State 15 of 50: NH (second paddle) Campton Bog

A beautiful wetland hidden in a broad valley beneath impressive mountains.
Date Paddled:   Oct. 16, 2016
Nearest City:   Plymouth, NH
Put-In & Take-Out:  Beech Hill Road
Duration:  3 hours
River Miles:  3 flatwater miles 
Shuttle:  (none)
Weather:   sunny, 50’s
Difficulty:  flatwater; one beaver dam to climb over
Cfs:  n/a

(By Diana)
I discovered this gem of a paddle years ago in the Quiet Waters AMC series of books. The New York and New England guides were written by John Hayes and Alex Wilson and I strongly recommend them for flatwater locations and easy out and back rivers/bogs. I’ve visited the Campton Bog 7-8 times as it’s location, just off Interstate 93  and down the road from the White Mountains National Forest Headquarters (also worth  a visit), makes it a surprisingly wild find in the midst of a busy area.

The bog sets behind a low dam with pristine waters stained brown with tannin.  The clarity and cleanness of the water shows gradations of darkening tannin as the water deepens. The tannin is what made areas like the Catskills and Adirondacks centers for the tanning industry, a natural element found abundantly in many trees, especially so in hemlocks.dscn3980All the times I’ve put-in run together in a splendid welcome. I feel at home, but not the home where furniture is never moved and conversations are predictable, but one that changes, revealing a rainbow of moods. The large boulder to the left of the put-in is like a loved auntie, adorned in a variety of bonsaied plants, all marvels in tenacity and gracefulness.dscn3986Rounding the end of the stillwater, two sentinels protect the next segment. These white pines firmly established on a center island are a glory to the tree-world.dscn3994I study some sundew growing in the spaghum mats and sweet gale edging the uplands containing black spruce, maple, and oak. Cavernous plants are bizarrely interesting! They digest unsuspecting insects entrapped in sticky hairs like the sundew or perhaps become entrapped in the small pond of the pitcher plant. This adaptation probably came about due to the low nutrient level in the acidic bog waters that needed some “supplements.”

Sun Dew
Sundew

The next passage is a bit hard to find, guarded by a formidable beaver dam. Portaging seemed the only viable method of gaining the far reaches so – up and over. dscn4008-2I feel the rising anticipation as the far fall colored world slowly is revealed. The mountains rise 1000 feet from the water in a amphitheater of color. The golden yellows, russet, evergreens, and occasional red rest on the mountains like a cosmic grandma’s quilt.

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The only signs of humans are the nesting boxes provided for the wood ducks. Even those can’t detract from the feeling that I’m the only person to wander here privy to the secrets of Campton Bog.

State 15 of 50: New Hampshire: Androscoggin River

A pleasant and easy any-season paddle in the northwoods of New Hampshire.
Date Paddled:  Oct. 15, 2016
Nearest City:  Berlin, NH
Put-In:    NH 26 bridge in Errol, NH
Take-Out:   Bridge along NH 16 at 7 islands
Duration:  4.5 hours
River Miles:  9 miles
Shuttle:   local outfitter in Errol
Weather:   mostly cloudy, 50s
Difficulty:  flatwater, quickwater, class I & II rapids; somewhat rocky in low water
Cfs:  975

When virtually all the other rivers in New England are rocky and un-runnable, the Androscoggin will invariably still have plenty of water, as it drains a large watershed in western Maine fed by large lakes.  So during this particularly dry year it turned out to be one of the only places where we could dip our paddles in a New Hampshire river.  But even the Androscoggin was feeling the effects of the drought, running at barely 60% of its normal flow level for this time of year.

