This outing has it all: Open water paddling on Orland’s Alamoosook Lake, serene paddling in the narrows of the Dead River, marsh exploration and a little whitewater at the mouth of Hellhole Stream. Plus lots of wildlife to enjoy along the way, and just maybe your first swim of the spring.
It didn’t take long for the wildlife sightings to begin. We had no sooner gotten out of our vehicle when a belted kingfisher swooped by, chattering wildly on its headlong dash for the open water.
The boat launch area has many lakeside picnic tables ready for a basket full of sandwiches. The outlet brook from Craig Pond empties into the lake here. The water is gin clear, with the soothing sound of rushing water providing a perfect backdrop to a host of birdcalls drifting through the hillside pines.
If you are fortunate enough to have calm conditions at the start of your outing, the reflections of the boulders in the island archipelago a mile west of the launch site are mesmerizing. Round, pyramidal, rectangular – every form had an exact duplicate in the water. It appeared as if each image was suspended from the soft blue morning sky by an invisible thread, nature’s Christmas ornaments floating on the water.
The southern end of the lake has the majority of development so we headed north through the narrows leading into the icicle-shaped Dead River. In the cocoon of the narrows a woodpecker hammered away on a dead tree, the echo so loud it sounded as if it was hammering inside our heads.
A hundred yards past a private bridge spanning the narrows, we turned the corner into the wider Dead River and explored the small marsh on the southern end, venturing a few hundred yards down a sinuous channel before it all ended in a wall of brown marsh grasses and cattails. A large grove of tamaracks poked up into the southern sky, their beautiful light green needles just starting to emerge.
We stopped to watch an acrobatic gray squirrel precariously clinging to the uppermost branches of a red maple, all the while munching on the fuzzy red flowers. Peepers awakening from their long dormancy sang loudly. Two painted turtles sunning themselves on tussocks growing out of rotting logs plopped into the water. Red-winged blackbirds announced our arrival at every paddle stroke and flitted from cattail to cattail.
We headed north along the eastern shoreline in the cool shadows of the evergreens. There are only two cabins in this beautiful two-mile arm of solitude, and both are tucked well into the woods. There is a small shaded clearing halfway up on the right with a picnic table and grill provided by Great Pond Trust.
You will soon hear cascading water, and sure enough, you are nearing the mouth of Hellhole Stream. We slowly wound our way through a hundred yards of stiff current to two huge boulders directing the powerful drop of the stream into the Dead River. We found an eddy and sat and listened to the cascading water. An osprey circled overhead in search of fish.
By mid-morning the dead calm was replaced by a strengthening sea breeze. We doggedly made progress across the northern end of Alamoosook Lake, eyeing all the while the shiny metal roofs of the sprawling Craig Brook Hatchery complex. A stop to rest at the end of a beautiful gravel bar on the eastern edge of the opening into the wider part of the lake led to a half-hour nap in the sun and our first swim of the season. Yes, it was cold, but well worth it once we were back on shore as our skin pulsated wildly in the strong sun. We just might have found paradise on this gravel peninsula, protected from the breeze by a line of alders, maple saplings and small white pine. A pair of mallards landed in the cove in front of us.
A few yards from the boat launch we paddled by four loons bobbing in the waves and sun-splashed waters. Four hours of paddling and poking about for a distance of eight miles had never gone by so fast!
Consult the Delorme Maine Atlas and Gazetteer (map No. 23) for help in getting to Alamoosook Lake. Follow the Hatchery Road 1.4 miles north from Route 1 in Orland to the Craig Brook Hatchery and follow the posted signs to the boat launch area.
NOTE: Before you head out for your first canoe outing this season, be sure to check ice out conditions for any waterway you are considering paddling. Ice out is very late this year.
Michael Perry is the former director of the L.L.Bean Outdoor Discovery Schools, and the founder of Dreams Unlimited, specializing in inspiring outdoor slide programs for civic groups, businesses and schools. Contact: [email protected]