This page is a collection of Maine Kayak published articles and media. Below you'll find various published articles such as a history of Maine Kayak and kayaking the Kennebec River from a boater's point of view. You'll also find a link to Maine Kayak's feature on the PBS show "Made in Maine." Happy browsing!
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BOSTON GLOBE ARTICLE - KAYAKING IN MAINE
Beginners rapidly develop skills, confidence in kayaks
By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff | August 19, 2005
Second in a two-part series on kayaking in Maine. Today: Freshwater paddling.
RIPOGENUS GORGE, Maine -- When David Quick wanted a different training program for soldiers under his command in the Royal Canadian Regiment, he came to Alvah Maloney at Maine Kayak Inc. in Unity.
Quick, a longtime paddler from Ontario, saw a kayaking course as a perfect combination of skills training and summer enjoyment in a sport both simple and demanding, but definitely, he said, lots of fun.
''Every now and then we get a chance to do some training that's a little bit different, and with this sport, just going through what it takes to become a better kayaker, you're going to build skills and confidence," said Quick. ''You're going to overcome whatever fears you have of being in the boat or rapids.
''That's our training objective."
But when Quick brought 40 troops from his regiment down to this northern stretch of the Penobscot River, where the whitewater plunges 80 feet from the Ripogenus Dam at the outlet of Chesuncook Lake and becomes a roaring whitewater through a gorge between two high granite walls, he hardly expected the results he saw.
The same could be said for Maloney, a soft-spoken, articulate instructor whose approach to teaching is as far from hardcore military drillmaster as you can get. With the troops split into two 20-man groups, the native Mainer explained techniques, offered demonstrations, and encouraged the soldiers, many of whom in three days achieved goals reserved for advanced kayakers.
''They picked it up so quickly," said Maloney. ''We started with the safety program the first day and learning to paddle on flatwater. By the second day, we were doing some moving waters, and by the third day, a lot of them were entering and exiting whitewater river runs and were actually doing Eskimo rolls in the rapids. I was just inspired by the whole experience."
Whether military units will begin to include kayaking in the standard training regimen may be doubtful. But as kayaking in the last decade has taken over every waterfront from ocean to lake, and rivers wild and tame, it seems every group is up for it.
Not every beginner will be doing Eskimo rolls in whitewater after three days, said Maloney, but there is a starting point for every individual and everyone can enjoy the sport and achieve some measure of success almost immediately.
''Kayaking is 90 percent mental," said Maloney, who set up housing for the troops at Big Moose Inn, near the river. ''And those who came with the idea of really wanting to learn and practice some techniques advanced very quickly."
This stretch of the river lies within one of the legendary outdoor playgrounds in the Northeast. Located about 60 miles north of Bangor (120 north of Portland), the West Branch courses out of the lake country to the north, and broadens into a very accessible river from the Ripogenus Dam to Millinocket and another series of lakes that touch the southern end of Baxter State Park, Maine's conservation piece de resistance, a 202,064-acre wilderness preserve surrounding the mile-high Mount Katahdin.
Once used in river drives that made the Penobscot all but useless to recreational interests, the 1972 Clean Water Act put an end to commercial uses of the river and opened an entire universe of outdoor sports -- rafting, fishing, swimming, and camping. The entire stretch of river, about 30 miles from Millinocket to Ripogenus, is easily accessible from the Gloden Road -- the hard-packed gravel thoroughfare built by logging companies to truck timber to the mill after the demise of the river drives.
Maloney, who grew up helping his parents run their rafting business -- North Country Rivers -- where he became a registered Maine Guide, has seen people of all ages and sizes try kayaking, and for any number of motivations. One day two weeks ago, he worked with a group of newcomers that included Mike Coulton and his 29-year-old daughter, Kate, from Portsmouth, N.H., and Ted Brewer from Sheridan, Wyo., and his 12-year-old son, Colt.
Methodical and extremely articulate, Maloney starts all groups the same -- with an explanation of the boats they are using, safety, and a few paddling techniques, followed by a stretching session. There's even a technique for picking up the 55-pound boats from the trailer and getting them to shore.
