July 21, 2017

St. John River

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St. John River (photo NRCM)
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 Jeff McEvoy, a registered Maine guide, describes his journey down the St. John river in the spring of 2000. Photos by Jeff McEvoy unless noted

May 12-17, 2000
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.

Greatest concern about 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 drive in.

Allagash Guide Service, Sean 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
decent hour.

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I paddled the Royal River from 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 bit more.

May 12, Fifth St. John Pond
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.

It was nice to feel the 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.

Interesting and unplanned challenges 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.

May 13, Turner Bogan
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.

Very few obstructions in the river. A 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
largest waves.

A great day!
May 14, Doucie Brook

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.

We made camp early today 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.

Shooting for Seven Islands tomorrow. The sky is brilliantly clear and we are nearing the full moon.

stjohnMay 15, Seven Islands

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
sites.

Roughly 35 miles on river today. Passed Garrett and Alexandra Conover at Morrison Depot. Once again, strong current and gentle tail wind. A perfect combination.

]Dorcas prepared] a 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.

]Healing from the surgery] seems 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.

Tomorrow we hope to fish around here in the AM and camp below Big Black in order that we have a short river day on Wedneday.

Group is strong and spirits are high. Too dark to write any more and the woodcock are dancing.

May 16, Long Rapids
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.

Clear and cold – the 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.

30+ miles again today and 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 for me.

Tonight we sleep by the mighty St. John as if flows on toward the sea. Nothing sooth one’s soul better than the song of a living river.

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May 17, Above Big Black Rapids
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.

We all moved slowly our 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.

At the head of Big Black Rapids, our journey nears its end. The next journey begins.

The weather is again warm< and sunny. Water level is around 8,000 CFS. Fair skies, high water with good friends, old and new. How wealthy I am. Matthew Bampton Blake Strack Jack Flanagan Melissa Kim Karin Tilberg Dorcus Miller Steve Cobb Madison Bird List:
Canada goose
Black duck
Green winged teal
Yellow legs
Raven
Ruffed grouse
Sharp shinned hawk
Common loon
Ruby throated humming bird
Golden eye
Kingfisher
Common merganser
Mallard
Red winged black bird
White throated sparrow
Snipe
Spotted sandpiper
Solitary sandpiper
Bald eagle
Robin
Bluejay
Merlin
Whiskey jack
Pileated woodpecker
Winter wren
Woodcock
Kestrel
Wood duck
Tree swallow
Marsh hawk
Wood thrush
Eastern kingbird
Osprey
Crow
Common yellow throat
Yellow rumped warbler
Great cormorant
Least fly catcher
Black capped chickadee
Black and white warbler
Black throated blue warbler
Yellow warbler
Other assorted spring warblers