Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race

The Devil's Tongue

Whitewater kayak girl - photo by Michael Alden

Writing in my blog a few days before the race, I referred to the wave train following the Shopping Cart as "The Devil's Tongue". How true that was this year. Hope the name catches on. ;)


2010 Canoe Race Photos Are Now Online!


The 2010 photo galleries are now up and running!

Once again, I set up at the Shopping Cart rapids this year. While I can't say I captured every single person in the race, I gave it the old college try.

Go to the Race Photos page on my website to check out the new shots!

And by the way, the print sales keep the Kenduskeag website up and running, so thank you for your support!

- Michael Alden

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Rollin' On The River: Stream Report 2010

UPDATE 4/16: Well, a lot can happen in 72 hours! The stream has dropped almost a foot since I filed this blog entry. It's even "bonier" than I described earlier, and the rapids aren't as forceful now either. There will be some bumps and scrapes this year, and the race looks to be a slog. But for many people, it will be fun race no matter what.
- M.

My Bell solo canoe awaits the water. Needs a bit of outfitting first...

TUESDAY, APRIL 13th, 2010

What a beautiful day to stroll along sections of the Kenduskeag Stream. As in years past, I went to scout out the Kenduskeag with veteran racer Chris D'Amico, who is about to participate in his twenty first Kenduskeag. So if you were born around the time Chris first did the race, you're almost old enough to drink a celebratory beer after a day of paddling. Just saying.

It was a nice, uneventful walk although I managed to get a mild sunburn after it was all said and done. Oh, and we found a deer tick hitching a ride with one of us after shuffling around Six Mile Falls. So you might want to watch out for that - they're out there!

The stream is on the lower, mellower side and at the same time the stream is not too "pushy".

What does this mean? Read on...

We like to start at the Shopping Cart area (the rapids closer to downtown Bangor) and work our way upstream. The water levels seemed about the same as in 2009, although last year the Shopping Cart rapids seemed a bit "tame", whereas this year that section of rapids seems "snappy". There's more force going through that ledge notch, along with a pretty good section of standing waves following.

Keep in mind that these photos do not really give you the full effect of the rapids in terms of size and swiftness. I shot these pics with a relatively wideangle lens, and the perspective sort of flattens things out in such a way as to make the rapids seem almost unimpressive. These rapids are respectable, so don't let these pics fool you!

Certainly the wave train following the drop at Shopping Cart seemed pretty respectable. Paddlers should have some fun negotiating those standing waves! But this is par for the course at the Shopping Cart, really.

Here's another downstream view of the wave train (or "tongue", as I call it) to give you a bit more of an idea. Looks like 40-odd feet of bad road!

One of the interesting things about the Shopping Cart is how benign it appears when viewed from further upstream. We walked upstream and turned around to look back at the Shopping Cart drop, and it virtually disappears:

I had to point out where the Shopping Cart Hole is in this particular photo, because you literally can't see it when you are approaching it in your boat. Little wonder that this area catches so many people by surprise. It's definitely a "gotcha!" section of the Kenduskeag.

So how will you know you're getting close to the rapids if you can't see them coming? Look for river vultures (spectators) on river right! They'll be hovering around the boulders in front of what appears to be a flat space on the stream, but there's a reason they've gathered in that seemingly unimpressive area. You can't see the drop until you're almost on top of it. Just a heads up!

Upstream from the Shopping Cart is an area we call the Washing Machine. It's basically that first set of rapids you encounter in the bend of the stream after you've portaged around the Maxfield Mill area, near Lovers Leap, where you cross the road with your boat. The Washing Machine causes problems for some paddlers - these rapids will wake you up with a little taste of what lies ahead at the Shopping Cart.

Side note: a free paddling clinic will be held on the Kenduskeag on Thursday, April 15th at 4pm. Hosted by the Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization (MaCKRO), this clinic will begin at Six Mile Falls and end downtown. Shuttles will be available for you and your boat. If you'd like to preview these tricky areas at your own pace and and your own comfort level with experienced paddlers, I highly encourage you to try to take advantage of this opportunity! Meet up at the parking lot alongside the Kenduskeag Stream just up from the Mill St. bridge (Harlow St.) The parking lot will be on your right. You can't miss it; there will be other cars with boats already there. You may have to fill out an ACA waiver form (with which there is a $5 fee per paddler) but the clinic itself is free and open to the public.

