Moose River Bow Trip (Backwards), Maine, September 2020

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Dec 16, 2016
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Bangor, Maine
This is another installment in a series that might be called "Small Beer Canoe Trips". In this case it was a two night trip, Saturday through Monday, Labor Day weekend. I'd love to be doing longer trips, but you know how it goes, so I splash around as much as I can in a weekend.

The Moose River Bow trip is short (~34 miles) but classic, and it's been one of my favorites since the first time I did it in 2011. I have to almost restrain myself from going up to Jackman and doing it over and over again. I love loop trips, and I even like a certain amount of portaging ("lying or crazy" you decide). As a pool & drop river with a lot of natural storage (bog and marshland) in its watershed, it's marginally navigable even late in a dry summer. With no shuttle to arrange, why not just do it (again)?

Since I had three full days and wanted to do some exploration, I decide to do the trip "backwards", heading up the Moose River from Attean Pond to Holeb Pond and portaging back to Attean. Also, I wanted to avoid the usual claque at Attean landing, which is also the front door for a resort/lodge on Birch Island, so I decided to start from the town landing on Wood Pond in Jackman. That added about 5 miles total to the trip.

I was moderately concerned about finding campsites, given the holiday weekend and Covid-enhanced enthusiasm for the outdoors, but I figured I could improvise if necessary. As a solo traveller I don't need much space, and on this trip I wasn't even planning to build any campfires.

Day 1

The boat ramp at Wood Pond was easy, there were only a few cars and there was plenty of space. A young couple were launching a small fishing boat for a day trip.

As I launched at the not-at-all-early hour of 11:30 there was a fresh breeze out of the west. That was the forecast for both Saturday and Sunday, with the wind supposed to shift around to the south on Monday. That meant I would probably do Wood Pond once and Attean twice with winds abeam. I had a Plan B of doing the trip in the classic direction if the wind direction became too much of a problem.
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Heading down Wood Pond I started out SW then turned SE toward the outlet. The stream between Wood and Attean is pleasant and punctuated with a few boulders. This was upstream travel, and the water level was low, so I did have to hop out and drag in a couple of places, but the river bottom was a good walking surface and it wasn't a big deal.
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Once on Attean and out of the sheltered outlet cove I had to deal with that west wind again. Attean is about 4 miles wide, so the waves do come up, but fortunately it's peppered with very helpful (not to mention scenic) islands. I hopped my way vaguely south, taking a quartering angle SW or SE in more exposed areas.

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Once I got down to the SE corner of Attean I found the channel of the Moose River, hiding behind a patch of grass.

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Not far upriver I saw this this duck on the bank. She kept an eye on me but didn't move.

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The short stretch of the Moose River to Attean Falls (really a pair of short rapids) was uneventful. When I reached the lower rapid I considered wading, but the level was very low and I knew there was a good portage trail, so I went with that. Between the two rapids there was a brief paddle of a couple hundred yards to the next carry. Both trails were in good shape, as were the four campsites (two along each portage trail).

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The put-in at the upstream end was easy, a mud landing but firm mud. Although it was litter free and pleasant enough, this landing smelled vaguely of piss. Thinking of the usual Bow Trip route, that made sense, as it's about 6.5 miles to this point from Spencer Rips, with no decent place to stop for a break.

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When in Rome, as they say ... so I took a leak, loaded up, and continued paddling upstream. This stretch is through a big fen where you generally can't see anything beyond the bushy "mangrove" banks. Doing the Bow Trip in the usual way I'm normally coming down this stretch in the afternoon and planning to camp at Attean Falls, and I can report that it's equally nondescript in either direction. Are we there yet?

Paddling along with not much to look at I noticed a round object in the water near the right (river left) shore. I wasn't sure if it was the end of a log or a rock. As I got closer I saw that it appeared to be a rock ... an unusually brown rock, with hair and flies. OK, the rock appeared to be a dead deer floating in the stream. No obvious cause of death, but given that it stank even at max zoom range I didn't investigate. Still, check "Charismatic Macrofauna" off the list. Wildlife counts even if it's dead.

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Old maps of the Bow Trip show a campsite about halfway between Spencer Rips and Attean, and I've always been curious about it. One time I asked Karl, the guide at Attean landing who seems to be the Bow Trip raconteur general, and he said it was a crappy campsite that faded away due to lack of interest. I've looked for it before and not found it, but this time I looked harder and I think I located it. Doesn't it look glorious? Maybe an otter would consider it a decent campsite.

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It seemed like the stretch to Spencer Rips took forever, but I did stop for some photos (of dead animals and crappy abandonded campsites), and it always seems to take a long time anyway. Along this stretch I also encountered the first paddler I saw on the river, a solo guy in a plastic kayak who put in at the landing on Holeb. He was fairly energetic and seemed interested in doing the whole trip (with the 1.25mi portage between the lakes) next time, possibly in a canoe since they portage easier than kayaks (his observation).

