Paddling the Umbagog & Aziscohos
Part Two - The Aziscohos
by Charles Underwood
Click on the photos for larger images.
An hour North on Route 16 leads to the Aziscohos Lake. The Aziscohos is a narrow 19-mile lake. It is in the West corner in the state of Maine. Because of this, it is often overlooked within the Rangley system. Ideal for a wilderness journey, it is a Mecca of moose, deer, black bear, eagles, hawks and a variety of waterfowl. It is so remote that while included in the Androscoggin watershed it is not even listed in the AMC River Guide.
I was no stranger to the Aziscohos. A year before Gail and I had canoed half of the lake before force 5 winds halted the trip. What I saw of the lake was remote and undisturbed by man. Aziscohos, pronounced "A-ziz co haus" is an Indian name that surely must mean "devil winds".
The next stop in our itinerary was to set up base camp at Black Brook Cove on the Aziscohos. The following nights were planned along the lake shoreline: East Shore(1st night), Lincoln Brook (2nd night), Twin Point (3rd night), and then back. Permits are obtained by calling Charlie Atkins, former game warden at Tel: 207-486-3489 at $4 per person a night! Charlie will also spot a canoe for $30 a day at Lake Parmacheen, the lake north of the Aziscohos. (not cheap!)
Campers must register at the Black Brook Cove. We arrived around 2 pm. Check-in is at the hut by the RV section. It took excessively long, but we made the most of the delay by taking a hot shower at the pavilion. There, by mere chance, I met a wilderness guide who was awaiting his hunting party. He was intrigued with notion of Kayaking up the lake. Said he was considering an outbound kayak/canoe service for tourist next season. We ended up swapping information. He offered the locations of recent bear sightings along our route and I advised him against having anything to do with paddlers for the sake of his own sanity.
Due to the hour, a decision was made to setup camp on the East shore and begin paddling early the next morning. Camping at Black Brook Cove has two attractive options; the East shore sites or Island camping. The Island is off the cove two miles. Depending on preference, either will do fine as a base camp for an Aziscohos trip but the East shore permits car parking near the put-in. There is a $2 parking fee per night.
By late afternoon, our base camp was up at the East Shore campsite #38, right off the lake. We built a nice campfire and grilled a steak. Before crawling into the sleeping bag, we made sure a mistake that happened last year was not repeated.
Last year, a trash bag was left out. In the middle of the night, like magic, a raccoon got to it. Not only was trash scattered in a mess, but the raccoon was so bold he attempted to join our party and tried to enter a zipped tent. Only a photo-flash shooed him away.
The camp was properly secured and the night passed pleasantly.
Early next morning the lake was atypically calm, but absolutely fogged in. The air was thicker than pea soup; visibility was about 40 feet at 7:00 AM. As we waited, we portaged the Kayaks 60 feet to the water’s edge and packed slowly. Because of the fog we posted a bodacious handkerchief on a pole to mark the put in and subsequent takeout, expected in several days.
At 9:30AM under clearing skies, we launched.
Azicohos Lake in Northwestern Maine
The kayaks moved swiftly. We hugged the shoreline until the fog completely lifted. Soon the morning transcended to breath taking beauty: blue skies, crystal water, against a background of mountains and wilderness. It was a remarkable sight. As a lake, the Aziscohos is long and narrow. Its far shore is never more than a mile away and usually visible. Where the lake becomes very narrow the effect is like a wind tunnel.
We paddle in and out of several coves going up the coastline to area known as the "ledges". Here, the year before, three eagles were spotted around a moose carcass, but we saw none now.
It was an easy morning paddle. There was no breeze and I have never seen the lake so flat. Loons swam along the way just off our bow. We made steady progress and had lunch on a sandy beach around noon.
We came to the large bay indicating the shore near Lincoln Point in mid afternoon at 9.5 miles from Black Cove. The Lincoln site has quite a view of the lake. It overlooks a grand bay and is one of the prettiest wilderness campsites in Maine. The camp is immaculately kept and equipped with an outhouse. The site is on a small bluff near a tributary of Lincoln Brook. The beach drops steeply into deep water. The depth seemed to attract fish of all type and, of course, that attracts loons. Actually, the loons were not as noisy as the loons on Umbagog, probably because they were so busy fishing and eating. Diving right before you, the clarity of the water permitted an aquarium like view.
