Northern forest canoe trail

Hypothetically speaking, if you were thinking of thru paddling the NFCT solo, and you happened to own a Bell Merlin II in black gold would you subject such a fine boat to the various abuses such as W.W and tough carries or would you look for something you don’t currently own but wouldn’t mind punishing like a rx hull. My inclination would be to use what I have, it is light and pretty efficient, pretty maneuverable. But I don’t know about toughness. Bell isn’t making any more of these beauties anymore it would be tough to replace. Thanks for your input. This is of course all hypothetical …


The Allagash at lower water levels
might chew it up. How is it in class 2? You will be expected to run several sections of rapids… Particularly nasty is the Saranac River.

Your call. I have run the Allagash at high water in a kevlar boat but I have a selection of boats to choose from and have flexibility in schedule and its close enough for me to pick and choose.

You can probably negotiate most of the West Branch of the Penobscot OK but beware Sebomook Roll dam. You should have the ability to do field repairs.

It depends on you…
pros for the Bell kevlar: 1) light to carry up Raquette Falls, across Mud Pond Carry and some other carries that aren’t wheelable

2)more efficient to paddle

3) paddle a boat you really seem to love

pros for royalex or poly

  1. can use portage wheels (a huge advantage on the grand portage and lots of other portages)
  2. run stretches of whitewater without worrying about the boat as much (thus reducing the amount of portaging necessary)

    3)subject a beater boat to daily abuse and preserve the boat you love.

I’d lean to Royalex
The boat is certainly going to take some abuse no matter how careful you are and even if you choose to carry around any obvious rough spots. If you run into low water conditions your canoe will take even more abuse. The trail has lots of beaver dams to surmount as well as the odd log to cross as well as the normal things that cause the bottom of your boat to turn white.

I know of two parties that attempted the NFCT in composite boats who had issues. One party punctured the canoe on the Saranac River and the other smashed their Kayak on the lower Nuhegan River.

One of the first parties to do the trail wrapped their canoe on the lower Saranac and a party with a wooden boat I think had to make some repairs.

This is not to try and dissuade you from attempting the trail in your boat but you should be prepared to make some repairs. At least one solo paddler did the trail in a composite boat successfully. A previous poster inferred that you cannot use a cart with a composite boat, I do it all the time. I’m just a section paddler and am fortunate that I can pick a boat to fit which section I am doing. If I were to choose one boat for the whole trail I would go with royalex. You should pose this question on the NFCT message board to get some more responses.

Kevlar hole
Kdaanen here. Yes we put a hole in the kevlar on the Catherine Street ledges on the Saranac River at the end of a long tiring day. I was able to patch it and finished the rest of the trail without any other issues. I added skid plates to the bow and stern before I left, which I think, helped immensely (at least peace of mind.) There were two river sections I did not paddle due to low water which may have been a problem for kelvar–both extremely rocky–the lower Nulhegan and the S. Branch of the Dead River. I wasn’t ever going to do any rapids over Class II. The ones on the Allagash and St. John weren’t a problem and I paddled the Androscoggin downstream instead of upstream and rode all the rapids on that stretch without any problems. My friend’s sons were with us that day in a rental royalex got hung up once. There is no one perfect boat for the entire trail. A royalex does seem like the best option, but I wasn’t up for the portaging all that added weight.

Kevlar handled the beaver dams fine. Also displaces less water so we could actually skim over some pretty scratchy river sections. The hull is scratched up, but I’d rather have it be used than look pretty.

As far as wheels go, as long as you don’t try to use them on every single portage and beat the crap out of them, you can find a model that will work for any boat. The kayak style 7" pneumatic wheels worked well for me, but I primarily only used them on roads and carried gear bags vs. lugging them in the canoe. Do NOT consider a stern cart. It won’t get out of the Saranacs, much less NY, in one piece.

