Moosehead Lake Surf & Turf

Call me quixotic but I like surf and turf outdoor adventures. What’s a surf and turf? My definition is a sea kayak or canoe trip blended in with a mountain hike. While this may seem bizarre to the uninitiated, it’s an excellent way to combine three popular outdoor activities, paddling, hiking and camping.

Fortuitously, Maine has a number of excellent surf and turf options. In recent years, I’ve led Penobscot Paddle and Chowder Society (PPCS) trips on Donnell Pond and Schoodic Mountain, Tunk Lake and Black Mountain and Attean Lake and Mountain. Fall is my season of choice for these outings because there is less competition for campsites and no bugs. I’ve never met a bug I liked with the exception of dragon flies.

This year, my focus was on what I consider to be Maine’s quintessential surf and turf undertaking, Moosehead Lake and Mount Kineo. What better choice than Maine’s largest lake and arguably the state’s most distinctive summit? The missing link was finding willing victims to join me.

When in need of outdoor companions, I fall back on my most reliable source, chowderheads with the PPCS. Within hours of announcing my proposed escapade, three of the usual suspects, Brent Elwell, Suzanne and Gary Cole had enthusiastically signed on. I could write a couple of books about the adventures the four of us have shared over the past 30 years.

All of us retired from our respective careers, I’m the oldest. How did this oldest thing happen? Not that long ago, I was the youngest in everything; baby of the class, junior IRS Revenue Officer and more. When I’m shipped to the home, perhaps I’ll temporarily regain my youngest title before I pass on to my eternal reward.

Surf and turf trips entail logistical complexities. Foremost, you need more stuff. Essential is a vessel large enough to carry all paddling needs, camping equipment and hiking gear. Canoes provide greater space but are slower and more exposed to often gusty lake winds. We chose sea kayaks.

While an out and back expedition is simpler to arrange, traversing large lakes is more interesting and theoretically easier when planning for winds. Having twice experienced the ubiquitous Moosehead winds, I knew they could be very challenging and unpredictable. Since the forecast called for light breezes out of the northwest, I plotted a traverse from Rockwood to Mount Kineo, then southeast to Lily Bay State Park.

Camping at the state park the night before, we arranged to spot a vehicle for the return shuttle. One of the few benefits of being old in Maine is that a resident over 64 is exempt from state park day use fees. The two youngsters in our group had to keep shelling out money while receiving little sympathy from Gary and me.

Departing from the boat landing in Rockwood, gentle winds and bright sunny skies were on the menu for our mile long paddle north to Mount Kineo State Park. With a perpetual view of that magnificent rock-faced peak, the crossing was nothing short of breathtaking.

From the Kineo boat landing, we hiked the Carriage Trail along the shore and then ascended Indian Trail to the summit where a fire tower provides 360 degree views. Indian Trail skirts along the vertical cliffs affording exceptional vistas of the southern half of the lake.

Returning from the three mile hike, we began our southeasterly kayak journey with idyllic conditions; a light tailwind, sunny skies and wonderful views of the surrounding mountains. Paddling for about five miles past Harris and Cowan Coves, we rounded Big Dry Point into Spencer Bay where we were greeted with phenomenal profiles of Big and Little Spencer Mountains. Finding a southeast facing campsite about two miles east of the point, we settled in for a truly exceptional fall evening.

Rising just in time to catch a glimpse of a brilliant sunrise, we had a leisurely breakfast while plotting our strategy for the day. From our sheltered campsite, it appeared strong northwest winds were ominously gusting down the lake.

Attempting to avoid the blustery gales for as long as possible, we ran east to Spencer Narrows and crossed the bay. Turning southwest into Lilly Bay, we encountered steady, forceful starboard winds and three foot breaking waves. Brent accurately observed, “These are serious ocean conditions.” Yelling above the din, we collectively agreed to cross the top of Lily Bay with the hope of finding shelter next to Sugar Island.

After a rollicking 1.5 mile traverse, we found protection in Galusha Cove. Hugging the east side of Sugar Island, the remainder of our paddle to Lily Bay State Park was uneventful. Alas, more park fees were assessed against the youngsters.

Ron Chase

About Ron Chase

At age 70, Ron Chase is old. But, he’s not under the grass…yet. Retired from a career with the Internal Revenue Service, he has embarked on a new life as a freelance writer and tax consultant. Don’t be misled; in reality, he works a little and plays a lot. When not busy kayaking, canoeing, biking, mountain climbing and skiing, he sometimes finds time to write and assist his tax clients. A lifelong Mainer now living in Topsham, he is the recent author of The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery, a biography of Vietnam War hero and bank robber Bernard Patterson.