Of first importance, Maloney stresses, is getting the kayak to ''fit." The typical 16-foot sea kayaks -- also used in large lake trips because of the open water -- have several adjustments of back, seat, and pedal height.
''Anyone can get into a kayak and begin to paddle," he said. ''But to do all the work with the arms wears them out and doesn't make use of the rest of the body -- like the shoulders and stomach."
Holding the paddle in front with a ''box" in mind (moving the body in such a way as to maintain the same distance between chest and paddle) allows the rest of the body to help generate the power to pull water.
''When I learned on my own, I picked up a lot of bad habits," said Maloney. ''I had to unlearn them before I really learned how to do it right. I try to teach people to avoid learning those bad habits."
Two of the group had paddled before, but the Brewers were new to the sport. After stretching, they were off for the first half-day trip, a quiet paddle in calm conditions, in and out of shadow created by overhanging trees.
''We've never done anything like this together before," said Ted Brewer, who paddled a two-person kayak with Colt, who preferred running the steering pedals connected to the rudder. ''And this is such beautiful country up here, I'm sure this is the best way to really see it."
Paul Horgan and his fiancee, Lilly Brice, both New Yorkers, haven't figured out just how they're going to do it, but they say kayaking is definitely going to be a part of their upcoming wedding.
''Either we'll say our vows in our kayaks, or have the wedding on land and paddle off into the sunset," said Brice, a college administrator whose first husband died of a sudden illness five years ago. To snap her out of her depression, friends pushed Brice into physical activity.
''These friends of mine are newborn physical fitness nuts who believe that physical activity can elevate your mood," she said. ''And I've got to say they're right. We went hiking, horseback riding -- they took me sailing. They couldn't get me skydiving. Too chicken.
''But then there was kayaking, and I'd just never done anything else like it. We came to Maine, to a place north of Greenville -- Lobster Lake. Two things happened on that trip I'll never forget: I saw a moose at close range and I met Paul. Both were pretty amazing."
Since then, the two have kayaked in a dozen places in the East, West, and the Caribbean. But, ''somehow, we keep coming back to Maine," said Horgan. ''There is a feel, a way the rocks and pines are, the smell of the place that just makes it different from anyplace else in the world. And since this is where Lilly and I found each other, in kayaks, I'm sure we'll always be doing this."
And this is not the first budding romance kayak guides have observed. Said Carl Swanson, who teaches in southern Maine but leads trips all over the state:
''At first, you don't think of a kayak as a real love machine. I mean, you're alone in the boat, you know? But then after you've shared so much experience with the person in the boat next to you, there's always that time of day when you pull the boats up and pitch the tents and it's time to talk over the day's activities. I've seen lots of relationships get started here on the water."
For the first year of their kayaking together, Brice and Horgan rented boats. ''It's pretty cheap," said Horgan, a member of an accounting firm. ''But still, after a while, you really want a piece of the rock, and you want to buy something really nice. It sort of speaks to how devoted you are to the sport -- like always buying new golf clubs."
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Bad Habits Difficult to Unlearn
By Tony Chamberlain, Globe Staff | August 18, 2005
Judging by the thousands of kayaks spotted on all forms of waterways these days, getting into the sport has never been easier. The uprising began in Maine nearly two decades ago, and New England's largest state -- with its truly amazing amount of water, both coastal and inland -- is where the sport is most highly developed.
From southerly York to the extreme northeast port of Eastport, from the heavily traveled Sebago Lake just west of Portland to the St. John River some 250 miles to the north, there are dozens of outfitters that rent or sell kayaks, teach paddling, and even lead wilderness trips.
For novices the question always rises: If kayaking is so easy, are lessons necessary?
On one hand, anyone can get into a kayak -- sometimes with awkwardness -- and begin to paddle. With time, that person would probably become adept at moving the boat, recognizing various natural elements that can affect the boat (currents, waves, and wind) and even become proficient to the point of enjoyment.
