The Allagash Waterway – Eagle Lake

At Lock Dam Chamberlain water flows into the Allagash watershed through a culvert, and a small mile long stream that runs down to Eagle Lake. I’d heard of people walking their canoes through there, but the water seemed high enough at the outset, so with the canoe packed after the portage, I set out sitting down. Soon enough the stream shoaled up, and I was dodging rocks so fast I didn’t dare take the time to grab the pole and stand up. We almost made it, but missed a tight corner and got pinned against two rocks. I jumped out, filled my boots with water, but soon regained control and drifted down into the quiet waters of Eagle Lake.

Some canoeists bypass Chamberlain Lake and put in at Indian Stream. Eagle has a more complex shape than Chamberlain, and the wind here doesn’t have the fetch to build up big waves, so you’re less likely to get pinned down by weather.

Here we are heading north along the western shore of Eagle, with Pillsbury Island on the right. Pillsbury was the farthest north Thoreau traveled on his Maine woods trips. Consider that by the time he camped here, since he’d rode up Moosehead Lake on a steamboat, he’d hired his gear carried over Northeast Carry, stopped at a farm on the West Branch, spent the night at a village, Chesuncook, stopped to buy sugar at Chamberlain Farm, a huge north woods logging depot of 600 acres, and portaged around Lock Dam. A wilderness experience?

Making up along the west shore of Eagle will bring you to Tramway. In her classic “Nine Mile Bridge” Helen Hamiln writes about motoring down to Tramway from Churchill to play softball and dance. It’s all forest now. You don’t see this little channel and landing place until you’re right on top of it.

Frog on a propeller at Tramway.

You can’t paddle Eagle Lake and not stop and see the engines of the Eagle Lake and West Branch Railroad. They’ve been jacked up and stabilized on new beds of gravel in recent years. There’s also a restoration of a section of the tramway underway at the Chamberlain Lake end of things. In spite of this activity, much of the feeling at Tramway these days, at least on the muggy, amphibious day I stopped in, is of ruination and waste. It wasn’t what I expected to find. Perhaps the romance of the 19th century logging era has passed me by. I’m more interested in what it means to be present in the woods today, and OK with letting history recede.

Meet Ziegler, the raven. Ziegler is the proprietor of the campsite of the same name, on the east shore of Eagle a couple of miles from the north end of the lake. I’m always impressed how black ravens are. He hung close around camp, but didn’t like getting his picture taken.

Ziegler, a word that means something like bricklayer in German, was an old log landing in the river driving days. There’s a nice spring a little ways back up the hill. A spring – magical the way cool water bubbles out of the earth. I can see why one would be inclined to ascribe spirituality to a spring.

So I got setup at Ziegler, happy for the solitude of such a beautiful place. The Eagle Lake ranger stopped by in his Whaler, checked my papers, and said there were two groups behind me, a party of four, and a party of twelve. I didn’t think much of that, and after he left, I went for a swim, then retired to the tent to read and escape the mosquitoes. Half an hour later voices are carrying over the water. I look out the screen door of the tent. A canoe comes into view. After a moment, another canoe comes into view. Phew, it’s only the group of four. But then another canoe and another canoe, six in all pull up to Ziegler’s landing. There’s a large group site fifty yards through the trees, but the only landing is right in front of my tent. For the next hour the group of twelve traipses through my site with their gear. It could have been worse, but this was a miscalculation on my part, a case of mismanaged solitude. I couldn’t see them once they were set up, but in a group that size of young people there’s always someone volunteering loud, non sensical noises, adjuncts to coherent communication, and so it was with this group.

Another night of thunder and loons, and this sunset directly across from camp.

Overnight the sounds of water on the beach changed. A wind shift. At daylight, the wind is out of the northeast, the direction I’m going. The air is chilly and full of moisture, what comes with an east wind. Mists skulk like fumaroles on the hillsides. It’s going to be wet, raining, from here to Allagash. I make coffee and ployes for breakfast, pack up and am on the water before my neighbors are stirring. It’s a four hour paddle to Churchill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I retired to the tent to read and get out of the mosquitoes.