesuncook Village liked Hiram,” recalled Collins, who worked for Great Northern Paper Company for 32 years and still owns a camp in the area. “He lived in a small cabin at the south end of the village. Shortly after the end of World War II, perhaps 1948 or 1949, he moved to Cuxabexis. … The reason Hiram left the village was he felt it was becoming too crowded for him. … His cabin at the village burned and, needing a place to live, he knew of the horse hovel at Cuxabexis.”
“He was to say the least a very stubborn man,” said Collins, recounting a story about a large pile of scrap iron that Johnson had collected and piled by the side of the lake in the hopes of making some money. He built an enormous raft from 28-foot-long boom logs and piled the tons of iron on the raft. He poled and paddled the craft all the way down the lake, taking a week or more to get to Chesuncook Dam. Someone had called ahead to a junk dealer from Greenville. Johnson rejected the dealer’s offer and laboriously propelled the load back up the lake, unloading it on the shore.
Collins was surprised to run across the photograph of Johnson. It was strange that Hiram would pose for someone to take a picture of him, Collins said. But a viewer can interpret things differently. Perhaps Johnson did not consider the picture to be of him exactly, but of the tool that he was extending in a mittened hand at the end of his rigid right arm toward the camera, as if indicating the photographer should keep his distance. This photographer may have surprised him, saying, “Hiram, let me take a snapshot of that auger you use so well.” Johnson’s first impulse being pride, he posed stiffly, perhaps before he had a chance to think too much about it.
You can see that only photo of Hiram here.
I delved into the story a little further, and found the account from 1959. It appears there are numerous accounts as to what really happened, for instance some stories say it was a shotgun, some say a rifle. Nevertheless, apparently Leslie Spear hired a deputy to fly him out via seaplane to Hiram’s cabin to talk to him about money the old hermit said that Spear owed him. Hiram warned them away from his cabin and then fired a shot at Spear, killing him instantly. The deputy ran back to the plane and radioed Greenville, where more deputies, fire wardens, and woodsmen formed a posse and flew in. A doctor got close enough to Spear’s body to determine he was dead under covering fire, and amidst threats from the hermit. Gunfire was exchanged throughout the morning, and then they lobbed tear gas into the cabin, prompting Hiram to run for another shack 100 yards away to take refuge. The posse waited for nightfall to close in on the shack but in the meantime it caught fire. They found Hiram in the remains of the shack, with a self inflicted gun shot wound.
Hiram was known for his feats of strength , often hiking to Greenville through the woods some 40 miles in distance for supplies. He was said to have hauled 1100 pounds of grain up the ice on the lake “just like a horse”. One of Maine’s many interesting characters.
Dad and I returned to Chesuncook some years later to do some camping and fishing. The summer had been very dry, and the lake was extremely low. You could see on the rocks where the water level usually was way up on shore. We encountered a strange phenomenon while fishing there one day. The Lake was very calm, and we were some distance from shore, when suddenly large waves appeared out of nowhere, almost as if a large boat had gone by and left a wake. We rode out the waves successfully and talked about where they could have possibly come from. Much later, after returning home, we learned that it was a phenomenon called Seiche, which can happen on large lakes when one side of the lake has a different atmospheric pressure than the other. The phenomenon is described well here.
The next day we were on the opposite shore of the lake paddling and trolling for fish. I was absent-mindedly staring at the bottom as it went by, bottom that would usually not be visible except that the lake was so low, when I spied something. I shouted to my dad to look, and he saw it too. We back-paddled and hovered over it trying to figure out what it was. It looked like a gun case. With paddles and fishing poles, we managed to fish it out, and not only was it a gun case, it had a gun in it. A 30.06 rifle. There was a barely visible name on the case that slowly faded from view as I read it. The gun was quite rusty, and had been on the bottom for quite some time. We brought it back to camp with us. Later that evening we heard a motorboat out on the lake, and it was headed in our direction. The man landed at the campsite, and talked with us about how the fishing was, the weather, and the lake level. After some time, he introduced himself, and it was the same name that was on the gun. I was just a kid at the time, and immediately told him that we found a gun with his name on it. He picked up the gun and looked at it, and thanked us for finding it, and said that he had lost it while duck hunting the previous fall. Despite being young, it seemed that the gun had been there longer than that, and I knew that you do not use a rifle to hunt ducks, you use a shotgun. After getting the gun back, he shortly hopped back in the boat and left. Dad and I thought about when we found the gun and realized that we had been within sight distance of a camp on the shore when we picked up the gun, although it was some distance away. I’ll never know the true story behind that gun, dropped into the water at a depth where we wouldn’t have ever seen it, except the water level was low that year. Another North Maine Woods secret that will never be told.
