After a long drive by logging roads dodging Moose, put-in at McKay station. There is usually dependable flow here all Summer. The section from the dam to Chewonki's Big Eddy (about 2 miles) is considered a class IV-V run. Just below the put-in is Exterminator hole. At normal summer levels punch the hole on the left. Below exterminator is Staircase rapid. Shallow class IV with a nice wave train at the end. Just downstream you will notice the main flow of the river goes to the left around a shear rock wall go to the left for Big Heater rapid. To the right a narrow channel leads to a nice little drop (Little Heater). Just below the heaters on river right is Troublemaker hole, a nice powerfull playhole. Pull out on river left just above a bridge. Downstream lies one of the most difficult rapids in all New England. The Cribworks should be scouted from "Vulture rock" which lies on river left where the river turns left. The move should be obvious to any veteran boater. Drop through the Turkey Chute on river left then move toward river right through Final Chute. Avoid going river left after Turkey Chute; the river runs through a boulder pile that could broach/pin a boat or swimmer.
Below Prays Big Eddy the river alternates between long stretches of flatwater and sudden large drops. Some of the rapids in this section are "Big Amberjackwockamas" (Big A), Neswadnehunk (Soudyhunk) Falls, and Abol.
The West Branch of the Penobscott has been compared to the Upper Gauley and many New England boaters will come here for a warm-up before venturing to West Virginia.
Camping can be found at Chewonki's Big Eddy Campround, located just below the Cribworks, and Abol Campground, by the Abol bridge. There are other individual campsites scattered about the area that are maintained by the Department of Conservation. They work on a first come, first serve basis.
From Portsmouth NH take Interstate 95 through Maine 244 miles. Take exit 244 (Millinocket/Medway) Maine route 157/11 Take a left (West) on 157/11 towards Medway. Drive throuhg Medway and East Millinocket. In Millinocket look for and follow signs for Baxter State Park. Drive on the Millinocket Lake Rd for 8 miles towards Baxter State Park. When you see the sign for Penobscot Adventures take a left onto the Golden Road, The Big Moose Inn will be on your right. If you get to The North Woods Trading Post you've gone too far. Once your on the Golden Road drive 8 miles to Abol Bridge. Take the next left after Abol Bridge onto the Gravel Pit Road. Put-in at the first turn out on your left, just above Abol Rapid.
Retrace your route back to just before the bridge over the river and take a right onto Nevers Corner Rd, a smaller, rougher dirt road, approximately 1.5 miles to the base of Pockwockamus Falls. Rafting companies should have vehicles parted here for shuttle.
Some paddlers are only interested in running the Rip Gorge through Cribworks section. For those people, take out just downstream from Chewonki's Big Eddy Campground at the DOC provided site.
Just downstream of the put in lies the Exterminator. This is a large river wide hole that flips rafts and "involuntarily" cartwheels kayaks. Punch the hole on far river right next to the wall or try to sneak around the river left side by catching the eddy just above the hole.
Caution: Over the 07-08 winter something has apparently "moved" most paddlers agree that the right hand line has become much more difficult pulling boaters back in for more. Most raft guilds will admit they lost more customers in summer of'08 then they ever have in the past. The right hand line is still runable but if you're in a playboat be ready for an involuntary second look at the hole.
Just below Exterminator you enter the Staircase. Big violent water with a scatering of trashy holes. Go right of center and try to avoid the "Fist of God" a large pourover. Eddy out at the bottom on river right to catch some good surf in the tailrace.
Probably the toughest regularly run rapid in New England. Pull out on river left just upstream above a bridge and scout. The rapid starts just under the bridge and continues for approximately 1/4 mile. It starts out with large irregular waves and holes. Just as the river starts turning left, line yourself up for Turkey chute. Turkey chute is a rather large violent drop with powerful eddies on both sides at the base. Start heading towards the right towards Final Chute to avoid the boulder pile on river left. Guardian rock lies just upstream of Final Chute and tries to force boaters towards the boulder pile. If you eddy out behind guardian, you will be lined up for an easy drop through Final Chute. Final Chute is a 10' near vertical drop that accelerates you toward a rock wall where the river takes a sharp right. Below Cribworks is Prays Big Eddy. This is a campground and a popular salmon fishing area. Take out just downstream and on river right from here if you want to run the gorge once again.
This was to be the site of a large hydroelectric dam that would have flooded out Rip Gorge. Luckily boaters, rafters, and anglers got together to defeat Big "A" dam in the 80's (No Way Big A). This is a big rapid with lots of holes to look out for. When the river turns left away from the Golden road get ready to have some fun.
After a long flatwater stretch, the river turns left and drops over a 12' ledge. The main flow on river left is less vertical and has a large wave hole at the bottom. There is good surfing on some of these. Carry the boat back up and run some of the vertical sections towards the right side of the ledge.
After paddling another couple miles of flatwater Abol bridge is a welcome sight. Just below the bridge is Abol rapid. Abol is a short rapid but has many very wide holes to punch.
Pockwockamus is a short distance below Abol and is the last rapid before another long stretch of flatwater. Most people choose to take out here rather than head all the way down to Debsconeag Falls. There is a nice wide playhole on river right about half way down. Takeout is just downstream on river right.
Mike Johnson writes.
"This is a great big-water rapid that can be run creatively to practice big water ferries, eddy turns, and other moves necessary to work up to harder drops, but some of the eddies have dangerous strainers and undercut rocks right below them. If one doesn't abort the ferry or eddy turn soon enough it is easy to get sucked down a slot with no easy way out. At higher water levels (above 2500) the risk increases even more."