I would later observe that there seemed to be a lot of "shuttlecocks" (as the mountain bikers sometimes call them) doing the downstream part of the traditional Bow Trip. I think it's good that people are outside and giving some business to local outfitters (lots of Cry of the Loon rental boats, in this case). I don't care what anybody says, shuttlecocks are OK. Pretty much. At least for the first time. Some of my best friends are shuttlecocks.

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I finally got to Spencer Rips around 4pm. I was getting a little tired, and I was glad that there was just enough water that I could line the drop.

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On the way up to Mosquito Rips I saw another party, two women in an Esquif who looked like the knew what they were doing (I had some wannigan envy). There were a few drops I had to line, before getting up to the official rips, all short with plenty of exposed rock to walk on. Now it's 5pm and I'm starting to think about a campsite and dinner.

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There are a couple of campsites at Mosquito Rips, and both were unoccupied. In hindsight I should have taken one. But I knew Holeb Falls was just around the corner (less than a mile) and I wanted to get past that portage today if possible. I wasn't too worried about finding a campsite as I'd only seen 3 people in two parties all day. In fact, I was wondering where all the people were. I would soon learn the answer -- they were all at Holeb Falls! Apparently if you put in at the landing on Holeb and paddle at a leisurely pace you end up at Holeb Falls late in the afternoon of the first day. Many people did so!

When I got to the downstream end of Holeb Falls I could see a large party was camped at the main site there. I checked out the site at river right (just across the water), but it looked seldom used and rather bushy. That could be a nice site, but being 100 yards downriver from the portage I suppose it's too close to and yet too far.

I paddled to the downstream end of the portage trail and took out. There were a number of canoes there -- it took me a few minutes to figure this out but there was actually a party doing the portage distinct from the people camped there. The portaging party said they planned to camp at Attean Falls(!) (12 miles away, and it's nearly 6pm). I told them about the two parties ahead of them and where they were going (Attean and Spencer), and mentioned that the Mosquito Rips sites were open. Maybe the reopened the mud pie campsite, I dunno. The interesting thing about "salmoning" a popular trip is you see everyone on the river, but only once in passing.

I knew there was a decent (but not great) site at the upstream end of the portage, so I figured I'd go up there and have a quiet dinner. I did go up and set up camp, but it turned out another party showed up for a late-in-the-day portage. They were a large party, or maybe there were two, but anyway for the next hour there was an awful lot of traffic through my modest campsite. These folks seemed self-equiped and were in diverse, non-rental canoes. All nice people, but lots of them. I did see one Merrimack at the upstream landing when I was dropping off my canoe, but the owner wasn't there so I didn't have a chance to ask about it.

Soon enough the student body of Ohio State was done triple carrying through my campsite and I could settle in for dinner. I'm more of a paddler than a camper, so I eat simple meals when I'm out in the woods. My dinner was just tuna mac & cheese prepared backpacker style (no milk, olive oil instead of butter).

Although the campsite itself was modest, it had an outstanding thunderbox, a one hole double. The top panels (one with a seat and one without) were held in place by gravity only -- apparently you're supposed to switch sides when the pile gets a little high? Maybe this was an NFCT upgrade. In any case, it was an excellent shitter. What do you call these things, a flip flop? Single pole double throw?

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[That's the end of Day 1 -- I'll post the rest tomorrow.]
 
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Nice trip report. The NFCT interns and volunteers did a number of work trips on the Moose River-bow loop and it sounds like they've done a good job.

It's great that they've adopted the area. There are also some stone and wooden steps on that portage trail in areas that used to be otterslides.
 
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Day 2

It was brisk that night. I was still in summer mode, with my lightweight down quilt and no real sleeping bag. My real sleeping bag is warm but it's an old 90's synthetic fill model so it's pretty heavy (~4lbs), and I hate to bring it on a portage trip. I was OK but I had to put on most of the clothes I brought, which made my traditional stuff sack pillow a bit flat.

This was the middle day of a two night trip -- i.e., the only full day -- and I had a lot of plans. I wanted to explorer a couple of detours off the usual route, and still do the long carry to Attean Pond so I could camp there for my second night.

The area around Holeb Falls is really beautiful in a way that's hard to photograph. Rocks and water, trees and mud.

I'd always been curious about the dead end stream that goes north from the left-right turns you make on the way to the portage trail around Holeb Falls, so I spent a little time heading up there. At a higher water time of year I think I could have gone farther, but after a mile or so I came to the practical end. There were three possible continuations, but any of them would have required serious mud wading. Still, there was a great rock outcropping I could stop on and enjoy a second breakfast.