It was barely light on the hill overlooking brown brook when our moose call reverberated down into the valley. It wasn’t long before a small bull slowly materialized in the distance down by the brook and slowly walked towards where we were sitting. He stopped and looked up in our direction before turning and running back into the thick brush, shortly we found out why…
Maine has a healthy and large moose population and is a very popular animal both for viewing by locals and tourist alike, and for hunting during the fall. For a lot of people it is a must see animal while on vacation, and with a little work, it’s fairly easy to accomplish. It is always exciting to see one, especially when canoeing. Although usually docile animals in the spring and summer females may be aggressive towards people as generally they have a baby nearby, they also often have twins. As a young boy scout canoeing down the west branch of the Penobscot River with my troop, we were all excited to see a moose standing in the river feeding and we drifted slowly by her taking pictures and gawking when suddenly her ears went back and she false charged the canoes. We had failed to see the twin babies on the bank, and we had made the mistake of getting between her and them. One lesson I have learned in the woods is this; if you are in proximity of a wild creature and it knows you are there, and it is looking towards something else as it’s primary interest instead of in your direction make sure you try to identify what it is looking at. If it’s a female and you are hunting, chances are there is a buck there in the bushes, in the springtime it’s the baby. Always take the time to notice everything in your surroundings and to feel and be open, it is never a good idea to focus.
There are a series of pictures related to this one of calf and baby, picture taken in Baxter State Park near Trout Brook. Canoeing into this inlet the mother was chest deep in water feeding. As I approached she kept looking to her left toward the tree and thicket in the extreme right of the picture. Eventually as I was clicking pictures, she began moving toward the thicket, loudly grunting with each step and when she got to the bank, the baby came out of that thicket and here they are seen smelling each other in greeting.
Males on the other hand can become aggressive in September and October during the mating season when they are in rut. They often spar with and destroy small trees as the rut approaches. Some fun statistics of moose are; male moose can weigh up to 1200-1500 pounds and stand 6-7 feet at the shoulders.
Moose can be fairly easy to call, one day while driving I came upon a yearling standing on the left side of the road, and my passenger called it across the road simply by calling out the passenger window away from the moose. Moose can hear and smell well, but they can’t see very well, and it’s also easy to take a couple of large sticks with branches attached and hold them over your head like antlers, swaying them back and forth while calling. I’ve called them in with some success in Baxter for people from out of state that were watching from a distance. Each time you see a moose, it’s always fun to try calling one, try different things and gauge their response. It’s easier to hear rather than write about what a moose call sounds like, I surprisingly had a tough time finding a decent video of what you can expect when calling a moose – but these two are pretty good;
I especially enjoy the posturing of the bull in the second video.
I was out grouse hunting early one quiet morning and got to witness moose mating one fall. I kept hearing a loud splashing sound, and then thrashing on the ground some distance away. I stopped and listened trying to figure out what it was, and began walking in that direction. I then began to hear the characteristic moose grunt and immediately knew what was happening. I snuck in until I could see them, and got to watch them for a while.
