5892 – A kayaker paddles south on Mooselookmeguntic Lake Contributed photo

I had two good reasons to organize a trip on the big lakes of western Maine. First, a traverse of Cupsuptic, Mooselookmeguntic, Upper Richardson, and Lower Richardson Lakes is one of the most exceptional paddling experiences in Maine. Second, the excursion would be an episode in my new book tentatively entitled The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine. The publisher, North Country Press, plans to go to print in 2021 and my goal is to finish the manuscript by the end of September. A narrative about the exploit would be one of three remaining chapters.

A physically demanding logistically challenging expedition, enlisting at least one willing victim was necessary for the shuttle. I began marketing the scheme to my regular outdoor companions weeks in advance.

Several factors make planning the journey exacting. The shuttle over backcountry roads is about sixty miles in distance, weather and wind direction can be significant factors, and availability of campsites in this managed wilderness area is sometimes problematic.

The choice of vessel is another issue. On my first traverse with my son Adam about 35 years ago, we used a tripping canoe. On a second outing, everyone paddled sea kayaks. Canoes carry more gear but kayaks are faster and easier to navigate in strong winds. A kayak was my preference. When the winds increase and waves get rough, kneeling is often necessary in a canoe. Kneeling with my aging arthritic joints and replacement knee is simply too uncomfortable.

Estimating the paddling distance to be about thirty miles with a portage in the middle and a long shuttle on both ends, three days seemed the requisite timeframe to complete the endeavor. Identifying a perfect three-day weather forecast with only two days advance notice, my recruitment efforts were minimally successful. Frequent outdoor accomplice Brent Elwell signed on and we’d both be piloting sea kayaks. Since the forecast called for winds from the northwest for the first two days, our selection was a north to south traverse beginning on Cupsuptic Lake, traveling south through much of Mooselookmeguntic, portaging around Upper Dam and continuing south through Upper and Lower Richardson Lakes ending the journey in the tiny community of South Arm.

Stephen Phillips Memorial Preserve manages campsites on Mooselookmeguntic Lake. I was able to reserve one on Brandy Point ideally situated two miles east of Upper Dam for the first night. The Richardson Lakes have a multitude of campsites. Trusting an elderly memory, my recollection was they were available without reservations.

Meeting at a large parking area near the boat landing in South Arm, Brent’s kayak and gear were loaded onto my vehicle and his car left for the return shuttle. Wearing masks to protect against spread of COVID-19, ominous unwelcome rain clouds prevailed on the one and a half hour drive to Cupsuptic. Approaching the Town of Oquossuc, Height of Land Overlook on Route 17 provided a stunning panoramic view of much of our upcoming voyage.

Benefiting from a gentle tailwind, the sun was shining and the skies partly cloudy when departing from Cupsuptic Boat Landing. The Saddleback Mountain Range dominated views in the east. Traveling southeasterly through a narrows near Oquossoc, Bald Mountain on our left and highlands to the right created the impression of an inland fjord.

Passing Stony Batter Point, we navigated south experiencing continuous views of substantial Toothaker Island in the distance with Height of Land and Bemis Mountain towering above. Enjoying plentiful bird sightings throughout the outing, a family of Canada Geese led the way to our campsite on scenic Brandy Point opposite Student Island. The forecast called for a slight chance of showers so a tarp was erected ensuring a dry overnight.

Following an idyllic stay at Brandy Point, a brief paddle west brought us to Upper Dam. An excellent trail facilitated the portage around the dam and a modest release was sufficient to maneuver through the rock-strewn outflow into Upper Richardson. A tailwind propelled us rapidly south to Black Point Campsite.

My senior moments seem to be increasing exponentially. A sign announced South Arm Campground now manages all camping on the Richardson Lakes. A cell phone call confirmed every location was reserved. Instead of a delightful evening blithely ensconced on one of the many sandy beaches, the disappointing revelation resulted in a long day paddling to South Arm.

Since the weather was superb and the wind continued to cooperate, our tiring odyssey was completed in good spirits despite the setback. We had thoroughly enjoyed one of Maine’s finest outdoor adventures.

Author of “The Great Mars Hill Bank Robbery” and “Mountains for Mortals – New England,” Ron Chase resides in Topsham. Visit his website at www.ronchaseoutdoors.com or he can be reached at [email protected]

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