Paddling the Upper Tookie
by Tom Todd
Click on the photos for larger images
The canoeable Upper Contoocook flows from the Cheshire Pond dam in Jaffrey to the backwaters of the Noone Dam just above Peterborough. The upper stretch is a narrow stream flowing through a deep forest. It is easy class 2 rapids except for a class 4 drop through a gorge which is generally portaged around.
On April 27, 1996, I experienced one of those magical, memorable days running the Upper Tookie. Tom Quarles was the trip leader and we had about 8 canoeists running the river with us. Few of us had done the river before. I had done it years ago during late spring when it was very low.
One couple in the group really fired up my imagination. They had a puppy along which they were training to ride in the canoe. They had taken some months off in the summer a couple of years prior to fly up into Northern Mannitoba and do a long loop of river paddling using accounts of travel from the late 1800ís as their guide. Apparently these rivers only get a traveler or two a year if that. To get there, they traveled by scheduled bush plane to one of the most northern fishing camps in Manitoba. Then they hired a pilot to take them a couple of hundred miles north to the river. They paddled through the northern limit of tree growth, the tree line. What surprised me, is that they said this line is quite abrupt. They were training the dog so that it would warn them when animals were near. Iíve always dreamt of such a trip, but the descriptions of eating dinner in the middle of the river so that the black flies didnít eat them doesnít appeal to me.
The dog managed to stay in the canoe although it wanted to jump to the front of the boat.
The rest of us had a pleasant paddle down the stream, practicing eddy turns and peal outs along the way in the narrow channel. When the road came along side we stopped This is the beginning of the portage around the gorge. I was egging Tom Quarles to run the class IV drops in the gorge. Secretly he wanted to do it also. Apparently for years there had been a couple of large trees across the gorge. Tom had worked on clearing and cutting them up so that the spring flood had moved most of them out of the way.
After getting agreement from the rest of the paddlers that it would be ok for Tom and I to paddle the gorge, we moved one last log out of the way. Then the two of us started paddling down to the bridge that marks the entrance to the serious part of the gorge.
The rest of the crew started their portage. They then set up throw line positions along each critical part of the drop.
Tom and I took each drop one at a time, eddying out after each one. I distinctly remember the drop you see in Tomís picture on the next page as bouncing down a washboard. I have never been in so much foam and frothing water as that 50 yard drop. The water was so churned up that it was like paddling air. The end of the drop had a tricky little eddy to make due to a log jam and sand bar blocking the entrance.
Another drop was a quick little shoot from which the water jetted into an overhanging rock ledge on the far side of the stream. That drop is the one you see me paddling down as Iím attempting to keep from being sucked under the ledge just to the right of the picture. Just below this drop, the rest of the group joined us and we paddled the additional 3 miles down to the Noone Dam.
I had such a good time on this trip that Iíve scheduled to lead it this year. I hope Tom Quarles and many others of you can join me. This is a good trip for novice class II paddlers. If the gorge is in good shape it is also fun to watch a few of the more expert paddlers take the few short drops in the gorge.
Copyright Feb. 1998, Tom Todd. All rights reserved.