Maine reinstated moose hunting in 1980, and the program has been going strong since. There are a large number of applicants, for a small number of permits the bulk of which are reserved for Mainers, so it is hard to get picked. The number of permits changes each year depending on a lot of factors, especially the health and number of the herd. For 2010 there were 3188 permits given out and 2393 moose harvested. Moose, if you’ve never tried it is delicious and oftentimes you can’t tell the difference between it and beef, especially when it has been canned. You can get a large amount of meat off of a moose, but it is a lot of hard work, which is why you are required to have a sub-permittee with you. I put in off and on for a lot of years, and finally got picked in 2006. The state now has the application divided up in several ways, you can hierarchy the different wildlife management district zones you want to hunt in, or say that if picked there is only one particular zone you want to hunt in. The more zones you choose, the more likely you are to get picked, for if one zone is full, the state can put you in another on your list. You can also choose if you want bull or cow only or either one (in which case the state will choose for you). The northern half of the state is more popular with more permits issued because there are more moose up there. I figured if I ever got picked to go moose hunting, I wanted it to be a “real” hunt. For me that meant northern Maine, and a bull only. Preferably a really big bull. It also meant a traditional hunt out of a canoe. So, on the permit I put in for only zones 1,2, and 3 as those zones encompassed the extreme northern portion of the state. When my number got picked, it got picked for zone 1, which is the northwestern portion of the state and the most remote and rugged part. I was excited. As my hunting partner Peter put it, this was going to be a “big boy trip”. Here is the description of zone one from the state of Maine Department of Inland fisheries and wildlife:
WMD 1 features very remote commercial forestland and access through logging roads and navigable rivers and streams. Access to the area through North Maine Woods check points in Allagash Plantation, Telos, Six-Mile (west of Ashland), Fish River (west of Portage), and along the Maine/Quebec border at Daaquam, St. Pamphile, and Escourt controlled by U.S. Customs. Some access points have restricted hours. Some developed campsites are available, and camping is permitted in certain areas with a Maine Forest Service fire permit. There are no facilities so hunters must bring all equipment and supplies needed.
Everything you need to know about applying for a moose permit in Maine can be found here.
We had 4 months to plan the once in a lifetime adventure, and went camping in the area in September to do a little pre-season scouting and calling practice, and some canoeing on the Allagash River. Surprisingly we saw very few moose, and we were wondering if that was a good sign or a bad sign.
When the season came in October we rented a cabin in Allagash, and although we did not use a guide for this hunt (we wanted to do it ourselves) the cabin was part of a guide service, and he asked us what our hunting plan was.
When we told him that we planned to paddle up the Little Black River and try to call one in off of the bogs up there he immediately said it would be impossible, because the water level was too low, and there was no way we would be able to make it up where we wanted to go. Disappointed, we had to change gears. We looked at the map that night and made a rough plan about where to go the next day. We were up early and in the woods as the sun was coming up, trying out the call on a ridge over a small waterway. We hunted and drove all day that day, and while we saw some recent sign, we didn’t see any moose. We quit at dusk, and went back to the camp to make a plan for the next day. We looked at topography, streams, bogs and for some place remote. The moose season is split up into two one week seasons, and we had drawn the second week. That meant that moose out there had been hearing gunfire and were more skiddish than they would have been the first week. So we wanted to be where nobody else had been. We settled on a boggy area called Brown Brook with a rise in topography on either side. We figured our call would travel down into the lowland of the bog and hopefully bring a bull in off of it. After the bull we did call in there turned tail and ran, I thought for sure we were doing something wrong. We backed off from our stand, up to the top of the ridge and down the road a ways to find a giant bull moose standing there. That’s why the little bull had run, he knew that this monster was coming in to the call from our backside. We harvested him, and after the congrats and a quick couple of pictures, the work began. And hard work it is. After field dressing him we tried to get him into the back of the truck with a come-a-long attached to the head-ache rack on the truck. After several attempts the frame on the rack had actually bent, and the day was beginning to get warm. We had to worry about the meat not cooling, so we decided we had to quarter him to get him in the truck. Long story short, it took five hours to get him packed up and ready to make the long drive back to camp to get some ice on him. That afternoon after everything was all set we went partridge hunting in the area we were in the day before and almost immediately saw another good size moose, and down near one of the big lakes we saw a huge bear in the woods. It was a great trip. Whether you live off the grid or not, if you are a hunter at all you should put in for your permit. The information linked in this post should be enough to get you started. You can expect to get 50-55% of live weight in meat. Our bull’s antler spread was 57 inches, and weight was approximately 1000 pounds. A lot of work, a freezer full of meat, and an adventure of a lifetime.
The Allagash River. What image comes into your mind when you read those words? A riverman standing on the spring log drive to the mill? A fir tipped horizon on a calm lake at sunset? Class III whitewater? Or how about an American Indian watching you silently from the bank? A large trout bending your fly pole? Allagash itself seems a harsh word, invoking images of jagged dark rocks and dense seemingly impenetrable forests. At one point in history any one of those images would be true. The Allagash cuts a 100 mile ribbon from Chamberlain Lake to its confluence with the St. John. American Indians used the Allagash extensively as a travel route and Above the Gravel Bar: The Native canoe routes of Maine is a very interesting book, and well worth the read if you live in Maine or not. The book (linked at bottom of post) describes how and why the waterways are named the way they are, and the different routes Native Americans used.
