Peter Macfarlane's 2023 Solo Paddle of a Circuit of the Androscoggin, Kennebec and Dead Rivers
in a Cedar-Strip Canoe by Otter Creek Smallcraft


Day 14

25.8 miles

Saturday 3rd June

Natanis Pond - Stratton ME


Day 14 route on Google Earth imagery

My inadvertent decision to do without a bug net was a poor one, although it was good to be out of the rain that fell last night. Mosquitoes bothered me until well past 11:00 pm and started up again by 5:00 am. Before that an errant and raucous bird began a solitary dawn chorus at 3:30 am, well before first light. I had finally drifted off to sleep with various scenarios running through my head. Now, in the morning, they had crystallised somewhat into a clearer picture. I would head back to Stratton today, take a shuttle to Rangeley tomorrow and camp at the Rangeley Lake State Park, visit unseen parts of Mooselookmeguntic Lake on Monday, head to Lower Richardson Lake on Tuesday, visit unseen parts of Umbagog Lake on Wednesday, head downriver to Pontook or Bofinger on Thursday and finish on Friday, one day ahead of schedule.

As I walked to the shower block at the far end of the campground I noticed two things: it was cold, uncomfortably cold, and the wind had shifted to the northeast, ensuring that I would have a headwind along the Chain of Ponds in both directions. I pulled out my thermal shirt once more, glad not to have mailed it home amid all the high temperatures of recent days. Breakfast was leisurely, and I set out on Natanis Pond at about 8:15 am. The sequence of ponds was familiar – Natanis, Long, Bag, Lower – but they looked different with cloud-decked mountains. Unusually for my experience of Maine lakes, these are relatively small and surrounded by quite high mountains.

By the time I reached the dam at the east end of Lower Pond, I was warm from paddling, so shed my fleece. The fact that I put it back on again at lunchtime at Shadagee Falls says something of the conditions of my descent of the North Branch of the Dead River. The first two miles to Sarampus Falls I largely waded; despite the overnight rainfall there was too little water to float. After carrying past the falls and ledge below I strapped my long paddle into the canoe, confident that it would see no action above Eustis Dam. I kept my short paddle and poles at the ready.

Returning from Long Pond to Bag Pond

The tree didn't disappear overnight.

Some of the riffles had channels which were deep enough to run, but I used my poles to snub, digging in to the river bed ahead of me to control speed, thereby minimising damage when rocks inevitably rose up into my path. My rate of progress was not much faster than heading upstream, and I began to regret the late start. Where conditions allowed, I paddled hard, but these were few and far between. The portage at Shadagee Falls was an opportunity for lunch and also to put my fleece back on. The day was truly cold, and I had been wading extensively. The character of the river continually changed, from rocky with boulders to rocky with ledge to sandy and shallow to muddy and alder-lined. The one thing that didn't change was the low level of water. And sand and mud did not preclude the presence of lurking rocks.

At the class II rapids lower down I succeeded in poling part way, but was soon wading, controlling the canoe from the stern deck thwart. The depth of water here varied from ankle-deep to thigh-deep, and some holes swallowed me to waist-deep, while also barking my shins some more. I tried, where possible, to let the canoe take the route that the water chose, but this was not always optimal. A portage was signed for the downstream paddler for the last steep drop of the upper section of rapids. No such portage existed, however, for the larger lower section, and this had several steep drops where the water flowed powerfully through chutes between rocks. At one of these, the canoe made it through just fine, but I was left clinging to the rock and to the canoe's stern deck thwart. Ahead of me was truly deep water, probably too deep to stand; I had nowhere to step. My only solution was to hurl myself on to the rear deck, but this immersed me up to the waist. I was now effectively swimming the canoe, but succeeded in assuming some semblance of control.

Shallows on the ...

... North Branch Dead River

As the rapids subsided I set to some hard paddling to try to warm up. At Eustis Dam I was amused to see something I had missed yesterday: the boom that should be floating was draped over an island, so low was the water level.

More shallows

The ‘floating’ boom above Eustis Dam

Below the dam I unleashed my long paddle in the deep water. Stratton lay a little over 6 miles away. I left the dam at 4:15 pm and arrived at the dock in Stratton at 5:45 pm, a little over 4 mph pace at the end of a hard day. The wind gave me a little assistance, although had had me crying earlier in the day when it blew hard from the south into my face for a while. The paddling had kept me warm but, as soon as I stopped, a chill spread through me; I was borderline hypothermic. I quickly carried up to the White Wolf, not even bothering to see if the cheaper motel was operating, and walked in. It was good to be recognised, and even better to learn that they had a room. The expense was something of a luxury, but the shower and the use of the microwave to make copious hot chocolate soon had my body temperature stabilised.

I let my support crew know of my revised itinerary, and also learned of the upcoming weather. There would be some wind from a northerly arc, as well as showers, albeit not continuous rain. I declined Ray's offer of a pick-up, choosing instead to continue the trip. Dinner downstairs was chicken and fiddlehead fettucine, my first experience of eating fiddleheads. Apparently they had been locally collected, and this was the right time of year. I then retired to my room to catch up on some communications and to be generally lazy.


Website design & Photography © Peter Macfarlane

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