Penobscot River- East Branch from Grand lake Matagamon to Bowlin Camps
The 14-mile trip from Grand Lake Matagamon to Bowlin camps demands experience and skill, but it offers incomparable scenery particularly as the river descends through the Grand Falls region. This is one of Maine's truly classic trips. The Penobscot has been explored and written about for well over 150 years.
You can plan a trip during any but the driest of summers. But, remember, this is a trip for serious paddlers that do not mind portages . The unnavigable waterfalls and rough pitches must be carried. The whitewater between them requires proficiency in technical maneuvering as well as swift decision-making. Moreover, the four portages become burdensome not so much because of their length as for the proximity to one another. This is a fairly difficult but splendid river. Don't attempt to paddle it during high water levels when the currents are strong and the falls unforgiving. Bowlin Camps is within a few miles of the last carry. For a less demanding trip start at Bowlin Camps.
The East Branch is becoming more popular each year so be prepared to meet some river traffic, possibly one to three groups per week. Be sure you carry out all that you carry in here. It will keep the area as scenic as it's been for the last several thousand years.
There is a dam at the outlet of Grand Lake Matagamon. That name, incidentally, is a variation of an Indian word meaning the old, exhausted lake. The Indians found little or no food in their hunts. They dubbed the lake unfit for use. Today the area is ideal for Grouse Hunting and you will see many ducks on the river in early spring.
The trip starts at the bridge below the dam. Meadows and hardwoods line the banks and mountain views, (Traveler and her neighbors). The occasional logins, (outreaching arms of the river), provide superb wildlife habitats. Linger a while to savor the scenery; this is where you'll begin to appreciate the privilege of traveling the East Branch.
The river follows a course through the Oxbow. Five miles below the dam, and shortly after a broad lake-like opening, the banks narrow somewhat and the nature of the river changes. Rocks and ledge abound as you descend through the gentle rips above Stair Falls.
Stair Falls is a succession of shallow ledge drops, ranging in height up too two feet and resembling a low flight of stairs. There are scores of routes through the ledges. From the left at the top of the falls you can see several. If you're not comfortable running light Class III rapids take the portage trail along the left bank. Be sure to stop below the falls and look upstream to see how appropriately they were named. You'll also see some lovely mountain views.
The easy rapids below Stair Falls lead to Haskell Deadwater. Below the deadwater, on the right is the first of four portages at Haskell Rock Pitch. Carry a third of a mile over a good trail around the falls. Walk back to see the strong eddies, steep pitches, river sculpturing, and the fossils of this region. Haskell Rock which stands alone halfway down the falls shows the wear and tear of the river pounding it over the years.
The rapids below Haskell Rock Pitch are characteristic of all rapids between the falls of the East Branch. They are rated Class II + and run the quarter of a mile to Pond Pitch, the second of the major falls. Carry Pond Pitch on the left, and look over the falls, a multi-stage 10-foot pitch. It is a much more pronounced ledge drop then Haskell Rock Pitch, but is less than Grand Pitch, only three quarters of a mile downstream. Below Pond Pitch favor the left side of the river. The portage trail around Grand Pitch is reached from the left bank.
By Grand Pitch, the third falls and carry, the novelty of carrying wears off. But of all the falls not to tamper with, Grand Pitch should head the list. It is a vertical drop of more than 20 feet. Because of the rapid succession of waterfalls and pitches geologists refer to this portion of the Each Branch as the Grand Falls Formation.
The eddy at the end of the portage trail affords a fine view of the waterfall above. More typical rapids (Class II + - III) continue for a half mile below Grand Pitch to the Hulling Machine, so named in log driving days because it removed bark from the logs being driven down the river. This descent must have approximated an automatic log debarking process.
Portage right at the Hulling Machine to the foot of this steep, rough pitch. Farther downstream the river passes through some ledges and it is probably very deep here because the current hardly moves. But it soon returns to its more natural rapid state and passes Bowlin Falls, a Class II-III drop. Bowlin Falls will not overwhelm you if you have successfully negotiated the rapids upstream, Stay right of the ledge which reaches into the river from the left bank. Let the river do the work.
Just below Bowlin Falls is Bowlin Camps, an active sporting complex since 1895. This is your stopping point.