Rain-swollen Kingsbury Stream made our annual trip exciting

By Ron Chase 

Kyle Duckworth has led an April Penobscot Paddle & Chowder Society whitewater trip on Kingsbury Stream near Abbot for about two decades.

Organizing the trip entails evaluating a variety of possible spring conditions. Some years, ice and snow are problems. In others, it’s too little water. 

In the week leading up to this year’s scheduled trip, Maine experienced a major April snowstorm followed by heavy rains. 

Fortunately, water levels can be closely monitored on the U.S. Geological Survey water data website. The streamflow page reports current river gauge information for many Maine waterways, including Kingsbury Stream. A good range for a trip on Kingsbury is from 800 to 1,500 cubic feet per second.

Photo courtesy of Ron Chase
RAPID PADDLE — Devon Carter kayaks one of many rapids on Kingsbury Stream.

Two days before the trip, Kingsbury’s level was about 1,400 CFS and climbing. Heavy rain and snowmelt were expected and would likely cause a temporary precipitous rise in the stream.

Kyle rescheduled the trip for the following day when water levels were anticipated to diminish.  Improving weather was an added benefit of that choice.

It was a good decision. The level rose to 6,500 CFS the night before the originally planned trip followed by an average of more than 3,000 during the period we would have been on the stream.

By the time we arrived the following day, it was running 1,700 CFS and dropping. The level averaged a very manageable 1,500 throughout our outing.

Fifteen enthusiastic paddlers met at the put-in on Route 16 in Kingsbury on a beautiful, seasonably warm and sunny spring day. 

Paddling a lucky 13 boats, we consisted of an eclectic group of canoes, kayaks and inflatable vessels. My son, Adam, and I paddled a shredder; a two-person inflatable that is very maneuverable in whitewater

We drove the vehicles to Abbot and left a sufficient number for the return shuttle. Our chosen takeout was located next to the stream on the rough pothole-filled River Road.

Returning to the put-in, we began our quest. The outing starts with a steep Class IV ledge descent. Most launched just below, but a few successfully braved the tricky precipitous falls.

A couple of miles of almost continuous Class II/III rapids ensued. We rode rolling waves, ferried around menacing holes, surfed at play sports and caught eddies to regroup. Given the exceptional weather, this was heaven for avid whitewater devotees. 

Rounding a sweeping left turn, the stream narrows and steepens. Chowderheads effectively navigated over breaking waves, around threatening boulders and through swirling currents to the bottom. Ledges on the left provided an ideal location for a sunny lunch break.

The afternoon began with our merry band carefully negotiating under Coles Corner Road Bridge. Experience dictated our decision to follow a narrow route next to the left shore to avoid an intimidating boat-devouring hole. 

Everyone effectively completed the maneuver; no paddlers were consumed.

Easy rapids and a serpentine sector of flatwater led to a narrow gorge containing the most difficult falls of the day. Consisting of a substantial ledge drop, large waves and some gnarly holes, it required careful scouting. Some carried around the ledge, while others capably navigated through the complex maze of obstacles. 

One more significant rapid remained. The U-shaped descent I call Weymouth Falls takes an abrupt steep right turn part-way through. Our group entered one boat at a time and tumbled down standing waves to the finish. 

The relatively high water flushed out what is usually an exceptional surfing wave at the end.

A prominent cottage is situated high on the left bank. That was the former home of longtime PPCS friends David & Thelma Weymouth. Sadly, the wonderful folks who lived there for much of their 72-year marriage have died. We miss them and our frequent visits at the end of the Kingsbury excursion.

Flatwater follows past a couple of camps on the left to the takeout.

The carry up the embankment to our waiting vehicles was the culmination of another outstanding Kingsbury adventure.  

The river gods willing, we’ll return again next year.

My book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” narrates numerous whitewater escapades and six multi-day river trips around the state.

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