Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Northern Forest Canoe Trail - Rangeley Region


This past Wednesday when I left work, rather than head to one of my usual haunts in the SUASCO watershed, I drove NNE for about 5 hours to the village of Rangeley, Maine in the upper Androscoggin watershed. After securing my boat at Lakeside Park, I went to the nearby Ecopelagicon Nature Store where owner Linda provided a pre-arranged shuttle service resulting in my car being left at the Mill Brook Boat Access area on Upper Richardson Lake. Linda and store-guide Peter readily shared their local knowledge that would later prove invaluable for my purposes.
My goal was to traverse the 32-mile section of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT) between Rangeley and Middle Dam on Lower Richardson Lake. With my boat loaded to the gills with 5 days camping supplies, I pushed off from shore and began paddling the 4 miles to Rangeley Lake State Park. Darkness was descending as I reached the shore and my first order of business was to find the Ranger Station and secure a campsite (reservations are not accepted after Labor Day). The good news was that site 17L near the lake's shore was available but the bad news was that I would need to haul my gear a mile from the boat ramp to the campsite in the dark. However, if I wished to gamble on there being a discernible pathway from the shore to the campsite, I could give paddling to the site a try. I opted to gamble and was extremely fortunate to encounter a gentleman fishing from the shore who just so happened to be occupying the campsite next to mine. He pointed out the pathway and this saved me much time and much effort! It was also a good omen at the start of a trip!
This campground, by the way, had the best bathroom facilities I've ever seen while camping. The facility serving my section had 10 private bathrooms, each one containing a shower, sink, toilet and electrical outlet. All were handicap accessible as well. An especially nice touch was artwork painted on the trash receptacles and the following hand-painted script: "Above all else, have a good time!"
On Thursday morning I reloaded my boat and, following Linda's advice, paddled to South Bog. A belted kingfisher was there to greet me...

Soon we were joined by 2 blue herons and some ducks and I began to check out this cotton like grass...

Just then something caught my eye and I looked up to see that the "eagle has landed"...


Leaving the bog, I paddled into Oquossoc Cove where a 1.25-mile portage would take me into Mooselookmeguntic Lake. Like most portages, it started out easy but soon my arms were feeling the strain from pulling my approximately 100 lbs of gear in my stern-wheeled kayak. A quick stop in an Oquossoc general store netted some forgotten supplies and a Maine delicacy for apres-portage: a whoopie pie! With a good half mile still to go my energy tank was getting close to empty. Then a small van pulled up and a woman by the name of Laurie asked if there was any way she could help me. Shortly, the heaviest of my gear was in the back of her van and she drove ahead to Haines Landing to await my arrival with my now much lighter load. Laurie lives on nearby Bald Mountain and has a kayak of her own. Her generous help saved considerable wear and tear on my arms and lower back. Many thanks, Laurie!
Launching into the big lake Mooselookmeguntic, I paddled over to Lunch Island for a PB & J sandwich and whoopie pie dessert. A second eagle, possibly the same one seen earlier, flew over Stony Batter Point. At Farrington Island I went ashore and laid claim to it for the night...

These loons kept me good company during my stay there...

The sunset in the opening photo was seen here and the clouds were the first indications of an approaching cold front from Canada.
Friday morning saw the weather quickly deteriorating with wind and rain in the offing. I broke camp before the rain and just got everything stowed away when it began. I paddled southwest around Birch, Brandy, and Black Points before reaching the next portage at Upper Dam...

Here I encountered a band of seven intrepid canoeists heading in the opposite direction. They had just completed their portage and let me know of a drinking water well along the trail. My water supplies were soon topped off and I reached the end of the portage to find a ramp and floating dock rather than the usual sand & rock beach from which to launch onto Upper Richardson Lake. While the dock might work OK for a canoe it would prove difficult for my much lower-sided kayak, especially since the wind driven chop was rocking the whole assembly pretty good. About 75 feet away was a sheltered and sandy beach but the trail leading to it was posted "No Trespassing". No one was around. It was raining and windy! I'll leave the reader to speculate what course was taken.
Soon I was paddling to the lake's opposite side and my reserved campsite at Half Moon Cove (Campsites on the Richardson Lakes can be reserved by contacting South Arm Campground). In a break between rain showers, I quickly set up my tent and battened down the hatches...