I'm more that a little confused by some of the information given here, and having rafted the West Branch for more than twenty years I know it pretty well. Most of the information provided in the main river description is current but some of it is decades out of date -- the road has been paved all the way from Millinocket to McKay Station since the 1980s and there hasn't been a gatehouse on the Golden Road since the mid-1990s. Some of it is just plain wrong -- Magic Falls is on the Kennebec River, not the Dead.
The put-in is at McKay Station, the dam itself is another 0.8 miles above this point and the upper section of the gorge carries only fish-flow water except during flooding.
Exterminator (Falls) is the top step of the Staircase; it is a genuine Class IV at 2200-2400 cfs and can increase to Class V as the flow level changes either up or down. Easy to scout from the cliffs above it can be run either left or right depending on the flow. Once you leave the put-in at McKay the next calm water is Dead Moose Eddy at the foot of the Staircase. The second drop of the Staircase is marked by Fist Rock (river centre) and this drop can also be run either left or right, just not too far left because of the pour-over, and not too far right because there are rocks that can trap a kayak.
The Heaters lead into the Little Eddy, which usually has several fishermen, and from which you leave through Little Eddy Rapids. Troublemaker is a large diagonal wave from river right to river centre caused by a granite shelf located about halfway between Little Eddy and the Cribworks.
The Cribworks is a great Class V run. As advised in the main river description scout this rapid carefully from Vulture Rock before you commit to run it. Once you've passed under Telos Bridge and skirted Telos Hole there are two routes open to you, Turkey Chute/Shoot (left) and S-Chute (right). The two chutes are split by Pelican Rock. Turkey Chute is the intelligent choice -- look for the marker wave at its top. Once below Turkey Chute if you can't make it to river right for Final Drop, go left through the Chicken Run. Do not stay in river centre because that is where the Boulder Pile waits and I once saw a kayak trapped in it for the better part of a day before it finally popped out.
Below the safety eddies at the Cribworks watch out for Bonecrusher (river right) as you carry on downstream to Big Eddy Rapids. The public take-out at Big Eddy is well described in Gary Bamberger's note on the main entry.
Well below Big Eddy you find the ninety degree left which marks the long slide down to Big Ambejackmockamus Falls. The first drop at Big A can be run either tight left or tight right -- avoid the middle, it is a drowning pool. Second and third drops at Big A provide good surfing spots where the main flow goes to river left. Take-out is river right below third drop or continue downstream through the Horserace -- 1.3 miles of Class II -- it doesn't have much to offer but you can find something to do on the small waves.
Below the Horserace is 2.1 miles of the Nesowadnehunk Deadwater before you round a bend to the left and find yourself in the shallows at the brink of Nesowadnehunk Falls -- follow the main flow over the flume river left and be ready to roll. Below the falls is 0.4 miles of shallows before you get to a great stopping place at Nesowadnehunk Stream (river left) and the start of the Abol Deadwater. Three miles downstream Abol Bridge crosses the West Branch -- there is a store at this location, lunch time.
Below Abol Bridge is 0.6 miles of moving water before you get to the top of Abol Falls -- run it right down the centre, both sides have large bones. Another 0.6 miles brings you to Little Pockwockamus, followed immediately by Big Pockwockamus Falls. Run Big Pock down the centre. There is a great play spot at the bottom. The main public take-out is river left 0.6 miles below Big Pock.
Releases through much of the summer. Call Great Northern at 207-723-5131 or 207-723-2328.
River Flow information
Low: 1800 cfs
Medium: 2400 cfs
High: 3000 cfs
Â Phone Line: (207)723-4341 Extension 163
For current flow information go to the Great Lakes Hydro America website and look under McKay Station.
First a little background information. The West Branch of the Penobscot and several other headwater rivers of interest to boaters are all controlled by dams that are (or used to be) owned by the Paper Mills in Millinocket. These paper mills used the power generated from these dams for paper production. These mills closed last year because of financial difficulties. As a result releases at this time are not as certain as they used to be. The following message was posted by Gary Bamburger on May 21st, 2003.
Good News/Bad News on the Penobscot River...First the bad news- Current levels have gone even lower to the following: Canada Falls=71CFS, Seboomook=413CFS and McKay Station(Ripogenus)=800CFS. The good news (somewhat) is that today I called up to the New England Outdoor Center in Millinocket and spoke with "Sandy". She said with the closures of the mills in Millinocket and E. Millinocket the river managers are currently "holding back water" hoping the new owners of the mills will get them open soon. The East Millinocket mill is scheduled to open this summer but the Millinocket mill may not. The river manager states that there will be some water released this weekend (and next weekend) @ McKay Station on Saturday and Sunday 8AM-2PM @ 1600CFS. He anticipates these low levels are a May thing only and levels should increase to more normal numbers as the summer season progresses...The low levels do not indicate low water levels in the West Branch drainage, just a conservation of water since it is not currently needed for power.
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Strider in Rip Gorge
Turkey Shoot Eddy
Cribworks Ski Jump
Pock and Katahdin
Big Pockwockamus Falls
Little Pockwockamus Falls
Abol Rapid with Mt Katahdin
Rip Gorge birdseye
Surfin Big A
Left eddy below Turkey Shoot
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A hardy group of northeast boaters climbed into the natural river channel below a hydropower dam to participate in a flow study designed to assess whether whitewater flows should be restored to this dewatered river reach on the Connecticut River. While significant obstacles remain, this site has the potential for providing instruction, playboating, and a big water feature that that could be run throughout much of the year and provide a much needed boost to the local economy.
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