After a cold night camping alongside the river, we took our time getting started in the morning, as the temperature didn’t hit 40 until well past 10 am.  Good fortune brought a significant wind shift with warmer air just as we were pushing off around 11:20 from the landing in Errol, and we enjoyed temps rising  into the 50’s and eventually 60’s as the day progressed.  Unfortunately, though, this meant a bit of a headwind at times, a bit of a nuisance when the current waned.  dscn3957After a fun push-off into some easy class II rapids under the bridge at Errol, we had to paddle our way through several miles of flatwater before the current resumed and we had some fun class I & II rips to run.  Because of the low water level, there were plenty of exposed rocks along the way, and enough dark and stealthily ones lurking just below the also-dark surface to require some vigilance, especially in the quicker parts.  Finding a channel or route with enough water for our kayaks was never a challenge, but in this low water condition a good bit of maneuvering was required to keep from bouncing off or over the rocks in some of the rapids.  In higher water we would expect the challenge would be less from rocks and more from bigger waves.dscn5170The highway runs parallel to the river for much of the way, so cars and trucks were often seen and heard on the right bank…a bit annoying. Otherwise the scenery was lovely, if not dramatic, as the fall colors were not too far past their peak.  There were distant views of the White Mountains, and common avian residents including herons, kestrels, and, of course…a kingfisher or two!dscn5162We pulled out at seven-islands so as to avoid an extended section of flatwater behind the Pontook Dam several miles down river.  This recently remodeled dam diverts much of the Androscoggin’s flow through penstocks to power turbines downstream – unfortunate because immediately below the dam is a two-mile stretch of excellent class II+ rapids.  Scheduled water releases (on summer weekends) and easy access from the highway make this a popular local whitewater spot,  but this mid-October day saw only a meager allocation of water spilling over the dam and trickling through the rocky stream bed below, so we headed off to find another day of paddling.dscn3920Footnote:   This remote region also contains the Umbagog Lake NWR, a vast lake/river/wetland preserve with copious wildlife and a floating island bog!  Also nearby for paddlers are the Rangeley Lakes, a chain of large, interconnected (easy portages) lakes surrounded by forests and mountains.  As well, many of these waterways, including the Androscoggin, are part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, a 740-mile water route that passes through 4 states and Quebec on its way from Old Forge, NY to Fort Kent, Maine.

State 14 of 50: Maine: Bog Creek Flowage

When the rivers are running dry…there’s always water in the bog!
Date Paddled:  Oct. 13, 2016
Nearest City:   Bangor
Put-In & Take-Out:  boat launch above dam – East Beddington Lake Road, Beddington (off of ME 9)
Duration:  4 hours
River Miles:   4 to 5 miles of exploration on the flowage
Shuttle: none – out and back
Weather:   Cool, sunny, windy 10-15 N, NW
Difficulty:   flatwater, some navigating around tree stumps and submerged rocks; possibly confusing shoreline
Cfs:  n/a

In search of some river in Maine with enough water to paddle, we found ourselves in Beddington, a tiny community about 40 miles east of Bangor, where the Naraguasgus River was alleged to be flowing at a passable level.  Upon arriving there, however, we found an ankle-slashing river. Frustrated at being led astray by erroneous online information, we searched far and wide for something – anything – to paddle in Maine. Our fortune was about to change.

Lo and behold, literally on the same road we used to scout the Naraguasgus, was a fine little backwater behind a small flood-control dam on aptly-named Bog Brook.dscn5140The day was still bright and, though chilly and a bit windy, offered the chance to see some nice fall colors, some migrating birds, and other wildlife on an easy out-and-back adventure.  We had a wonderful launch site that promised the possibility of a remote and beautiful camping experience as well.   On our way to the flowage, we were taken with the amazing sight of blueberry fields in their fall colors:dscn3782We maneuvered Vincent into position, unloaded our boats and equipment, and shoved off into the clear but shallow water of the lake that stretches south for several lazy and irregular miles behind the dam.
dscn5124Set as it is in the low hills of eastern Maine,  this flowage offers pretty but limited views. The scenery was enhanced by the dramatic clusters of tree stumps that jutted several feet above the waterline, as well as patches of standing snags.dscn5145These sat in stark contrast to the deep blue skies reflecting in the crystal-clear, wind-rippled water, and the oranges and yellows emerging from the green foliage on shore.

We paddled between, through, and around many of these bizarre remnants of the forest that predated the flooding of this land as well as some interesting rock formations under and near the surface of the water. We were treated to an osprey nest – an intriguing placement as their nests are usually up higher.dscn5130Since the water was tannin filled and stagnant, there were an abundance of bog plants such as sundews, bog rosemary, dwarf cranberry, and bog laurel, but my favorite was the cotton grass, gaily dancing in the wind:
Our Kayak 50 quest has been recently filled with many meanderings as we try to locate places to paddle in this dry/drought filled year. Bog Creek was a pleasant surprise that flowered out of our disappointment.

