Allagash: which boat?

I’m in the initial planning stages for a solo run on the Allagash, Telos to Allagash village, early next fall. I’m hoping for a little help from AWW veterans on which boat would be best for conditions — my solo Mad River Independence (fiberglass, 15’8", 29.5" beam, 39 lbs) or my big tandem Bell Alaskan (Royalex, 17", 36" beam, 72 lbs) paddled solo.

All in all, I think the Bell paddled solo is the better boat for this trip. It can handle lots of gear, and I tend to pack heavy. It has the size, depth, and stability needed to take on big flatwater swells, and its length and depth makes it a better poling craft. (I tend to pole rather than paddle when I can get away with it, and I’m assuming water levels will be somewhat low in September. Do correct me if I’m wrong).

The Bell’s big drawbacks are its sensitivity to wind and its general lack of maneuverability compared to a dedicated solo boat like the Indy. I know to expect some Class II water on the Allagash, but I don’t know if that water is technical enough to warrant my taking the Indy, a much more nimble boat in moderate WW.

For me at least, the Indy’s low profile makes for a white-knuckle experience when wind and swells come up on big lakes. And the small size make it a tough sell for a 9 or 10 day trip with lots of gear. That said, it’s a much more pleasurable boat to paddle, and its light weight would be welcome on the portages.

I’d love to hear what others think, and please let me know if I’m forgetting any important considerations.

For you, Alaskan
I haven’t paddled the Allagash but I’ve paddled a lot of big lakes and rivers in my time.

If you get nervous in the shallow Independence (11.75") in big waves and wind on big lakes – and that sure happens in northern Maine – then that, I think, would answer the question for me.

With a lot of gear, you won’t have much freeboard in the Independence, whereas you will in the 14" deep Alaskan.

Psychological comfort often outweighs the physical performance of a hull, most particularly when you’re out there all by yourself in the wilderness.

Plus, you don’t have to do much maneuvering in big lakes and rivers. I don’t have personal experience with Chase Rapids, but most big river 2’s aren’t usually particularly technical, and certainly canoeists have been running it in tandems since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary.

The royalex
boat would be better cause you’ll probably hit a lot of rocks. I went through a couple of years ago in August with the gauges registering 400 cfs and spent a fair amount of time dragging through shallow water. I had hoped to bring a composite Prospector as it was a favorite of mine. My outfitter (shuttle provider) said “whatever you do don’t come up here with one of those delicate boats”. The first time he said that I thought “ah, what does he know about modern composite boats”. The next time I talked to him, he repeated the warning and it sunk in.

I went in an old royalex Prowler built by Blue Hole. The boat was just under 16’ and about 34" wide as I recall. I soloed it backward from the front seat trimming with the load. It turned out to be ideal. Just a bit smaller and easier to manage than the Prospector and, it was beat up before I even started. The Prospector would have survived, but I would have cried over the beating it would have suffered.


The Allagash can be fine in September

– Last Updated: Nov-28-12 7:16 PM EST –

Actually we have run it once with a Kevlar UL Wenonah at 1500 cfs as measured at Allagash Village. Yes..Norm Pelletier said...."you weel wreck that boat". We did not hit a thing.

None of the rapids are technical. The portages are really not a big deal. You can either do the half mile Chamberlain to Eagle or go to Eagle at Lock Dam which is a 30 foot portage.

The big lakes are at their calmest in the AM. With good timing you can make Chamberlain to Lock Dam in three hours.

You do have to start your trip going the wrong way as there is no longer access at Telos Lake. You put in at Chamberlain Bridge and paddle back to Telos dam then back from whence you came and under the bridge and then onward.

Allagash Falls is 400 meters and like a sidewalk.

Here is the gauge I watch.

I suggest watching the water levels a couple of weeks before the trip. Be advised that if you get to Chase after noon, the water is shut off so the rapids are then mostly rocks and little water.

Below 500 cfs you will be dragging in spots. 1500 is great..everything is covered. 3500 its just about impossible to stop at a campsite on the river.

