Penobscot, W. Branch - Ripogenus Gorge to Debsconeag

Penobscot, W. Branch, Maine, US


Ripogenus Gorge to Debsconeag (Cribworks)

Usual Difficulty III-V (for normal flows)
Length 17 Miles
Avg. Gradient 22 fpm
Max Gradient 80 fpm

Rip Gorge

Rip Gorge
Photo of Mark Lacroix by Sharon Lacroix

River Description

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 Camproundlocated 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. 


To The Lower River Put-in Class III-IV

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.

To The Lower River Take-out

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.

To The Upper River Put-in McKay Station Class IV-V


To The Upper River Take Out

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.

StreamTeam Status: Not Verified
Last Updated: 2015-05-06 01:15:46


Stream team editor

Rapid Summary

Mile Rapid Name Class Features (Legend)
0.0ExterminatorIVPutin Photo
0.8The HeatersIII+Waterfall Photo
1.2Troublemaker HoleIII+Playspot Photo
1.8CribworksVAccess Photo
4.5Big Ambejackwockamus falls (Big A)IV
5.0Horse RaceIII
7.5Nesowadnehunk Falls (Soudyhunk)IVWaterfall Photo
10.5Pockwockamus Falls (Big Pock)IVTakeout Playspot Photo

Rapid Descriptions

Exterminator (Class IV)


Photo of Doug Fortin by Mark Lacroix taken 09/04/04 @ 2400 cfs

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.

Staircase (Class IV, Mile 0.2)


Photo of Gary Bamberger by Mark Lacroix taken 09/04/04 @ 2400 cfs

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.

The Heaters (Class III+, Mile 0.8)

Little Heater

Little Heater
Photo of Rob Point by Mark Lacroix taken 09/04/04 @ 2400 cfs

The river splits around a rock wall. Go to the right channel for a short vertical 5 foot drop. Go to the left for a more gradual rapid.

Troublemaker Hole (Class III+, Mile 1.2)

Troublemaker hole

Troublemaker hole
Photo of Marc Bamberger by Mark Lacroix taken 09/04/04 @ 2400 cfs

River right below the Heaters look for this good playspot just below a class III rapid.

Cribworks (Class V, Mile 1.8)


Photo of Rob Point by Mark Lacroix taken 09/04/04 @ 2400 cfs

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.

Big Ambejackwockamus falls (Big A) (Class IV, Mile 4.5)

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.

Horse Race (Class III, Mile 5.0)
Easy rapid good for a warmup or for less adventurous paddlers.

Nesowadnehunk Falls (Soudyhunk) (Class IV, Mile 7.5)

Neswadnehunk Falls

Neswadnehunk Falls
Photo of Kevin Lindberg by Mark Lacroix taken 07/04/04 @ 3200 cfs

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.

Abol (Class III+, Mile 9.5)

Abol Rapid

Abol Rapid
Photo of Maureen Smith by Mark Lacroix taken 07/04/04 @ 3200 cfs

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 Falls (Big Pock) (Class IV, Mile 10.5)

Big Pockwockamus Falls

Big Pockwockamus Falls
Photo of Laurie and Jack running Big Pock by Mark Lacroix taken 07/04/04 @ 3200 cfs

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."

User Comments

Users can submit comments.
August 2 2011 (2661 days ago)
maineguide (153376)
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.

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