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 Café 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

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