We had paddled over four hours under a warm sunny day. Our arms were tired, bodies sweating. All around was natural beauty. One of the best feelings in life came next as I dived in to take a refreshing swim. The water temperature was a nice 70°. It was just right. Far different from my last trip, when the water was a cool 58° on a mid October day.
Lincoln Brook flows into the Aziscohos from the mountains. In the spring, salmon run in the brook. The salmon attract black bear and although it was fall, we stayed alert. (We saw none the whole trip.)
After the swim, the business at hand was to set up camp. Our routine begins, of course, with unloading the boats. The tent is erected first. Never fully trusting New England weather, a shelter will keep you dry should a sudden rain storm occur. Then, we unpack the "kitchen" stuff. The small incidentals are unpacked last. In this load is my barometer. Its utility to predict storms has been repeatedly proven over any weather radio.
An afternoon hike along the brook to the Lincoln pond was loosely discussed but soundly nixed. We were contented in working on tans or swimming. A lone Osprey flew overhead. Fish and loons swam by. Amazingly, at late afternoon a school of 25 trout swam three or 4 feet under the surface right before our noses. The idyllic setting continued through evening replaced by a crackling and glowing campfire. Another freeze-dried meal (stew) was a terrific success, or at least was palatable. We retired early and soon slumbered into the sleep of the Just.
The next morning came early and the boats were on the lake by 8:00AM. Again, a gorgeous day! I was on the lead and pushing hard. Given the reputation of the lake’s unpredictable winds, I knew not to ease up until we put several miles paddling behind us. At 9:00 A.M. paddling along at a good clip just past Aldrich Point, a moose suddenly appeared almost from nowhere. He was swimming right in front about 60 yards. He cut across our path.
Moose are deliberate but strong swimmers. This one was a bull. At forty yards away he abruptly stopped. The moose snorted as he caught my scent, and grunted. I froze. In an instant, however, he reversed direction and returned to the shore from where he came. Keeping a safe distance we followed. Of course, we could not catch him, thank goodness, too.
Only on shore did he reveal his massive size. This guy was huge and his antlers were enormous. He stood his ground and glared disapprovingly. I wondered if he would charge so I backed into deeper water. Tense for a moment, but what a rare photo opportunity, I steadied my hand and took pictures. So nervous for fear of missing him, it was a wonder at all that pictures turned out fine. Exhilarated now, "Good Morning," I yelled out. Then I whipped the paddle into the water and continued up the coast.
About an hour later we landed at the first of the four tiny islands in the middle of the lake near the top. Of the four islands, two are five or six acres in size and worth a look. Twin Point was the next campsite, its exact distance was unknown. For five minutes we deliberated to go, or stay (a common angst of ambivalence on trips, I might add), before we pushed on. On retrospect, we should have stayed and explored. Twin Point was just beyond the horizon-a short paddle away.
The Twin Point campsite is two miles from the top of the Aziscohos. The plan is to land at Twin Point, first, then unload and setup camp before the day’s options are selected. There are several.
The first is to proceed up the remaining of lake and up the Magalloway, or three more miles in total. Then, land and hike to Lake Parmachenee.
Another option after Twin Point is cross the lake and explore the tiny logging hamlet called LynchTown. Only a hamlet, nonetheless, it apparently contains a small store. One guidebook claims that a scrumptious dinner of moose steak can be ordered, if prearranged. After a stop, head west to explore Long Pond Marsh and the Little Magalloway River; a noted habitat of Moose.
We went for the first option. After unloading the kayaks, up the coast we continued to the top of the Aziscohos and traveled up the Magalloway River. We arrived at the small bridge, (take out) about 2:30 PM with plenty of time left for a hike.
Here we hiked to Lake Parmachenee, (south end). Parmachenee is an uninhabited lake, filled with trout and pretty easy to hike according to Charlie Atkins. Well, perhaps we got lost or Charlie was promoting his rental business. It was not an easy hike. The distance was only four miles but the trail passed over five steep hills. I enjoyed it though and saw two small mink.
