Paddling upstream

Headed to the AWW and the plan is to canoe up Allagash Stream to Allagash Lake with a group of beginners (adults and 13-17 yr. olds). I called today and the water level is fine, but the water is flowing at 125 cfs with more rain due Friday, the day before we would get to the stream.

The person I spoke with commented that only a few groups attempt this direction each year, and most turn back at the falls. He also mentioned when the flow rate was 100 cfs last week that it would be a tough go. So now it’s moving faster and could be more so by the time we get there.

What is a reasonable flow rate to paddle against, remembering we’re beginners, and where does it become unreasonable?


Not sure
but most of the people who go that way are polers and stand in their canoe for best leverage.

While you can try if you want to get to Allagash Lake its easier via Allagash stream . Thats upstream of Allagash Lake.

What you are thinking of is tough at faster water levels and frustrating at lower for all the rocks you will have to get around. It will require skill with a paddle and skill lining upstream

There is no way to know from that number

– Last Updated: Jul-02-14 9:25 PM EST –

I interpreted the meaning of your question to be exactly as worded, but it could be that you are specifically asking about such a flow rate on that particular river, not just that flow rate in general (which is a question which gets asked sometimes). So, ignore the answer below if you knew all that stuff already!

Flow rate is just that, the volume of water passing by during some unit of time. In this case it's expressed as cubic feet per second. That volume of flow might be very fast on a small steep river and so slow as to be imperceptible on a larger river. You need to actually see the river and become familiar with it before the figure for flow rate means anything to you.

It is unlikely that your local USGS gage records the speed of flow. Some gages do, and there's a reason it's sometimes necessary, but on most rivers, they don't need to measure the speed except at those times when they take direct measurements to calibrate/validate their flow-rate formulae.

Allagash Stream
You’re right, I started my question with regard to a specific stream, then asked the final question generically when it should have been specifically about that stream.

Anyone familiar with the flow on this stream?

Even on…
streams that are somewhat narrow and gravelly bottomed, like the Ozark streams I’m most familiar with, 100 cfs is about the minimum you need to float DOWNSTREAM without scraping bottom a lot. On a rocky, fast stream, 125 cfs would entail a lot of dodging rocks. It might work to your advantage if that low a flow made for more slow pools and eddies behind rocks that you could use to pick your way upstream. It also might work to your advantage if it made the water shallow enough to walk and pull the craft up the fast water areas. I often paddle three to five miles upstream, getting out to walk riffles, on my streams.

Best thing, as mentioned above, is to learn to pole the canoe. Second best thing is to use a double bladed paddle of sufficient length to paddle efficiently in a wider canoe when trying to paddle upstream.

Sounds like…
we are just going to have to try it to see. I was hoping to avoid hours of paddling to get there to find out it was running too fast.

Thanks for your input!

That is one approach
The other is to approach Allagash lake from one of its other accesses.

Flow rate in this case is meaningless. Its too fast for beginning paddlers. At low water levels other skills are required as in lining upstream.

For this reason nobody paddles up it. They pole up it. Yes I am relatively local to it.

The gradient determines the feasibility of paddling upstream. Usually 300-400 cfs is required for paddling. At 100-150 cfs you are likely to be wading and pulling the boats behind you. Poling may or may not be feasible.

I used to know a guy in Colorado that was one of the first to paddle down the Green River in Utah to the confluence with the Colorado River and then paddle upstream to Moab, UT. The Colo R flow is around 6,000-8,000 cfs in summer. They made it by eddy hopping and working hard.

Sorry that statement is not accurate
Allagash strem is poleable at 100 cfs.Allagsh River is not.

The former is narrow. The latter is wide.

And when was your last trip on Allagash Stream… Thats why local knowledge is best.

If I were paddling a river in your area I would have no idea if 500 cfs was any good or laughable.

There may be streams that are passable at 100 cfs, but I have never seen one.

The question was posed by beginning paddlers. They are not going to be able to paddle upstream at that flow, no matter how much local knowledge they have. Maybe a more experienced person can pole it. It still sounds bony.

I know one passable @ 75
…and I’m not even a ww paddler.

if you try to shove off rocks with a loaded canoe going upstream it’s going to be frustrating for the paddlers and very hard on the paddles.

And by gorry there are rocks.

I’ll be direct
I do not recommend that beginning paddlers attempt to ascend Allagash Stream. Ascending Allagash Stream is wonderful for experienced paddlers who are reasonably skilled at working with a pole. I’d leave that particular trip as something to do after you have a good deal of experience. I predict you will find it to be tough going and not a lot of fun. There are other ways to get into Allagash Lake, which is a lovely place by the way.