My feeling is

– Last Updated: Nov-29-12 7:17 AM EST –

that Royalex is the better boat for that trip. Not to say it can't be done in a Kevlar boat. But the lack of carries of any real significance, and the potential for long stretches of very shallow water where you are standing and looking for a route with enough water to float your loaded boat both point to royalex as the best material in my judgment. Don't misunderstand, it can and has been run in wood canvas and fiberglass hulls as well. Also, personally I feel that a bigger hull does better on the big lakes AND ALSO on the shallow river stretches. I just think that a big royalex makes the experience more relaxed and so except for one time, out of 7 or 8 trips on the Allagash, that has been my choice.

Edit - The locals up there often choose a 20' Old Town Tripper XL when paddling tandem - with good reason. Although it is a bear to bring across the Allagash Falls carry - definitely a two person carry with that boat. I agree September can be a wonderful time to do that trip - even October - because you won't see many people. But, you do need to pay attention to water levels and be sure you have enough water to finish the river portion of the trip. There was one trip I did when we were forced to take out early because of extremely low water - I believe it was October. We could have made it all the way but it would not have been much fun. I also should say that Norm's advice to stay away from Kevlar is good advice for 90% of the people that paddle the trip and is based on a LOT of experience he has had seeing people damage kevlar boats on the trip. But I do agree, for a good experienced paddler, the trip can be done in kevlar. I just don't see the point of it.

Thanks for all of the astute advice. I was leaning pretty strongly toward the Bell, and this seals the deal. It’s particularly good to know that those Class II’s are not of the tight and tricky variety. I don’t look forward to carrying this boat and the extra gear I can’t resist taking with it, but it sounds like the portages are few and pretty tame. Thanks again.

You can make it very messy
if you come to Chamberlain via Umbazooksus and Mud Pond.

That is a two mile carry, and uncartable and underwater.

Don’t lock into a boat right away. If the water is high you might need a quicker maneuvering boat to make eddies at campsites. Also the ranger at Churchill Dam will ferry your gear around Chase Rapids to Bissonette Bridge, and your boat too if you do not want to run the rapids.

My favorite Allagash boat is a small nimble solo. A Colden DragonFly. It rides up over big lake rollers as the ends do not dive into the waves. But I do kneel which adds stability.

For now all is hard frozen up there.

Check out “Northrunner” DVD

– Last Updated: Dec-05-12 6:37 PM EST –

With all due respect, and much respect is due for sure, I think you might be a very skilled paddler and experienced tripper for whom the use of a boat like you describe makes a trip that you have paddled dozens of times if not more seem more interesting. But I really think that a big royalex boat is the preferred boat for 90% or more of the folks that paddle that trip, especially for the first time.

That mud pond carry is a bear and there is no need for it, unless again you have done the trip a gazillion times and you need to spice things up a bit. But I do agree, kevlar would be nice on that carry. I think it might land me in the hospital at my age if I tried to haul a Tripper over that carry. If you are looking for some real spice consider poling up Allagash Stream to Allagash Lake. Fishing can be real good but generally it is a spring thing. Lovely lake. Nice falls with a camp site about half way up. Plenty of sites on Allagash Lake.

Whatever the OP decides, he is in for a very sweet trip. Still my favorite of all.

If you are interested you might want to pick up the DVD Northrunner. It has footage of a fall trip on the Allagash several years ago. If you look closely you might even get a few glimpses of yours truly on that DVD here and there. One of my good tripping buddies is interviewed. Not a great DVD but it will help get you in the mood. You can pick it up here -

Start at the NE Carry
or somewhere down the Penobscot like Lobster stream unless you really want a trip that is mostly lake after windy lake. The Mud Pond Carry is a bear but it’s part of the Allagash experience as far as I am concerned. Chesuncook is spectacular lake to visit and you’ll see more moose and game on these sections than down below. You might also poke up into Lobster lake…one you can get into in the late season.

On both the gash and the Penobscot you will find lots of opportunities to scuff up your boat and if the water is low at Chase, you will be doing a lo t of maneuvering in the first miles. I would use a boat you don’t mind scratching and beating up…but we used a wood and canvas last time we did the trip and it was fine. A lighter boat would have been nice at Mud Pond, but the rest of the trip it was a real pleasure to paddle.

An earlier trip would be better for water levels.

Allagash R
Sounds like a great trip. I agree with your choice of the Bell. I have paddled lots of large boats solo and like the bouyancy and extra freeboard especially if you are going heavy. I have a Bell Northwind but have alwyas liked the Alaskan for rivers.