Abandon hope, all ye who enter Shopping Cart Alley! Just kidding. Weird tree trunk, huh?

Moving right along. Now we'll take a quick look at the Flour Mill Dam area (a mandatory portage) before heading to Six Mile Falls:

Looking at the picture above (the remnants of the Flour Mill Dam) - wouldn't it be nifty to be able to take a shortcut through that sluice tunnel if the water was just a bit higher on the exit? Well, that's just what some of the racers did in the earliest years of the Kenduskeag! In the late 1960s this tunnel was an alternative portage. Alas, it isn't nowadays. But you probably wouldn't want to break the back of your boat trying it anyway.

Walking further upstream, this is the take out area ahead of the Flour Mill Dam, and as I mentioned earlier this is a mandatory portage. It will be marked and flagged and a rescue person will be on hand to make sure you pull out. As you can see, the water is sedate. This photo is virtually identical to the shot I took in the same spot in 2009.

And now we move on to big, bad Six Mile Falls. The favorite stomping ground of media trucks and river vultures. Guess what? The report I wrote up last year mostly applies this year as well.

So rather than reinvent the wheel here, I'm tempted to say that you could direct your attention to the stream report of 2009 (see the archive links to the right. look under April 2009). But there is one notable difference: the options for lining up are a little bonier this year and some areas are blocked by dead trees and other wooded debris.

Lots of "stairstep" ledges will make things a little trickier (at least for canoes) on the approach to Six Mile Falls this year. It seemed to Chris D. that the best approaches might be from river left, which is fairly typical if the water is high enough.

When we looked at the area, the water was doable. But given a few days of water levels dropping off, what will it look like come Saturday morning? You'll have to check it out for yourself (always a good idea anyway) or ask around to find out. Some people wait until the eve of the race to scout out the stream for that very reason.

Here's the photo map overview of Six Mile Falls I posted last year:

So what's the big difference this year? You can pretty much take out that middle arrow, for one thing. We found that between the ledges and the downed trees, the middle approach to the falls would be virtually impossible. We've never seen so much piled up crap ahead of the falls. It almost looked like some Godzilla-sized beaver built a dam in the area.

Going river left and then either setting up in front of the "jaws" of the falls (the chute area) is one option. Another would be to try river right, hitting that horseshoe-shaped sluice and spilling out in front of the weedy "red willow island" just ahead of the falls.

Dick Hanson, Earl Baldwin and Chris D'Amico "strategizing" at Six Mile Falls

Overlooking the "stairstep" action ahead of Six Mile Falls, Chris D. thought that kayakers might have an easier time taking a centerline approach to the falls than the open boaters, but even a couple of seasoned kayakers we spoke with on site felt that they would likely approach the falls from river left or right, and not through the center. For what it's worth.

The US Geological Survey installed a brand new water gauge at Six Mile Falls back in January. This gauge measures the depth of the water (among other things). Interpreting the data is another matter, but several people who live near the stream have told me that in their experience, anything below four feet (in terms of depth) translates to "rock garden" paddling. As of this writing, the stream has a recorded depth of a little under five feet at the Six Mile Falls station.

Check out the realtime date online on the USGS water gauge page. Also, note that while the cfs (cubic feet per second) data isn't yet available, I'm told that it might be added in the near future.

One of the things that kept cropping up while Chris D. and I scouted the stream was the term "pushy water". Newbies should be pleased to note that the stream isn't too "pushy" this year. The water isn't high enough or swift enough to hurtle you towards a tricky situation without giving you at least some opportunity to prepare.

What this means is that you can take a moment in the calmer eddies and pools to choose your lines, prep your paddling partner(s) if you aren't going solo, and orient your boat the way you want to before taking the plunge, so to speak. It was a much different picture in 2007 and even in 2008, when paddlers were rushed into situation after situation.

