Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Allagash Wanderers

What would the last weekend of summer be like without a trip to the Great North Woods of Maine?
I prompted a long time friend about a month ago to head up this past weekend. We marked it on the calender and started the planning. We shared a common goal and each had our own motivations for heading up. Mike wanted to reminisce on the days he and his Dad traveled to the Allagash Wilderness for some camping and fishing fun. I wanted to scout more of the area for future kayak camping missions.

Mike celebrating the "end of the pavement" with a few photographs.

Golden Road looking West from the Greenville Road junction.

I've never been west on the Golden road beyond the winter access to Chesuncook Lake, so this was all new terrain for me. Our first stop shortly after we turned on the Golden Road was at the North Maine Woods Caribou Checkpoint. We paid our camping fee's, $56.00 for two people which included a day use fee in addition to the camping per night. Our destination was the North Round Pond campsite. This would put us very close to Allagash Lake for our planned hike on Saturday morning. The road was in pretty good shape and we did not see one logging truck, only a couple of Pick-ups which looked like loggers with the typical stuff the carry in the bed. We stopped at our first POI, The North East Carry road, which will lead you down to NE Carry. There is a store there! Also, you can access Lobster Lake from here, which is also the start for many West Branch of the Penobscot River trips. The bridge at Hannibal's Crossing was our next stop. I said to Mike, with a name like that I have to stop! It was a lot like Chamberlain Bridge, long with side rails and in very good shape. The scenery was just incredible and I envisioned what it would be like to travel on the river. The water looked nice and flat, flowing ever so gently through the wilderness.

The West Branch looking West toward Lobster Stream at Hannibal's Crossing.

West Branch looking East.

Minutes after Hannibal's we took a right onto the Ragmuff Road. This long North Woods road takes you into the heart of the Allagash. I've wondered what it was like and I was not disappointed! At the start, she's fairly straight and wide, then it narrows and becomes more of a one lane, two track road. We rushed a FAT Black Bear around one of the corners, I was in shock! I've never seen a Bear in the wild and immediately I felt nature's power and saw the bear's beauty as he turned up an embankment and gave a look back before lunging further into the forest. The contrast from his black fur to the tan around his snout was incredibly beautiful. I would say he was probably a year or two old, and certainly putting on some weight for the approaching winter. We rolled by that spot slowly and I asked Mike if he wanted to go follow him for a better look? No, was a quick reply and I agreed it was probably better to let him be. Soon after this we missed a turn, but realized it once we arrived at the Loon Lake Dam. Indirectly, we would have arrived at the same spot, but we turned back since we had intended to take the Ragmuff road to Caucomgomoc Dam, where the Round Pond road starts, just a short 5 mile round trip detour.

Back on track, we arrive at the Caucomgomoc Lake Dam. You actually drive over this one!
Mike took this picture of me taking a picture of Caucomgomoc Lake.
*Photo by Mike Auger*

Lake and Clouds, the cove near the Caucomgomoc Dam.

The foliage in Northern Maine is just starting to turn and we saw some red and orange colors that were electric! I captured a few here along the shore of Ciss Stream which drains Round Pond into Caucomgomoc Lake.

Ciss Stream with a little foliage popping out here and there.

We arrived at our campsite to find no one there! WoooWhoo!! Let the party begin! I cracked a couple of Mike's Hard Lemonade's and shared with Mike (no relation to the MHL guys). After driving for about nine and a half hours, I was ready to just chill around camp. We took a stroll down to the water and then each began setting up our tents. It was quite breezy and cool, showing a bit of fall and winter due to arrive in the coming months. Soon it was time for some dinner, pizza on the grill! I'm trying to perfect this meal and not sure the grill is as good as a hot oven, but it worked out well and we enjoyed mushrooms, onions and chunks of fresh garlic on the pizzas, YUM! At one point after we ate, I headed to get some water from the pond for dishes. I noticed when I flashed my light that there was something glowing in the water, I thought it was a canoeist just off shore of the campsite, but after telling Mike and hearing some splashing, we realized it was a BIG Moose feeding on the vegetation in the water. He must have been huge since the glowing eyes were about two feet apart. We tuned in the Red Sox game on the crank radio and partied a bit more before retiring for the night. I slept great all night and was woken up by Mike around 6:30 AM, him saying there was a Mother and two young ones in the pond just out front of the tents.

Moose wake up call!

After a while the little guys got out of the water and waited for Mom to finish feeding. The whole time they were keeping a close eye on us at the campsite and when she cautiously started heading out of the water and greeted them on shore, they hurried to her side and let off some grunts and groans showing their affection. It was an amazing display of animals communicating to each other. Then they slowly started to head up toward the road and we got a couple of nice pictures of them there.

They would return two more times during our stay at Round Pond.

What can you say about coffee while camping...I can think of many words, but to sum it up, delicious! After breakfast and watching the moose we took a quick walk down the road to Poland Pond, just a short distance from camp. Mike had been in there with his Dad many times over the years and he seemed happy to have walked in there for the memory's. He told many tales of The Allagash Traveler and the travelers who traveled in it. Fun to hear about and imagine what it was like back in the day. We hiked back and walked into the "Inlet Campsite". This was nice, but it would have been difficult for the VW to get in since it was quite muddy and rutted deep in one spot. I was liking the campsite we were at, but good notes for future trips in. Arriving back at the car we jumped in and started up the road to Allagash Lake. I thought it was close, but learned we had to drive in about two miles. On the GPS it was about two and a half and we had to park about a quarter mile form the gate since the VW again was too low to make it right to the parking spot. A bummer for sure considering future trips in, unless I get that Toyota Tacoma or Subaru Forester I'm dreaming of lately. We parked the car and started the hike. Shortly after hitting the trail we stumbled upon this girl.

