Trip Report: Paddle on the East Branch of the Penobscot River from Bowlin Camps to Hay Brook

Story and photos by Sam Deeran, Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters

On the drive to Medway, Maine, my friend Audrey and I realized it was ten years ago, to the day, that we had made our first journey into the Maine woods together. You can travel far and wide, but the Maine woods will always bring you together again. We were joined on our trip by three other companions: my friend Kate, her partner Ryan, and Audrey’s husky-shepherd mutt Fiona.

We were making our way to Medway where we’d meet with Galen Hale. Galen is a Katahdin Region Renaissance Man; he owns a stove shop, operates a scrap yard with his brothers, and for decades has shuttled trips on the Allagash and Penobscot Rivers. He’s downsized his fleet of canoes in the past 20 years, winnowing from 60 boats to about a dozen. When we arrived in Medway, he had two sturdy Old Town Discovery 169s strapped to his pick-up rack.

The big river and mountain views we’d been dreaming of during a month of planning.

I’ve had the good fortune of getting to know Galen while coordinating this river trip, which took us 25 miles on the East Branch of the Penobscot River from Bowlin Camps to Hay Brook. Galen reminds me that the history of the region lives in the telling of the folks that have called it home for years. In an hour and a half drive with Galen, my friends and I got a grand tour of the region and its history, inspired by waypoints along our drive on the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway.

We arrived that night at Bowlin Camps to a warm welcome from the caretaker David. We took a little walk across the Bowlin Bridge and north on the International Appalachian Trail. Excited for the adventure ahead, we dimmed our cabin’s propane lights and hit the hay early that night.

The water was running high that weekend, about 2,000 cubic feet per second. Cubic feet per second, or cfs, is a reading take of the river’s width, depth, and speed, but a number alone doesn’t give an image of the river. David told us that as the water came down from around 3,000 CFS the day before, a new island out front of the camps had emerged.

Loading up our canoes, we had our first and last man overboard – or dog overboard as it were – while loading Fiona into the canoe. Just weeks earlier, river expert and NEOC proprietor Matt Polstein had told a group of paddlers and me about how the most dangerous time in a canoe was often during and just after a put-in.

Fiona and Audrey poised to run the first riffly waters

Starting downriver, the water was quick and wavy below Bowlin Bridge. We passed the Spencer Rips, which most old maps indicate is a single set of riffled water or Class I rapids. It might be easier to just anticipate riffles and Class I rapids intermittently from Bowlin Camps until the river flattens into the silver maple floodplain above and below the confluence with the Seboeis River, a stretch of about 10 miles.

We moved swiftly along. Part of my task on the river was to ground-truth new draft maps and river descriptions in the Three Rivers Paddling Guide. The guide, a collaboration between Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters and Maine Woods Forever, is available for paddlers eager to run the river and test the map this summer. I had imagined checking in on exact mileages, but the water was just too quick to pause and ascertain my GPS coordinates. I adjusted my expectations and went for ground-truthiness instead. Each feature on the map was indeed there and the maps read intuitively.

An excerpted map from the Three Rivers Paddling Guide (to be published in full in 2021)

Near the Fiske Brook campsite, the river was high enough that it ebbed into the joining stream, creating a dead water which we explored looking for moose and birds. Just as we gave up on the chance of a wildlife sighting and turned our attention to the water downriver, a sloshing noise drew our attention to the north. A moose calf crossing the river. As we loaded into the boats, a bald eagle swooped overhead. Stop looking and you will see.

Aside from campsites, downriver from Bowlin Camps there’s only one human structure, a cabin perched on an embankment where the river briefly curls north about a half mile above the confluence of the Seboeis and East Branch. South of there, the river runs through the magnificent silver maple floodplain. It’s a rare and endangered ecosystem where during high water, the river floods over the massive roots of the silver maples. As we entered the floodplain, the paddling became a bit more work. Where before most of our work was managing the canoe’s direction, now we had to labor to push it forward. We took our time. Since our launch we had paddled for about two hours and already traveled eight miles. While enjoying the slower paddle, a second bald eagle – or maybe the first again – swooped overhead.

Exploring the silver maple floodplain

We settled into the Big Seboeis campsite, which looks north to the Seboeis and East Branch confluence and the rocky head of Lunksoos Mountain, the second big peak on the International Appalachian Trail. After pitching our tents, we set out to explore the surrounding woods where we found painted trillium wildflowers and the medeola virginiana. We gently dug to the roots of the medeola virginiana to reveal the white tuber below. It tastes a bit like a cucumber. Foraging is allowed in Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, but only for personal consumption. One medeola root per traveler and we turned back to camp to cook the food we carried in.

Painted trillium and the yummy medeola virginiana

Back at the shores of our campsite, we were greeted by an approaching boat with a small onboard engine. There was Galen, his friend Lee, Lee’s son Adam, and their dog Harley. Harley and Fiona were fast friends; the humans, too. Galen and Lee had brought along a cooler with some cold refreshments, an unanticipated luxury for a river trip. Galen, Lee, and Adam were happy to report that it was the first weekend that brook trout were biting. A cold spring had delayed their activity. Waving from the shore, we said our goodbyes, Fiona staring off to the river and her departed pal Harley.

It wasn’t long before another dog, and her human keepers made their way to our shores. From our campsite we saw three boats come down from the Seboeis River. They had paddled eighteen miles from Grand Lake Road to Big Seboeis campsite in just one day. As their boats made it to shore, a paddler with her face obscured by a black bug net inquired, “Audrey?” Audrey and the paddler had met a few times before at the Homestead, a Portland music venue. We got to know the crew of Seboeis paddlers before they made camp of their own. Big Seboeis campsite – a place for rivers and people to meet.

