Penobscot, W. Branch, Maine, US
|Usual Difficulty||III-V (for normal flows)|
|Avg. Gradient||22 fpm|
|Max Gradient||80 fpm|
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.
|Mile||Rapid Name||Class||Features (Legend)|
|4.5||Big Ambejackwockamus falls (Big A)||IV|
|7.5||Nesowadnehunk Falls (Soudyhunk)||IV|
|10.5||Pockwockamus Falls (Big Pock)||IV|
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."