Monday, October 9, 2017

Upper Connecticut River – Bloomfield to Lunenburg - October 6-9, 2017

Typical section of the Connecticut River
Bill arrived at my house at around noon for the drive up to the Connecticut River in Vermont. We had been planning this trip for months, but the weather didn’t look promising. Oh well…

The Connecticut River is the longest river in New England flowing south for approximately 400 miles from the Canadian border through four states before emptying into Long Island Sound. We would be paddling the section of the Connecticut River Paddlers Trail from Bloomfield, VT (North Stratford, NH) to Lunenburg, VT (South Lancaster, NH). From the put-in near the mouth of the Nulhegan River to the convergence with the Upper Ammonoosuc near Groveton, NH we would also be paddling a section of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail.

At the Old Man of the Mountain
As we drove through the Franconia Notch, we decided to take a break and check out the Old Man of the Mountain. I can remember stopping to see the “Old Man” as a kid. It was actually a series of five granite cliffs on Cannon Mountain that appeared as the profile of an old man’s face when viewed from the north. The rock formation was 1,200 feet up, and came crashing down on May 3, 2003. It’s still a pretty view.

We arrived in Lancaster, NH at around 5:00, and stopped at a local pub for dinner. On the way to the campsite, we stopped to check out the Wyoming Dam Portage in Guildhall, VT, and Tommy and Mena pulled up behind us. We followed them up Route 102 in VT to the Belnap Campsite where we would be spending the night

Belnap Campsite
Belnap Campsite is a small campsite at the convergence of the Connecticut River and the Nulhegan River. The Nulhegan River arises in Brighton, VT, and flows generally northeast across Vermont to its convergence with the Connecticut River in Bloomfield village. There is a whitewater run on the Nulhegan, but it probably above may skill level.

We parked at the Northern Forest Canoe Trail kiosk, and carried our gear to the site for the night. No campfire this night. We set up camp and chatted in the dark enjoying the stars until it was time for bed. 

Breakfast with Bill
I woke up early on Saturday, made a cup of coffee, and walked over to the bridge over the Nulhegan River to watch the sunrise.  The morning was cloudy so the sun was mostly obscured.  By 7:00, everyone was up and we were having our breakfast and making plans for the day. 

We would put in at Debanville Landing – a grassy landing across the street from the campsite (mile 348) - and shuttle down to the Mount Orne Covered Bridge (mile 307) in Lunenburg, VT - a trip of 41 miles. This section of the river generally follows Route 3 in NH and Routes 102 and 2 in VT.

A well loaded boat
By 9:30, we had run the shuttle and we were anxious to the trip underway. On this day we would paddle 13 miles to the Samuel Benton Campsite (mile 334). Once Bill and I got our gear to the put-in, we wondered if it would all fit in the boat. It did, but just barely.

The river was wide, but very shallow at the put-in. With our heavy load, Bill and I had to wade out quite ways to find water deep enough to float the boat, and we still put in a couple of good scratches in the hull.

Heading downstream
We headed out under mostly sunny skies, but clouds rolled in as the day progressed, and we got some scattered rain in the afternoon. With our heavy load, Bill and I had to be careful to avoid the many rocks and sandbars. The foliage was just about peak, but with the cloudy skies it wasn’t as bright as I would have liked. 

After 13 miles we arrived at the Samuel Benton Campsite (mile 334). The campsite is situated in a grove of trees on a sandy bluff at the edge of large hay field. The nice grassy site gave us plenty of room to spread out. We quickly settled into to a familar routine – set up camp, gather firewood, cook supper, and gather around the campfire for the night. The sun setting over the mountains was spectacular.

Breakfast at the Samuel Benton Campsite
We got up on Sunday morning to fog and mist. The morning routine was similar to the evening – make coffee, get a small fire going, eat breakfast, break camp and head out. A light rain at about 7:30 got us moving quickly, and we were on the river by 8:30 heading downstream. 

The river continued to be shallow, but was not a boney as the previous day. Throughout the morning showers passed, so it was rain gear on, and rain gear off. As we passed the confluence of the Upper Ammonoosuc River, the river opened up a bit. 

Wyoming Dam Portage
The Upper Ammonoosuc River flows north and then west across New Hampshire to empty into the Connecticut River near Groveton. I had run a portion of the Upper Ammonoosuc as part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail several years ago. There are also a couple of whitewater runs on the Upper Ammo (class IV/II and class II) that I would like to try.

After 11 miles, we approached the Maidstone Bridge and the Wyoming Dam Portage. The old Wyoming Dam is a hazard due to rebar jutting into the river. Even without rebar, it looked too boney to run at this level anyway. Fortunately the rain let up as we hiked the portage trail. After a quick lunch we continued downstream to the South Guildhall Campsite. 

Rain gear on
As we headed out, the wind picked up and rain came down in sheets. It looked like it would be long 5-mile slog down to the campsite. Fortunately, the rain and wind passed as quickly as it started, and we had clear blue skies as we pulled into the South Guildhall Campsite (Mile 317). 

The South Guildhall Campsite is a wooded site up a steep bank with great views of the White Mountains to the south. We lugged our gear up the stairs and followed our usual routine - set up camp, gather firewood, cook supper, and then gather around the campfire for the night. 

The crew - Erik, Bill, Tommy and Mena
I turned in at around 9:00, and woke up the next morning at around 5:30 to Tommy taking down his tent. The sky was cloudy, and it was pretty clear that it was going to be a rainy day, so he wanted to keep his tent dry.  I figured I would have time for a cup of coffee, and I was right, but just barely.  I had to race to get my gear packed before the skies opened up. We loaded the boats, took a picture of the group, and were on the river by 7:30.

Monday would be a short day (10 miles) down to the take-out at the Mount Orne Covered Bridge (mile 307). The river was wider and deeper in this section. It twists and turns through corn fields that seem to go on forever.  The wind was calm, but the rain got heavier as the morning went on.  We passed the confluence of the Israel River, which runs general northwest across New Hampshire before emptying in to the Connecticut River in Lancaster. There is also a whitewater run on the Israel that I would like to try. 

Mount Orne Covered Bridge
We arrived at the Mount Orne Covered Bridge at around noon. We were wet and tired, but excited about a great trip. We retrieved our cars, packed up our gear and said goodbyes before the long drive home in the holiday traffic.

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