Looking up-river from the Big Sebeois campsite to sunset over Lunksoos Mt

The next morning, I woke in the early morning dark to birds like I had never heard before. An uncountable number, singing their songs, sometimes in rhythm, sometimes not. I left my tent to watch the world wake up along the shore of the East Branch. As I left the shore to return to my tent, I caught a glimpse and heard the slosh of a moose leaping from out of the water onto the western shore. I returned to my tent and tried to sleep while the sky was still its foggy, navy blue.

We set out early into the morning fog after a simple breakfast. Paddling the flat water from Big Seboeis, we passed Lunksoos Camps, the historic site of Dacey Farm and the spot from which a collapsed Donn Fendler was spotted after being Lost on a Mountain in Maine. Less than a mile south from there, we came past the confluence of the East Branch of the Penobscot and the Wassataquoik Stream. In less than three miles, three rivers run together: the East Branch of the Penobscot River, the Seboeis River and the Wassataqouik Stream.

At the historic site of Hunt Farm, the river bends west and then shortly after south. From there, we were hawkeyed looking for a portage takeout on river-right. We were approaching the first rapids of a set of two at Whetstone Falls. Before we could see the rapids, we heard them echoing up through the river valley about a half mile. With the water running high, the rapids were churning something fierce. The sky was turning a pale sprawling gray, a sense of foreboding growing as the river’s jumping waters became our only focus on the horizon.

On our second day with rapids, Ryan and Kate led the way.

We pulled off at a tiny, beachy embankment on river-right, protected from the downstream maelstrom by a sharp rocky outcrop sticking out into the river. From there, we walked down along the rapids, a long, continuous stretch of Class II waves. It takes scouting from several locations to come up with a good course. There was a good, calm lane on river-right, but the way was blocked by a ledge with a big drop. We decided to start center-right and work river-right if we could.

When we set out on the trip, our plan had been to portage Whetstone Falls, each of us being cautious about one another’s paddling experience. A day and a half into the trip, confident of our own paddling and our fellow paddlers, we decided to run this first set. My heart quickened and my eyes sharpened to the challenge ahead. As we set back out upriver from our scouting walk, we saw our fellow paddlers from the night before approaching the portage. We were eager to yield the beach for their safe passage to shore. We swapped water for the high shore as they made their way down to the scouting lookouts to watch our descent.

For better or worse, your intuition takes over when the water quickens and the rapids start dragging you downriver. With Fiona perched on the front of the boat, we had an exhilarating, rollicking ride down the rapids, mostly along center-right – the water being too powerful for us to track too much to the right to that clear lane. From there, the river bends left down towards the even louder set of second falls below Whetstone Bridge. There’s a large pool between the two sets of rapids and we made quick work cutting to river-left to a beach where we set our canoes to go scout the second set of rapids. Looking from the shore and then atop Whetstone Bridge, we scouted the Class III rapids. The approach looked good from river-left, but from there we wanted to track an ambitious diagonal, straight towards less turbulent water between the center two pyres of the bridge.

Ryan scouts the rapids below Whetstone Bridge

Buoyed from the adrenaline and confidence from the first set of rapids, we took to the boats and made our descent. Starting river-left was no problem, but neither boat made it very far river-right – and we risked exposing the boat’s side to the pressing waves by forcing the issue. We each splashed through a massive wave at river-center but made it through with a dozen or so gallons of water in our boats to show for it. Below the falls, we rafted up, sharing the exhilaration of our safe descent, deswamping our boats, and sharing some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to reenergize after adrenaline had run us ragged.

From below Whestone Falls, the river winds through the Penobscot River Trails land, privately operated by a charitable foundation supporting the Maine Outdoor Education Program and year-round biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and paddling on the property. We spotted a few bikers on the riverside trails. It’s a lovely, calming part of the river, slowly ambling through myriad eddies and islands, and little riffly water.

About an hour and a half before our designated meet-up time with Galen, we made it to the Hay Brook takeout at the southern end of the Penobscot River Trails land. As if on command, the mosquitoes hatched, launching an assault which even our trusted bug head nets couldn’t withstand. Within minutes both cheeks had a fresh bite, swelling to a lump – always the biggest bumps on the year’s maiden mosquito bite. Galen and his pick-up truck came to our rescue within ten minutes of our take-out. He always arrives early to a pick-up, anticipating most folks move quicker than they’d expect along the river.

Riding back to Medway with Galen, we talked about the days to come, when more paddlers come to explore the river. Things have been relatively quiet on the remote waters of the East Branch, but then again, the secret of the paddling and fishing here has been out for a long time. The native Penobscot Indians have been paddling these waters since time immemorial and in 1857, a Penobscot guide named Joe Polis led Henry David Thoreau down the East Branch. On the river, our thoughts belonged to the moment and our companions, but writing now, I’m humbled to think of the peoples whose paths we followed.

