Life List: Al­la­gash River, ME

Sa­vor shoul­der-sea­son soli­tude on this renowned wa­ter­way.

Backpacker - - CONTENTS -

FROM THE SLOW RHYTHM of the splashes, I know the moose isn’t hur­ry­ing. I’m also fairly cer­tain it’s stay­ing on the far bank, but I can’t re­ally tell, thanks to the thick fog that ob­scures ev­ery­thing but the tips of the East­ern white pines 300 feet away on the op­po­site shore. Not for the first time this trip, I’m grate­ful for the wide ex­panse of Maine’s Al­la­gash River. I’m here dur­ing mat­ing sea­son and have no de­sire to cross a moose dur­ing the rut.

The Al­la­gash flows north, cut­ting 92 miles through Maine’s North Woods to Canada. It pools into lakes along the way, slow­ing the progress of our ca­noes, but here, it’s brisk. I still can’t see the bank across the way, but with each minute, the morn­ing sun melts away more of the fog and early-morn­ing frost.

It’s hard to be thank­ful for 25¡ F nights when you’re on a five- day ca­noe trip in North­ern Maine, but it does en­sure one thing: soli­tude. The Al­la­gash, which cel­e­brated its 50th an­niver­sary as a state-pro­tected wa­ter­way last year, is a pop­u­lar sum­mer des­ti­na­tion for an­glers, and from July to La­bor Day, it’s awash with kayaks and ca­noes. But in the be­gin­ning of Oc­to­ber—just a few weeks shy of the win­ter ice—we see just four other peo­ple on our 35-mile seg­ment: three moose hun­ters and one for­est ranger.

The weight of the quiet si­lences even our group of 11. The river re­duces the static of our daily life. We nav­i­gate small rips in near si­lence, ad­just­ing our 16-foot­ers to avoid rocks and downed trees. We’d put in at Long Lake to by­pass the 9-mile Chase Rapids sec­tion just south, where white­wa­ter re­quires fast think­ing and sure pad­dle strokes. In­stead, here, we fall into the gen­tle rhythm of the lazy river; loons call to each other at night, and ea­gles oc­ca­sion­ally wheel across the win­dow of sky vis­i­ble be­tween the pines.

Ac­cus­tomed to car­ry­ing ev­ery­thing I need on my back, it’s pleas­ant to let a ca­noe do all the work. It frees me up to fo­cus on the scenery, the conifer- dot­ted marshes and red hard­woods. Both banks of the Al­la­gash are dot­ted with first- come, first-serve camp­sites equipped with camp­fire rings and com­post­ing toi­lets, and it feels a lit­tle like car camp­ing when we un­load our heavy Du­luth packs and food stor­age boxes onto a pic­nic ta­ble each evening. But with only the sigh of the pines and the mur­mur of the river echo­ing out­side my tent at night, that’s where the sim­i­lar­ity ends.

The Al­la­gash was on Thoreau’s itin­er­ary as well, and I chan­nel him, ris­ing early to sat­u­rate my­self in soli­tude on the last morn­ing of our trip. I stretch mus­cles sore from pad­dling, shake the frost off my tent, and walk down to the river to in­hale the last few mo­ments of still­ness. I look up­river to­ward our beached ca­noes and spot move­ment through the fog: moose, a bull and a cow, pick­ing their way across a nar­row in­let. Per­haps it’s a lit­tle more crowded out here than I thought.

DO IT To repli­cate the writer’s five-day, 35-mile route, put in at Um­saskis/Long Lake Thor­ough­fare and take out at Michaud Farm (shut­tle car re­quired). OUTFITTER North­woods Out­fit­ters (maine­out­fit­ter .com) in Greenville rents boats start­ing at $30/day. GUIDE Ma­hoosuc Guide Ser­vice (ma­hoosuc.com); start­ing at $1,225 SEA­SON May through Oc­to­ber, de­pend­ing on ice.

PER­MITS Wilder­ness per­mit (start­ing at $7/ per­son per night) and North Maine Woods day-use fee ($10 to $15/day) re­quired; ob­tain at North Maine Woods con­trol sta­tions or Al­la­gash Wilder­ness Wa­ter­way Sta­tions.

CON­TACT north­mainewoods.org

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