Solo Canoe Trip - Chiputneticook Lakes June 12 - 15, 2006
by Thomas Neal
The Chiputneticook Lakes are a series of lakes that straddle the Maine/New Brunswick border and serve as the headwaters of the historic St. Croix River. The primary lakes in this group are Spednic & Palfrey, East Grand and North with smaller feeder lakes on both sides of the border.
One of these feeder lakes is Modsley Lake located just outside of McAdam, N.B. It is from this lake that I began a four day solo canoe trip that took me over portages, through rapids and around waterfalls.
Day 1 - June 12, 2006
On Monday June 12 around 10:45am I began my trip at Modsley Lake. The access point can be reached by traveling down the ATV trail that runs between McAdam and Canterbury for about half a kilometer (19 T 632599 5055064). For this trip I used a 16 foot fiberglass Chestnut canoe and a home made paddle. I brought with me the usual camping gear along with a GPS unit to help me navigate and a digital camera to record my adventure.
Some of the inclement weather from the previous weekend lingered resulting in overcast skies and blustering winds. My plan was to paddle along the northern shore of the lake and then skirt over to the outlet once I reached the far end. However, as I got ten feet away from the access point the wind caught my canoe and sent me towards the southern shore. I didn't struggle against the wind too hard as I still had four days of paddling ahead of me. I ended up near the mouth of the Colter Stream on the southern side of the lake. From here I paddled along the southern shore taking pictures of the beaver lodges along the way.
Approximately three quarters of the way down the lake I spotted a small dilapidated cottage on an unnamed little island. Upon closer inspection, the cottage appeared to be well tended as the window frames were all painted red and the woodshed was full of firewood. There was a cardboard sign in the woodshed that said "Brokeback Island". I tried not to imagine what kind of parties take place on this island as I explored further. I signed the guestbook in the cottage and continued on my way.
Before I could enter the outlet leading to Third Lake, I had to paddle around a peninsula that juts out into the lake. I ventured into the mouth of the outlet where the rise of the opposite shore afforded some protection against the wind. The outlet of Modsley Lake is a long, narrow deadwater dotted with rotting stumps and bleached boulders. At its entrance there is a large alder-choked swamp area to the right. This looked like prime moose country but none were around to be seen.
At the end of the outlet there is a boomerang shaped body of water called Third Lake. The outer corner of the boomerang is a swamp choked with alders and rotting cedar trees. By following the curve of Third Lake my course took me increasingly to the right until I had completed an almost 180 degree change in direction. At the other end of Third Lake there is an earthen dam with a roadway running along its top and a small sluiceway that lets the water drain out into a stream that eventually empties into Wauklahegan Lake. My topo map indicated that this is the beginning of the Diggity Stream. The vertical drop through the sluiceway was over 10 feet which ruled out any possibility of taking the canoe through. Thus I was about to experience my first portage of the trip.
I had no idea where to find the portage as I had never traveled this way before. I walked up onto the roadway, turned left and immediately almost tripped over a snapping turtle laying eggs along the edge of the road. Once the turtle had run me off I resumed my search and found the portage a few metres to the right of the sluiceway. It is a trail through the woods that leads to a small deadwater further down the Diggity Stream. The portage was in pretty good shape with a minimum of undergrowth and only one blowdown to negotiate. I put the canoe on my shoulders and traveled the 100m to the other end. It was smooth going until I reached the far end where I had to negotiate some large rocks and a few boggy patches.
Once I got back into the water I paddled across a short deadwater to the top of another small rip. According to my map I had arrived at the Winding Stairs Rips. There is a 30m portage to the right for those more cautious canoeists. Since the water was high I decided to run the rips. After traveling down the Staircase without incident, I found myself in Wauklahegan Lake.
I traveled along a peninsula, turned right and headed for the outlet that leads to First Lake. For a short while the wind was actually at my back. This changed as I rounded the peninsula. At the point where the outlet exits Wauklahegan Lake there is an old rock dam. Because of the heavy rains of the previous weekend the water level in the lake was unusually high with water pouring over the entire length of the dam. The water was so high in fact that it was running right through the woods. I pointed the canoe into the channel at the left side of the dam and ran the 300m length of the newly created rapids. Running this short stretch was analogous to running Burnt Hill or Little Falls on the St. Croix. Luckily there were few rocks so I arrived at First Lake unscathed.