Here are pics of the damage and repair.

your wheels must be different than mine,

– Last Updated: Jan-26-13 3:01 PM EST –

and I leave the gear in the boat. I'm all about the one trip portage or no portage concept if I can get away with it. I use the steel frames with the bicycle style wheels. Sometimes use one set, sometimes two sets on the canoe. Sometimes I paddle a kayak and skip most of the portage, for example just a short carry around Buttermilk Falls and paddling permanent rapids cut down on quite a bit. Years ago before it was designated NFCT I paddled the Moose and Westbranch, and Allagash Lakes. For me part of the enjoyment was running the whitewater but I did manage to twist up an aluminum canoe at the ledges at Seboomook once. I have fond memories of swamping out before reaching Brassua Lake on the Moose. Right now I'm focused on finishing section three (Saranac River, NY). I guess its time to get out the maps and guidebook and start plannin' for a NFCT trip for this summer.

two sets of wheels
easy to roll but hard to steer with two sets of wheels

Moose river
I would love to hear more about the rapids above Brassau Lake.

Moose River by Demo Road
This photo was taken by Demo Road (near Gauge Rock) in mid May 2012 if this helps give you an idea.

that’s a great shot at high water,

– Last Updated: Feb-01-13 9:54 PM EST –

You'd be swimming all the way to B. lake with that kind of flow. Usually it was too low to boat by the end of june. That would be fun in my xp kayak though. In the 80s we called that spot the Scott Road and Scott Bridge. Scott Paper had a camp located right on the road that you drove through on your way up to Jackman. I notice now the Gazeteer calls it the Demo road as well. The ledge hole under the bridge was the one place we scouted but I never saw it that big! I probably boated it 3 or 4x with the boyscouts when they had a base at Pittston Farm. At lower water I considered it more of a rock garden type of run but the middle of the river always was crankin' some.

Mud Pond Carry
two miles long as I am sure you know is a trench a foot wide.

You will need a rack on a bicycle.

Merlin on big lakes?
I’m going to go the other way and assume that the Black Gold layup is tough enough. You will want to portage around the more difficult rapids in any case.

But you really can’t portage around Champlain, Memphramagog, Moosehead, Chesuncook, Richardson or Mooselucmaguntic.

My Osprey has been wonderful on the NFCT rivers I’ve done. But it was not so great on Chesuncook. Tailwinds are it’s downfall. OTOH My Magic crossed Champlain and Memphramagog quite nicely.

I am a section paddler so I bring the boat most suited to the section.

If I was to through paddle the NFCT the big lakes would weigh more on my boat choice than the rapids.

As a former Merlin II owner
(I broke it in a falls), its a fine big water boat if not overly loaded. It is kind of trim sensitive and like the Osprey wants to swap ends in a tail wind, so in that situation you really have to have the heavy stuff aft.

( that behavior is typical of Swede form boats). I would paddle all of the mentioned lakes in it, though I have only done Chamberlain and Chesuncook, with a bit of discretion. The shouldered tumblehome deflects waves down. However the Osprey has more flare in the bow and no doubt does better at wave shedding in big oncoming rollers.

Perhaps as my luck is your luck may be similar in facing headwinds on the big lakes.

One of my most fun paddles was in my DragonFly on Chesuncook…what a great wave shedder in headwinds that boat was. One of my least favorite paddles was in the same boat on the same boat on Lobster Lake…same equal weight distribution. With equal stern and bow rocker the DF constantly wanted to swop ends.

There is a lot you can do as the thinking paddler to make a boat adapt to your needs. Think weight distribution. Also think that you might need to kneel…so far we don’t know if you are a kneeling or a sitting paddler. With a gear load for hundreds of miles you can raise the seat so you can be both.

Before it was officially the NFCT
I carried and paddled the entire NY section, actually starting some 35 miles to the west of the official beginning of the NCFT in Old Forge. I finished by crossing Cumberland Bay beyond Plattaburgh. It took exactly 7 days totaling 185 miles, including 62 miles of carries. The carries were not as bad as the deer flies and 90 degree heat that July!

The lower Saranac River doesn’t have much water between the rocks in July, so there was a lot of extra carrying. Even so, the bottom of my Hornbeck took quite a beating and the hull is no longer as shiny as it was in photos taken at mile 0.

I’d get a different kayak - they take a lot of abuse. I’m looking to do the NFCT this summer. Did you want to do a solo trip? I have a couple of friends that might join me for a week out of the 4 that I’m planning…Diana

I had a nice conversation with a man that did it solo end to end. I had a royalex Wildfire(Yellowstone solo) then. He said if he did it again he would use one of those or maybe a roylex Mohawk solo 14. He also said he would take wheels. I don’t remember what boat he actually used.