Standing at the official put-in for the trip on the Chamberlain Lake thoroughfare is seemingly like standing at an old fork in the road. Heading to the right takes you into Telos pond, portage around Telos dam, down Webster cut (famously described by Thoreau), into Webster Lake and down Webster stream into Grand Lake Matagamon. There are gorgeous views of the mountains in Baxter Park, which is on your right going down Webster Stream. Webster Stream is wild and narrow, and should only be attempted by very accomplished paddlers. Baxter State Park maintains the campsites on Grand Lake Matagamon as well. At the end of the lake is the East Branch of the Penobscot river, which after wonderful views and lots of portages, dumps you into the Penobscot itself. Taking the left way though leads you to Chamberlain Lake, and into the heart of the Allagash river.
Chamberlain lake is both beautiful, and slightly forbidding because of its sheer size. The day I set forth on Chamberlain it was windy and rainy, and the lake was like a kettle of boiling water with waves reaching up to the gunnels of the canoe. Hindsight being 20/20 I probably should have stayed at the campsite at the end of the thoroughfare and gotten an early start the next morning, but I was anxious to get started. The weather was unforgiving and began to get worse as sheets of rain blew down the lake and into my face. A good portion of the shore is rocky, and prevents an easy canoe landing. Finally I found a spot to stop and take a rest, huddled under a thicket of cedar. As the afternoon wore on, it began to clear, and by late afternoon the wind had calmed down, eventually turning to glass as I paddled along and landed at Lost Spring campsite for the night. After dinner I went down to the shore and caught trout after trout on the flypole, right from the bank. One of the things I find fascinating about camping , especially in Maine, is that as the night darkens and you are sitting by a campfire, lost in your thoughts, it is a timeless moment. With the loons beginning their calls, it could be any moment in history. If you want to travel through time, go camping in the remote Maine wilderness. It’s been wild and free forever. That first night on Chamberlain had that feeling.
Most guidebooks tell you to go across the lake at Ellis Brook to Lock Dam to continue into Eagle Lake. I disagree for a couple of reasons, first being that you will miss some of the tramway. The tramway was a railway that took the logs to the mill, and was a vast improvement over booming them down the lake to the Penobscot river. At most of the campsites on the west side of Chamberlain a short walk leads you to the old railbed, which is now grown up, but still visible. Stand there and imagine the roaring of the steam engine as it passed laden with its load of logs. I wish I could have gone for a ride on one. As you go up the lake it’s a short jaunt up into the start of Allagash Stream to see the old trestle. The right side has fallen into the water, with the rails from the left decending into the depths. It’s a shorter distance now to the east side of the lake, where you will find a portage trail that is about a mile. This is the other thing you would miss if you went via lock dam. Prior to the tramway, there was a steam (donkey engine) conveyor that hauled all the logs from Eagle across to Chamberlain to be boomed up for the journey down the lake. Everything is still there in various stages of decay. A short walk into the woods reveals more, and how nature will always grow back. If memory serves it took the better part of three hours to accomplish the portage, with a special treat at the end. The locomotives that ran on the tramway are still there in the woods in all their glory. They have been somewhat restored (over time one of them had fallen over) by a local group. To get the locomotives there, they were hauled across the thick ice during the winter. Imagine…each one of them weighs 90 tons, looking at a chart of what weights ice can support, it would require 60 inches of ice. The thickest I’ve ever seen was 38 inches. It is magnificent to view, and worth spending some time poking about the area, which is a good place for lunch. These are accessible by taking the Lock dam route as well, but it’s a bit of a paddle.
Eagle Lake has an interesting story surrounding it. In 1976 4 men claimed to have been abducted by a UFO and subject to testing by aliens. A good story to relate around the campfire at night. Check out the story here .
