Allagash River Headwaters, Maine

To the Top and Out
Garrett Conover
The current view from a canoe is remarkably unchanged since Thoreau's day.

Morning brings clear skies, and Garrett, Ned, and I hike the three-mile trail to Allagash Mountain. In the dripping woods the air is perfumed with the scent of wild strawberries. Deer and moose tracks wander aimlessly across the muddy path. We pass two beaver dams and watch in amusement as dozens of tiny toads the size of pencil erasers hop across the trail. We examine a tree trunk that a bear has clawed apart to get at the insects inside the rotting wood.

Atop Allagash Mountain we find a fire tower unlocked and unoccupied. With clear skies and little humidity, the view is stunning. I recall Thoreau's words from the top of Katahdin, which is clearly visible far to the southeast:"It did not look as if a solitary traveler had cut so much as a walking stick there."

Close inspection through binoculars, however, tells quite a different story, for in the distance we can see expansive clear-cuts rolling off to the horizon. With impressive precision and clinical efficiency, the loggers have left nothing standing. This naturally brings Thoreau to mind again. He protested that the loggers had no more right to take all the trees than"individual speculators were to be allowed to export the clouds out of the sky, or the stars out of the firmament, one by one."

We look in all directions and, except for the cutting, see no other sign of humanity. Allagash Lake at the foot of the mountain is miles long, dotted with emerald islands, and rimmed here and there with gleaming granite outcrops. We see moose and deer wading in shallow bays and feeder streams far below.

We break camp on our final day, once again under bright blue skies. By afternoon we have come full circle — almost. All that remains is a two-mile section of shallow white water that must be negotiated — upstream. Out come the spruce setting poles, and after a brief lesson in their use, we head for the churning, boulder-studded tongue of water pouring down from the lake above.

To my amazement, it works. Instead of carrying canoes and gear through the tangled blowdowns along the bank — a project that would take hours — we use the poles to hop from eddy to eddy, shoving the boats up the glassy chutes between rocks. In less time than it would take to walk, we ascend the frolicsome river. Too soon it seems, for this is great fun, we reach the head of the rapid, and the van comes into view. The trip is over. Not quite. The moose still won't leave us alone, and on the long drive back through the woods we encounter the gawky creatures standing by the side of the logging road, crossing ahead of us, racing alongside us.

"How many is that?" asks Barbara.

"Thirty-six, by my count," answers Judy.

"Let's go for forty!" says young Jeff, pressing his nose to the dusty window.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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