Lake Parmachenee was virtually unknown until President Eisenhower went trout fishing in it, June 1955. And trout was what he landed by the boat full! The lake is pristine and still loaded with trout. Old growth pine encircles the lake and not even one hut exists on the shore. Ironically, the forest belongs to Mead Paper Company. The southern end, connects to the Magalloway, then flows into the Aziscohos and is described as a "runnable" Class II , (after ice melts.) Interested, we naturally traced the suggested route. What I saw left serious doubts about the passage any time of the year. The river was low and loaded with impassable boulders. That afternoon we "ran" only a third of it below the Magalloway Bridge.
Back on the Aziscohos, true to its name, winds were gusty and southerly. We had been warned of Southerly winds creating dangerous waves on the lake and caution was exercised. Feeling confident about the stability of the kayaks versus canoes, undaunted we headed back on a straight tack to Twin Point. Within an hour the kayaks were "safely " beached at Twin Point.
Twin Point is more than an adequate campsite. It is on an exposed knoll, large enough to accommodate 4 tent sites, and has an outhouse. The sites are well kept but the view was disappointing. Right across the lake in the distance was the hamlet of LynchTown; on our shore near the campsite lie several huts. Civilization was just too close. I think we were spoiled by Lincoln.
Under gusty winds we spent the night. Our sleep was interrupted. Winds rose and the rain came in a downpour. At 3:00 AM, I awoke suddenly, and I might say fortuitous as the "tide" had risen so high that the Kayaks were just about floating out.
Within seconds the kayaks were re-secured. Another few minutes however could have meant a nasty bit of trouble. I have no explanation to account for such a rise in the lake, other than force 6 winds that blew hard in the wee hours.
By morning the wind was blowing hard, but northerly, but the barometer was steady. The lake was choppy with white caps forming caused by gusts. A day trip to Long Pond marsh was not possible. So, leaving further exploration for another time, we launched our return in choppy seas with butterflies in our stomachs.
While the paddle was challenging, it was indeed safe. We expected wave-splash galore, and were not disappointed. The cockpit-skirts and wet suits kept us dry. Keeping near the shore we took full advantage of a following sea and literally raced back toward the Lincoln site.
The lake seas were an annoyance but soon learned to avoid their curls or breaks. The sun emerged behind the clouds it was again great to be on a lake the color of ocean blue.
The day soon took on more significance. As we came around the third point (a particular choppy point defined by the map as "Hurricane Banks" rightly named, I might add) another interesting thing happened. Suddenly, we noticed something black and moving in the water. It was an Otter. Then we noticed several more. In all there were four black heads; faces and whiskers; an otter family. The "family" was a curious little breed, and they came pretty close. The heads popped up like seals to get a better look at us. When I paddled closer, they swam away and when I paddled away, they would swim closer. What playful pups!
At the beach near Big Buck Mountain, a Glossy Ibis waddled in the water, just off the beach. The Ibis wadded motionless for quiet a while. We pulled in for a break and for a better look. Here we switched Kayaks as the smaller one performed stiffly under these conditions. The effect required a continuous need of correction; while the larger kayak with rudder, handled the waves fine and stayed on course.
Our next stop was Lincoln Point and we had lunch there. We considered staying there over night. However, faced with unpredictable winds that might become worse, we dutifully manned the boats, again.
We paddled on, endlessly it seemed. By late afternoon the marker on the pole revealed the takeout. Thank goodness. We pulled onto the shore near campsite #38, late in the afternoon, rather tired, after 17 spirited miles.
Back at base camp we unloaded and watched beautiful wildlife pageantry. We saw or encountered a number of moose-- 14 was our count by nightfall!
Copyright 1999, Charles Underwood. All rights reserved.
Update from Steve J in Graniteville - "The lake is inhabited all summer long. There are 11 camps on shore and on the Island. Pamachenee was well known among sport fishermen dating back to the 1870's. There is no old growth timber along or near the lake, it is prime logging country."