It would come as no surprise that the number of instructors -- perhaps a dozen -- I talked to the last few weeks all made the same point: There are bad habits one can develop that can prevent the development of good habits, such as paddling with just the arms rather than a full body movement.
As one who grew up on the water and in every type of boat that required rowing or paddling, I must confess that my first time in a kayak felt pretty much like second nature. But then, a few weeks later, listening to Alvah Maloney (director of Maine Kayak Inc.) indoctrinate a half-dozen new paddlers, I realized that -- like ski, golf, or tennis instruction -- one simple phrase can frame an important concept.
Maloney went to great pains to explain ''paddler's box." Here, Maloney holds the paddle out in front at arms length, explaining that when kayakers maintain that squareness, they paddle with an entire rotation of shoulders and torso.
''If you just use your arms, you can hurt your shoulders and lose efficiency," said Maloney.
This is one of perhaps five small fundamentals that made a difference in the way I kayaked, and, for what it's worth, certainly the instruction helped. As with similar recreational sports, most of the rest comes with time in the boat.
If simple paddling on flatwater seems easy enough to pick up, techniques for rescue and self-rescue from a capsize are decidedly not instinctive and must be learned from experience.
Ditto advanced kayaking techniques, such as reading whitewater, entering and exiting rapids, eskimo rolls, navigation over open water, and reading weather, tide, and currents.
Sea kayaking or flatwater?
On one level, the two are not much different, though the sea kayak is longer (up to 18 feet), narrower, and able to handle waves and current. A sea kayak is also preferable when taking on open stretches of Sebago or Moosehead Lake. These bodies can be every bit as dangerous as the ocean when sudden squalls blow up.
But while the longer sea kayaks actually track more easily than shorter boats, it takes more technique to control them. Thus most beginners paddle first on shorter, wider boats that respond more quickly to movement of paddles and weight.
So how does the beginner decide what's right for him or her? There's only one answer: trial and error. Start with a river trip on flatwater, learning the fundamentals of paddling in the smaller boats, then take a sea kayak trip or some other open water paddling using the longer boat. See what appeals.
Decide what kind of kayaking you will most likely do most often. Casual harbor or pond exploration for a few hours at a time, or long, multiday expeditions though the Allagash or among the Downeast islands? The answers will decide what kind of kayak you'll want to spend money on. Again, deal with professionals, just as you would choosing any boat or a pair of skis.
Cost: A fairly simple, but serviceable used recreational kayak can be bought for well under $500. On the other hand, several paddlers who began this way and got serious about kayaking soon sought larger, multipurpose kayaks with storage space for carrying food, water, and equipment.
The cost of introductory kayak trip on a lake ranges around $50-$60 for half a day, up to $100 for a full day, including a meal.
Sea kayaking trips generally range from $70 half day to $125 for a full day and about $300 for an overnight trek.
For more information, contact the Maine Kayak
Maine Kayak Inc., New Harbor, ME
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Maine's Offbeat Outdoor Paper
West Branch of the Penobscot River:
Maine’s Well Rounded Run
By Alvah Maloney | May 2005
Just a short hop, skip and jump above Bangor (exit 244 off I-95) is the Baxter State Park Region, home to the mighty West Branch of the Penobscot River. The Penobscot River is known as a drop pool river, providing a series of pour-overs and drops interspersed with calm - ideal for all skill levels of whitewater kayaking. It is a low volume river with summer flows ranging, on average, from 1,800 to 2,400 cfs. Early spring, floods, and other high releases can be dangerous but can provide for some exciting paddling at between 3,000 and 4,000ish cfs. One of the great advantages of the Penobscot River is that it is dam controlled, guaranteeing great whitewater regardless of the season.
Another great advantage of the Penobscot River is its accessibility. Generally, the Golden Road follows every turn and meander of the river, providing opportunities for scouting, park and play, easy access, and selectively choosing your run. And to top it all off, the Penobscot provides a wide range of rapid classifications - making it an ideal paddling destination for beginner boaters looking to beef up their skills, practice their roll, and take a class II run; as well as for advanced boaters looking to throw ends, boof rocks and wave wheel into the class IV Exterminator.
