TopKayaker.Net's Guide To Kayak Destinations

Athena on UmbagogTopKayaker.Net's 's annual Fall Expedition 2001 By Athena Holtey
Helping Sit-on-top Kayakers gain confidence in extending their kayaking season.
See also: Area Guides-Maps

Umbagog: New England's Most Wilderness Lake
Photos by participants - not to be copied

Despite unusually heavy snowfall last winter, New England suffered from very light rainfall this 2001 kayak season. This resulted in New Hampshire's 800 lakes and most of it's river water levels dropping as much as nine feet in some areas, including Umbagog Lake, our Fall Expedition destination.

The Indian word "Umbagog" means "shallow." It is only 14 feet deep or less in most places, so we were understandably concerned. The draw for us was that it is considered the most interesting and wilderness lake in New England. It has two major rivers flowing into it and one flowing out, as it straddles the borders of both Maine and New Hampshire.

The launchA call to the Campsite Caretaker the week before was a wise move. He noted our float plan and was able to clue us in on everything from water levels - four feet below normal - to hunting season concerns in the area; always stressing the need to be prepared for unpredictable temperature drops.

He reassured us that the put-in on our charted course, the Adroscoggin River, ran 28 feet deep down the center.


So on this beautiful clear sky morning, four of us drove into Errol, New Hampshire together after a night of preparing for everything from being sandbar stranded to snowbound. Besides Tom and I, our fleet consisted of Joe, our friend from Hawaii and president of Oahu's Kayak Club, Hui Wa'a Kaukahi; Joe was especially looking forward to a New England Fall Foliage paddle; Mike, from Boston, a favorite paddling partner on past trips; and Shawn, our fifth paddler, was driving up from New York City to meet up with us the next day.

Lots of stuff   Packing it in   ready to launch

After stopping for one last lunch from civilization, we drove to the put-in, loaded our sit-on-top touring kayaks and launched into the Androscoggin River. We wanted to paddle boats we hadn't reviewed yet for the website so I packed up my trusty Ocean Kayak Scupper Classic. This was Tim Niemier's original design that popularized the sport of sit-on-top kayaking and mine already had well over a hundred ocean miles under it's hull.

Five kayaksTom outfitted himself with his kevlar Heritage Expedition. That's right, they don't make them anymore; but they are still out there and he loves it. Photo: L to R: Heritage Expedition; Necky Dolphin; WS Tarpon; Cobra Tourer; Ocean Kayak Classic

Joe chose Wilderness System's new Tarpon, a hot topic on our forum. Mike chose the Cobra Tourer with an established reputation in the Hawaiian Islands.

We asked our still not-so-sure-these-kayaks- can-out-pack-a-canoe friend, Shawn, to paddle the popular Necky Dolphin on our day excursions. We packed it as well, taking it in tow.

This section of the Adroscoggin is wide and calm, the current hardly noticeable. When our fleet of four, greeted the Lake, the fall foliage colors could not have been more brilliant. We would find, however, that both they and us would be considerably challenged by the wind throughout most of our five day camping get-away. "Get-away," I know, a rather commercial, sheik term, but after the events in New York City earlier that month, it's exactly what we were looking for.

AndroscogginThe three mile paddle upstream on the Adroscoggin and into Lake Umbagog that first day was like an invitation back in time to some lazy summer afternoon; our kayaks mirrored into the water as we glided another four miles across the lake to our island campsite.

Only unlike summer, the sun was low in the ski as it skated across our backs for the remaining unwinding trek. Unwinding from world and website catastrophes; work and air travel challenges; into clear blue skies and full moon nights; campfire talk and the good feel of our kayaks floating us effortlessly along our way.

When we scouted out the put-in early last spring, moose were everywhere! Literally! Little moose, big moose, wandering around in the roads like mangy old horses. But now the moose were invisible. Oh, we saw their tracks along the riverbed in abundance, but not a one revealed himself, at least to us. Of course they must have to the hunters as gunfire was heard sporadically throughout the week; that was a little depressing; moose season Sunday through Tuesday on the Maine side; duck season Wednesday through Friday on the New Hampshire side. We felt safe on the water; having brought bright orange hats, vests and bright colored kayaks; until we saw the decoys, then realized the true meaning of the term "sitting duck."

Unlike the Androscoggin flowing out on the North West bank, the Rapid River flows into the North East shoulder of Umbagog, rapidly, just like it's name.

The island studded flow of the river's mouth, resting from its summer of Maine white water enthusiasts and campers, seemed to welcome our visit.

The guys enojed catching the more moderate waves crashing over its brink and melting into the lake.

Rapid riverWe met a fleet of kayak day paddlers on the way; they marveled at our kayaks, some not having seen sit-on-tops way up here in The North Woods.

We had a full day of exploring; the water so clear, the loons calling out and the low fruit-loop colored hills echoing back. Then about 3 pm a radio call: It was Shawn, canoeing in from the Androscoggin.

ShawnThe wind had picked up and he was navigating the canoe across the open lake. By this time we concluded that Joe, in the Tarpon, was the fastest kayak... (or was it those Hawaiian arms! "You got a motor on that thing?" Tom cried out at one point)

...so our fleet of four left the cove that served as the entrance to the Rapid River, and Joe paddled out to Pine Point to cheer our canoeist friend on into a safe route.

We stationed ourselves along the way and joined along side each other, paddling back to our campsite before the sun could fade away on this, already our second day.


MagallowayWell, before New Hampshire's duck hunters got their shot at the fall foliage views on the Magalloway, we launched out late into the brisk morning to explore this river which is reportedly the prettiest paddling area in the North Woods.

WINDY CROSSING! Every morning, right at 11 am, I mean you could set your watch by this, a South West wind would come up, as if to say:

"HA! Sleeping in ay?"

Shawn & JoeGreat if you're headed back after a marvelous day of paddling Umbagog's glassy morning shores; but going out of our cove that week we had 15 to 25 knot winds greeting us every morning, getting progressively worse as the trip neared its end.

Of course, that's exactly what the guys wanted to do on their precious week off, sleep in. Cook a good breakfast over an open fire, or stove as the case may be.

Island campingWe had two fire rings on the site and the shelter of abundant evergreens over a soft pine needle ground. The beach was rocky with the levels low, but there were some great places to take a dip in the sun heated, clear water. The kind of campsite you don't mind sticking around.

Choosing an island campsite is always our choice in the fall. It minimizes wildlife adding excitement to our visit, or hunters mistaking us for lazy game.

So, late out of the starting gate for our Magalloway River paddle proved a little disappointing for me. We did get some valuable site navigation exercise, however, that would prove helpful in the days to come.

Posing DecoysMore moose tracks on the riverbanks, and what's that? A virtual parade of ducks and geese and, are those swans? We all whipped out our cameras, paddles in our laps, as the kayaks drifted closer and closer, the current and wind crossing to meet the shoreline of this amazing spectacle. Truly amazing was the way they really seemed to be posing for the shot. What luck; finally a wildlife photo that is more than just a blur of escaping subjects.

I heard something knock my boat and pulled the camera away to see this fine specimen of a merganser.... a wooden merganser. Decoys! But what extravagant ones!

Shallow passageWe paddled on, now noticing the duck blinds in the trees around the area, grateful for the caretaker's reminder that duck hunting season began the next morning.

Visiting with several day kayakers along the river we learned that a wildlife refuge lay a further paddle up. That will be a good day paddle for us next season, but for now, the sun was already lowering on the horizon, so back to camp.




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