Last fall, my friend Collin from The Wild Outsiders got in touch with me about an idea he had. Over drinks at a Portland bar, he talked about wanting to traverse the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) on foot, documenting the journey the whole time. In winter. It would be the first known journey of its kind.
How could I not say yes to such an adventure?
Over the next few months Collin and I (mostly Collin) worked on getting sponsorship from several local Maine companies. We are so grateful that Adventurous Joe Coffee, Good to Go Food, Jetboil, Vermont Smoke and Cure, Sterling Rope, REDD Bar and Flowfold decided to support us on our endeavor with some great product.
You can see much of our preparations and meetings with all these great companies here.
We planned to get started in mid February. Unfortunately, mother nature had other plans. Last winter was one of the warmest on record, and we arrived at Chamberlain Bridge, the start point of the Allagash, after several days of temps in the 40's and lots of rain. The lakes were covered in a foot of slush. Collin and I were bummed and disappointed. The ride back to Portland was gloomy. Our mood perfectly matched the weather.
A couple of weeks later after several days of sub zero temps in the Maine woods, we gave it another shot. This time, we were faced with blue bird skies and bone chilling cold with wind chills approaching -40f. Perfect weather! We set off hauling pulks loaded with 10 days of food and cold weather gear. The ice was not snow covered, and although we brought skis, the fastest means of travel was walking with micro spikes on the bare ice.
The first 40 miles of the Allagash is open lakes. Morale was high as we had an uneventful first day. On our second day we took a wrong trail which we thought was the portage between Chamberlain and Eagle Lake. Although we caught the mistake early, maps showed that we could cut through an old logging road and not walk too much further than we had planned. This turned out not to be the case. The old logging road was overgrown dense forest and a mine field of logging slag. We had to turn around and go all the way back, our mileage through the brutal cold that day was for nothing. Morale was low.
That night was the hardest night we had on the Allagash. Warmth really is a state of mind. In our mindset it was a struggle to set up tents and stay warm as the temps plunged again. My feet were the worst, and everything was made more difficult because we had to put our freezing fuel canisters next to our skin to ensure our gas was warm enough so stoves would work. Once we got a fire going we were finally able to relax and take a few pictures.
As we continued to head north, the temps warmed up and it became clear that with all of the warm weather that had occurred previously that winter, the final 60 miles of the AWW which were river sections quite simply weren't going to be safe. There wasn't going to be enough ice.
We decided to stop where we were, set up camp and photograph the gear for our sponsors. We didn't want to get further into the wilderness, find thin ice and have to turn around short on food. Although we were upset, Collin and I felt sure of our decision being the safest one. On the way back south to our starting point. We were hit with freezing rain. Conditions were miserable.
Our foray into the Maine woods was an unforgettable experience. I don't regret one minute of the trip, and I know Collin can say the same.
Collin has moved away to bigger mountains on the West Coast. I am forever grateful of him for planting this seed of an adventure in my mind. Stay tuned for a film of our adventure coming out in the next couple of weeks. This Friday I will be attempting the Allagash again, this time solo, from north to south. The weather has been much colder and by starting in the north, I will immediately be able to assess the safety of the river instead of walking 40 miles and having to turn around. You can track my progress here.