The St. John flows over 410 miles from Fourth St. John Pond to
the Bay of Fundy. Rapid in places, calm in others, it marks the
boundary between Quebec and Maine for many miles. The following
journal by a
registered Maine guide, describes his journey down the St. John
river in the spring of 2000. Photos by Jeff McEvoy unless noted
Trip planning is moving ahead. E-mail makes it all much easier.
Steve has offered to pack food and cook. I thought only for a moment
before I agreed. My only concern is, “can he cook.” I
informed Steve that we have BIG eaters and to pack heavy.
the trip (other than food) is water levels. I would like to paddle
from Fourth St. John Pond if there is enough water and if we
can get there. Most folks fly in, I don’t know if we can
Lizotte is going to bring our vehicles to Allagash for us this
year. It will save time on the other end and get us home at a
Brown’s Crossing yesterday- 1.5 hours- just enough water
to get through. It’s a great run with continuous class
II water with a class III that needs to be scouted. Saturday
I paddled the Sheepscot for the first time. Nice run also,
with easy whitewater and a consistent gradient. Paddled for
about 1 hour from Kelly’s Mill to Head Tide- maybe a
Northwest shore at the old canal. Fine campsite, albeit out of
the way and off the pond a bit. 65 degrees, light easterly wind,
brilliant sunshine. Nothing like last year. We tried to put in
at Fourth St. John Pond yesterday and could drive to within a
mile of the pond. Unfortunately a locked gate prevented us from
getting close enough for an easy put-in. Our alternate put-in
was the bridge crossing the stream between Fourth and Fifth St.
John Pond. Actually works out nice and gets us an extra day on
the river. Excellent water for a mile or so, then winding through
a swamp to Fifth Pond. Water level at Dickey today was 30,000
CFS. Lots of water for the upper stretches of the river.
force of the river on my paddle again, and the warmth of the
spring sun on my face. The marvelous song of the common loon – echoing
off the forested hillsides – greeted us as we paddled into
Fifth St. John Pond.
for me this year, this week. Recovering from an emergency appendectomy
not 5 full days ago, I am paddling tandem and conservatively.
The first question I had for my surgeon as I lay in the ER was, “Can
I paddle the St. John next Friday?” “More than likely” was
her cheery response. When I learned that my surgeon, Dr. Marsha
O’Rourke, was also a paddler and a veteran of the St. John,
I knew I was in good hands. My fears and apprehensions faded.
What a hoot! High water, an incredibly consistent gradient, made
possible by the stalled glaciers of the most recent ice age,
and a following wind. The river below Fifth St. John Pond today
was very near perfect. One upset canoe (the names of those involved
will remain anonymous). No reason to expose those with bad luck.
Speaking of luck, I felt very positive about this trip coming
into it. It is a sense that you develop if you spend numerous
days and nights in the woods with friends. I knew when my coffee
cup fell on the floor of the Jeep and landed upright while driving
to meet Karin and the crew yesterday, we were in for good weather
and high water. The following wind is a bonus.
large white birch tree crosses the river
about ¼ mile from the old dam on Fifth.
We dragged over it on river right (last year
we paddled under on river left). Cedar trees
swept out over the river from both sides
almost touching at the center of the river
creating a tunnel of greenery through which
the St. John flows and we paddle. Effortless
was the descriptive used many times throughout
the day. Sweeping corners, s-turns, wave
trains, gravel bars and islands marked the
river as we paddled toward Baker. Mid way
to Baker Lake, the river takes a break and
braids into many log-choked, alder filled
channels for a short distance, followed by
a mile or two of quick water through low,
swampy country. The river then resumes its
rapid course in a seemingly never-ending
plunge toward the Canadian boarder and the
Atlantic Ocean. At Baker, we were met with
a strong SW wind (15-20 knots) and white
capped waves. It was not too heroic a crossing,
but just challenging enough to keep you interested
in what was coming up behind you as we headed
for the outlet of Baker. It was a pure pleasure-
especially compared to last year’s
oppressive headwind. From Baker, the river
grew significantly in volume and velocity.
Waves are bigger and holes are deeper. Nothing
too challenging – class II+ at best,
but plenty of opportunities to sink a loaded
canoe if one finds themselves running the
Cloudy start, but blue sky came quickly. Homemade donuts, coffee
and down river. A wonderful cabin that is maintained by North
Maine Woods at Flaws Bogan. A good bit of info to keep in mind
if it is raining or snowing. A beautiful SW tailwind accompanied
us as we paddled northward. High white clouds and sun set the
standard for the day. We lunched at the confluence of the SW
Branch of the St. John and met up with Tom and Lisa Hallenbeck,
fellow guides and extraordinary river folks. They are on a private
trip with a couple of friends from DC.
at Doucie Brook – a
high embankment that catches most of the afternoon sun and is
graced with some of the nicest white pines on the river. Historically,
white pine was the crème de la crème of trees in
the North Woods. According to Helen Hamlin, author of Nine Mile
Bridge, red spruce took a back seat to the majestic pine in the
early part of the20th century. I don’t know what percent
of the harvest is currently white pine in the region, but judging
by what one can see from the river, it is little to not existent.