So, where do you go and how do you get there? I’ve provided a smattering of some of the best holes and runs on the river for every skill level. Starting with the basics-for beginner boaters, the stretch from Big Eddy to Big A is a great class II run. Take the Golden Road north to Chewonki’s Big Eddy Campground; be sure to stop in for a sandwich at Abol Store. There’s a boat launch, river right, just before the campground. You launch in the little eddy and immediately ferry to the center of the river to a casual rip. Warm up your eddy turning skills by working your way river left and catching your first eddy just below the rips, beyond the last campsite. After warming up with a few c-turns, you may exit and paddle downstream. Be aware - there is the potential to come across a few fly fishermen on river right - please be courteous and conscientious. There are a few other eddies as you progress downstream and once you get down to the top of Little Amberjackamockomous, you’ll want to catch a river left eddy, next to some flat picnic rocks to scout your run. The is a pretty beginner-friendly run - with a nice glassy front surfing wave at the top on river left that you can easily scout from the rocks. Just below there is a river wide ledge - at the center is an excellent flat spinning hole. Take out is river right - just above Big Amberjackamockomous.
Taking it to the next level, you have third drop of Big A. Access to this fast, dynamic play spot is best gained by running the three drops of Big A. Access to the top of this run is at the take-out of the Big Eddy to Big A run. You can get there via the Golden Road where you’ll see a small parking area, river right, usually with a large convoy of rafting buses. Put in at the top of Big A and ferry out to river center. As you are approaching the first drop, stay hard river right, boofing the first drop into a nice easy pool. Try to stay out of river center first drop or you’ll find yourself in the Big A hole. After the first drop, head immediately river left plunging into the large hydraulic known as second drop. Catch the eddy river left immediately after the drop to quickly glance downstream at third drop. Stay river left and ferry quickly out and prepare for the boof into Toilet Bowl Eddy to set up and surf third drop. Third drop is a dynamic wave hole that varies in intensity and style at different water levels. Play there hard and play the re often to know what levels you huck the best. Take out river right, just below the third drop.
And finally, a quick Gorge, Crib run. Not for the faint of heart, you must be a skilled class IV-V boater for this intense thrill ride. Follow the Golden Road to the top of McKay station hill; parking is on the left just before the gate. Put in is behind McKay station at the bottom of the dryway. Put in and fight your way past the discharge from the station out into the main current. Enter the throat of Ripogenous Gorge and start working your way river right into the foaming, gaping, pounding hydraulic known as Exterminator. Ferry out and stay hard river right along the eddy lines and be looking for the crashing curl - hitting it perfectly will send you to Nirvana - missing it is like drinking 10 cups of coffee and throwing yourself down a flight of stairs (thanks, Nate Ostis). There’s so much more to this run but we’ll move on to the class V Cribworks and let you discover the magic of the Gorge on your own.
After playing around in some nice class II-III whitewater below the Gorge, you’ll hit a 90-degree bend in the river known as Steve McQueen corner. If you want to scout, head river left - Vulture Rock is a common vantage point. Otherwise, enter First Chute, river left, catching Pillow Eddy to the left just after the drop - beware of Pain in the A** rock. Pillow Eddy is a great vantage point to view the rest of the rapid. You can exit this eddy and head straight down to Final Chute, river right, or stop and play in some of the fun river features the Cribworks has to offer. Make sure you try the boof move on river right, it’s a hoot. The island smack dab in the middle of the Crib is a great place to get out and watch the show or run Final Chute over and over. Head down to the take out at Big Eddy campground.
Top off the day with a warm fire and a cold beer at a riverside campsite at the Big Eddy. No matter what section of the river you run, the Penobscot River offers some world class whitewater topped off with a spectacular view, good hiking, great fishing, and phenomenal people.
