Since I recently discovered a love for paddling in the north woods of Maine, I also started dreaming up a new adventure. This is something I like to do in my free time. Sometimes the dreams come true. Sometimes they stay dreams, but they still sound pretty cool. Here’s what’s been on my mind since this summer. I hope some of you find it interesting. Maybe you’ll beat me to it…
I give you: The North Woods Wilderness Loop– a backpacking and paddling trip in Six Acts.
Part 1: The White Mountains and Cohos Trail (75 miles, approximately)
Starting at Pinkham Notch in the White Mountains, the first act of the Loop would be to climb up over Mount Washington and some of the Presidentials, drop down to Route 2, then climb to the Pilot and Pliny Ranges (maybe with a little bushwhack from Pond of Safety). Once at the Kilkenny Ridge Trail, you’re on the Cohos Trail, which will take you north, north, and further north to the town of Pittsburg. Once in Pittsburg, you’ll want to stay a day at the east end of Lake Francis or someplace like that before the next, more harrowing part of the Loop.
|Mount Magalloway over First Connecticut Lake, one of the jewels of the Cohos Trail|
Part 2: The Border Range Bushwhack (60 miles, approximately)
After a break near Lake Francis, start the totally insane part of the Loop. Using a combination of logging roads, snowmobile trails, old walking paths, and good old-fashioned bushwhacking, traverse northeast toward Chain Of Ponds, Maine. Cross over Mount Magalloway, the dominant peak in the Connecticut Lakes region of New Hampshire, then over West Kennebago Mountain, which overlooks the Rangeley Lakes region of Maine. From West Kennebago, continue on to hit most of the Rangeley Six Pack, six peaks from the New England Hundred Highest list. My route only hits five of those six (Cupsuptic Snow, White Cap, Kennebago Divide, Boundary, and Chain of Ponds Snow) before dropping down to the south end of Chain of Ponds.
|Attean Pond and the north country from atop Sally Mountain|
Part 3a: Chain of Ponds to Jackman, Bushwhacking (40 miles, approximately)
If you had a good time bushwhacking and are ready for some more, hitchhike into Stratton for rest and resupply at a fine little AT Hiker Town. Once you’re ready to continue, get back on the “trail” for some more bushwhacking in the lower mountains of the Border Range. Go over Kibby Mountain, Number 5 Mountain, and Attean Mountain before getting to the Maine Bureau of Public Lands’ Holeb unit, containing the gorgeous Attean Pond and Sally Mountain. Eventually, walk into the town of Jackman and hopefully finish with all the crazy bushwhacking.
|A fine sunset on Attean Pond, near Jackman.|
Part 3b: Chain of Ponds to Jackman, Paddling (75 miles, approximately)
If the bushwhacking from the Cohos Trail to Chain of Ponds was too insane, get ready for some cushier travel. Find a way of getting a kayak or solo canoe at Chain of Ponds (I’d see if there’s an outfitter around there that would rent one for a few weeks, or maybe get my own and stash it somewhere in Stratton with arrangements to truck it up to Chain of Ponds). Paddle down the Dead River to Stratton and stop in for that R and R in a hiker town before setting off on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail to Flagstaff Lake. Continue on the Dead River and Spencer Stream to Spencer Lake and as far as you can go before portaging. There’s a long portage to the Moose River, but once on the Moose, it’s easy sailing into Attean Pond, then Wood Pond, and into Jackman.
Part 4: Jackman to Baxter, Paddling (110 miles, approximately)
Time for some serious and glorious paddling! Head out on the Moose River from Jackman and make your way through Long Pond, the Brassua Lakes, and into Maine’s largest lake, Moosehead. Once on Moosehead Lake, head north, maybe stopping for some hiking on Mount Kineo, but keep moving north with a portage to Seboomook Lake. After Seboomook, take the North Branch of the Penobscot River to Chesuncook Lake (with a small detour into Lobster Lake), then into Ripogenus Lake, and… Well, at Ripogenus Gorge I hear the crazy rapids start. I’m a flatwater guy, myself. I haven’t thought of what to do from there, but it’s only a few more miles from Ripogenus Dam to Abol Bridge, which is the next stop, just outside of Baxter State Park.
|Maine’s high point, Katahdin, from the North Branch of the Penobscot River at Abol Bridge. Classic.|
Part 5: Baxter Park Extravaganza! (some amount of miles. Who knows?)
Now it’s time to put away that canoe or kayak and get to some of the most beautiful mountains in the east! At Abol Bridge, you’re on the Appalachian Trail at the edge of Baxter, so get on into Baxter and hit whatever you possibly can. I would want to do a big loop around the park if possible, hitting the last few 4000 Footers and NE 100 Highest peaks that I haven’t climbed yet (North and South Brother, Coe, Fort, and Katahdin’s Hamlin Peak), as well as seeing some of the parts of the park I’ve been told are pretty amazing (Wassataquoik Lake, The Traveler, and Chimney Pond) before going back over Katahdin and winding up at Abol Bridge again.
|Flagstaff Lake and the mountains of Northern Maine from one of the finest peaks, Mount Bigelow.|
Part 6: Appalachian Trail to Pinkham Notch, the Victory Lap (300 miles, approximately)
At this point, you’ve already done the really adventurous stuff, but your car is all the way back in Pinkham Notch. How are you going to get it? Well, the crown jewel of the Appalachian Trail will lead you right back to Pinkham! What are you waiting for? Go through the best three-hundred miles of the Appalachian Trail, through the 100 Mile Wilderness, over the mighty Kennebec, over the Bigelows and Crockers, over Saddleback, Bald Pate, Old Speck, and into the Mahoosuc Notch.
I’m making myself all excited by just thinking of this. Every single leg of this trip would bring you through the most beautiful and remote terrain in the East. It would be an insane adventure. And I hope I can find some way to make this dream a reality at some point. Maybe not soon, but… soon. Who’s with me?