The Allagash Waterway – Chamberlain Lake



Chamberlain Bridge is one of several put ins to start an Allagash Trip. The lake section of the trip can take 2 – 3 days – maybe more if the wind is against you. The scenery around Chamberlain is not remarkable, excepting the long range views south to Katahdin, when you can see that far. The lake’s shores are low and rather flat, much of the edges are rocky and thick with trees with not many inviting or easy places to land. Nevertheless, this was my favorite part of the trip – I like the long views up and down the lake, and the wide solitude of the waters.

Here we are four or five miles up from the put in at the bridge, looking south toward the hazy blue shapes of Traveler and Katahdin in the distance. You can feel pretty small in a canoe on a 20 mile long lake and it doesn’t bother me to stay close to shore. I poled a good part of it. Poling prevents cramping up and stiffness, and you can see better.  Whenever I pole my canoes I remember the first rule my parents taught me about boats.  “Never stand up in a boat.”

Now we’re on a nice dome of ledge, bug free you can see by the breeze, looking across toward Mud Pond, and the area of Mud Pond Carry. Mud Pond Carry connects the Penobscot and Allagash watersheds over a soggy height of land, and has been used for thousands of years. When Thoreau and his cousin Ed Hoar came across the carry with thier guide Joe Polis, Henry and Ed got lost, eventually emerging on the lake shore way north of the trail. Polis shook his head in amazement.

I wanted to get to Mud Brook for the night, but the breeze blew me into shore, and I didn’t see a way to cross a mile of water and not get blown miles downwind, do I called it good and set up camp just back of these moose tracks.

I didn’t the moose that walker here, though I would see about 10 on the trip. These can’t have been more than a few hours old. One thing I always wonder about lying in a tent in the dark is how well moose see at night.

Later, the wind dies down and thunderclouds roll out of the western sky. For hours they come on, rumbling, thundering, making a lot of noise, but not doing much else. After dark, the wind dies and the waves subside, the thunder tapers off, and the loons, just over the ledge in the cove, start up. Yeeeeowww, wheeet wheetle, wheeet wheedle, wheeet wheedle. Pause. Yeeeeowww, wheeet wheetle, wheeet wheedle, wheeet wheedle. English words will never get the loon down on a page. But that doesn’t stop people from trying.

I was so ready to get on the lake and paddle I was up at 4:00 A.M. Got the coffee going while breaking camp, inhaled two mosquitoes for breakfast, and was on the water by 5:00 A.M. Lock Dam is the destination, about six miles north on the east, right side of the lake. Again, I stuck to the west shore as long as I could. I passed Chamberlain Farm after about an hour. One forlorn roof near the water’s edge, among the trees. Six hundred acres cleared, a dozen buildings including a store, all gone back to forest. I’ve visited the Farm before – it’s a Maine Woods landmark, but this time it held little interest for me, and I passed it by  –  thinking of other things.

Boom chain, Lock Dam. You can just make out the imprint of the chain on the top of the rock – that’s the direction the chain would have stretched. Everywhere you go in the woods you find evidence of the 19th century logging industry. Most stuff is not so elegant a piece of work as this chain ring – but might be the trashy remains of a camp or can dump.

I couldn’t see Lock Dam from the western side of the lake, but figured where it was and struck across. The lake’s only a mile wide or so most of it’s length, so it only takes a few minutes to cross in a canoe. It also only takes a few minutes for the wind to go from calm to maelstrom, and I’ve seen it happen, though there was little likelihood of something like that happening this day.

The dam is obviously no longer a lock, but an earthen dam. All Chamberlain water used to feed into the Allagash, but now only a pipeful flows under the dam, and the rest of the water heads over to the East Branch of the Penobscot via Telos, Webster Stream, and Matagamon. In the early days of Lock Dam, designed to divert logs to Bangor instead of St John, Canadian loggers came upriver in the night and dynamited the wooden structures. Later in the trip, as I approached John’s Bridge two loaded logging trucks crossed going east to west, to Canada in other words. It took a while, but they got the logs anyway.

The Kidney’s cabin, now used by the Maine forest services. Dorothea and Milford Kidney lived here in summers over several decades. Milford tended the dam and let water through to float canoes into Eagle Lake. Dorothea wrote several books on their live at the dam, and was known to bake brownies for the voyagers.

The canoe is the easiest piece of gear to portage. Light, balanced, padded where it should be, carrying the canoe was a breeze. The rest of the stuff, not made for portaging especially, packs, duffels, dry bags, bump against the legs, tire the hands, are cumbersome and awkward. Nevertheless, I’d take the iron frying pan again. It’s hard to imagine a canoe trip without an iron frying pan.

Here is the beginning of the stream that connects Chamberlain to Eagle Lake, which we’ll explore in the next post. Happy paddling.