Friday, October 28, 2016

Burning some vacation time – Saco and Sheepscot – October 26 and 27, 2016

Swans Falls on a the Saco
I looked in the rear view mirror as I crossed over the Massachusetts line into New Hampshire, and saw the sun just beginning to rise. The traffic heading south was bumper-to-bumper, but fortunately I was heading north for a few days of paddling in Maine with my friend Jonathan. 

Since I missed the Allegany camping trip with the RICKA Wilderness crew, I had hoped to squeeze in a few days of camping before winter set in. Jonathan, who recently retired, was more than happy to join me. Unfortunately, a forecast for cold and rainy nights convinced us that day-trips from Jonathan’s house in Wiscasset, Maine would be a more comfortable option. The plan was to start in Fryeburg for a trip on the Saco River, and then head east for a trip on the Sheepscot River in Wiscasset with its famous Reversing Falls.

met up with Jonathan in Conway to check out the Conway Rips (a small class II rapid) before heading over to Fryeburg to run the shuttle. As we paid to leave a car at the Swans Falls Camping Area, the attendant looked concerned and commented that it “might be a little cold on the river today”.  “No problem” said Jonathan, “we have our drysuits”.

The Saco River arises from Saco Lake at Crawford Notch in the White Mountains and flows 136 miles generally southeast through New Hampshire and Maine before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean at Saco Bay. There are several exciting whitewater runs on the Saco as it tumbles down the White Mountains, but today we would be paddling the flatwater section below Fryeburg. This is an extremely popular run in the summer when hundreds converge on this section of the river for weekend camping and paddling trips.

We ran the shuttle down to Walkers Bridge and were on the river by 11:00. The river was low but runnable with the wide sandy beaches that make this section so popular for camping. On this day, we didn’t have to fight the crowds. We pretty much had the river to ourselves. We paddled under the Canal Bridge and pulled over at the beach at Fiddlehead for lunch.

What is now the "official" course of the Saco River was actually constructed as a canal in the 1800’s to make transportation on the river easier. The 6-mile long “Canal River” is 15-miles shorter than the “Old Course”, which still twists and turns to the north, reconnecting with the “Canal River” a few miles below Fiddlehead. I paddled a mile or so up the “Old Course” just to say I did while Jonathan did some fishing.

Sheepscot Village 
From there, we continued downstream to our take out at Walkers Bridge.  Many people continue further downstream to Brownfield or Hiram for multi-day trips, but that will have to wait for another day. We packed up our gear and headed east to Jonathan’s house in Wiscasset for dinner and a nice warm bed. 

We awoke the next morning to frost and a temperature of 28˚. It was nice to be in a warm house rather than a cold tent. We had a leisurely breakfast waiting for the tide to come in before heading out to paddle the Sheepscot River from Sheepscot to Wiscasset. This section of the Sheepscot River couldn’t be more different than the section of the Saco that we had paddled the day before. While the Saco was a beautiful freshwater river, this section of the Sheepscot is a saltwater estuary – wide, windblown and subject to the tides.

We put in just after high tide at the pretty Village of Sheepscot, and rode the outgoing tide down through a narrow channel would form the “Reversing Falls” as the tide dropped. I’d have to wait to see that on the way back. We continued downstream to Wiscasett where we eat lunch at Sarah’s CafĂ© waiting for the tide to come back in for the return trip. 

A Bald Eagle followed us as we paddled back up the Sheepscot River.  By the time we reached Sheepscot Village, the Reversing Falls was flowing. Surfing the waves would have been a little too much for our tandem canoe, but I’d like to come back with my whitewater boat sometime. It would be fun trip for a summer afternoon when the inevitable swim would be more enjoyable.

Reversing Falls at low tide
We awoke the next morning to gusty wind and pouring rain. Once again, it was nice to be in a warm house rather than a wet tent.  Unfortunately, the weather was too windy to paddle, so we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast, and I headed back home - great way to spend a few vacation days.

And by the way, with these trips in Maine, I've now paddled in all six New England states this year - first time I have done it!