Alvah Maloney is a 10-year whitewater paddler and 6 -year sea kayak guide. He is founder and president of Maine Kayak, a company that offers whitewater instruction for all skill levels and lake touring and sea kayaking trips in Maine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 866-Maine Kayak.
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Maine's Offbeat Outdoor Paper
Johns Bay Sea Kayaking
By Alvah Maloney | June 2005
Sitting in the office, waiting for the sun to finally poke through the month-long rain cloud that settled over Maine, I bust out the Gazetteer and search for a place to get wet. I grab some change for a Red Bull and Little Debbie for my trek and notice I have a Maine state quarter in the mix. That gets me thinking – Pemaquid Point. What a beautiful place to be on the first sunny day in eons.
I look at Map 7 and see I have a choice between Muscongus Bay to the east of the point, and John’s Bay to the west. I flip that Maine state quarter and west it is: John’s Bay. I throw the boat on the roof and stop by Troy General to get that Red Bull and Little Debbie snack cake (they had my picture plastered all over the store for stealing diesel – a case of mistaken identity as I don’t even own a diesel vehicle but I digress). I hit the road and cruise through the quaint central Maine towns that you see in post cards – Liberty, Waldoboro, New Harbor.
I arrive in New Harbor and drive to Colonial Pemaquid, home of Fort William Henry. So, Fort William Henry is actually the third fort built at that site and was erected in 1692 to protect against invasion by the French. At the time that it was built, it was the largest and strongest fort in America (gotta love that Gazetteer).
There is a boat launch at Colonial Pemaquid and I get my affairs in order and get on the water. I put on the water with threatening clouds all around (so much for that first sunny day of summer) and the rain has just begun to splash against the sea. Knowing the weather was working against me, my intention was to stay close to shore. I start paddling north up the Pemaquid River on the fourth hour of the outgoing tide. The further north up the channel I paddled, the more sunny and light it became. I could see this amazing sucker hole developing above me and was thankful from the core of my being that I was going to get my first nice day on the water.
As I approach the mud flats high in the upper cove, I notice a lonely, solitary osprey perched up in a tree to the west. Within a few minutes, I notice another and another and another. Suddenly, it occurs to me that the ospreys are following something. Although I have that Little Debbie wrapper in my life jacket pocket, I have to assume they weren’t following me. I decide that I’d rather watch the show than be a part of it and I decide to hang back and let nature dance in front of me without disturbing the show.
I stop paddling and lay back against the deck of my kayak, camera in hand. The ospreys are getting more and more frantic and frenzied about whatever it is they are after. I can’t see the fish below the surface and I didn’t want to get too close, but you could see that the ospreys were following their lunch as the fish schooled further and further up the river into the shallows.
I’m taking these incredible photographs of seabirds, on the cusp of the sucker hole that I’ve been lucky enough to paddle in most of the day. As I’m laying on the back deck of the kayak, contemplating my desire to get better shots versus my leave no trace ethic, marveling at the splendor of nature that is ospreys feeding on schools of pollock, a very strange sight comes into view. A B-10 bomber or some other such military plane barely skims 100 feet above tree line and into my view of the sky from my prone position. That brief disturbance certainly irritated the ospreys but their hunger seemed to snap them back out of it fairly quickly.
As I sat there contemplating the adaptable nature of birds, I noticed one particularly large osprey out of the corner of my eye that had flown in and perched in a large tree. I turn to check out this incredible bird when it occurs to me that it is not an osprey but a bald eagle. Although the ospreys had been previously consumed by the feeding frenzy and barely noticed the obscenely large military plane that had disrupted their supper, they certainly took notice of the eagle and scattered to the wind. As with the ospreys, my sucker hole was also scattering to the wind and I took that as my final cue to head out and leave on a very high note.
So, if you are looking for a trip to get your sea legs back, to get some fresh air, to enjoy a serene paddle, to commune with nature, I highly recommend John’s Bay. But, keep these things in mind: 1) go on a good day, there is so much more to see than I was able to that day, 2) be conscientious of your surroundings, nature will reward your discretion, and 3) although Little Debbie’s are great on the water, the ultimate end to a great paddling day is a piece of Moody’s pie and a cup of joe.