Fiona gets some shut-eye after a long river day

As more people come to witness the wonders of the Katahdin Region, Galen hopes his fleet of boats will grow once more. He’s got some good land just north of the confluence of the East Branch and the West Branch, where he hopes to put some cabins for folks looking for a nice play to stay – to enjoy the Penobscot River Trails, the East Branch of the Penobscot River, and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters and Maine Woods Forever invite you to help ground-truth the Three Rivers Paddling Guide and to offer your feedback to be incorporated into its 2021 publication. The map is available via mail or email. To request a copy or to get help with planning a trip of your own, please contact Sam Deeran, Deputy Director, at

Trip Report: AMC Thru-Hike of the IAT in the Monument

Story and photos by Stephen Brezinski, AMC Maine Trip Leader

When I wanted to lead an AMC group backpack for beginners and intermediate level hikers, Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument was the obvious choice for me.  The area features good wide trails over rolling hills, several not-too-challenging peaks with good views, a good size stream to ford, and regularly-spaced good quality lean-to shelters.  The trail we followed is the International Appalachian Trail (IAT), an intercontinental trail that stars in the Monument and continues north through Maine and Canada; and then across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe and down to the Atlas Mountains of North Africa.  We would do only about 30 miles of the IAT’s current mileage of 5,500, southbound from Matagamon Camps to the Orin Falls Road Gate.

We were fortunate to have a mirror AMC group hiking north at the same time we hiked south.  We could exchange cars in the beginning and then meet and exchange keys halfway, so as to hike back to our own cars.  I like hiking south; to quote Tolkien, “it feels like walking downhill.”  We opted for a late July backpack so that the river crossing might be lower than in the spring and early summer, and the biting flies and mosquitoes less troublesome!

The southbound AMC crew, absent the photographer of course, at the north gate of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Day 1 – We left two vehicles at the north end lot across the bridge from Matagamon Camps, where the IAT meets the paved road.  Being a shorter day, the group took the 1/2 mile diversion to Stair Falls, which is a set of parallel cascades across the river formed by a series of hard rock layers folded up at an angle.  We also took a short diversion to Haskell Hut, a riverside cabin favored by cross country skiers and rented through Elliotsville Plantation Inc in the winter months.  Haskell Rock is worth a short visit, a rock pillar in the river made up of 400-million-year-old conglomerate rock, sometimes referred to as “puddingstone”.

Standing atop Haskell Rock. Photo credit: Jamie Walter

All in all, our GPS told us we did 9 miles with a swift pace of about 2 1/2 miles per hour.  It felt to me like at most 5 miles but that may be because the terrain is a gentle rolling tote road along the East Branch of the Penobscot.  Grand Pitch Lean-To was reached with plenty of time to lounge, read, make camp, read and dinner; before the deluge of rain and lighting that greeted our brethren hiking north over Deasey Mountain.  If you like fishing this is the area to do it.

Day 2 – We started early with wet tents stuffed in our packs.  The IAT continues along the river and is a wide grassy or mossy trail allowing us to walk side by side much of the time.  Before lunch, we came to the bridge over to Bowlin Camps, a historic hunting camp that services hunters, fishers, paddlers, hikers, and more. It’s a potential good bailout spot for someone in trouble.  We were hoping for some coffee or lunch but alas, it was not to be.  We did do an exceptional job of knocking away the wetness of the dewy, hanging foliage for the northbound AMC group!  Mid-day we passed the southbound group at Little Spring Brook where we heard tales of their stressful time crossing Deasey and Lunksoos peaks in the previous day’s storm.

The northbound and southbound AMC hikers together in passing on the International Appalachian Trail.

About 2/3 the way to Lunksoos Lean-To, the trail left the river and we started to gain elevation.  At day’s end, the GPS told us we did about 11 miles and 600 feet of gradual elevation gain from Grand Pitch to Lunksoos Lean-To.  Be aware that at Lunksoos Lean-To the water source is a good hike away!  I estimate near 800 feet south along the trail and then downslope another 300 feet to a good quality and bountiful brook. If it is raining, catch water off the shelter roof.  Bugs were no problem at this shelter so we dispensed with the tents.

Day 3 – We left the wide tote roads and hiked largely on narrow forest trails up and over Lunksoos and then Deasey Mountains, about 1000 feet elevation gain and loss.  Be careful over Lunksoos were we found the trail hard to follow in places.  Lunksoos has the most impressive beds of lichen and moss; the trails are so little used these trails are still soft with grass and fallen leaves.  The views from both peaks were glorious and a magnificent change from the gray overcast of the previous two days.  The Travelers, Katahdin and Barnard Mountain were obvious to the west, and many other peaks unknown to our group visible to the east.  The restored Fire Warden’s lookout atop Deasey is worth the visit for lunch.

The Deasey Mountain Lookout

At the trail’s ford over the Wassataquoik Stream, the water was a little deeper and quicker than when we forded it in late August of 2017. This year in late July the 150-foot-wide stream was knee deep for the tall hikers and thigh deep for the more petite hikers.  We crossed in pairs. With the jumble of stream-bed rocks underfoot, I recommend you not cross in bare feet.

The Ford at the Wassataquoik Stream

With the elevation gain our travel speed was considerably slowed on Day 3, about half the speed we accomplished on Day 1.  Day 3 was the most strenuous of the three days hiking but at about seven to eight miles, the shortest in distance.  Mid-afternoon we reached the cars and traveled back to Sherman’s finest eatery.  Despite the rain, a good time was had by all.  The 30-mile walk is not overly strenuous compared to hiking in the Whites.  If you want seclusion this is a great location. Thinking back, my only real regret maybe is that it went to fast, I wish I had walked slower and stopped more.

Stephen Brezinski is a volunteer leader with AMC Maine. For a calendar of upcoming AMC trips, visit the AMC Maine website here. 

