Penobscot, E. Branch - Grand Lake Matagamon to Whetstone Falls

Penobscot, E. Branch, Maine, US


Grand Lake Matagamon to Whetstone Falls

Usual Difficulty III-V (for normal flows)
Length 38 Miles

Grand Pitch

Grand Pitch
Photo of Chris Hull taken 10/19/03

Gauge Information

Name Range Difficulty Updated Level
East Branch Penobscot River at Grindstone, Maine
usgs-01029500 1300 - 20000 cfs III-V 92h07m 1970 cfs (running)

River Description

Posted by Eric on the Mt Washington Valley Paddlers Website on 5/28/03

Eric, as requested, below is my report of our recent run down the East Branch Penobscot River below Grand Lake Mattagamon. Feel free to post on your club site.

The trip started w/ an unexpected class 5 stop at a roadside bar in Shin Pond, Maine where the mud parking lot was full, so was the bar, and a fun WBLM-type band was taking some liberties but jamming it up in the corner to the locals delight! All of this along a remote section of road on a Friday night in the middle of the northern Maine woods! The liquor was flowing, the girls (of a wide variety of ages)were chatting it up w/ Rick, and Jonny found a snowmobile buddy that fully understood his recent purchase of a top-of-the-line sled. We overcame our first obstacle to the kayak trip by getting out of there just before closing time and no worse for the wear.

The next AM, or should I said about noontime, Jonny, Rick, Duke, Brenda and Patrick (I wanna talk about myself in the 3rd person, just like that guy on Seinfield cuz its cool) put in a mile below the Grand Lake Road bridge, not really knowing where the rapids began and having a vague river report. We used the next 3-4 miles to warm up in a combo of swift and flat water,and one easy class 2 series of ledge drops. Oh well, so now we know. It was a slightly overcast day with the sun starting to peak out and illuminate the budding lime green growth lining the river and massive Traveller Mountain immediately to our right. After an hour or so we were hungry for some whitewater.

As we approached the end of Haskell Deadwater, we could hear the roaring of class 3+ Haskell Pitch. It had a horizon line so we climbed out to stretch and take a look. The rocks were visibly sharp, and Jonny sustained the first injury of the season requiring first aid supplies with a cut to his palm while scouting. He wouldn't stop crying so I struck him in the head with my paddle (kidding). Jonny and Patrick took a right creek-like channel drop of 5-6 feet requiring a slight left to right move. The others successfully punched the big hole in the main drop, and we then played on a few decent waves and headed downstream.

The second good rapid was a waterfall of about 8-10 feet and the campers there said "you boys don't want to run this one, believe me." I climbed downstream and waved Duke thru, him being fully insured and all. It was a class 3-4 rapid, and all paddlers punched a series of holes successfully providing a entertaining respite to the campers' bug swatting. The rapid continued around the corner with lots of big waves, a couple munchy holes, and some swirly eddy lines. Overall, this was my favorite of the day. This river is certainly a Penobscot family member, being characterized by lots of swiftwater dotted with periodic rapids.

The next one was undoubtedly the BIG one, class 5+ Grand Pitch. We had been hoping to poach this one, not having ever seen it, but a dowstream scout from a tall cliff on river left left us scrambling for our boats and the portage trail. It was a 22 foot waterfall with a narrow yet (maybe?) do-able green tongue lasting at least half way down, but a few feet either left or right would have resulted in a rocky bounce or worse. Jonny and Patrick gave it their best scout, or at least tried to make it seem to the others that they were considering running it, but then came to their senses and chickened out. One question they posed themselves was, WWGD? (what would George do?) they decided that even George would have carried on this one, not wanting to risk the bone healing time for a man of his age. If the approach to the falls was easier, there is chance some of us would have poached, but no go on this day. Strike one!

The next rapid was the Hulling Machine, so named because it used to strip all the bark from the logs during the river drive. Downstream the loggers could tell which logs came out the E BRanch because they were stripped bare here! OK, so we aren't too smart, we thought maybe we can poach this one, too, coming into the day. The rapid itself is only class 3, but the first drop is a 20 foot wide steep funnel into a menacing river-wide hole that appeared to contain viscious rocks just below the surface. Thus the log stripping! This could have been a bow pin, so we called it a class 6 and once again, carries below it and ran the rest of the rapid with no problem.

That left just one more: class 2 Bowlin Falls. Despite paddling some decent class 3-4 stuff all day, Brenda got caught in a play hole and bailed out, just upstream of the take out at Bowlin Camps. Our swim team captain was beginning to worry me with her flawless descents throughout the raging White Mt. rivers this spring, but alas enjoys the water too much to stay out all season. Rick did the rescue (stay away from my girl, sucka!).

All and all a very successful exploration that paddlers should check out if they haven't. Cons: tough shuttle, considerable stretches of slow water, and the 2 biggest drops are portages (to most paddles). PRos: no other boaters seen all day, 3 great class 3-4 rapids, awesome country, and terrific vistas of Grand Falls.

Hope this does it, Eric.
StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2003-05-28 06:11:20

Rapid Descriptions

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