When I left the trains to paddle across Eagle Lake, I was taught a valuable lesson about paddling big lakes. Eagle was glass when I started out, without even a ripple on its surface, or a cloud in the sky, headed for Farm Island. Suddenly and without warning, as the shore I was headed to was in view, and the shore I was coming from a good distance behind the wind came up with a vengeance. If you know anything about boating, you want your bow into the wind and into the waves. With this wind that came up it was behind me, and so I had what is called a following sea. The waves grew in size, enough so they would break over the stern and get my back wet. I was in a predicament for sure, and I was becoming more worried by the minute. The trouble with a following sea is that the waves are rolling with you, which makes it a lot easier to get swamped. I pictured the canoe swamped with water, with my gear in disarray around me, as I paddled along, quartering to the waves before each one came through. As I described it after, I swore my way across Eagle Lake. After what seemed like hours, it looked like I would make Farm Island, and it was with relief that I stepped onto its shore for the night. Preparing to be windblown (too windy to paddle) is a must for your itinerary on this trip. The wind slowed at sunset, but did not stop through the night, and I had one more big lake to make before I got onto the river, so at three am under the moon I got up, packed, and with a last look at the Katahdin range, set out to put Eagle Lake to my stern. The wind typically picks up during the day, so I knew this was the prime time to make some distance before it got too windy to go anymore, and I didn’t stop. There is nothing like watching the sun come up from a canoe. By noontime I had made it to the end of Churchill Lake safely and stopped for the night. After setting up camp I wandered down to the sandy shore, went for a swim, and spent the afternoon napping with my feet in the cool water, watching the puffy clouds, and relaxing. All of the campsites are maintained by the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) and are great places.
The magic thing about any remote camping trip, starts on the third day. For the first couple of days you are “settling in” and still have some of the vestiges clinging to you of the life you are leaving behind. Typically on day three I become free. I deliberately usually don’t bring a watch, or a way to keep time, one of our biggest enslavements as a society. You get to find what cycle of time fits your body the best. When you wake up, eat, sleep all of that doesn’t matter anymore. It’s out the window. And it all starts on day three. I did bring a watch on a long canoe trip once, and discovered how my rhythm compares to our society’s time. I’m usually up and packed around 4 am, watching the sunrise from shore, or while paddling. Lunch on a pretty spot on the river is right around 10. Depending on if I find a spot where I just have to stay there because it’s so nice, or depending on how far I want to go that day I usually have camp set up by 1pm, afternoon snack and a nap, followed by swimming, fishing, or exploring. Dinner around 6, and a paddle, fish, sunset watch. A drink by the fire lost in thought and then bed around 10 or 10:30. That’s who I am when I’m free, and without the constraints of time. Try it – find your rhythm and see who you are when you don’t “have” to do anything but what you want.
After dinner I walked down to Churchill Dam to scout for the next morning, for I would be officially on the river in the morning, and running Chase rapids. One of the great things about the Allagash is there is a ranger at Churchill who for a modest fee (when I was there it was $10.00) to portage all of your gear 10 miles downstream where the river opens up into Umsaskis Lake, and is well worth the price. Chase rapids is rated a strong class II or mild Class III rapid depending on water level. I don’t remember it being all that difficult to get through, most of the time it’s basically just dodging rocks, and exciting. A group of Boy Scouts behind me overturned and broke a thwart. I gave them some duct tape (a must have item to repair a canoe on a trip) so they could get it fixed. One fascinating and exciting thing for me about running rapids is the decision making – you make a calculated best decision with your knowledge, and you instantly know if you were right or not. Where else do you have that instant gratification? In life you always wonder if you are making the right decision, here on the river if you are right, you stay afloat. If you are wrong, you get wet. It’s basic and simple principles, and I like that. After what seems like a long time, around one of the bends is your gear on the bank where the ranger put it. There is still moderate current that brings you into Umsaskis. On the right as you approach the lake is a campsite called Chisholm Brook. I didn’t stay there, but the next time I run the river I am, what a beautiful campsite tucked away in the tall spruce and fir trees…absolutely beautiful. After a short narrow spot you come to Long Lake, where I stayed at Grey Brook campsite.
After a short piece of river, you come to Harvey Pond and then Long Lake dam, which I portaged. It is possible to run it, although supposedly there are spikes still sticking up that can damage your canoe should you hit one, so I played it safe. Of course, if I was thinking, there is a campsite there where it would be easy to stay since you have all of your gear out anyway. After the dam is a good stretch of river that brings you to Round Pond, the river divides up into threads before emptying in to the pond, and the water is quick. I think all of the separate channels are runnable, I picked the river right channel and made it safely. I stayed at outlet campsite on the end of the pond, before it becomes river again. A passing ranger told me about a must see firetower that was a short walk on the other side of the pond. Her definition of a short walk and mine I believe are quite different. After I finally got to the tower it looked (to me) too rickety to climb. I did climb halfway up and took a look around, and it was a pretty good view. Halfway down the trail I got caught in a thunderstorm that I had to wait out before heading back to camp.