Reversing Falls with Jonathan's trusty Explorer

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Upper Connecticut River Camping

I decided to take a couple of days off to do some paddling with Jonathan. We were hoping to do some camping, and one of the suggestions was the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail. Jonathan had planned out a 3-day, 2-night trip:

Put in - Canaan VT Access 373
First Night – Holbrook Point 361
Second Night – Maine Central Railroad Trestle 341
Take out – Maidstone Bridge – 336 

Total trip was 37 miles, which may or may not have been a stretch depending on currents and water levels. The numbers are “mile markers” as shown on webpage for campsites in VT and NH.

As it turned out, the weather turned cold and we decided to do some datytrips from Jonathan’s house in Wiscasset, but this one will stay on the list for next year.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Piscat Drawadown and BBQ - October 22, 2016

The last dam release of the year is on the Piscataquog River in Goffstown NH. It’s not a tough paddle, and the run is short, but there are a couple of fun play spots. It has also become a bit of a ritual for the RICKA crew to attend this event, and this year the crew was me, Paul and Dan.

The day was warm, and the river was at its usual release level – 5.5 feet, 800 cfs.  This year, arrangements were made to take out at Henry Bridge Road, which eliminated the flatwater section at the end, and allowed us to do a couple of runs before the BBQ. 

The water turned on at 10:00, and we headed downstream around 10:30. I started off with a swim at the very first rapid. I wasn’t paying attention and flipped on a rock as I was grabbing my camera for a picture.  The water was only knee deep, so I was quickly back in my boat with little more than a bruised ego.  

We worked our way down to the surf wave at Henry Bridge Road.  I did my usual side surfing flip in this rapid.  This year I lasted about 45 seconds before the inevitable swim.  Good news was that we had time for another run.

The inevitable swim...

Monday, October 17, 2016

Leaf-peeping at the the Blackstone Gorge - October 16, 2016

Putting in at the Bike Path
I would have liked to do Bill’s trip at the Neponset River but I didn’t have time, so I decided to do some leaf-peeping at the Blackstone Gorge. 

I put in under the Bridge (or maybe Canal) Street Bridge and paddled up to the Gorge.  By spring, the parking lot for the new section of the bike path should be open making access to this section of the river a lot easier.  It will still involve climbing down a steep bank, but at least there will be a place to park.

Blackstone Gorge
I paddled upstream past the Lonsdale Powerhouse and Mill.  The river is shallow here (7’ on the Route 122 gage), but I was able to paddle up without getting out of the boat.  I paddled past the convergence of the Branch River, which is a nice side trip, but it was a little too shallow today. 

I paddled up into the Gorge to get some pictures of the lower drop.  This is a view that most people never see since the trail along the river is up on the cliffs and the rapids are obscured by trees.  I hiked up the North Smithfield side of the river to get some pictures of the Rolling Dam.

Rolling Dam

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Pawcatuck – Bradford to Potter Hill – October 8, 2016

Below the Bradford Dam
I needed to stay local, so I decided to join the RICKA Flatwater trip on the Pawcatuck River from the Bradford Landing to Potter Hill Dam.  It’s a nice 7.5-mile trip, and I wanted to find the bushwhack campsite below the Bradford Dam in the Grills Preserve of the Westerly Land Trust that Jim and I had found a few years ago.

We put in at Bradford Landing, paddled under the Route 91 Bridge, and portaged the Bradford dam on the right.  I checked out the surfing opportunities below the dam, but there wasn’t much - the water was very low - 4ft, 69 cfs on the Westerly gage; 2ft, 21 cfs on the Wood River Junction gage. 

Lunch at the Polly Coon Bridge
From the Bradford Dam to the Route 3 Bridge, the river twists and turns trough the woodlands of the Grills Preserve owned by the Westerly Land Trust and Hopkinton Land Trust. We stopped for lunch at the Polly Coon Footbridge before continuing downstream. I kept my eye open for the campsite, but couldn’t find it. Below the Route 3 Bridge there is more development and the river meanders though open marshland to the Potter Hill Dam.

Parking can be a problem at the take out, but Mike had arranged for us to park in the open lot on the right above the Potter Hill Road Bridge.  This is the easiest spot to take out and portage around the Potter Hill Dam. To continue downstream, you can carry down Potter Hill Road and put in below the dam on the right, or carry up Potter Hill Road to Post Office Lane and put in below the dam on the left.

Early foliage on the Pawcatuck River