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I explored a couple other areas I hadn't ever visited in my downstream Bow Trips, including the main channel of the river near Holeb Falls (the portage runs along the side channel), and a right right side channel with some impressive cliffs. Unfortunately my waterproof/shockproof camera isn't snotproof and it aquired a smudge, so I'm not entirely happy with how these photos turned out, but I'll post one anyway.

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From Holeb Falls to Camel Rips is turn, turn, turn, so much so that you get used to seeing the sun in all directions. In addition, the water was getting more shallow, and heading upstream I had to hustle in a few places to make progress in shallow swifts. Fortunately the shallows were mud and/or sand rather than rock, so at least I wasn't beating up my paddle.

I did see a couple of canids along the way. I think this is a gray fox (?). When it ran along the shore it had more of a hop than an even gait, which I associate with foxes rather than say a coyote. Anyway, when it comes to macrofauna, live beats dead any day.

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Lining Camel Rips was more or less the same deal as Mosquito Rips the day before. Both campsites were empty, although that may have been because it was still early in the day. I camped here a few years ago with my Gin & Tonic friends (frequent shuttlecocks!) and we had a good time swimming.

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Above Camel Rips there's another campsite where a tributary enters from river right, and I said hello to the folks camped there. They were a family with small kids, and the dad asked me about the campsite situation downstream. Apparently they only had one paper map and a section of it got damaged. (In non Covid times I'd have probably just landed and we'd have both looked at my map.)

I told him Camel Rips was close by and had good swimming rocks, but that it was otherwise similar to the site they were on. He said they had a baby happily asleep so they were probably staying put. I hope they did, because about ten minutes later the heavens opened up. I actually used my bailer just for rainwater.

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Continuing on up the river to the confluence with Holeb Stream the going was slow as the river was now more of a creek, and I often had to get out and wade through shallow sections. I did get some words of encouragement from a young couple heading downstream (maybe they'll do it backwards next time). I also was concerned I'd miss the turn, so I was paying more attention than usual to navigation. When I finally got to the confluence it was as obvious as it was unimpressive. Holeb Stream at that spot was too shallow to paddle, and I could see footprints where others had lined from the sandy bank.

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I arrived at Holeb Pond about 2pm and stopped at a convenient beach to eat a snack and get the sand out of my shoes. Holeb Pond has a several nice campsites, but I was determined to get the long portage out of the way so I didn't really consider stopping. The railroad runs along the south shore of Holeb, but no auto road follows that route.

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The 1.25mi carry between Holeb and Attean is mostly level. It's a well maintained trail with a lot of bog bridging where it needs it. I chose to suck it up and single carry, since I wasn't really keen to walk it three times and by then I was starting to think about dinner. Food is usually the motivation. Will portage for food.

There were some blowdowns on the trail, including one near the Holeb end about forehead high that I pretty much walked into. Draging under that obstacle I encountered another portageur, a guy with an untrained (but harmless) dog.

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At 4pm I was on Attean and looking for a campsite. The weather forecast was for strong winds from the south the next day (Monday, Labor Day), so I figured I should cross most of Attean before stopping to camp, although I was tempted by a site right in the cove (sandy patch upper right in the photo above). I made my way across the lake, checking campsites. Only about half were taken, so I wasn't worried about coming up short. I ended up taking one of the sites on the north shore (with the railroad tracks in back). One of these days I'm going to hike Sally Mtn, apparently the trailhead is (unofficially) accessed from the railroad.

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So far I have resisted getting a lightweight camp chair. At this site there was a nice rock, which was perfect with a PFD on top of it. There were also some old pieces of railroad hardware, which added character to the place. I used one of them as an absurdly heavy windbreak for my stove.

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Day 3

Not much day 3, I got up early and was on my way. Strong south winds were coming.

The stream between Attean and Wood Pond was easy going, as now I was travelling downstream. I saw a couple of heron, including this one who held still long enough for a photo.

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Soon enough I was in my car and headed home.
 
Joined
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406
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Joined
Dec 16, 2016
Messages
406
Location
Bangor, Maine
Thanks guys. When I read a TR from a place I know it usually makes me want to return, e.g., I could be sipping whiskey in a Carribean campsite on Lower Jo-Mary. The days are getting short, have to get out again soon.
 
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"Shuttlecock" that's a new one on me, haha. The older I get, the more I want to just go with the flow in all things. Pretty big with long legs for a fox, but hard to get perspective from the pic. Great TR, thanks.
 
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Midcoast Maine
Thanks for the great trip report. I somehow missed it. This is one trip that is on the shortlist during every trip planning session, and yes we/I have never done it. 2021!
 