The location was a commanding one, on a point with water on three sides. My gut tells me it was seen as such by the Native Americans who knew the lake as Molechunkamunk. Perhaps Metallak, the last great chief of the Cooashaukes (band of Abenaki) once stood on this same point and gazed across the lake to the island and mountain that today bear his name.
This site would serve as my base-camp from which I would paddle to Middle Dam the next morning. During the night the wind whistled through the tall red pine trees bringing much cooler air temperatures. Saturday morning I got an early start and began paddling the 6.5 miles down to Middle Dam. Staying close to shore gave me some shelter from the northwest wind that was gusting to 25 miles per hour. I came upon these 6 mergansers that were also taking shelter and snoozing in the sun to boot...

As I emerged from the Narrows, the section connecting Upper & Lower Richardson Lakes, this view to the southwest from Horse Beef Point greeted me...

Once past Jackson Point it was wet and windy to my NFCT destination at Middle Dam. The take-out for the portage is in a small sheltered cove...

Once ashore I checked out the dam and portage trail that runs along the Rapid River to Umbagog Lake. Quite a few fly-fishermen were working the waters below the dam. A pick-up truck pulled up to the structure and following the sounding of a siren, the flow of water out of the dam's outlet increased. The dams on these lakes were originally built to facilitate the floating of logs to mills downriver. Nowadays, they're used primarily for hydro-electric power generation, but at times water is released to facilitate floating people-filled rafts downriver.
I felt quite satisfied leaving this spot as I had accomplished my goal. Now, I could slowly beat into the wind, taking shelter from it wherever I could, on the way back to Half Moon Cove. Back in my campsite, the weather radio was predicting a frosty night as the skies cleared and the wind slowly backed off. Conditions such as this would require a campfire and soon a nice little fire was providing warmth. Loons were nearly constantly about and their cries echoed through the cove, especially after my rousing harmonica rendition of the Newfoundland song I Rowed Up in a Dory!
In the morning I got up early to watch what I hoped would be a nice sunrise and wasn't disappointed...

As the morning warmed, I broke camp and began heading towards Big Beaver Island where I would spend my final night. On the way, following Peter's advice, I paddled into Cranberry Cove. An immature eagle flew across in front of me. Landing at a point on the cove's south side, I began walking on the muddy shore towards the cranberry bushes. I found these moose tracks in the mud and I'm not referring to the ice cream flavor...

Following the tracks I noted the cranberry plants were denuded of berries, except where some driftwood lay in front of them such as here...

Views such as this reminded me of places I'd seen in Newfoundland...

This one boulder seemed to be a favorite with the moss and lichen community...

After leaving the cove and heading northwest I arrived at Big Beaver Island on a warm Sunday afternoon. I bathed in the lake and had a nice hot shave, finishing up just before the island was invaded by a group canoe outing. That night it was someone else's harmonica renditions that were heard. Not a bad sound to go to sleep to!
My last morning proved to be summerlike, especially considering that it was the last full day of summer. I packed everything up one last time and began the 1-mile paddle to the Mill Brook Boat Access where my car would be waiting. Some loons escorted me across...

We said our goodbyes and I drank in this last view of Aziscohos Mountain...

At the landing I unpacked my gear from my boat. While this was not intended to be a trash patrol it had become one as I encountered more trash along the way than I would have expected. The most egregious were the 3 empty propane bottles left on the Half Moon Cove picnic table. The group of 11 posed briefly...

My YTD count stands at 3961 pieces of trash.
In my travels to date on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, this section stands out as one of the most beautiful!
Note: Clicking on any photo will enlarge the image.

4 comments:

Lis said...

Sounds like a wonderful trip. Especially loved the eagle pics - I can't get enough of those majestic birds.

Dixit et Fecit said...

Solitary communing with nature is a result of being born too late? Or too Early?
Fascinating read! Excellent photography! Lots of Gee Whiz!

Anonymous said...

I am writing a story about Molly Ockett who traveled this area. I did, too, when I lived in Andover, and when I hiked the AT. Great writing and pics -- put me right back there. Thanks for the trip.

Suasco Al said...

Anonymous, You're welcome and good luck with your story on Molly Ockett. She sounds like one very interesting individual. Your mention of her led me to google her name and discover that she'd maintained a relationship with Sabattis. He also was an interesting Native American who'd played a role an Arnold's 1775 expedition to Quebec.