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters lending free equipment at Head North Ski Days

Thursday, March 14th, 2019

Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters lending free equipment at Head North Ski Days
The sixth annual Head North Ski Days will offer free cross-country ski and snowshoe equipment to the public at the north end of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument

Patten, ME — Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (Friends) will be hosting the sixth annual Head North Ski Days in the north end of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (the Monument) from Saturday, March 16th to Friday, March 22nd. With the help of local volunteers and Friends’ community partners at Elliotsville Plantation, Inc, event attendees are invited to borrow free cross-country ski or snowshoe equipment at the North Gate of the Monument. Friends Education Coordinator Kala Rush will be hosting visitors as well as students from across the Katahdin Region.

“The Monument provides a great opportunity for folks to enjoy the Maine North Woods in winter,” said Friends’ Education Coordinator, Kala Rush. “The Katahdin Region has been slammed with snow this year and the skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling conditions are the best they’ve been in years.”

From March 16th to March 22nd, starting each day at 10 AM, the public will have access to free cross-country skis, boots, and poles provided by Outdoor Sport Institute as well as snowshoe equipment from the Katahdin Gear Library. Volunteers will help visitors set up equipment and can offer recommendations for enjoying the trails system. Adventurers interested in a backcountry overnight experience are invited to reach out to Friends to plan an extended trip.

“Whether you’re out for half a day or a couple of nights, the 16-plus miles of groomed trails offer excellent skiing and snowshoeing with some breathtaking views of the East Branch of the Penobscot, Bald Mountain, Traveler Mountain, and more,” said Kala Rush.

Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. started Head North Ski Days in 2014 to showcase what was then a recreation area before the historic land gift that led to the designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in August 2016. With generous support from local Maine sponsors Shin Pond Village, Richardson’s Hardware, and Emerald Builders, Friends continues to host the event and offer free equipment for visitors from the Katahdin Region, Maine, and around New England.

“We’re proud to have the support of Maine businesses and organizations that understand the importance of Maine’s woods and waters. The Monument community spans the Katahdin Region and beyond and this event has received support from Mt. Chase, Patten, Millinocket, Farmington, Bowdoinham, and Caribou,” said Kala Rush.

Millinocket radio station The Mountain 94.9 and Big Hits 99.3 in Farmington are supporting the event by broadcasting a Head North Ski Days public service announcement recorded through the Katahdin Learning Project with the help of Katahdin High School students.

The Katahdin Learning Project is Friends’ place-based learning initiative in the Katahdin Region with the intent of getting students and the broader community outside and connected to the Monument. Education Coordinator Kala Rush recorded the radio spot while teaching local students about audio production as part of a Katahdin Learning Project “learning journey.” During Head North Ski Days, students from schools in Millinocket, Medway, Stacyville, and Patten will have the opportunity to enjoy the north end of the Monument with Kala and teacher chaperones.

“Through Head North Ski Days, regional teachers are going the extra mile to help their students experience the wild places around them,” said Rush. “With each learning journey, students are growing their connection to the lands and becoming stewards and advocates of the environment in their own families and communities.”

For more information about Head North Ski Days, please visit the Friends website.

Press Contacts:
Kala Rush, Education Coordinator
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters
(406) 728 – 5692

Sam Deeran, Deputy Director
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters
(207) 650 – 4074

Trip Report: Staff Trip to Haskell Hut

LOTS of snow at the North Gate of the Monument

Presidents’ Day weekend, the full staff of the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (all four of us!) headed into the north end of the Monument for some quality time together. I just came on as the new Friends Membership Coordinator at the end of January, so I was excited to spend a few days with my new colleagues and, of course, for the opportunity to do some skiing and snowshoeing in the Monument.

Though I lived in Millinocket for a year, I have yet to explore the Monument as fully as I’d like to. On the bright side, this means that I can still experience a lot of the beauty and splendor of Katahdin Woods and Waters for the first time! As we set out on our trip, I was particularly looking forward to stretching my cross-country skiing muscles and enjoying the bountiful snow up north. Leaving Portland, the scraps of snow on the curbs were dirty, icy, and uninspiring. By the time we turned off the highway in Sherman, though…wow. I have to admit, the enormous banks of snow and pristine-looking snow-covered hills and mountains are impressive, no matter how many times you’ve seen them.

After spending the night with our friends and Monument partners, Susan and Mark, we got a good start on Sunday, filling up with a fantastic and hearty breakfast at Shin Pond Village. Swallowing another cup of coffee and staving off the urge for a post-brunch nap (that might have just been me), we headed out over the winding roads to Matagamon Gate, parked, and loaded up our packs and ski pulks. We had a quick photo op and waved goodbye as Susan, Mark, and fabulous VIP Connie headed off to groom and break snowshoe trails elsewhere in the Monument. We were ready to go!

Heading downhill from the Haskell Gate

…Except that, for some reason, Sam and Kala’s skis decided to be difficult, refusing to latch into their ski boots. It looked like it was going to be a long snowshoeing trip for the two of them until, by a fortuitous twist of fate, someone suggested they switch skis and see if that worked. Kismet! Providence! Snap, snap, snap, snap, their boots latched right into the switched skis (we make a good team), and we were ready to go.

Off we went, skiing down the beautifully groomed trail toward Haskell Hut, our home for the next two nights. I wouldn’t call myself an expert skier, but I grew up skiing about on cross-country skis in the winter in my family’s backfield. Compared to breaking trail in a field (or “generously” letting my older brother go ahead of me to break trail), the groomed trails of the Monument are a dream! Of course, it was the beginning of the trip and I had lucked out and wasn’t dragging a ski pulk, but I felt light and zippy as we headed off down the Messer Pond Road. The air was crisp and cold, but the wind was calm, the sun was bright, and we were warmly dressed, so it was very comfortable skiing. We paused to look at Billfish Mountain, sparkling in the brilliant sunshine, but continued on soon so that we could reach our destination and drop our bags.