The forest surrounding this part of the St. John appears bedraggled.
Cut hard right to the legal maximum. Few trees of any size.
A swim for Blake, Matthew and Karin, kicking back for others.
Matthew caught his first legal brook trout in Doucie Brook before
supper. We fried him up for a snack, making us want more tomorrow.
sky is brilliantly clear and we are nearing
the full moon.
Dusk, overcast with a scattered shower. No wind and a fabulous
view of the river valley surrounding this oasis in the woods. It
is hard to imagine what these island and surrounding shore looked
like when they were growing hay and potatoes for the logging camps,
but the remnants of those times are cast about the shore and fields,
overgrown now with surprisingly large spruce trees and alders.
The snipe are winnowing overhead while pairs of mergansers, golden
eye and black ducks traverse the river corridor en route to roosting
Garrett and Alexandra Conover at Morrison Depot. Once again,
strong current and gentle tail wind. A perfect combination.
fabulous stew followed by a mince meat pudding for dessert. After
supper, several of us took a walk to a beaver flowage behind
camp. Couldn’t raise a trout, but fished a beautiful pond
with several disgruntled beavers patrolling its waters.
to be going strong. It does not seem to effect my paddling much
(only slightly on the draws and back strokes). But I still feel
a twinge of pain getting in and out of my tent.
here in the AM and camp below Big Black in order that we have
a short river day on Wedneday.
dark to write any more and the woodcock are dancing.
Woke at Seven Islands at 5 AM to the songs of Canada geese flying
through camp. The snipe flew its foolish flights all night and
the grouse drummed steadily under the bright spring moon.
first ice of the week last night. Very dry air, with little,
if any, dew. Matthew and I broke camp shortly after our granola
pancake and coffee feed and spent a couple of hours in the bogan
on the east shore below camp. We saw some trout move around as
we slowly worked our way up the stream – over several small
beaver dams and through the alders. Always enough water to paddle
and many good holes for trout. We poled right past a deer as
it stood gracefully on the shore and watched mallards and wood
ducks surge from the backwaters as we moved through. We danced
with the solitary and spotted sandpipers as we moved deeper and
deeper into the heart of the woods – a place that most
people do not get to. We eventually came to a large meadow that
was obviously a beaver impoundment in the past. The trout, I
can only imagine, were large and plentiful when the beaver were
active. A mature bald eagle bid us farewell as we re-joined the
main river. We can call this the Eagle Bogan.
again, they were virtually effortless. Matthew and I are both
feeling strong today and our endurance seemed limitless. It was
a relaxing day on the river. Tonight we camp at Long Rapids.
Still maintaining a SW wind and scattered clouds with a few fair
weather showers moving around, but none enough to cause us to
put on our rain gear. So far, we have not needed our rain gear.
A first. Must have been the coffee cup. Big Rapids to Dickey
tomorrow. I am not quite ready to leave yet. This has been good
the mighty St. John as if flows on toward the sea. Nothing sooths
one’s soul better than the song of a living river.
I woke last night to see the silhouettes of two spruce trees cast
upon my tent by the intense brilliance of the moon. I almost climbed
out of my warm sleeping bag to view the moon and the bright night
first hand, but I opted to role over and sleep until 5 AM.
last day in camp, each hoping that our deliberate actions will
somehow keep us from re-entering our other lives -lives with
work, schedules, bills and meetings. We sat on the high bank
overlooking the mist-covered river and took in the warm morning
sun and drank coffee in silence. It was then that a spiral of
mist- a miniature whirlwind – rose up from the river in
front of us and danced. I have never seen such a site. Just as
it came from the river silently, it also returned and was gone.
We packed up camp and headed down river.
journey nears its end. The next journey begins.
sunny. Water level is around 8,000 CFS. Fair skies, high water
with good friends, old and new. How wealthy I am.
Green winged teal
Sharp shinned hawk
Ruby throated humming bird
Red winged black bird
White throated sparrow
Common yellow throat
Yellow rumped warbler
Least fly catcher
Black capped chickadee
Black and white warbler
Black throated blue warbler
Other assorted spring warblers.