Alvah Maloney is a 10-year whitewater paddler and 6 -year sea kayak guide. He is founder and president of Maine Kayak, a company that offers whitewater instruction for all skill levels and lake touring and sea kayaking trips in Maine. Contact him at http://www.mainekayak.com or 866-Maine Kayak.
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Rolling on the river: Kayaker Alvah
Maloney paddles the frigid Kennebec
River in Skowhegan
The former mill town puts the Kennebec River at the center of a unique economic development plan
BY TAYLOR SMITH @ Maine Biz Mag.
Recent transplant from Boston, Jeff McCabe was thrilled to find a handful of great fishing spots around the Skowhegan Gorge, a half-mile stretch of the Kennebec River that skirts Skowhegan's downtown district. But the gorge itself was difficult to access and cluttered with mill debris and trash, as well as the remnants of an old walking bridge destroyed during the flood of 1987. Its steep embankments mean that McCabe frequently experiences "a good wipeout" on his way down to the water's edge. He sees the access problems as symptomatic of the region's attitude toward the gorge.
MORNING SENTINEL - MAINE NEWSPAPER
Our local newspaper did a cover story article on the mild Maine winter this year. Maine Kayak was out enjoying a beautiful January day paddling when David Leaming from the Morning Sentinel from Waterville, snapped a few shots.
Maine Public Broadcasting Station
Maine Kayak was featured on the TV program "Made In Maine" this fall. We explored the mighty West Branch of the Penobscot River in our whitewater kayaks for a day of exciting fun. Look for the airing of the " AL Fresco" episode on your local PBS channel or check it out online below.
A Business is Born
This article is a little history about Maine Kayak and its owner’s life story.
CommUnity Connections, Unity College Alumni Publication
A Business is Born, Alvah Maloney
My parents raised me in a one-room log cabin high on top of Hall And Wait Hill in North Anson, Maine. We lived off the land and were recreating outdoors every day. This experience gave me a deep appreciation for the environment and provided a platform for my decision to go to Unity College.
I started Unity College in the fall of 1994. Just coming off a 3 month backpacking and kayaking trip in Costa Rica, I was ready for the unique experience Unity College had to offer. I enrolled in the Outdoor Recreation program and quickly realized this is what I want to do in my life. Unity College appealed to me because of the people it attracted. I wanted to learn with people who appreciated the outdoors and took every opportunity to do so. The Unity experience gave me the opportunity to grow and be useful with my life.
After two years in the Unity Recreation program I enrolled in a National Outdoor Leadership School semester course in Patagonia, Chile on the fall of 2001. We spent 90 days in Patagonia sea kayaking and mountaineering with a large group of 16 people. We learned about the culture, environment of Patagonia, and the group we were braving the elements with. This experience gave me a love for kayaking. I wanted to give people the same opportunity I had to get outdoors and enjoy the environment they live in. I wasn’t clear on how I was going to do that until I enrolled in Steve Guthrie’s Program Planning class.
We were given the assignment to write an outdoor-based program over the entire semester. I immediately knew what had to be done. My parents own a whitewater rafting company here in Maine, so I knew my program had to be water based and because I had such a love for kayaking, a whitewater program seemed the most appropriate choice. That’s when Maine Kayak was born.
I spent the entire winter writing the program for a whitewater kayaking school but I wanted to do more with my efforts than hand in an assignment. I was so excited about the program, I knew that I wanted to follow through and implement it. While I was writing the program, I took night classes with L.L. Bean for my Recreational Guides license in Maine. This would allow me to take Maine Kayak’s participants on overnight wilderness trips. I also went to Western Massachusetts and got my American Canoe Association kayak instructor certification. This gave me a good platform for teaching whitewater kayaking skills. After spending all winter preparing, I was ready to implement the program.