Arriving to Haskell Hut on our first afternoon

We reached Haskell Hut in good time, with a couple of hours until sunset. Kala soon had a fire built up in the woodstove, and we grew warm and comfortable in the hut. We briefly considered going out again for a late afternoon/evening ski, but the coziness overtook us, and we decided to stay in, make some dinner, and relax for the evening. Before long, Andy had whipped up a fantastic meal of pasta with shrimp and vegetables in a creamy sauce that would not have been out of place at a fancy restaurant. We sopped up every drop of the extra sauce with some bread I’d brought along and soon leaned back in our chairs, well fed and contented.

The next morning, after some expertly-brewed coffee, sizzling bacon, and maple-y oatmeal and from Kala, we set out for a day of adventure. We decided to leave our options open, but we brought along our day packs and a ski pulk with our snowshoes so that we could try to snowshoe up to the Lookout. Shortly after we left Haskell Hut, we encountered some friendly skiers, who told us that the trail up the Lookout had not, in fact, been broken, but that they had broken trail along the river on the IAT down to Grand Pitch. We took a pit stop at Haskell Rock Pitch to take a good look at the river. We stayed cautiously back from the edge, uncertain how sturdy the snow was. It would have been an early, cold, and dangerous end to the day if someone fell in! We continued skiing out until we met the broken trail following the IAT along the river, then ditched the pulk and our skis and switched over to snowshoes, heading out through the woods.

Kala snowed in at the Grand Pitch Hut

Switching to snowshoes was a good choice, as there were some downed trees that would have been difficult to negotiate on skis. With the trail broken for us, though, we were able to snowshoe quite comfortably. We made our way past Pond Pitch, marveling at the power of the churning river whenever we had the chance to look out through breaks in the trees. We reached the Grand Pitch lean-to around lunch time and took some pictures of the massive piles of snow covering it. This was where the easy path ended, but we wanted to go just a little further so that we could get a good look at the river while enjoying our lunch. We snowshoed a little bit farther, and I began to appreciate just how kind it had been for the skiers we met to have broken trail for us. It was slow going without a packed trail! We made it down to where we could see the river, packed down a circle with our snowshoes, and settled in for lunch.

We didn’t linger long, as the chill set in quickly. After filling up with fuel for the afternoon, we turned back. The return trip felt much quicker: we’d hit our stride, the trail was packed down more firmly, and the territory was familiar. When we reached the groomed trail again, we switched back to skis and headed back to Haskell Hut.

Andy gets in an afternoon workout shoveling out the propane tank at Haskell Hut

Before dark, we cleaned up some of the snow around the hut, digging a path to the propane tank, clearing off the picnic table, shoveling out the woodshed, and refilling the stock of firewood for the next travelers to come through. As evening fell, Andy made another fantastic meal—a hearty chili with all the fixings—and we settled in for another cozy evening. We were just shy of the full moon (on February 19), but both nights were so clear, the moonlight flooded over the snow outside and made it seem almost like daylight. At night, it was probably lighter outside than inside the hut, where our activities were lit only by our headlamps.

Tuesday morning, it was time to head out. After more delicious oatmeal (and good, strong coffee) from Kala, we tidied up the cabin and packed up to go. It was my turn to pull a ski pulk now. I lucked out in that I got the lighter one, packed mostly with snowshoes. As someone with little experience pulling a ski pulk, I have to say that it takes some getting used to! The stability improved when we crossed the ropes, and I was surprised by how quickly I adjusted to pulling the sled behind me.

Skiing beneath the view of Traveler Mtn.

On our way out of the Monument, returning on the Messer Pond Road the same way we came in, we encountered two other skiing parties (and some new Friends members). I was struck by the vastness of the Monument at several times throughout our trip. There were several parties of friendly skiers we encountered over the three days of our trip, but we also encountered long stretches of solitude, during which we simply enjoyed the beauty of our environs, the peace of not checking emails, and the pleasure of each other’s company. We were on some of the most well-trafficked roads of a National Monument, but I felt that we had been granted access to something really special and, in some ways, still quite wild.

As we skied the last stretch toward Matagamon Gate, I felt exhausted and refreshed—exactly what you hope to feel after a few days in the woods. I also felt lucky: not just that the weather had been so beautiful and that I had somehow landed this incredible job, but also that we had the opportunity to spend the past few days enjoying the land, the time together, and the beauty of the Monument. I returned home that night (to a long-awaited warm shower and a very comfortable bed), vowing to prioritize this kind of trip more frequently.

FKWW Staff before our adventure (L – R: Meghan Cooper, Kala Rush, Andy Bossie, & Sam Deeran)

If you have any questions about our trip or about other trips you are considering, feel free to reach out the staff of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters at If you are interested in learning more about taking your own overnight wilderness adventure, please reach out to Susan Adams, Recreation Manager at Elliotsville Plantation, Inc, at

Meghan Cooper, Membership Coordinator

Trip Report: XC Ski to Haskell Hut

I love winter. More precisely, I love snow – winter without snow? Blech, who needs it! Tired of the lack of snow here on the Maine coast, one recent evening I spontaneously (highly uncharacteristic; I am not a spontaneous person) decided to head a couple hours north to ski into a hut and spend a night in the middle of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. By 9 AM next morning, I had determined the huts are in fact available for use in winter, secured my hut reservation, an overnight parking pass for KWW, and dog-care at the wonderful Katahdin Kritters for my furry friend Tess. So what that it was forecast to be the coldest night and weekend of the winter yet, with below zero temperatures, I’m a New England girl I can handle it! I dug out my back-backing gear from storage, put TWO sleeping bags in my pack not being sure exactly what “hut” in this instance would consist of, and off I went!

