Paddling these rapids in Piscataquis County requires precise navigation
By Ron Chase
Paddling Kingsbury Stream in Abbot has been a Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society spring tradition for decades. In recent years, club member Kyle Duckworth has coordinated the exciting whitewater adventure almost every April.
Planning the excursion around the weather, ice and varying water levels is always a challenge. Starting after ice-out is a must. Determining an acceptable stream flow and avoiding winter-like weather is often a difficult balancing act. This year, the scheduled April 8 trip was postponed until April 16 due to low water, frigid temperatures and gusty winds.
During the week before the Kingsbury trip, snowmelt brought the stream up to a feisty level. After several unusually warm sunny days, the weather was chilly and gray with a slight chance of precipitation for the planned outing. Chowderheads are tough, so the trip was on.
Sixteen canoeists, kayakers and a shredder team met at the put-in on Route 16 in Abbot. Scouting a difficult ledge drop at the beginning was the first item on the agenda. To portage or paddle was the question. Most decided to carry, but a resolute few successfully descended the intimidating pitch.
A succession of Class II/III rapids followed as we cruised southeast on a 7-mile journey toward the outskirts of Abbot Village. Ledge drops, spirited wave trains and lengthy rapids cluttered with pour overs provided ample opportunities for paddlers to surf swells and select stimulating routes through the descents.
At the end of a sweeping left turn, the stream narrowed and steepened. We stopped in eddies on the right to boat scout possible routes. The shredder team probed and Chowderheads fell in line behind. Although large waves made reading the rapid problematic, the passageway that ended next to a rock wall on the right was relatively easy to navigate. A beach on the left provided the perfect lunch spot.
Shortly beyond our lunch location, another demanding rapid began above Cole’s Corner Road Bridge. The remains of an old dam directly under the bridge complicated our navigation. We successfully negotiated around all of the obstacles by paddling close to the left shore in a route that ended in standing waves.
Easy rapids and quick water followed to a twisting swampy area. When the river turned abruptly right, we encountered large waves in a straightforward rapid. Tall pine trees, granite ledges and a cabin high on a hill on the left marked the beginning of the most challenging falls of the day. We stopped to scout it on the left.
High water complicated the entrance to the steep pitch. A wide, unforgiving hydraulic blocked much of the center, which left a narrow route on the right and a complex channel on the left for choices. Large waves and another ledge drop followed immediately below.
Many decided to carry around the top on the left. Two kayakers and the shredder team successfully descended on the right. Another kayaker and a canoeist negotiated the left route, and I decided to try the same.
There’s an oft repeated axiom in our sport: “whitewater boaters are always between swims.” This was my day. I successfully completed the entrance but got caught on an eddy line below and flipped. Attempts to roll failed. Breathing is important, so I pulled my spray skirt and swam. Fortunately, Chowderheads were there to rescue me, along with my kayak and paddle.
A canoeist experienced a short swim on the second ledge drop but was quickly reunited with his boat. We reassembled and proceeded to the final rapid of the day.
The appearance of a blue cottage on the left announced the beginning of a U-shaped rapid that required a tricky maneuver around boulders at the bottom. Everyone executed the move successfully. A smooth, inviting wave at the end provided an opportunity for some surfing.
The prominent cottage that overlooks the rapid is a special place for many Chowderheads. Dave and Thelma Weymouth resided there for decades. Over the years, the club developed an enduring friendship with this wonderful couple and we often finished our trips with a visit with them. Dave passed in 2016 and Thelma has moved away. We miss them.
Another half-mile of paddling brought us to a location adjacent to the River Road in Abbot where we took out. Despite the chilly weather, we congregated next to Kyle’s truck to celebrate completion of our exhilarating river adventure.