In closing, scout out these areas for yourself ahead of the race, and do keep in mind the MaCKRO paddling clinic on Thursday if you feel you need some pointers or some confidence-building skills. That's what it's there for, and the experienced paddlers at MaCKRO are glad to help.

Have a safe and enjoyable race.
And remember, keep your paddle in the water!
- Mike

Compiled by Christopher D'Amico and Mike Alden.
Thanks also to D. Hanson and E. Baldwin

PS - here are a few snapshots of some concrete canoe remains near Six Mile Falls. The engineering department at UMaine would hold student competitions to see which team could build (and race) the lightest concrete canoe. Looks like these particular boats made it as far down the stream as Six Mile Falls before wrecking on the "shoals".

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2010 Stream Report - Coming Soon


I should have the full stream report for 2010 posted here by tomorrow evening. Look for thoughts on water levels, possible lines of approach to some of the trickier areas, and more.

Also, if you're a beginner at paddling or if this is your first ever canoe race, there will be a free paddling "clinic" held on the Kenduskeag this Thursday at 4pm.

You'll start at Six Mile Falls and head to town from there (no need to paddle the first 10 miles of the race as it is mostly flatwater).

This is a very nice arrangement offered by the Maine Canoe & Kayak Racing Organization (MaCKRO). Paddle at your own pace and at your own comfort level alongside veteran paddlers who really know their stuff. Ask questions! It's all about making you feel safe and confident on the water so that you can learn to make the right choices while enjoying the race.

Shuttles for you and your boat will be provided; I will post more details about all of this (along with the stream report) tomorrow!


Eve Of The Race Updates

From a photographic standpoint, the stream is too low and too slow! From a paddling standpoint, it depends on who you are.

Experienced paddlers might be nonplussed by the lower water levels this time around, but at the same time, people who have never tried the race because of anxiety over the high and fast water in recent years should be able to relax this year. It's a good year to get your feet wet, so to speak.

PS - Partial race results will likely appear in the Bangor Daily News on Monday; full results usually do not come out for two to three weeks. You can sign up for the race results email list on the contact page of my site.

Here's to a fun race and a pleasant weekend for all!

* * * *

Paddler Steve Markwith did a trial run of Six Mile Falls & Washing Machine/Shopping Cart yesterday and he posted this web page with photo stills, videos and his thoughts on the conditions there.

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Kenduskeag 2009: Nice & (Mostly) Mellow

The Kenduskeag looks good and should be a lot of fun this year for a broad spectrum of paddlers. Here are some of my impressions and I hope you will add yours here as well.
(Click thumbnails for larger images)

Keep in mind that stream conditions will change between today and Saturday morning. For one thing, the stream should be a bit lower than it is as of this writing.

The photo above shows what the area of rapids variously known as "Shopping Cart", "Washing Machine", "Thunder Hole" (and a few other names) looked like on Tuesday. Enlarge the photo for a better view. Compared to last year and certainly the year before, this area isn't quite as scary looking, but that should not be taken to mean that the stream won't provide any thrills or challenges this year. Far from it!

Let's start closer to Bangor and work our way upstream to Six Mile Falls, because that's how I roll on these walking tours.

The area known locally as the Shopping Cart isn't nearly as hairy as it was last year, and nothing at all like it was in 2007. That's not a bad thing, as these rapids tend to surprise a lot of people who think that the worst is behind them.

Chances are, you'll be pretty much spent by the time you reach the Shopping Cart rapids, so I wouldn't want to give you the impression that you can just sail on through without difficulty.

Here's a closer view of the "tongue" of the rapids. Note the standing waves, which do tend to throw people for a loop. You have to be alert, and I'm thinking that river right is going to be the line most people will take when they approach this area. The shelf on river left (see photo) was somewhat passable on Tuesday but will likely be too shallow on race day, certainly for many canoes.

They don't call it the Shopping Cart Hole for nothing! Which reminds me, I'm pretty sure there is a Kenduskeag cleanup event scheduled soon (perhaps the day after the race) by Keep Bangor Beautiful, and the cleanup relies on the efforts of volunteers. For more information call 990-1201 or email Keep Bangor Beautiful. Or just do what we did and pick up the junk as you come across it.