It’s a bit of a haul to get to the north end of the Monument from my home on Mount Desert Island, and I had a meeting on the way, so it was 2:20 in the afternoon before I reached the gate where I’d leave my car and set out on my skis – sadly at this time of year only 2 hours before sunset. But no problem – I had anticipated the late start, and it was plenty of time to ski the 6 plus miles (via the Old River Road trail along the Penobscot River) to Haskell Hut. Even if I lingered too long taking photos and didn’t make it before sunset, I had lots of warm gear and a good headlamp – not to mention a beautifully clear sky that would no doubt offer multitudes of starlight under which to ski – so while I preferred to arrive to a new place in the daylight to check it all out, I wasn’t concerned about darkness coming before I reached the hut.

The Old River Road XC ski track

The first stretch of trail, on the Old River Road, followed the banks of the Penobscot River. It was relatively flat and easy going, and with the trees heaped with fresh snow, and the dazzling sunlight illuminating the snowy trail as well as the water smoothly flowing by, I was in winter-wonderland-heaven. After about 2.25 miles, I came to a marsh on my right and crossed a small bridge where the marsh emptied into the river. The marsh afforded a beautiful view across to the ridge of a Bald Mountain. Alongside the open marsh, there was nothing to hinder the wind, but I braved chilled fingers to take off my giant mittens and snap some photos all the same! Just past the marsh, I came to the Oxbow Road, which took me right back up to the main trail (Messer Pond – Orin Falls Road).

From this point to Haskell Gate, I went up and down some gentle grades surrounded by the bare-leafed branches of deciduous trees. By now the sun was quite low in the sky, well hidden by the mountains, with dusk settling upon the landscape. The stark silhouettes of the tall trees and sharp angles of the branches were all the more emphasized by the purple sky glowing behind them. The patterns of the trees in the darkening dusk, the ever-changing light, the chill air stinging my exposed face (I had long before ditched the face mask I started with), the shusch-shusch-shusch rhythm of my skis sliding across the snow the only sound insinuating itself into the silent evening – I was totally absorbed by being in that place, in that time. Anything seemed imaginable. Lingering in the past holds one down; worrying about the future hems one in; but just BE in the present moment, and the world is suddenly full of promise and possibilities. Pure magic.

Dusk comes to Katahdin Woods and Waters

Past Haskell Gate, the trail took a bend downhill into a spruce forest, the spruce boughs heaped thickly with the recent snow delighted me. This was the final stretch before reaching the hut, to which I did arrive before it was entirely dark, though sunset was well past. While I liked the idea of skiing by starlight on such a clear evening, I was glad to reach the hut, new to me, before dark, so that I could take a look around and get my bearings. And make sure I knew the location of the outhouse (took me a bit to find it, even in the lingering light!)

When I decided to do this trip, I wasn’t sure what I would find as to my accommodations and exactly what sort of a hut this would be! But I was pleasantly surprised by how substantial Haskell Hut was – not necessarily in size, spacious enough but cozy too, sleeping eight – but well-enclosed, well-provisioned with cooking pots and pans and dishes, and games, books, and puzzles – and a rocking chair!

And, most importantly, quite the workhorse of a wood stove. As soon as I arrived – after finding the outhouse and snapping a few photos as well – my priority was getting a fire going before I cooled down too much from my ski. I huddled in front of the wood stove and worked on thawing out my toes while the temperature inside the hut began its slow climb out of the single digits. It took about an hour before it was comfortable enough – standing in front of the fire – to change out of my sweaty ski clothes, and start melting snow and heating water for my dinner. By the time I ate my dinner, I had to move the rocking chair well back from the fire and take off my hat; by the time I went to sleep, it was almost TOO hot in the hut! Frankly, I was much warmer in the hut than I would have been at home in my drafty house, with the not-so-great wood stove with which I heat it.

Haskell Hut in the morning light

Next morning I woke in the early hours of dawn; I could have laid there forever savoring the reflective light of the not-yet-risen sun lighting the sky over Haskell Deadwater and shining its way around the trees in through the windows. But I wanted to see the sunrise properly! So, still ensconced in my sleeping bag, I threw on some boots, hat, and mittens, grabbed my camera, and headed out into the chilly morning. It was magnificent! Minus eight degrees according to the thermometer, but I was relishing the wintry air. It was so still and serene – not a breath of wind, nor a murmur of sound to be heard. I spent a good half hour watching the sun emerge and slowly light the treetops, the hut, and finally the snow beneath me.

A re-warming by the stove, hot coffee, and some dried fruit and nuts were called for before heading back out for a morning ski. I made my way down the main trail to explore further along to the south. I found Haskell Rock Pitch, three-quarters of a mile down, and enjoyed the sight I’m much more familiar with in the summer, of the cascading falls of a river. I continued another mile and a half or so, completely reveling in the brilliant sunshine and utter snowiness of my surroundings. It seemed like mere seconds before my designated turn-around time forced me to head back to the hut.

The wintry Haskell Rock Pitch

When I saw the hut come into view perched atop the bank of the Haskell Deadwater, it felt like a homecoming of sorts even after just a single night there. I revived the coals of the fire to make some hot chocolate, giving myself some time to linger just a bit more. But reality was rearing its ugly head, and I needed to be off. I refilled the wood I had used from the woodshed, swept up, and said my goodbyes.