First Lake is just a large pond that forms part of the Diggity Stream. While I was paddling across this small lake the wind came back up and blew steadily in my face. At the other end of First Lake there is a bridge that allows Route 630 to cross the Diggity Stream. Because of the high water there was less than two feet of clearance beneath the bridge. I managed to clear the bridge by lying on the bottom of the canoe as it passed underneath.
Once past the bridge I was in another swampy deadwater that empties into Spednic Lake's Diggity Cove. It was at this juncture that I found my campground for the night. I pitched camp at a spot known as the Diggity Site. There was a monument there stating that this site had been a gathering place for native hunting parties for almost 2000 years. It was a nice grassy site with a good supply of sawn firewood and a nice view of the sunset over Spednic Lake.
After setting up camp I cooked myself a steak and watched the loons drift across Diggity Cove. As it began to get dark I crawled into my tent and went to sleep to the sounds of the bullfrogs serenading each other. Thus ended the first day of my trip. Up until this point I had not seen another soul.
Day 2 - June 13, 2006
I woke up around 7am and was on the water before 8. The sun was out and there was a light breeze. I was thankful for the lack of wind as I had been warned that the wind on Spednic can be quite treacherous. With the help of my GPS I paddled out of Diggity Cove and headed towards Todd's Island. I wanted to check out the campsite there for future reference. When I arrived at the Todd's Island campsite I discovered a couple of fisherman packing up camp. Apparently they had been there since Saturday and had caught a few smallmouth bass. They told me that it had rained quite hard over the weekend and they had a hard time staying dry.
After I rounded the tip of Todd's Island the wind picked up a little. I paddled past the Musquash Flowage and over to Hardwood Island. I caught a break from the wind as I paddled along the backside of Hardwood Island. It was while paddling the open expanse of water between Todd's and Hardwood Islands that I realized how large this lake really is. There was a lot of water all around me.
After I rounded Hardwood Island I paddled towards Sandy Point and followed the western shoreline of the peninsula. After about an hour I reached a campsite called "The Ledges". The entire campsite is built on outcroppings of bedrock. It was an attractive campsite but I couldn't help wondering how you would anchor your tent on all of that rock. I guess you would have to go further back in the woods or use rocks to anchor the corners of your tent.
Since the sun was out I decided to have lunch at The Ledges and take a swim. The water was a bit cold but it was refreshing and it was nice to wash off the sweat and Muskol. As I was drying off I spotted a motorboat traveling along the American side of the lake. This was the first boat I had seen since I began my trip.
After drying off I loaded the canoe and continued my journey. I followed the shoreline on the Canadian side of the lake as I rounded Norway Point and continued up Spednic Lake. After a few hours I arrived at a campsite at the mouth of MacAllister Cove. Appropriately enough the name of this campsite was "MacAllister Cove". However, there was another old, faded sign nailed to a tree that said "Joe's Backside". Perhaps this was the original name of this campsite. Directly across from this spot is an island called "Joe's Island". I am assuming this is how Joe's Backside got its name. The MacAllister Cove/Joe's Backside campsite is located in a flat spot in the woods. Like all the "official" campsites it had a picnic table, a fire pit, a small supply of firewood and a privy out in the woods. I pitched my tent, had some supper and enjoyed the sunset over MacAllister Cove. Since I had no one to sit around the fire with and it had been a long day of paddling, I was asleep shortly after nine o'clock.
Day 3 - June 14, 2006
I woke up around 6:45am and was on the water around 7:30. The sky was overcast and as there was no wind the lake was as smooth as glass. Just as I was launching my canoe the heavens opened up and it poured rain for about half an hour. This was the only rain I had for the entire trip. I was a bit lucky because if it had started raining a little earlier I would have been caught with all my gear unpacked and my tent and tarp down. One of the things I learned on this trip is that the first thing up and the last thing down is the rain tarp.