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"Although the campsite itself was modest, it had an outstanding thunderbox, a one hole double. The top panels (one with a seat and one without) were held in place by gravity only -- apparently you're supposed to switch sides when the pile gets a little high? Maybe this was an NFCT upgrade. In any case, it was an excellent shitter. What do you call these things, a flip flop? Single pole double throw?"

This was another great trip report Goonstroke! I had a few laughs in regard to the Thunderbox details. Single Pole Double Throw is a classic and brilliant in my opinion!! Everyone should appreciate some electrical references to invoke humor. I do however see a pattern developing with your wilderness tripping and that is you clearly enjoy defying gravity and traveling up rivers then going down them. I recall your Allagash Stream trip and you may have also traveled up stream on Caucomgomac Stream if I am not mistaken. Anyway, great report! Always a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing.
 
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Bangor, Maine
(I'm feeling the power of multi-quote!)

Thanks for the great trip report. I somehow missed it. This is one trip that is on the shortlist during every trip planning session, and yes we/I have never done it. 2021!

Thanks. You should do this trip, it's a classic. Popular, but deserving. With a Pack you'd laugh at the 1.25 mile portage. I love loop trips, and Covid is just one more reason to avoid shuttles. For all its popularity I've never not been able to find a campsite.

...
This was another great trip report Goonstroke! I had a few laughs in regard to the Thunderbox details. Single Pole Double Throw is a classic and brilliant in my opinion!! Everyone should appreciate some electrical references to invoke humor. I do however see a pattern developing with your wilderness tripping and that is you clearly enjoy defying gravity and traveling up rivers then going down them. I recall your Allagash Stream trip and you may have also traveled up stream on Caucomgomac Stream if I am not mistaken. Anyway, great report! Always a pleasure to read. Thanks for sharing.

Thanks. I feel like this forum is a place where we could have an adult conversation about the pros and cons of knob & tube.

I love that canoeing is a legitimate means of travel, and upstream (and/or some carries) makes it real for me. And the hard work makes ordinary camp food taste better. A few years ago I took some friends (some fast, some slow) on the Pemadumcook / Debsconeag 3-2-1 loop, and afterwards one gal said "this trip kicked my ass", and I thought that was perfect.
 
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That Debs loop is a silent ass kicker in my opinion! Have avoided the Bow trip because of its popularity but I think I will have to do this trip as a right of passage. Your photos were awesome and gave me the urge to tackle this sometime. Think I need a plastic boat for that one though.
 
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Thanks for the trip report !

Nice camera work also ! I believe that is a Coyote. Fray Fox are smaller, and do have red on them.
The dead deer ? It could have died from anything. Here in Iowa, especially Southern Iowa, a lot of dear succumbed to EHD. Something that is transmitted from the bite of insects, no see ums, or gnats.

Jim
 
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That Debs loop is a silent ass kicker in my opinion! Have avoided the Bow trip because of its popularity but I think I will have to do this trip as a right of passage. Your photos were awesome and gave me the urge to tackle this sometime. Think I need a plastic boat for that one though.

I think you could do the Bow Trip in your strip Wabnaki. It's not boat beating trip. Where it's low water it's more mud and sand than grinding rocks. There might be a few dry drops where you'd want to line rather than bash through, but overall I'd say less wear and tear than Allagash Stream.
 
Joined
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Messages
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Bangor, Maine
Thanks for the trip report !

Nice camera work also ! I believe that is a Coyote. Fray Fox are smaller, and do have red on them.
The dead deer ? It could have died from anything. Here in Iowa, especially Southern Iowa, a lot of dear succumbed to EHD. Something that is transmitted from the bite of insects, no see ums, or gnats.

Jim

Thanks. I think you're right. The gait had me thinking they were too hoppy to be coyotes, but now that I look at pictures again, that's what they must be. Here's another one with some profile, not enough tail to be a fox.

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I was surprised to see the deer (dead or alive). I think of Jackman, ME as north of the deer/moose mixing zone, where they still get enough snow that the deer struggle in the winter. The deer sure do great in coastal suburbia though.
 
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Thanks. I think you're right. The gait had me thinking they were too hoppy to be coyotes, but now that I look at pictures again, that's what they must be. Here's another one with some profile, not enough tail to be a fox.



I was surprised to see the deer (dead or alive). I think of Jackman, ME as north of the deer/moose mixing zone, where they still get enough snow that the deer struggle in the winter. The deer sure do great in coastal suburbia though.

Sure looks like a coyote to me, nice shots of such a wary animal. I enjoyed your report, nice read and pics, Thanks for sharing your trip. When I was up at Poland Pond which is a bit further north of your trip I did a little bushwacking and found some decent deer sign. The guide "Maine Quiet Waters" had mentioned seeing deer at Poland and I was kinda curious.
 
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