By this time, temperatures had warmed to the balmy low teens, so I ditched one of my layers from the day before and the morning, and set back out to the north. I couldn’t resist going the extra mile and a half to go back by way of the river again. When I reached that stretch, a small breeze afforded by the river’s proximity had both brought down quite a bit of debris to ski over, and completely obliterated the groomed trail with drifts, though the drifts were hard-packed enough to easily ski over. That wind, however, was just enough to send those cold temperatures right through my now-reduced layers of gear, resulting in my not being entirely sad when I reached my car! Plus, after not skiing all winter due to a lack of snow at home, 16 miles in two days, with a fully-loaded pack, had taken its toll on my quadriceps. Always hard to get back into the car and head back to the “real world” even after just a short time in the wilderness, but boy was I tired out!

I had departed the previous day at 2:20 and strangely returned to my car at exactly 2:20 to the minute the following afternoon. Such a short time really, but so huge in its significance. And to think, I could have – and almost – stayed home, sitting around avoiding the cold, and doing chores around the house. Instead, I made a tiny bit of effort, and had the most wondrous and unforgettable experience, enjoying the wintery wilderness of this amazing place that I’m lucky enough to call home.

Hope Rowan is the author of Ten Days in Acadia: A Kid’s Hiking Guide to Mount Desert Island, published by Islandport Press in 2017, as well as Ten Day in the North Woods: A Kid’s Hiking Guide to the Katahdin Region, due to be published this coming May. When not exploring the wilds of her beloved state or further afield, she resides in Southwest Harbor, Maine.

Save the Date for Head North Ski Days: March 16 – 22, 2019

This winter, we hope to guide you to exceptional experiences in the snowy Monument. If you’re a XC skier or snowshoer, you’ll want to save the dates of Saturday, March 16th to Friday, March 22nd, 2019 for the sixth annual Head North Ski Days. Head North Ski Days is a weeklong event with free ski rentals and access to groomed trails in the north of the Monument provided by Friends and Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.

Students and schools are invited to join Education Coordinator Kala Rush for educational trips into the Monument from Monday, March 18th to Friday, March 22nd. Please contact Kala at for more details.

More information about this annual event will be posted to the website soon.

Portland Monument Planning Meeting: Nov 14th

The National Park Service (NPS) will host a public meeting on November 14, 2018, to continue the conversation on the on-going management planning process at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Meeting Details:
Wednesday, November 14, 2018
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Portland Marriott at Sable Oaks
200 Sable Oaks Drive, South Portland, Maine 04106

The meeting will include an overview and welcome by Superintendent Tim Hudson and a presentation of mapped resources and past planning events. Following the presentation, participants will also have the opportunity to visit separate information stations in an informal open house format to provide input on the mapped resources and uses in the monument. Light refreshments will be provided.

Similar public meetings were held in Presque Isle on October 17 and in Bangor on October 30, 2018. Future meetings on the planning process will be held throughout 2019.

You are invited to participate in the planning process by attending public meetings and sharing your input via email. If you submit written comments, please cc us at to let us know how you’ve weighed in.

This is an important opportunity for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters supporters who are eager to take an active role in determining how the monument is managed and conserved. If you plan on joining us at the meeting or would like information on future meetings, please email our Operations and Special Projects Coordinator, Sam Deeran.

Brewer Monument Planning Meeting: Oct 30th

The National Park Service (NPS) will host a public meeting on October 30, 2018, to continue the conversation on the on-going management planning process at Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

Meeting Details:
Tuesday October 30, 2018
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Jeff’s Catering
15 Littlefield Way, Brewer, Maine

The meeting will include an overview and welcome by Superintendent Tim Hudson and a presentation of mapped resources and past planning events. Following the presentation, participants will also have the opportunity to visit separate information stations in an informal open house format to provide input on the mapped resources and uses in the monument. Light refreshments will be provided.

Additional public meetings will be held throughout 2018 including one in the Portland, Maine area on November 14, 2018.

You are invited to participate in the planning process by attending public meetings and sharing your input via email. If you submit written comments, please cc us at to let us know how you’ve weighed in.

This is an important opportunity for Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters supporters who are eager to take an active role in determining how the monument is managed and conserved. If you plan on joining us at the meeting or would like information on future meetings, please email our Operations and Special Projects Coordinator, Sam Deeran.

Katahdin Region to Host Celebration of Darkest Skies East of the Mississippi at Annual “Stars Over Katahdin” Events

Friday, September 21st, 2018

Katahdin Region to Host Celebration of Darkest Skies East of the Mississippi at Annual “Stars Over Katahdin” Events

Patten, ME — An annual tradition of showcasing the dark skies of the Katahdin region will continue this year at Stars Over Katahdin on Oct. 6thand 9th, hosted by Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters (Friends) and Elliotsville Plantation, Inc (EPI). Stars Over Katahdin will feature an exhibition of the United States’ darkest skies East of the Mississippi for the general public, while the educational events preceding will provide opportunities for students of the Katahdin region to learn about the stunning nights skies of their hometowns. The events take place as supporters of the Monument push to conserve the extraordinary night skies as an International Dark Sky Sanctuary as designated by the International Dark Sky Association.

