A tributary of the Allagash River, Musquacook Stream is located in a remote area east of the iconic waterway. Flowing northwesterly, it joins the Allagash about midway through the river section of the traditional canoe trip.
Musquacook had been on my bucket list ever since two friends paddled it eight years ago. At my age, time was running out. The problem, the window of opportunity to paddle the arcane stream is very limited. Ice has to be out, the old logging roads accessible and adequate water for an enjoyable, exciting paddle is necessary. For me, there is an additional prerequisite; no black flies. That narrows the chances to a handful of days each year.
I called premiere Allagash shuttle aficionado and owner of Pelletier Camps Norm L’Italien on a Wednesday evening. He reported that roads were rough but passable and ice was out. Adding in his distinctly French Canadian accent that there was plenty of water and no black flies, he cautioned, “If you’re going, do it soon. Remember, you’ll be on your own with unknown conditions. No one has been there since last May.”
Early the following Tuesday morning, Norm’s crew was shuttling us to Musquacook. A team of four, including three retirees, we were paddling an expedition kayak and three solo canoes. The confusing labyrinth of roads were muddy with partial washouts but the van driver safely delivered us to a bridge over a fast moving stream we hoped was out intended goal. According to online gauge readings, the Allagash watershed was running in excess of 5000 cfs, more than five times the normal flow for the canoe trip. The actual level for Musquacook was unknown but presumed high. The weather forecast was unsettled and stormy throughout our planned trip with periodic rain, possibly snow and strong headwinds predicted. Our choice was to tolerate the unpleasant weather or wait another year. We knowingly selected the former.
Initially confronting a fast moving current, the intensity quickened to steady whitewater. There were two primary concerns; the possibility of dangerous strainers blocking the stream and a ledge drop that was reputed to be a difficult Class III. Rounding a bend, we encountered a large fallen tree obstructing navigation. Since the water was high, we were able to negotiate to the right pushing through alders on what would normally be the shore. Shortly after, another downed tree was approached in the midst of a rapid. Halting our heavy vessels just above, this time dragging our boats around was the only option. Progressing in search of the elusive falls, a continuation of blow downs was a concern.
The river gods smiled on us as no additional significant impediments were encountered and we unknowingly passed through the challenging rapid without realizing it. In fact, the sustained entertaining whitewater never exceeded Class II in difficulty. Following a couple of miles of flat water, we arrived at Allagash River. Our substantial efforts to paddle Musquacook had been affirmed as it was a thoroughly satisfying endeavor.
Powerful headwinds greeted us on the Allagash. With a forecast for heavy rain, snow and temperatures in the thirties, we stopped early at Five Fingers Brook campsite. After setting up tents, a large tarp was pitched over the picnic table and firewood gathered before hunkering down. A cold weather sissy, I erected a small tarp over my tent for added protection. Shortly after, the rain began.
Lingering in our warm sleeping bags, we arose late the following morning. If it snowed in the night, early morning rain had washed it away. After a brief clearing, rain vindictively recommenced. While the high water pushed us along, an unrelenting headwind was an unwelcome adversary. Following a stop at Michaud Farm Ranger Station, we traversed through a succession of small islands to spectacular Allagash Falls, a mandatory portage.
While any portage is a chore, Allagash Falls Trail is in excellent condition. Ahead of schedule, we progressed north into a persistent gale to Big Brook Campsite where wind and rain continued throughout the night. Embarking early on our final day, the remaining ten miles were completed despite you guessed it, an uncompromising headwind with steady showers. While away, my wife was unmercifully harassed by blackflies in our backyard. Not us.
My bucket list reduced by one, I have an eye on another obscure tributary that flows into the Allagash, Chemquasabamticook Stream. Can’t pronounce it, don’t know anyone who has been there, but I want to paddle it.
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.