OK, moving on. Let's take a quick look at the two mandatory portages on the Kenduskeag Stream Canoe Race. Maxfield Mill Dam, and (further upstream) the Flour Mill Dam.

Chris D'Amico, who scouted the stream with me on this walkabout, pointed out an interesting thing with regard to the "mellow" waters and the mandatory portage at Maxfield. There's a nice little rocky "beach" available for landing. This is usually submerged under a few feet of water. Also, the calm "coves" on river right can be used as a rest stop for paddlers who need to take a breather or bail their boats. Nice!

Looking to river left at the Maxfield portage, there is another option for take out. I've never really understood the benefit of taking out here as the bank is quite steep. It might cut down on the distance of the portage across the bridge a bit, but most paddlers take out river right. Not sure where the Maxfield Mill Dam portage is? Here's a map

Now we move on upstream to the Flour Mill Dam. This is also a mandatory portage and if you didn't portage at Six Mile Falls (which is optional), this is the first portage you're going to hit. The remains of the Flour Mill Dam are just upstream from the I-95 bridge. There's a nice walkway and lookout over these rapids if you are walking along on the Kenduskeag pathway.

Note the calm conditions here at this portage. Again, it's a nice thing to have a "mellow cove" for paddlers because these portages can become congested. The grassy area is often submerged under a few feet of water. The take out at the Flour Mill Dam is river left. Here's a map of this area.

It's a good thing the Flour Mill Dam area is a mandatory portage. This area is otherwise quite scary. You won't have to worry about the toothy rocks as seen in this photo because you'll avoid it altogether. As you can see, these "molars" would chew your boat up and spit you out. And these rocks are just upstream from some nasty rapids. It wouldn't be pretty.

Just as an aside: I had to include this shot of the large pipe which runs through the remains of the Flour Mill Dam. This was taken from the Flour Mill overlook. In the earliest years of the Kenduskeag race (circa 1966, 1967) it was possible for paddlers to portage the Flour Mill Dam by sluicing their boat through this large pipe! Don't try to do this now, however. Note the spillway and the drop. Bill and Fern Stearns wrote about this rather unusual portage option in their book "Tales of the Kenduskeag", at a time when only a couple of dozen paddlers braved the stream for the inaugural races.

Now we head upstream once again to the infamous Six Mile Falls. Let's cut to the chase: people want to know how things are looking and what approaches (lines) to think about. Here goes.

This sat map isn't the best for this example because the water levels were at summer low when the big bird snapped the photo, but generally there are three main approaches taken by most paddlers when lining up for Six Mile Falls. You might want to enlarge this image for a better look. Portage here is optional, not mandatory. Here's a map.

Based on our observations, going the river left "loop" is definitely passable at the moment, but it might not be so easy on Saturday. We'll see. As the stream level drops that left hand loop will become bony. On the other hand, this can be a VERY nice route to take to move you out into a position ahead of the falls so that you can line up nicely and cruise on through. Scout the left side loop on Friday night if you can. (See note about MaCKRO clinic below).

Click the image above to enlarge. See the island of red willows in the middle of the stream (left hand side of the photo)? It seems to us that whether you take the river right loop or the "bony left" loop, you'll want to sidle up to this island if possible and line yourself up for the center of the falls from there. Easier said than done, but the current isn't as ridiculous as it has been in recent years (2007 being one of the worst in recent memory).

I'll leave you with a comment from veteran racer Jeff Owen of Orono:
Six-mile Falls gets difficult if the water is too low--sharp ledges all over the place, particularly in the section at the top of the falls. If we're going to run the falls (meaning the water is not too high or too low), we always begin on river left and work our way down through the little islands over there--then move out to run the main chute at the bottom. There are several options up top on river left, the best being dependent on the water level. It'll be fun to look at it on Friday afternoon.
If you have any thoughts on Six Mile Falls this year, by all means share them with us in the comments! Would love to hear from you.

And keep this in mind: There will be a paddling clinic hosted by MaCKRO (below Six Mile Falls) for anyone who is interested in testing and "previewing" the stream on Friday afternoon. Here are the details.

- Compiled by Mike Alden and Chris D'Amico

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