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 26

32.3 miles

Thursday 13th June

Churchill Lake - Round Pond


Day 26 route on Google Earth imagery

It was cold last night, very cold. As the sky cleared, the temperature plummeted, certainly down into the 30s (F). I spent the night with my head fully inside the sleeping bag to recycle the heat from exhaled air. The downside of having found enough fuel for a large brew of tea was that I had to get up in the night. Strangely, on re-entering the hammock, I was joined by several blackflies which then had to be exterminated. Don't they know that they're supposed to be inactive when cold? Or was I generating a warm micro-environment with my body heat that was just enough to keep them alert?

I'm now taking the mornings more easily, no longer always rising at first light. The pressure to put in long days is now lifted. It should be a straightforward cruise to the end. I emerge from the hammock at about 6:15 am and use the gas stove to cook breakfast, confident now that it will last, and also because I exhausted my wood supply last night. The morning is clear – a welcome sign – and it's still chilly, enough to ensure relatively few bugs, but they're on the rise as I pack. Soon after I'm following in the Ranger's wake, an easy pull to Churchill Dam.

Clear morning on Churchill Lake

The fire danger sign says "Low"! Really?

Initially I search for the Ranger Station on river left, even though it's clearly marked on the map on the opposite side. Maybe the brain is a little chilled. Once some other canoeists put me straight, I check in with Ranger Ed and pay for 3 days' use of the Allagash Wilderness Waterway, funds which help to maintain camp-sites and pay for Ranger patrol. Interestingly, the sum I pay is not divisible by three, but I'm more attracted by the prospect of the Chase Rapids than the numbers, so do not pursue this too far.

Ed almost assumes that I will want him to transfer my pack downstream so that I can run the rapids with an empty boat. I'm entertaining no such notion: I've been a self-contained unit this far and don't intend to spoil that record now. Besides, I reckon that I will be passing the Bissonette Bridge site, where he would drop off the pack, well ahead of when he will reach there. And sitting still, waiting, being eaten by insects is not a high priority for me.

Chase Rapids

Allagash River

Back on the water, I take the route between rocks that Ed has advised, and then enjoy a wonderful ride down the class II Chase Rapids. A little water slops into the canoe from the larger waves, and a few hasty manoeuvres are necessary to avoid rocks, but my focus is good, albeit not so intense that I cannot enjoy the wonderful scenery of this gorgeous river valley. After the initial rapids, there are frequent class I rapids interspersed with regions of class II and some swift-water. The current gradually slows as I approach Umsaskis Lake.

Allagash moose

Umsaskis Lake

Maybe it's the sun and blue sky, but Umsaskis Lake is beautifully scenic. A gentle easterly breeze offers what seems like assistance, although it may just be the lack of headwind that I'm noticing. In the middle I drift for a while, have some lunch away from insects that would do likewise, set a SPOT, and enjoy the sun. I'm down to T-shirt and shorts again. The number of times this has been possible on this trip can probably be counted on the fingers of one hand. I also spread out my socks and shoes on my pack to dry.

Now is the time for a momentous occasion. I have been able to mark my progress at intervals by changing out the map that is in the map case, retiring it to the store in the dry-bag, and pulling out the next. This has not always been easy amid pouring rain, and the map case has sometimes taken on water which I've struggled to remove. Eleven times this has happened so far. Now, in something approaching ceremonial manner, I return map 12 to storage and ease map 13, the final map, the one that will take me to Fort Kent, into the case.

A rare chance to dry shoes

The final map

I know that I'm going to complete this trail, yet at intervals I still remind myself, sometimes aloud, to focus, that I could still screw it all up yet. After all, Allagash Falls still lie ahead …

I pass through The Thoroughfare into Long Lake where I discover that the wind was just toying with me. It's now a headwind, funnelling up the lake from the north, chilly enough to require another shirt. I notice that, even though I have many miles yet to paddle, my paddling is less purposeful now, and it shows in my technique which sometimes is sloppier than I like. Seeing some paddlers ahead of me in Harvey Pond gives me cause to paddle efficiently once more in an attempt to catch them up. Maybe the lack of human company is getting to me.

At Long Lake Dam ruins I reach them. They're fairly heavily laden, a mix of canoes and kayaks, and are using multiple trips to get around the dam. It's a short carry, so this is maybe better than heavy loads. We chat for a while as I single the carry, and then I move on, my focus being on finding a camp-site on Round Pond. The Allagash here offers a mix of swift-water, riffles and slack-water, easy pleasant paddling, finally slowing to emerge into Round Pond. This is one of the less round “Round Ponds” that I've passed through on this trip, very much elongated north to south.

Long Lake

Allagash River

Immediately it becomes obvious that this place is crowded. If I was craving human company, I can't avoid it here. And yet, after all the days of solitude, the density of campers here doesn't offer me any relief. I have the same feeling that I have in large cities – too hemmed in, too crowded, nowhere to escape to. All I now crave is an empty camp-site, so I make a tour of the lake, scouting the southerly sites – all taken. As I progress north, my luck is no better. I'd prefer a site on the eastern shore if possible: the possibility of a sunset and fewer bugs is appealing.

I'm out of luck. There are signs of life at all the sites. I really don't want to carry on down the river, but this may be necessary. I drift over to the last site on the eastern shore, Round Pond Rips site, partly out of hope that the campers there will offer to share the site and partly to ask if they know of anyone ahead of them who might be occupying the next sites downstream. They reckon that the following sites are free, knowing of no-one who has passed them, but point out that they're on the west bank, so likely to be more buggy. This discouragement turns to encouragement when one of them, Peter, holds out a couple of Slim Jims. I need no second invitation: what I crave more than an empty site is protein! We exchange compliments on each other's canoes – Peter's is a vintage canvas-covered canoe that he has beautifully restored – and, soon after, Peter and Manfred invite me to share their site. After checking at least twice that I will not be imposing (that's the British way of saying “yes please”!), I enthusiastically accept their offer. There are a couple of trees off to the side of the site which are perfect for my hammock and do not impinge on my hosts' view of the lake.

Peter & Manfred in vintage canoe

Sunset on Round Pond

While I'm setting up camp, Peter and Manfred start to cook dinner, and it smells gorgeous. I don't know if my tongue is visibly lolling, but they offer me some. I'm not a big beef eater, but this marinaded hunk of bovine is exquisite, and is followed by a second. I top this off with my last full meal portion, cooked on the wood-stove. I also gather enough wood to cook my last breakfast portion tomorrow. All that will remain is a half portion of Mashawa, some trail-mix and some banana chips. My pack is as light as it has ever been, which is ironic as there is only one short carry remaining.

Peter has some repairs to do to his canoe, having hit a rock square on at the bow. Duct tape is not sealing it, so he collects pine pitch and melts it into place. Meanwhile, Manfred is extolling the virtues of his bug-repellent clothing, and it certainly seems to work. He's a good person to stand beside. The promise of a sunset is fulfilled, a rare sight on this trip, and a clear night is ahead. Supposedly the next two days should be fine. We'll see. I drift off to sleep, grateful for my hosts' generosity.


Website design & Photography © Peter Macfarlane 2013

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