As part of the place-based education program Katahdin Learning Project, students at Katahdin Elementary and Myal Oprick Elementary will be treated to presentations on the night skies from Northern Stars Planetarium. John Meader, Director of Northern Stars Planetarium in Fairfield, will be presenting age-appropriate lessons on the stars, planets, and distant galaxies to students inside a large inflatable dome designed for projections of celestial objects. Programs at Katahdin Elementary will take place September 24that 9:45am, 12:15am, and 5:00pm. Programs at Myal Oprick Elementary will take place September 25that 9:00am and 10:15am. These events are closed to the general public, but open to press upon prior request.

“Our night skies are becoming a source of local pride for students and community members alike,” said Kala Rush, Education and Engagement Coordinator with the Friends. “Through educational and interpretive programming, the Monument has elevated awareness of this increasingly scarce resource in our own backyard. This is one case where we’re proud to be in the dark.”

On Saturday Oct. 6th, Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters members and Monument Volunteers Eric and Elaine Hendrickson of Presque Isle will be leading a guided day hike exploring the history and geology along the banks of the Wassataquoik Stream north to Orin Falls. Hikers will meet at Sandbank Stream Campsite to carpool at 10:30am.

Hikers with small children or a part of a family are welcome to meet Katahdin Learning Project place-based educator Scarlet McAvoy for a Family Hike at Sandbank Stream Campsite at 2pm with an optional picnic to follow (families provide their own food). Those interested in the Family Hike are invited to RSVP to

Saturday evening, astronomers, Monument volunteers, and star enthusiasts will gather at the Loop Road Overlook at Mile 6.4 for a campfire program (s’mores included) followed by a guided telescope viewing of the stars. Carpools and a reservation-only shuttle bus will be meeting at Sandbank Stream Campsite at 5pm. Those interested in shuttling to the Overlook should contact Susan Adams at to reserve a spot on the shuttle. Event attendees planning to camp out for the night in the Monument should be aware that campsites within the Monument are likely to be full with other visitors that weekend. Friends suggests attendees hoping to stay overnight book accommodations at the nearby Pine Grove Campground or at other local accommodations.

Tuesday, Oct. 9th at 7pm, the Millinocket Memorial Library will be showing an early screening of “Saving the Dark”, a film directed by Sriram Murali about night skies and the increasing effects of light pollution.

“ ‘Saving the Dark’ does a great job of laying out how precious and deserving of conservation our dark are,” said Nancy Hathaway, a Friends member who is volunteering her time to help organize Stars Over Katahdin. “The film is an important reminder of what’s at stake as we work to protect these lands and the skies above.”

Stars Over the Katahdin takes place while Friends, EPI, and the National Park Service continue their collective effort to have the Monument designated as a Dark Sky Sanctuary by the International Dark Sky Association. The efforts to conserve the night skies of the region were previously covered in the Portland Press Herald’s feature “Let there be dark: Advocates push Maine as astrotourism destination” and The County’s article “Dark skies a resource to protect”. Light pollution maps show that this part of Maine is home to a patch of dark skies larger than any other in the United States East of the Mississippi River. Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument sits in the heart of the dark skies of northern Maine. With a total eclipse expected to move directly over the Monument in 2024, dark sky advocates pushing for the International Dark Sky Designation hope Katahdin Woods and Waters can be a major destination for astrotourists from across the world.

Press Contacts:
Kala Rush, Education and Engagement Coordinator
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters
(406) 728 – 5692

Susan Adams, Recreation Manager
Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.
(207) 852 – 1291


Katahdin Area Students Volunteer at BikeMaine for an Educational Experience

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Katahdin Area Students Volunteer at BikeMaine for an Educational Experience

Fort Fairfield, ME – Katahdin Region students came together again to volunteer as the tent and porter crew for BikeMaine 2018: Acadia in the St. John Valley – La Terre Entre Deux (the land between). Students take seven days, including five away from school, to work setting up and taking down tents. They join cyclists for each meal, learn from a place-based curriculum in the afternoon, and then camp out each night in “tent city.” The week is facilitated and supported through multiple partnerships ranging from the Katahdin Learning Project, a place-based learning initiative offering educational opportunities at the Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, to Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. The work could not be done without the amazing teacher chaperones from Katahdin Middle High School, CariLynn Hanson and Kyle Quarles. Katahdin region schools such as Katahdin Middle High School have the opportunity to jump on board in order to offer students this week-long learning adventure.

What is the Katahdin Learning Project?

The Katahdin Learning Project, a project of Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters, works to create educational opportunities through place-based learning in the Katahdin Region, using Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument and the surrounding communities as the backdrop.

MISSION: The mission of the Katahdin Learning Project is to foster and support authentic teaching and learning in the Katahdin Region that engages students in real projects in the community and the wild and natural places surrounding them.

VISION: We envision a future where our youth, public lands, and education will unite us, create vibrant communities, and ensure a prosperous future for the Katahdin Region.

Why do we partner with BikeMaine?

BikeMaine offers participating students a rare opportunity to learn through hands-on activities in nearby communities with a curriculum created by teachers and partners in order to enhance and provide the best and most educational experience possible. The crew also earn a substantial stipend for programs at their school, like resources for their outdoor education program.

Who participates?

Students, grade 7-11, from the Katahdin Middle / High School

Partners including Katahdin Learning Project/Friends of Katahdin Woods and Water, Elliotsville Plantation, Inc., Katahdin Middle / High School, and BikeMaine.


Kala Rush
Education and Engagement Coordinator
Friends of Katahdin Woods and Waters
(406) 728-5692

Marie Robinson
Principal at Katahdin Middle / High School Principal
(207) 365-4218

CariLynn Hanson
Teacher at Katahdin Middle / High School
(207) 365-4218

Susan Adams
Recreation Manager
Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.
(207) 852-1291