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 25

27.4 miles

Wednesday 12th June

Allagash Lake - Churchill Lake


Day 25 route on Google Earth imagery

The rain lessened last night after I went to bed, but returned even stronger towards midnight and continued all night with a slight easing towards dawn. Every thing is grey and wet. Can today be any more miserable than yesterday? The wind is strong, albeit only in gusts here at the camp. Unfortunately the privy calls before 6:00 am, the downside of a hefty brew of tea yesterday evening.

My wet paddling clothes hang there, unchanged since yesterday. I can't face this, so go back to bed for an hour contemplating the idea of just lying here, maybe forever. What would be the consequence? The sleeping bag is comfortable and warm; the alternative – to go out into the rain and put on cold, wet clothes – has so little appeal as to be unthinkable. It takes me about an hour to summon up the courage to face the day. Eventually, with a deep breath, and drawing on reserves of willpower, I emerge into the damp misery of day 25.

The gas stove makes quick work of a double portion of oatmeal for breakfast, and then I pack carefully and sequentially. The first step, before I can pack away dry clothes, is to face the discomfort – there must be a stronger word than that but it eludes me – of plastering clammy, cold paddling clothes on to a most unwilling body. The tarp is the last item to pack. My only defence against the elements now is my waterproof clothing, not that the term “waterproof” really counts for much in these conditions.

As I set off down Allagash Stream towards Chamberlain Lake my spirits are as low as the clouds. And yet, as I paddle the class I and II rapids, my mood lightens. There is purpose once more, navigating the route, avoiding the overhanging trees, enjoying the ride, relishing the challenge. The rain has ceased to be the focus of my attention, and much of the negativity that I have been harbouring evaporates. The run to Little Round Pond becomes exhilarating. I run the first part of the first ledge, but a lack of confidence leads me to wade the second part. Looking back at it, this was probably wise: there's plenty of water, but still that drop looks a bit bony. I carry around the second ledge, scout and run the rapid under the bridge, where I meet the fishermen who offered me a ride yesterday, and carry around Little Allagash Falls.

Allagash Stream

Having portaged around a ledge

The rest of the run to Chamberlain Lake is, for me, what this trip is about – great paddling on beautiful waterways, exploring regions previously unknown to me and successfully negotiating them using my own wit and skills. This ride ends far too soon, the current slowing as the stream emerges into Chamberlain Lake. The old trestle for the railway used in logging times emerges from the gloom, now a wreck of twisted steel that would support nothing but the occasional cormorant.

Railway trestle (through rain-soaked lens)

Now is decision time. Either I can head straight to the Tramway and miss most of Chamberlain Lake, or I can go to Lock Dam and come back via Eagle Lake to visit the Tramway unladen from the north. As the promised strong northerly wind is not yet up I opt for the latter, and paddle across a relatively calm lake to Lock Dam. Although it's possible to put in immediately below the dam, a sign warns of a strong “wirlpool”. It doesn't look particularly menacing, but my law-abiding sensibility leads me to follow the signs and do the entire carry to Martin Cove, a muddy trek through the continuing rain. Why can't I just be a bit more of a rebel now and then?

As soon as I reach Eagle Lake, the wind picks up. It's now 15–20 mph from the north-north-east. There's no way that I'm going to visit the Tramway now: escaping from that corner of Eagle Lake would be challenging. I shelter behind the various headlands and then behind Pillsbury Island, before crossing to the eastern shore. Crossing the outlet from Smith Brook is a tough haul, and then I once more pick up some lee. I hug this shore all the way north, through Round Pond (yet another “Round Pond”) where I set a SPOT, under John's Bridge and north to Churchill Lake.

Eagle Lake (through rain-soaked lens)

Although the wind is strong, the rain is now easing. It finally stops at 3:00 pm – that's 32 hours of continuous rain. Have I really been counting? Sadly, yes. I pick up a little shelter behind Scofield Point, and then, having hugged the west shore, cross over to the Jaws camp-site, a grassy site with westerly exposure, maybe a chance of a sunset as a watery sun is almost putting in an appearance. Immediately a swarm of blackflies appears, as if from nowhere. They remain all evening, crawling up inside my head-net. Why do they always aim for the ears? There are so many corpses, so many smears on my clothing and skin, squashed bodies in my beard, dead insects everywhere.

Jaws camp-site (through a dry lens!)

Churchill Lake from Jaws camp-site

Amazingly I find enough dry wood on the stony shoreline to be able to light the wood-stove. I cook one and a half portions, planning to keep a half portion for emergencies. I'm aiming to run out of food as I hit Allagash Village where there's a much fabled diner. That's where I plan to have the final dinner and breakfast. The Ranger from Churchill Dam stops by on his way home – I'll check in formally with him tomorrow.

My mood today has improved by leaps and bounds. I hang up clothes to dry, and then write my journal, wandering from place to place to escape the incessant blackflies, getting about 5–10 seconds of peace before they find me once more. They are the most significant blight on my mood right now. The only respite is to be had in my hammock, where I gratefully retire, glad to have emerged from the dark tunnel of despondency that stretched through yesterday into today. Tomorrow begins the Allagash River, the beginning of the end-game, the pot of gold at the end of this rainbow of a trek that I can almost begin to believe I will complete.


Website design & Photography © Peter Macfarlane 2013

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