Five Days on the West Branch
Sticking close to home isn't so bad when you get to enjoy the warmth and beauty of a Maine summer. Over the past few month's we've been sharing summer staycation ideas, and one of our volunteers was so inspired that she tackled part of the Penobscot Paddling Trail with her "quarantine pod." Here is her trip report:
Day 1: Lobster Stream Boat Launch to Lobster Lake (3.1 miles)
Starting at the Lobster Lake Boat Launch, we load up the canoes with five days worth of gear. As we start to paddle the dust and sounds of the logging roads fade into the distance. Making the final turn off of the stream onto Lobster Lake, we're greeted by a strong headwind and whitecaps and after a few minutes, it's clear that with such heavy boats it would take forever to cross the lake, so we make our way to the shore. Thankfully, the water is shallow, so we're able to pull our canoes around the edge. Wading through knee-high water, we watch as another group tries fruitlessly to paddle across the lake, appearing to be bound for the Ogden Point campsite. Once out of the wind, we load back into the boats and paddle the short distance to the Shallow Bay campsite where we unload, start making camp, collecting firewood, and preparing dinner. Rain showers threaten all night, but never make it across the lake to our campsite.
Day 2: Shallow Bay on Lobster Lake to Big Ragmuff (9 miles)
Woken early by the call of the loons, we stagger out of our tents, and gather around the picnic table for breakfast. On this morning, the wind is calm and the lake is like glass. After fueling up for the long day's paddle, we reload the canoes and head back across the lake and back up Lobster Stream. Just past the boat launch, we cross under Lobster Trip Road and merge onto the West Branch of the Penobscot River.
On the lookout for wildlife, we paddle quietly along, dodging hidden logs and rocks. Stopping at Thoreau's Island for lunch, it's easy to see how he drew inspiration from this place.
After lunch we load back into the canoes for the long push to our campsite for the night. All of the campsites along the Penobscot Paddling Trail are first-come-first-served. We arrive at one of our options and decide to risk pushing onto the next site. As we round the bend, it is clear that we made the right choice - Big Ragmuff is situated on a bend in the river with great views in either direction.
Nine miles is a long paddle and we were all tired. After watching the cotton-candy colored sunset, we made a feast of spaghetti and garlic bread before turning in early.
Day 3: Big Ragmuff to Pine Stream (5.5 miles)
Our friends told us today should be an easy day once we get past the Big Island - that should have been foreshadowing.
Because we haven't had much rain this summer, the water through this section was very shallow and we had to get out of the canoes several times to pull them through rocky sections. At the Big Island we get out to check out the view from the campsite, which is perched at the top of some very sketchy steps. From here we can choose either left or right to get around the island - we choose right, and I don't mean correctly. The water is moving swiftly through this section forming small rapids.
It all happened in a flash, but all of a sudden we hit a rock and our canoe tipped and quickly filled to the gunnels with water. Thankfully this section was very shallow and we could easily hop out, pull the canoe to the edge of the river, drain it, and check on our gear.
Slightly shaken and a little soggy, we reloaded the canoe and hit the river. Even though this day was shorter in distance, we all agreed that this was the longest day of the trip.
Again today, we had the option of two campsites, and we risked pushing on to the second to make our final river leg shorter. It turned out to be the best campsite of the trip, with a great western view and gorgeous sunset.
Day 4: Pine Stream to Gero 1 (3.1 miles)
The morning of day four dawned with the sound of a boat engine - PEOPLE! After not seeing another soul for three days, it was strange to hear the sound of a boat putting by the campsite. The air was cold enough that you could see your breath, and I was so thankful that I remembered to pack mittens and a hat!
After breakfast, we loaded up the canoes for the second-to-last time and got back on the river. Through this section the remnants of past log drives are everywhere - submerged logs, run down shacks, and log driving platforms. We pass a couple of other canoes heading up river and they ask where we came from.
We round the final corner onto Chesuncook Lake and into the shadow of Mt. Katahdin. Our final campsite is in the middle of the lake and, thankfully, the wind is at our backs. We make it to the site in record time, giving us plenty of time to relax, play cribbage, and enjoy the view.
Day 5: Gero 1 to Chesuncook Village (1 mile)
Our final paddle is a short one. We load up the canoes for the last time and head across the lake to the tiny village of Chesuncook, where we're greeted by four of the town's ten year-round residents, headed out for a boat ride. They said that in 1860 loggers carved their names at the base of one of the log driving platforms and for the first time since they can remember, the river is low enough to see the carvings.
After a short chat with the locals about our trip, we explore the town a little on the way to get our cars, which were shuttled by Great Northern Vacations. A sign at Graveyard Point says Chesuncook Village was founded in 1840 as a logging village and in its heyday was home to 65 people!
We unload the canoes for the last time and strap them to the cars. As we drive out of "town," it's sad to be leaving the calm and quiet of the river behind. After four miles of bad road, and eight miles of okay road, we're back on the Golden Road, headed for civilization. When we arrive in Greenville, it seems to be teeming with people and we stay in the car, not ready to break the peace of the trip.