Once I passed Joe's Island and rounded Hinckley Point the rain began to subside and eventually stopped. I followed the shore along the Canadian side and saw no other boaters. I did pass a couple of outfitters lodges and spotted a few cottages on the American side. As I got closer to the upper end of Spednic the density of cottages on the American side increased.
This part of the lake is quite narrow and it resembles a river more than a lake. For the rest of the morning I paddled up this thin stretch of Spednic until I arrived at Pontiac Island. From Pontiac Island I paddled into the Booming Out Grounds and up into the stream that drains Mud Lake.
Just before noon I found the portage (river right, Canadian side) that would take me around Mud Falls and into Mud Lake. I picked up one of my packs and started off on an exploratory trip of the portage. The portage follows a path through the woods until it hits a logging road. At this point the trail follows the road up the hill until you hit another woods trail that leads to the upper end of the portage. The portage is approximately 300m long and appeared to be well used and maintained. The upper end opens up literally right beside the mouth of Mud Falls.
When I returned to the beginning of the portage to collect the rest of my gear I found 3 guys in a canoe at the mouth of the stream. They were fishing but hadn't had any luck as of yet.
I carried my canoe and remaining gear over the portage and left it on the shores of Mud Lake. I then went down through the woods to get a few pictures of Mud Falls. In order to get a good view of Mud Falls you need to climb onto these large boulders that line the bank of the stream. The gorge is quite steep and the falls itself must drop a good fifteen to twenty feet. There is no way that you would ever want to run this gorge in a canoe. If you were brave enough you might make it through in a whitewater kayak.
After a quick half hour paddle down the length of Mud Lake I found myself at the bottom of the stream that drains East Grand Lake into Mud Lake. To the right of the stream there is a road that leads up through Forest City and ends up at a small boat launch to the right of the dam. However, the length of this portage would be close to a kilometer and I wasn't really in the mood to haul my canoe that distance. So instead of portaging I lined my canoe up the stream. There was a lot of water in the stream but I managed to make it up to the dam in about 40 minutes. After a quick lift over the dam I was ready to begin my exploration of East Grand Lake.
At about 1:30 I rounded Patterson Point and headed out into the expanse of Grand Lake. The sun had come out and the wind was almost non-existent. I started to see many more boats and I noticed there were more cottages. I paddled along the shore on the Canadian side and eventually arrived at Hayes Point in the early evening.
The campsite at Hayes Point is located at the tip of a large peninsula that juts out into the lake. It is a beautiful site that affords a 270 degree view of the lake. I set up camp and settled in for the evening. I was asleep before 10pm.
Day 4 - June 15, 2006
I woke up at 6am to a foggy and windy morning. The fog was so thick that I could barely see ten feet out into the lake in any direction. It was also very windy but apparently not enough to blow away the fog. I broke camp and started paddling across Big English Cove around 7am. After an hour of tough paddling I reached the far shore of the cove. By this time the fog was starting to lift and the wind was slackening.
I paddled up the Canadian side and in 3 hours I had reached the campsite at Blueberry Point. As I reached Blueberry Point a crew from the International Waterway Commission pulled up in a large motorboat. They told me that they were preparing the campsites on the lake for the upcoming summer season.
After discussing the conditions on the lake for a few moments I continued on my way. After an hour or so of paddling I reached the North Lake thoroughfare and pulled up at the boat launch located directly across from the Canada Customs House. I walked up to the phone booth beside the Customs House and called for my ride. As I was returning to my boat a Customs Officer asked me where I had just come from. I showed her my ID and explained my itinerary.
A few minutes later my ride showed up and my trip came to its official end. It took me almost 97 hours to travel the distance from Modsley to North Lake. All in all it was an enjoyable trip with no major mishaps. I look forward to trying this trip again with some of my paddling buddies. If you are looking for a longer flatwater trip I would recommend this route. This route could be followed anytime throughout the summer and would be a great choice when the water levels in the rivers are too low to run.
To see pictures from this trip please click on the following link;
Take the Harvey exit off the Trans-Canada Highway west of Fredericton, N.B. to reach McAdam. From Moncton, take Route 2 toward Fredericton. Turn to Route 3 and then route 4 to McAdam.
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