Peter Macfarlane's 2018 Solo East-West 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 16

18.8 miles

Tuesday 29th May

Nulhegan Hut - Brighton State Park, Spectacle Pond


Day 16 route on Google Earth imagery

It was late when I awoke, a little after 5:00 am. With minimal packing and easy preparation of breakfast, I was on my way soon after 6:00 under another cloudless blue sky. The carry to Stone Dam was uneventful, although I was still debating whether to retrace my steps of 5 years ago, by-passing the section from the railway bridge to the dam, or to take the river bed and see what lay there. My intention was the latter, but the former had not been ruled out.

Nulhegan – easy going

Now the work begins

At Stone Dam my decision was immediate. There was placid and deep water, absolutely no reason not to paddle. I would see this section of the river that I had missed previously, come what may. I put in and paddled upstream. For a while the padding was easy, and then the occasional riffle gave way to some serious rock gardens. There were channels, so I waded, sometimes waist deep, on slippery rocks, manoeuvring my canoe up the channels, paddling across deeper pools where they occurred, then climbing out once more. It was a tough ascent, but deeply satisfying, especially looking back to see the progress that I had made. It required intense focus, but that is one of my strengths, and it was good to exercise this in such a demanding and rewarding way.

Finding channels …

… between ever more rocks

Eventually the river turned south, and, with some more hauling up rapids, the gorge section finally appeared in front of me. There was clearly no way up, but a quick scout on river left revealed the portage path. With some negotiation of downed trees, this led me to a pool just downstream of the railway bridge. With relief I put in and paddled … no more than 20 yards. In front of me was another steep rock garden. Recalling my route of last time, I took out by the bridge and scouted a path up to the railway, then carried up to and along the railway for maybe 200 yards to where there was the first easy access back to the water to relaunch.

OK, I'll carry …

… to here

Paddling then was straightforward, although there were still a few rapids which required some wading. I was soon back on familiar water, and headed upstream with confidence. The river varied between deep-and-sluggish and shallow-and-quick. Several beaver dams blocked the way. Some were sufficiently breached to allow me to build enough speed to cross them; others require me to exit the canoe and haul over. I timed my progress to landmarks, especially bridges, in order to gauge my speed. This was useful farther up where the river split. My notes included details of which fork to take after a particular distance, and it was reassuring to arrive at a fork at about the expected time, and to know exactly which fork I was at. Only once did I have doubts, but it turned out that either route would have worked: the river split around an island.

Nulhegan – more deep water

The valley opens up

In the upper section the river almost ran dry in places because of beaver dams, but the benefit of this was the deep water above the dam. At last the Route 105 bridge appeared – on schedule – and I resisted the temptation to take out for a longer carry, but rather battled into a headwind, notably the wind that had been absent earlier when I was being plagued by mosquitoes, to Nulhegan Pond. The short remaining section of the river back to Route 105 was very shallow, necessitating wading the last part.

Shallow below, deep above


After a short break to wash the canoe and to have a snack, I started the carry. Two miles came and went, and I had not seen the access to Spectacle Pond, despite having reconnoitred it a couple of years previously. This was another example of the signage favouring those who travel in the conventional direction. I continued, suspecting that I had gone too far, but reluctant to back-track. Confirmation that I had gone too far arrived when I reached the camp-ground on Island Pond. At least I knew where I was. Having gained permission to use the beach there to launch, I paddled back across a small section of Island Pond, took out and followed the portage path to Spectacle Pond, effectively scouting it for tomorrow. The paddle to the south end of Spectacle Pond was easy, and brought me to Brighton State Park, my home for the night.

Unable to find the Ranger, I set up camp in a vacant site and checked in later, having fortunately chosen a site that was not reserved. Most of the evening was spent swatting mosquitoes, which were as intense as I have ever known, even more so than at Normandeau camp-site on the Upper Ammonoosuc. Even a smoky camp fire did not deter them. I ate dinner on the beach where there was an occasional breeze, and retired to my hammock early. Today's mileage was not great, but the challenge faced ascending the rapids of the Nulhegan was a tough one, and one which I had found highly rewarding.


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