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State 13 of 50: Vermont: Connecticut River

Three states and nice scenery on a lazy river on a lazy day.
Date Paddled:  Oct. 3, 2016
Nearest City:   Brattleboro, VT
Put-In:  Vernon, VT – boat ramp below dam
Take-Out:  Northfield, MA – boat launch
Duration:  4 hours
River Miles:  6.2 miles
Shuttle:  difficult (but fortunate) hitchhiking
Weather:  mostly sunny 60 deg.
Difficulty:  Flat / still water in a wide channel – no obstacles!
Cfs:  2000 +/-
(By Peter) In a normally dry fall it can be quite difficult to find rivers in New England that have adequate flows for paddling.  Even the reservoir-fed Deerfield had provided us with a limited dam release that forced a curtailed excursion two days earlier.  So on this date the Connecticut presented itself as the closest of very few viable options in the state of Vermont. dscn3439Several things made it appealing, not the least of which was finally being on a river that I had crossed on highway bridges so many times and in so many places for more than five decades.  It also provided a rare opportunity to paddle in three states in one easy day.  We’d already done the Montana – Idaho daily double and now this trifecta was hard to resist and to top it off, the sky was perfectly reflected in the clean waters.dscn3448After a bit of a delay waiting for Diana to bravely complete a challenging shuttle back from the take out in Northfield, we set out a few hundred yards below a large but rather old- and mundane-looking dam. This is just one of many on the Connecticut’s 400-mile length from the Canadian border to tidewater.  It seemed as if only a base-line flow was being released from the dam and the current eddied and swirled lazily as we shoved off into the surprisingly clean, clear and deep water.
The shoreline was largely undeveloped, and while we heard some mechanized sounds of civilization at times in the distance, this section of the Connecticut seemed very remote.  We saw a nice variety of birds, from various small songbirds and sand-piper-like birds to many of our now-familiar water-lovers such as kingfisher, osprey, heron and bald eagle.dscn3458The river eased past the remnants of an old railroad bridge, a domino-like progression of concrete piers stretching across the broad channel, some trailing bits of steel hardware or cable from their crumbling crowns.dscn3462-2

dscn5108 Fortunately, headwinds weren’t an issue and the paddling was easy and relaxing as we made our way back and forth between Vermont and New Hampshire, then finally south into Massachusetts, where Vincent, our trusty diesel coach, awaited us at the boat ramp in Northfield.

State 12 of 50: Massachusetts: Deerfield River

Dam release paddle with good friends on gray day
Date Paddled: 10/1/16
Nearest City: Charlemont
Put-In: Zoar Gap picnic area
Take-Out: The Great Outdoors Outfitter, Charlemont
Duration: 4 hours
River Miles: 6
Shuttle: two cars, easy hitchhiking if needed
Weather: overcast
Difficulty: quickwater, class I and II
Cfs: 820

In a case of frustration with time and place, Peter and I, and our good friends Christian and Jen, ended up on the Deerfield River later than we had hoped. We had our sights set on the upper Deerfield from Fife Dam to the Zoar Gap picnic area, but, for reasons unknown, the “gods of the water” i.e. Brookfield Hydro, decided to curtail their commitment to 800 cfs for 5 hours on Saturday to a mere 3 hours. This effectively left us high and dry on the upper portion, but still in the game for the lower. The upper portion has more and jazzier rapids and somewhat nicer views, but the lower is commendable.
This river is a favorite with paddlers who come from far and wide, as flows here are regulated making water flows reliable when other rivers are low and desolate. Upper parts of the Deerfield are generally more challenging, with the class III – V Zoar Gap being the biggest rapid. Here the river narrows down to a chute through a boulder-strewn area.

zoar-gap

Our day was misty and overcast with temperatures in the low 60’s. We put in at the picnic area near Zoar Gap.   A bit frazzled with all the hurry, we soon settled in.dscn3396We enjoyed some nice class I and II rapids, interspersed with quickwater and very occasional flat water. The mist was magical and mysterious with fall colors just beginning to shine. The Deerfield runs through this sparely populated part of the northern Berkshires after traversing a number of state forests on its western side and the vast Green Mountains of Vermont to the north.   Bear, fisher, and porcupines freely inhabit the surrounding area – the true beginning of the northern forest. dscn3392One of the benefits of less rapids is that we had more time to fish, talk, watch the mist, and relax.dscn3418

dscn3391The Deerfield, and the nearby Mohawk Trail State Park, are both very special places.  Being born a gypsy at heart, I find it very strange that I’m always sad to leave this beautiful place. It seems like home in a way that I still don’t understand, even after 10 years of making pilgrimages. I suspect that hiking on The Mohawk Trail, used by Native peoples for eons, may have something to do with it. The Trail along the ridge line has been compressed over time, so that it is inches below the surrounding forest. During a bear tracking class, we learned of something quite similar with bear. In their case, it’s a ceremonial trail that involves placing their feet in the same spots as their ancestors. Scientists don’t understand the reasons for this behavior, but perhaps like us, the connections that are made over time and place work themselves into the very soil and soul.dscn3416