Sitting around the fire that night, a giant frog suddenly appeared just within the firelight. I had never seen, nor have I seen since, a bigger frog. We both sat there looking at each other for a few minutes, when I hatched an idea. I had nightcrawlers for fishing with me, and I slowly reached in the cooler and got one out, and placed it in front of the frog. The frog sat there for a few minutes, and just when I began to think he wasn’t interested, with lightning fast speed he grabbed the worm with both of his front legs and stuffed it in his mouth, pushing it in. It seems it took a millisecond to happen, and then he went back to just sitting there with a blank look on his face. I fetched him another, and then two more. The fifth one he ignored, and then as quick as he was there, he was gone, probably thinking about how lucky he was.
The next morning started uneventfully, but just after getting settled into a good paddling stroke I came around the corner to find a big moose in the middle of the river. The river was narrow here, and I hesitated, trying to decide what to do, and what he was going to do. There didn’t seem to be enough comfortable room on either side of him for me to get by, so I backpaddled and waited. He stood at looked at me for a bit, and then ate a little and then stood some more. Some time passed and I was beginning to think I should make a go of it, when something in the woods caught his interest, and he stared intently at the opposite bank. Shortly another moose appeared on the bank, and they looked at each other for a while. Then, the moose on the bank turned and ran into the woods. The one in the river started chase, running across the river on the side I had thought about getting by him on, making an incredible bow wave in front of him. Lots of excitement that morning. Just past Round Pond on the right is the tornado path. I remember you have to turn around to see it, and I’m not sure what year it happened, but its on the side of a hill and you’ll know it because in the midst of all the conifers is a narrow swath of birch and maple trees. There are occasional rapids and a beautiful stretch of river through here, I pushed hard and made it to Ramsay Ledges just before a fast moving thunderstorm. Exploring that evening I came to a beaver dam and fished it for a bit, and had the pleasure of watching a couple of beavers come over the dam and swim right under the boat. It was a warm July night, and after dinner I waded out into the shallow water and laid down in it, letting the current of the Allagash pass over me for a while. During the night I was awakened to a loud splashing in the river, I stuck my head out of the tent, and shined the headlamp out onto the river to see a big moose staring at me. She raised her ears just like a horse does, and stared at me for a few moments before proceeding upstream, now oblivious to my presence.
Upriver from Ramsay Ledges is a campsite called Cunliffe Depot. Stop in here to see a derelict Lombard steam log hauler, invented in the early 1900′s. It was essentially a steam locomotive with skis on the front to steer, and caterpillar tracks on the back. Truly a leviathan of the woods.
Downriver a ways is Michaud Farm, and past that you will begin to here the roar of Allagash Falls, an unrunnable falls that you portage on the right. Start staying to the right when you hear the falls, and you will see the trail. It’s worth spending some time at the falls for it’s beauty.
Between the Falls, and the end of your journey there are some interesting places. The AWW gives you a free map at the beginning of your journey, with the campsites and rapids listed on it. Look for a site called Ghost Landing bar. During the 1800′s a large pine tree fell on and killed the man that was cutting it. The log was found to have a hollow heart when taken taken to the water in preparation to be floated to the mill and was left on the bank. Since then, some folks passing down the river have reported seeing a ghost of the logger standing next to the log crying out to them to put the log in the river so his soul could rest.
Also watch for McGargle Rocks ( I wasn’t quite sure where they were) which are not a problem for canoeists, but were a big problem for loggers. The area is named for a river driver that was killed trying to loosen a log jam.
After Allagash Falls, I stayed at Twin Brook for the night, and prepared to get back to civilization the next day. It got really cold that night, down into the mid 40′s. The next day brought twin brook rapids, Eliza hole rapids, and finally Casey rapids, none of which are bad, before coming around the corner to see the road at Allagash, and bringing the trip to an end.
So there you have it -you have tested your mettle, and found out what you are made of. You have found yourself and lived as we should live. You have disappeared off the map for several days without news, phones, or other distractions other than making the trip. Congratulations.
Here’s a short video of the trip down the river I took in 1997;
And a video of the history of the river;
Some interesting books: