Seniors Not Acting Their Age
Sixty years ago, friends and I played along Togus Stream. Beginning at the outlet of Togus Pond, the diminutive creek tumbles downhill through Chelsea and Randolph into the Kennebec River opposite Gardiner. I have many fond memories of our exploits in and around the stream.
We sometimes speared suckers when they were running and skinny dipping was a common activity when waters warmed in the summer. Our favorite pursuit was at a location we named The Cables. For reasons unknown, a cable bridge had been constructed in a steep remote valley perhaps a mile upstream from confluence with the Kennebec. Consisting of two rugged steel cables separated by about six feet, one directly over the other, crossing was accomplished by holding the top cable and walking sideways on the lower while swaying high over the stream. Naturally, it was a lightning rod for adventurous young minds.
I vividly remember my first traverse. A taller friend went first and I quickly followed. We were succeeded by yet another taller sidekick. You can imagine what ensued. Suspended in the middle hanging precariously over whitewater, my toes were stretched to the limit attempting touch the lower cable. Possessing only youthful strength, my companions struggled mightily to pull the top cable down so that I could safely complete our misguided escapade. After that, the shortest kid always went first or last. I don’t think it ever entered our minds to cease the hazardous activity.
As an adult, or some semblance of the same, paddling whitewater has been a passion. Each time I passed Togus Stream when it was flowing high, I wondered if it could be navigated in whitewater boats. Unaware of any successful descents, four years ago I announced a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society (PPCS) trip. Several members joined me for an exploratory.
The water level was low but navigable. Early on, we bounced down a rocky sluice at a washed out dam. While there were stretches of entertaining rapids, numerous fallen trees were encountered. Carrying small saws, several strainers were removed. One extended section was completely iced over. Yet, we managed to make it to the outskirts of Randolph. Unexpectedly arriving at low tide, we were forced drag or pole our boats in shallow water and mud for the final few hundred yards. Preoccupied throughout, I forgot to look for The Cables.
Subsequently, I frequently contemplated a return visit. Recently, elevated water, warm weather and a timely high tide provided the ideal opportunity. Two friends from the original endeavor enthusiastically joined me. A unique benefit of PPCS membership, I’ve found several kindred spirits…alright, arguably equally imprudent accomplices.
The expedition began inauspiciously as I had forgotten my dry suit. This may seem extraordinarily vacuous but I once started a canoe trip when one party forgot their canoe. You always forget something on a canoe trip. How we managed to complete the odyssey missing a canoe requires a book not a column. Fortunately, a kindred spirit, Brent Elwell, provided a spare dry top offering partial protection from the icy water and rendering an accidental swim completely unacceptable.
Leaving a vehicle in Randolph, we launched on Wellman Road below a debris infested swamp just a short distance from Togus Pond. Around the first bend was the washed out dam. This time a feisty water level created an excellent Class III descent. We awarded it the original name Washed Out Dam Falls. Just beyond, a low hanging bridge was carried, our only portage of the day.
Stimulating whitewater continued sporadically to a large culvert under Windsor Road. After peering inside to ensure there were no dangerous obstacles, we successfully negotiated what is now known as First Culvert Rapid. Below, in the section that was iced over on the first trip, we were delighted to find an exhilarating, steep, technical Class IV rapid. Eggman DeCoster, first to reach it, accidentally ran the bottom half backwards. Hence, the name Scrambled Egg Falls.
Following a second culvert, we encountered a third in a rapid under Pinkham Road now called Third Culvert Rapid. From that point the gradient steepened and we were occupied with almost continuous consequential whitewater for the remainder of the trip. I regret to report The Cables are no longer there. However, the final substantial stretch of rapids has been assigned the moniker Cables Rips in their memory. High tide at the takeout received a collective smiley face.
An excellent excursion that I intend to repeat, The Cables are missed….although I’m not sure I’d dare cross them at my age.
The author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.