State 11 of 50: Illinois: Vermilion River

Surprisingly fun river, Diana learns a lesson
Date Paddled: 9/24/16
Nearest City: Oglesby
Put-In: Vermilion Outfitter
Take-Out: Bridge in Oglesby Route 23
Duration: 3.75
River Miles: 7.7
Shuttle: Dave from Cozy Corner Campground
                    Bike shuttle would be 5.5 miles
Weather: 73 overcast until mid-afternoon then partly sunny
Difficulty: flat and quickwater with class I and II, one class IV
Cfs: 1020

There are times when even the most experienced kayaker, hiker, climber, etc. make some pretty elementary mistakes. The Vermilion River paddle reminded me that scouting rapids is a pretty good idea, especially when someone has died in that spot.

Paddling in Illinois wasn’t exactly high on my list of “I can’t wait!” The Illinois Vermilion was juxtaposed in my mind to the Kootenay National Park, Canadian Vermilion – an unfortunate comparison.

Kootenay National Park                    Illinois                      

That being said, the Illinois Vermilion surprised us with its feeling of remoteness,  interesting cliff and rock formations, and excitement (especially for my unexpected swim). Sometimes having low expectations really works out well.

The day was overcast and quiet in the low 70’s and the water was about the same temperature.  In short order we spotted tall block banded cliffs, raising our spirits as I mused on the almost palatable way that eons are represented on rocky cliff faces.

dscn3321After this banded cliff area, we were swept into a tight meander and surprised by an eroded cliff formation of newer rock very different in character. It dwarfed Peter as he ventured in for a closer look.dscn3330We saw a variety of plant life with many of the common eastern plants making us feel like we were really on our home turf again. Asters were blooming everywhere in whites and purples. Three bald eagles, four great blue herons, a kingfisher, and a variety of sparrows made there presence known. We saw no other people on the river although we understand it’s very popular in the summer with few outfitters providing services.

The water was mostly quick with some class I and II rapids.  We had been forewarned about a possible carry around a class IV rapid where part of the cliff had fallen into the river making it boulder-y and dangerous. After scouting, we decided to line the boats meaning

that we secured and guided them through the rapid from shore. This is traditionally done with a rope, but we find bungee cords to be more successful. It was a rather lengthy process, but happily both kayaks made it through with no mishaps except for taking on a bit of water.

Diana's kayak made ready to go through the rapid.
Diana’s kayak made ready to go through the rapid.
Peter beginning the lining process.
Peter beginning the lining process.
Moving the kayak from "shore."
Moving the kayak from “shore.” Note Peter’s kayak by the distant rock.

The next section of the river was filled with larger boulders making the paddling more interesting. When the sun came out we were really appreciative and happy that we had overcome our initial prejudices against this lesser Vermilion.

As we neared the end of our paddle, an old cement dam came into view by a large factory. It was a rather abrupt reintroduction into society as we had seen no other signs of civilization. Someone had perished on this old dam, after which the company made it safer and added signage. We had also spoken to a local who assured us that the line was to stay way over to the right and then we’d be met with a wave train once we were over the dam, a class II rapid, but nothing difficult.  I foolishly decided that it would be fine to run without scouting. After all, I got it – stay to the right.

As I neared the rapid, I immediately realized that I wasn’t right enough! In front of me was a huge boulder that was mostly submerged and lodged up against the dam. I also immediately realized that I would hit the boulder and soon be swimming – too late to do anything but “go with the flow”!

And swim I did! Actually it was more like being in a butter churn as I hit my head and got turned around. I was momentarily caught in the hydraulic  spinning at the bottom of the dam…long enough to think, “Oh, this is how people get stuck and die.” Then I was spit out and on my way downstream clutching my paddle and kayak with its flotation loose and various pieces of gear that were thankfully coming along for the ride.

Sorry to say I don’t have any pictures, I was too busy to take any. I do have this one of my kayak after I righted it and swam it to shore.dscn3381

And here’s that last look back;

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thankful that I’m here to tell the tale!