I approached my parents for support of my dream. Maine Kayak would offer their rafting customers another activity to participate in while they were vacationing in Maine. This arrangement would benefit both of us and give people the opportunity to engage in new experiences in the outdoors. We invested in the kayaking equipment and started marketing our product. We quickly got a good response and realized that we had made the right decision.
Maine Kayak, Inc grew quickly under the umbrella of my parents’ rafting company. We had a large market base already established through North Country Rivers and Maine Kayak took full advantage. (*) After designing our first website and brochure, people started to take interest and book trips. We offered ten; three-day whitewater kayaking beginner level lessons and three private one-on-one advanced skill classes.
Our first years were building years and provided the base to expand course offerings to sea and lake kayaking in the summer of 2003. We started offering half and full day trips on the Maine coast and lakes. Our touring program quickly became more popular than our whitewater courses. Maine Kayak is now in its fifth year and has become fully independent of North Country Rivers. We offer beginner to advanced whitewater instruction, lake touring on such beautiful lakes as Long Pond (Belgrade Lakes) and Moosehead, and sea kayaking up and down the coast. Although Maine Kayak is still very much a start-up company, I get the satisfaction of following through on my dream and working for myself.
I can honestly say that I would not be where I am today without the skills and education I got during my years at Unity College. Unity College gave me the opportunity to grow personally and professionally and learn both the hard and soft skills needed to be successful in my business.
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Go kayaking on the Kennebec River with Maine Kayak. By reading this article we will take you down the river from a kayakers point of view.
Kayak Magazine Article - Provided By Maine Kayak's Program Director Alvah Maloney
The Kennebec River is considered to be a high volume class IV river. It is dam controlled with daily scheduled boatable releases throughout the months of April to October. The Kennebec River originates approximately 50 miles upstream at Moosehead Lake in Greenville, ME. Moosehead Lake drains into the East Outlet of the Kennebec, which then flows into Indian Pond. Harris Station serves as the abutment holding Indian Pond back from flooding the narrow forge of the Kennebec River below.
Historically, the Kennebec River was used for logging up until the 1970s and many of the features of the river are reminiscent of its long history. For example, the put-in of the Kennebec features a 300-foot metal sluice once used for diverting the logs from Indian Pond around Harris Station on their two year journey to the Atlantic Ocean.
The Kennebec River is released at Harris Station with typical boatable flows of 4800 cfs up to 6000 cfs, with a few scheduled turbine test releases as high as 8000 cfs. The release is scheduled to accommodate peak energy production and, therefore, the water is usually released between 10:00 am and 2:00 pm. The Kennebec River loses an average of 23 feet per mile over 12 miles with a maximum gradient of 53 feet per mile. Rapids range in class from I-IV with a majority of the whitewater within the first 6 miles. Although there are plenty of eddies everywhere, you must have a bomb-proof roll before attempting the river as it is a LONG swim with minimal evacuation points.
At 6000 cfs and above, there is a small ledge hole directly across the river from the put-in that throws right. This is a great place to stretch and warm up before heading down the throat of the Kennebec. An eddy river left precedes your first class II rapid, Taster. There is a small wave train starting in the center of Taster and working itself left of center, a great place to get a little “taste” of the river. At the bottom of the rapid, as it turns right, there is a large eddy river left signifying the beginning of the next class III rapid, Rock Garden.
In Rock Garden, there are two large holes left of center that you definitely want to avoid, unless you want a good lesson on window-shading. The run is right of center and once you get to the bottom of the rapid, there are two very large eddies on both river left and right. The eddy river right is called the “Chase Stream Sluice,” where they once rolled logs down the riverbank into the roaring waters below. At the top of the river left eddy is a small glassy wave, surfable at most levels but nothing to write home about.
The next rapid, a class III-IV, is appropriately named “Big Momma” and the “Three Sisters.” These are the biggest waves on the river, 5-foot plumy haystacks definitely worth trying to catch. To catch the wave, eddy out river right just above the first wave in a microeddy. The rapid itself is run right of center down the large wave train with a large river left eddy at bottom. “Big Momma” and the “Three Sisters” mark the end of the “Upper Alleyway” and the beginning of “Lower Alleyway.”
