Saturday, October 10, 2015

July 8, 2015 Loon Lodge on Round Pond

We woke up at first light to our truck bed full of water from a thunderstorm the day before. A quick trip up a hill with the tailgate down solved that problem as the water all rushed out the back. We loaded the truck and filled two coolers with food and ice loading those in the truck last.

We hit the road while the boys' eyes were still sleepy and made it to the Millinocket McDonald's before 9:30 for breakfast. The first rule of camping is you can never have enough bacon. We decided we needed more and ran across the street to Hannaford to buy more bacon, bagels, and a car charger adapter to keep the phone/GPS working.

Soon we headed into the woods on the Golden Road to the land of no Internet and no cell phone coverage. We were free of all modern inconveniences except Moxie which we managed to buy at the Northern Maine Woods checkpoint. The simple life has its simple pleasures.

Dottie Brook
Though our goal was Loon Lodge, we wanted to do a little research along the way.  I had read a blog entry where a Northern Forest Canoe Trail paddler had successfully navigated Dottie Brook and I read another blog entry where a couple portaged their canoe 18 miles on wheels between Umbazooksus and Churchill Thoroughfare Bridge. We stopped at Dottie Brook to consider a possible portage up the road instead of the dreaded Mud Pond Carry.

Mud Pond Carry
We drove back and forth a few times before finding the Mud Pond Carry at the point where it crossed the Winter Road. The carry looked like a muddy snowmobile trail that sometimes was a stream. We decided that a 2 mile carry on wheels west to Umbazooksus Lake along the road from Dottie Brook was much more exciting than a 2 mile slog through mud on the Mud Pond Carry. There was no way we were doing the Mud Pond Carry or an 18 mile carry along the road.

We arrived at Loon Lodge at 2:30 in the afternoon. The owner's dog, a lab retriever, was immediately in love with the boys that would throw the ball for her over and over again. The boys spent pretty much the whole afternoon throwing the ball for that dog. Never mind that they could do that at home with their own dog, this was a vacation and we were unplugged. The poor dog was pretty close to exhaustion when my father, myself, and the lodge owner stopped catching up. In truth, I had barely spoken to the lodge owners on the phone, but it felt like we were family from away finally stopping in for an overdue visit.

Lounging on our cabin porch
Sometime mid-afternoon we grabbed a quick ham and cheese sandwich on the porch of the cabin and let the poor dog rest. Dad and I discussed water conditions, portage options, minimal politics, and amenities at the lodge with the owner. We were able to get fresh ice out of a freezer for the cooler and there was one electrical outlet in the cabin I could use to recharge my camera batteries. We discovered flush toilets, hot showers, and bedding. Fortunately, there were out houses available so we could still rough it if we wanted to. We didn't want to because this place was heaven in the wilderness.

 Allagash Lake Fire Tower View
At 5PM, we bumped along in the truck on the road toward Allagash Mountain until we got to a gate. It was only a mile hike to Allagash Lake and the Ranger cabin and then another mile up a steep trail to a fire tower at the top. We were rewarded for an hour of effort with hazy but incredible views of most of the Allagash Waterway north and down into Moosehead Lake to the south.

Cooking inside our cabin
When we returned to the lodge at 8 PM, we finalized plans with the owner of Loon Lodge who had never heard of anyone paddling out of Mud Pond into Dottie Brook. He would be out preparing for the fall bear and moose hunting season and would pick us up at noon on Monday at Chamberlain Bridge to portage us the 18 miles west to Umbazooksus Stream. No need for the Mud Pond Carry! No need to explore Dottie brook. Problem solved!

We cooked cheeseburgers on the propane stove in our cabin and then did dishes. We used the flush toilets and the running water in the bath house to get ready for bed. We wanted to play cards and tell stories but the boys and their grandfather were asleep and snoring by 9. I crashed before 10 after charging all the cameras and taking some notes in my journal.
Sunset over Round Pond

2015 Allagash Trip Preparations

Corporate life has consumed me most of my adult life, so when my company recently moved my office two hours south of my house, I accepted a severance package which allowed me to take the summer off. My last six months at work were not stop, but I would often add ideas to the list for what I could do with all of my impending leisure time. At the top of the list was another trip to the Allagash with my 70+ year old father and my two boys 15 and 16.

Over the last few years, I had purchased The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Official Guidebook, Quiet Water Maine, Gil Gilpatrick's Allagash, and the AMC River Guide and I had read all about the southern routes we could use to canoe north into the Allagash Waterway. In reality, I probably just looked at the pretty pictures.

My dream trip was to start at the Northeast Carry and canoe up into Chesuncook, up Caucomgomoc Steam and Lake, to Round Pond, then carry to Allagash Lake, and canoe down to Chamberlain to the Thoroughfare bridge. This is probably the same dream where we caught massive fish and rescued the drowning Victoria's Secret models. It would have involved all sorts of logistics about shuttling multiple vehicles that I decided to avoid for cost, risk, and time reasons.

I began to look at circular routes so that we could start and end in the same place. The tricky spot seemed to be the Mud Pond Carry and my books didn't have a lot to say. This is the same mud pond carry Thoreau described in 1857. I found great information on a couple of blogs the Gill adventures,, and even Yankee magazine online. I decided this trip was possible, we would just have to endure one day of pain.

My last day at work was July 6, 2015 and I managed to wait until the last minute to make reservations with Loon Lodge for two days later. The evening of July 6 and 7 were spent packing frantically and trying to figure out what I might have forgotten. The canoes and the gear and crate with camping stuff had been packed the previous weekend. I was literally up until 1 AM working on the trip plans and grabbing screen shots from books so I could print the pages and leave the books at home.

Last minute activities included cleaning off memory cards and charging camera batteries, cleaning drying laundry (camp clothes), paying bills, returning library books, and grocery shopping. I had let my boys finalize the menu which meant that they also waited until the absolute last minute to decide what we would eat right up until we were at the grocery store.

After grocery shopping we separated each meal into bags in the food crate and I printed guidebook pages. We added 3 more crates and paddles and life jackets to the truck. We had a ton of mac and cheese left from a surprise party so we froze it and took it on the trip too. I finally crashed into my bed at 1 AM. The hardest part of these trips is getting ready.

 In the end, the plan was to start July 8 at Loon Lodge on Round Pond, climb the Allagash Lake tower, put in at Johnson Pond, paddle south to Allagash Lake and stay at the ice caves. We would paddle down Allagash Stream to Lock Dam, then paddle east across Lock Dam to Smith Brook Campsite. We would go west to the tramway and portage over to Chamberlain and paddle south to Lock Dam, then across Chamberlain to Mud Pond campsite. We would then paddle west into Mud Pond and do the Mud Pond Carry and stay at Umbazooksus. We would paddle south to Chesuncook and north past Canvas Dam to Horserace campsite on the Caucomgomoc Stream. Sometime around July 15 we would return northeast to Round Pond Loon Lodge and drive home.