Peter Macfarlane's 2013 Solo Through-Paddle of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft

NFCT's Map of Overall Route Peter & Sylva completing the NFCT

Day 19

30.3 miles

Thursday 6th June

Stratton - Little Spencer Stream confluence


Day 19 route on Google Earth imagery

The weather forecast now promises a few showers later today, more tomorrow, and then heavy rain on Saturday. Oh joy! This is the tail end of tropical storm Andrea. I use the microwave to boil water for tea and oatmeal – there's no point in carrying this food if I don't eat it – and then check out. I tape the inside of the canoe where there's a small crack in the fibreglass, the result of getting hung up on a rock yesterday – did I forget to mention that? It was a very gentle collision and I could step out on to the rock to release the canoe, but even a gentle flow can have a powerful effect.

Calm on Flagstaff Lake

The Bigelow Range

I carry back to the landing and am on the water before 7:00 am. It's calm as I head out into Flagstaff Lake. This is a shallow and exposed lake, so can be very choppy if windy. I start gently, and then, as the muscles start working, open up to a full stroke, the bow cleaving the water almost effortlessly. This lake is over 20 miles long, and I'm keen to complete as much as I can before the wind comes up. All morning I see a watery sun behind high cloud. I visit the site of Flagstaff Village which was flooded when the Long Falls Dam was built that created this lake in the Dead River, but, with the cloud above, the water is too dark to reveal any detail below. The Bigelow Range to the south, however, is visible, and remains with me all morning from various angles.

I decide to try for long mileage today so that I have a chance of reaching Jackman tomorrow when the night is likely to be wet. For the last five miles or so of the lake I contend with a fresh south-east wind which springs up. I reach Long Falls Dam, the end of the lake, by 12:30 pm, and sign the register. The carry around the dam is well blazed – whoever maintains this region is doing a great job. A brief stop at the falls overlook shows me just how much water is flowing over or through the dam; the rapids below are impressive.

Still calm on Flagstaff Lake

Less calm below Long Falls Dam

After completing the carry, I sit for a while to enjoy some lunch, but the mosquitoes have the same idea, so I soon move on. Soon after the put-in I'm surprised to find myself faced with a class III rapid. It's only about 200 yards long and I can see the pool below, so, kneeling and with life-jacket donned, I take the wild ride. A few waves splash over the bow, soaking my rucksack, but it's exhilarating enough not to care about this. The route on river right has no obstructions, just a big volume, fast flow and very sizeable waves. A bunch of fly-fishermen at the bottom eye my passage. I curl around behind them and sit in an eddy to sponge out, taking care not to overload my seat. The repair is holding and I'm now confident enough in it to sit full weight on the seat once more.

A wild ride - to their amusement

The observer is observed

A few more riffles then lead to flat water all the way to Grand Falls. I see a bald eagle fishing and have my closest encounter yet with a moose: my presence startles something which crashes away on thunderous hooves through the undergrowth and then stands snorting. I see nothing. I opt for the high water take-out for Grand Falls, but the trail is boggy and buggy and not well marked, especially the first part. On climbing back up from the end to view the falls, which are very impressive, I realise that the beach take-out is easy to reach, and am regretful that I didn't have the confidence to go for it. The carry could have been shorter and maybe on a better trail. Next time …

Grand Falls - with beach take-out

Grand Falls - from below

After paddling up as far as feasible, which is not very far, to view the falls, I head downstream, knowing that Spencer Stream merges at the first bend. I come almost immediately to an island, and choose the deeper flow down the right side. Immediately a set of rapids attracts my attention and I switch paddles, grab my life-jacket and adopt a kneeling position. I run the first part, but this is looking very much like class III, and I'm confused that there's no mention of having to run this. I pull into an eddy, ostensibly to put on neoprene socks for potential wading, but this fortunately gives me time to reflect.

I look again at the map, then at the compass, and conclude that I have most likely missed the mouth of Spencer Stream. I pull out and jog back upstream along a fisherman's path. After 10 minutes I see trucks parked and my suspicions are confirmed. Shortly I see my mistake: the mouth of Spencer Stream is hidden behind the bottom of the island; had I taken the left channel, I would have seen it; had I not been focussed on the rapids, I might have glanced left at the right time to see it. Another 10 minutes of jogging downstream allows me to load up and carry back upstream to put into Spencer Stream. Now begins what should be the final upstream of the trip.

This is the section that has played on my mind more than any other, perhaps with the exception of the lower Saranac. The light rain that has been falling most of the afternoon continues as I paddle very little, but mostly pole and wade up Spencer Stream. The depth of water is sufficient to float for much of it, so poling is successful, but that also means that the volume of water and speed of flow make progress difficult. The mosquitoes are also out in force: clearly the rain is not heavy enough to keep them down. After an hour and a half of hard work, but not impossible, I reach the confluence of Little Spencer Stream. I have been worried about being able to recognise this, but there is no mistaking it. Just into this stream I find a place on my left which looks to offer good camping. My goal is achieved: to get this far, so that I can be fresh for the tough section tomorrow up to Spencer Dam.

Starting up Spencer Stream

Little Spencer Stream confluence

Plagued by mosquitoes, I take out, send a SPOT, hang my tarp and light the wood-stove for dinner. This last proves to have the wonderful effect of driving away the mosquitoes, so I keep it burning as long as possible while brewing more tea. After a good dinner I string up my hammock and retreat to it to write my journal, all the while exterminating those insects which have chosen to co-habit with me. It's now raining continuously.


Website design & Photography © Peter Macfarlane 2013

Tomorrow Top of page