Off to an early start
The sunrise painted brilliant colors across the pond and clouds that next morning. The two previous days had shown us that getting off to an early start was very important on both Attean and Holeb Ponds. We decided to get up around 5 a.m. before the wind picked up (along with the waves) to make better time. We woke up at 4:45 a.m., and after eating breakfast, packing and preparing, we were underway by 6:20. As luck would have it, the wind had slowly been picking up speed, and the water was quite choppy by the time we reached the mouth of Holeb Stream. Luckily it was only been a 30-minute paddle from where we had set up camp the night before.
Picking up speed
We had been warned that the network of streams can be confusing and misleading. It didn’t take us long to figure out why. There are many similar-sized streams that branch off from the main stream, most of which lead to dead ends. When there is high water on Moose River, it often reverses the flow of Holeb Stream. We knew we were on the right path when we went under the railroad bridge and were lucky enough to see a young bald eagle soaring overhead at the same time. It was easy to tell when we reached Moose River, and the water began to pick up speed.
The Moose River
The first section of the Moose River has many nice sand bars along the shore. These make for great stopping locations, and it’s always fun to check out what critters were there before you. It’s very common to see large moose and deer tracks in the sand. The weather was fantastic that day- warm and sunny with clear skies. The water level of Moose River was decent, although certainly not at it’s highest. Both Henry and I were very excited to finally be on the river.
Paddling the ponds had been windy and spacious and tested our stamina and determination against the waves. Paddling the river was fun. There are many twists and turns, and so you never know what you will see around the next river bend. The river is very secluded and the water is fast yet calm. It is easy to see why many people prefer The Bow Trip over the Moose River Loop.
We did our best to paddle quietly, as the untamed wilderness surrounding us is home to lots of wildlife. Our stealth paid off frequently as we crossed paths with critters going about their daily routines along the shores of the Moose River. We passed a painted turtle that was catching some rays on a log. The turtle didn’t want to give up the perfect sunning location and never moved as we paddled by. We “chased” a family of ducks for what seemed like miles. They would vigorously swim ahead of us until they felt safe, then when we got too close for comfort, vigorously swim ahead again. Eventually, after what felt like hours, they decided to hide under the small trees near the shore until we passed by.
Suddenly, Henry and I heard something crashing through the grass and bushes on the shore to our left. We couldn’t see what it was, just the movement of the shrubbery as it parted ways for this creature which, by the sound, was surely a massive beast. We both froze, waiting for it to reach the shore. Then, there it was- a huge beaver! It reached the shore, about four feet away from us, staring straight at the center of our canoe.
The critter was just as surprised to see us. It skidded to a stop, looked at us, and we looked at it. In instantly thought to do what all beavers do when they feel threatened- slap the water with it’s tail. The only problem was that it hadn’t quite made it to the water yet. With no concern for the lack of water, it turned, slapped the mud with it’s tail, and ran away. Henry and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. The beaver certainly earned an “A” for effort! (So much for staying quiet!)
Most of Moose River had been relatively calm so far, so when we reached Camel Rips, we were ready for action. Camel Rips consist of two short drops, but are fun just the same, although brief. The two small rapids can be run in most water levels. The next section of Moose River winds through a bog with lots of switchbacks and sharp turns, and is a very good place to encounter wildlife. Not long after the bog comes the water maze leading to Holeb Falls. If you don’t take the time to plan out your trip and fully understand what turns need to be taken and when, you can easily find yourself back-tracking and losing valuable daylight.
When we reached the river junction to Holeb Falls we encountered a group of 8 canoes who’s paddlers were trying to find the Holeb Falls portage. They were in the process of heading back the way we had just come and were convinced that the turn to the falls was behind us. The map that Henry and I were using was from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands. We had discovered early on, at the Attean Pond portage, that the map is not to scale, nor 100% accurate. It’s essentially an overview of the trip, although there is a relatively clear inset that shows the Holeb Falls area. While the lost paddlers tried to convince us to head back the way we came, we paused, looked at each other, and continued on the course we believed was correct.
Our instincts paid off. We took the sharp left, followed by an immediate right, and ended up directly at the Holeb Falls portage. The dead wood backed up in the river creates a dead-end making the portage easy to find. We were incredibly happy to discover that this portage was much shorter than the Attean Pond portage, being about 0.25 miles one way. The portage is steep, and there were lots of rocks and roots to trip over, but we made good time, ahead of the lost paddlers, who arrived at the portage just as we were leaving with our second load of gear.
So much action happened on the third day of our trip that the adventure is divided into two posts! The second half of the day includes a canoe crash and a sighting of the creature that gives the river its name! Stay tuned!