The next rapid, class III, is called “Whitewasher.” At the top of this rapid river is “Goodbye Hole,” a large pulsating wave hole at most water levels. To run “Whitewasher,” paddle the rapid left of center down a large wave train getting ready to surf “Big Kahuna” wave at the bottom. Nearing the bottom of the rapid river left, look for a rock point littered with photographers and videographers. If you can, try to catch the microeddy behind it. To do this, you must enter the eddy really low and immediately pop out into “Big Kahuna” before being hurled into the rocks at the top of the eddy. Most people just choose to catch “Big Kahuna” on the fly.
Below “Big Kahuna” river left and right are two large eddies called the “Cathedral” eddies. This is really the first place you can stop and catch your breath after running the alleyway. The river left eddy is known as “Pocket” eddy, aptly named because anything in the river (swimmers, boats, paddles) ends up here. There is a large eddy fence which will deny a lot of inexperienced boaters the much needed rest. After catching your breath, you can paddle to the top of “Pocket” eddy and attempt to surf the pulsating wave train sweeping by.
There is an awesome eddy line coming off the point at the bottom of the river right “Cathedral” eddy. Known for sky-scraping enders, monster stern-squirts, and spooky mystery moves, this eddy line is a must paddle. The next rapid is “Z-turn,” a class II. There is a great flat-spinning hole located at the top, river left, with a small wave behind it that you can front-surf. The rapid is run river left at the top which then sweeps you to the outside of the 90-degree turn, basically following the wave train.
Your next sight will bean abrupt horizon line, signaling the arrival of the class IV “Magic Falls.” There are multiple ways to run Magic; there is a left slip, a right slip and the meat. First-time boaters be advised to eddy out above and scout the rapid to choose the most appropriate line for your experience and comfort level. Directly after “Magic Falls” hole river right is a NASTY recirculating pile of hydromadness named “Maytag,” as in the washing machine. Halfway down the rapid river left is a large haystack wave called the “House” wave, easily accessible from an eddy along side. One more thing to watch out for is the very shallow “Hell Hole,” bottom of the rapid river left.
There is now a scenic section of flat water leading up to a class II, “Swimmer’s Rapid,” a great place to work on you wave wheels. “Dead Stream Falls” rapid, class III, follows this. The 15-foot cascading “Dead Stream Falls” waterfall river left preempts the rapid. The rapid is run right of center following the wave train. “Carry Brook” rapid, class II, follows. While skirting the minefield of squirrelly little holes, be sure to avoid the large menacing keeper bottom river left known as “Kayak Keeper,” a very appropriate name.
“Carry Brook” is the halfway point for the entire 12-mile Kennebec River trip and the point where most experienced hard boaters cut out and most inexperienced hard boaters cut in. The rest of the trip consists of class I-III and flat water into the town of The Forks, Maine. There is a takeout river right known as “The Ballfield.” A short walk here will bring you to a general store and a pizza joint, great places to gas up your vehicle and body.
If you decide to call it quits at “Carry Brook,” be prepared to huck your boat up to the parking lot via 182 backbreaking, wish-you-didn’t-chain-smoke steps. After spending a few hours catching your breath from the grueling hike up the embankment, you will appreciate the friendly and easy shuttle of the Kennebec. There is a large community of boaters, both commercial and private, and it is always easy to catch a ride back up to the dam.
For those of you who decide to travel to the gorgeous state of Maine to paddle, the Kennebec River is a must for both advanced boaters and beginners to the sport. Not only does the Kennebec River offer some incredible waves, the scenery is spellbinding. After the day of enjoying the rapids, you can also hike into “Moxie Falls,” an easy class II two-mile hike into the woods to see Maine’s tallest waterfall. Toped off with a slice and six-pack from town, it’s the perfect ending to a perfect day.
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