She wasn't interested in negotiating our passage, I took this quick photo and she took a couple of steps toward us. My hands went up like I was under arrest (to make myself appear bigger than I am), so did Mike's. He said "should we yell?" "Yeah" I said, so we yelled "Hey get out of here, Go Home!" She stared us down and Mike reached for his camera, as he did, she looked right and calculated her options, then she trotted off down the trail and into the woods. We continued down the path with curiosity as to where she was, we never did see her again, but figured she was close, watching us walk right by.

The hike into Allagash Lake is very nice, with no real difficulties to note. Pulling a fully loaded boat on a kayak cart might be a different story, but before long, we were at the Ranger Cabin, which was not occupied. Something tells me the Ranger was due to be back before winter as there were still screens on the porch and it looked like it was not winter ready. I immediately went to the water and baptized myself by splashing water on my face and head. It felt great, and my imagination went wild wondering what it will be like to paddle this amazing waterway. We paused for some pictures before heading up the Tower Trail to the summit of Allagash Mountain.

Self portrait at the Ranger Cabin.

I've thought about climbing Allagash mountain for years and the only way to make it happen is to make that effort. Looking at Allagash mountain from Chamberlain Lake on my many visits, it commands the North West view. The trail starts gently for about 100 yards and then goes straight up to the summit, literally! There are no switch backs and it goes uphill steeply! It is a short hike about three quarters of a mile to the summit. There is a Fire Tower on top and I just had to climb it. I will admit, under normal conditions I would have been OK, but it was pretty windy and I haven't climbed much of anything since winter Ice climbing. I got a little gripped all the way up the ladder, and hesitated to push the triangle door open to gain access to the tower. I stepped down with fear and then climbed in. Only long enough to get a quick look around (five seconds or less) and then started to climb down. The wind was very gusty and it freaked me out...Mike took a few pictures of the climb.


*Just pushing the tiny door open.

Well, I am happy to report the Fire Tower never fell while we there, so I wish I had a little more nerve to stay up there for a bit longer. I'll blame the wind for sure! We stayed on the summit for a long time, trying to pick out lakes and mountains in the distance and just admiring the view of Allagash Lake, which is spectacular by the way!

Allagash Lake from Allagash Mountain.

While on the summit we were greeted by two Turkey Vultures who were soaring and catching the thermals, taking advantage of the winds. Mike got some great pictures of them, this one is my favorite.

We eventually made our way down the mountain and had lunch at the Ranger Cain close to the lake. I have to mention this. The Ranger did some repairs to his HUGE canoe it looks like it needed some new fiberglass over the keels. One thing that bothered me was he made a MESS of applying the epoxy to cover the glass fibers and I mean a MESS! So Mr. Ranger, what happens when your canoe hits a rock next summer on the lake and one of these pieces of epoxy lies permanently in the water? This is supposed to be a protected waterway. I hope your end of season tasks include cleaning up after your self and covering the epoxy some how...This is clearly seen in Mike's picture of me making our lunch. Lunch was fantastic, we had mozerella, basil and tomato sandwiches on Naan bread doused with Olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.

*Gourmet Lunch on the shore of Allagash Lake, with a touch of epoxy!

After lunch we headed out, taking a brief walk down the Carry Trail to the Carry Trail campsite. This one is nice with a couple of camping cells, one on the shore and one just inland. Then we hiked back to the car and headed back to camp. When we arrived we had guests from N.H. Wes, a firefighter from Newfields, NH and his Chica from Portsmouth, we never did get her name, so I call her Chica! We also met Bono, their/her puppy beagle. He was fun and crazy! We took a ride to Johnson Pond, which is another five miles up the Johnson Pond road. Along the way we saw a huge pile of Bear scat (shit) and around a corner we saw him, Buddy Bear! Mike was able to g
et a picture of this guy.

* Buddy Bear!

After checking out the access to and shoreline of Johnson Pond, we headed back to camp for some drinks and other party treats. Our neighbors had gone for a ride in the car and we relaxed a bit, knowing they would return on our terms. It's funny how some people are, they waltzed right in and set up right next to us. I would have camped up closer to the road if I came in and saw someone all set up, wanting to give myself and my camping neighbors some peace and quiet. Some people just want to be close I guess...? We had a great meal with separate dishes of Vegetarian Chili and Chicken Curry. Then I made a couple more drinks and caught a good buzz. We retired fairly
early and I feel asleep in my tent listening to my IPod.

Sunday we woke up to the Moose family again and then quickly ate breakfast and packed up the tents and hit the road. Our goal was a big old loop on the North Woods Roads. It was awesome putting the pieces of the puzzle together and recon'ing the area for future trips. I close this BLOG with some pictures from the road trip and a GPS track of our road trip from Round Pond to the end of the Telos Road, at th
e Golden Road junction. Thanks for reading!

Allagash Stream just upstream from Chamberlain Lake.

Amazing North Maine Woods Roads.

New Access to the waterway, day use only, no starting or ending of trips from this location!