SUBSCRIBE | NEWSLETTERS | MAPS | VIDEOS | BLOGS | MARKETPLACE | CONTESTS
TRY BACKPACKER FREE!
SUBSCRIBE NOW and get
2 Free Issues and 3 Free Gifts!
Full Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip Code:
Email: (required)
If I like it and decide to continue, I'll pay just $12.00, and receive a full one-year subscription (9 issues in all), a 73% savings off the newsstand price! If for any reason I decide not to continue, I'll write "cancel" on the invoice and owe nothing.
Your subscription includes 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Or click here to pay now and get 2 extra issues
Offer valid in US only.

Also on Backpacker.com


Enter Zip Code

Backpacker Magazine – November 2008

Thoreau Slept Here: The Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail

Maine's newly minted Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail tracks the famous naturalist's 1800s expeditions. Good news: It's still wild.

by: Tom Clynes, Photos by Bridget Besaw

West Branch Penobscot River
West Branch Penobscot River
Ray Reitze prepares breakfast on Umbazooksus Stream
Ray Reitze prepares breakfast on Umbazooksus Stream
The author's son running up from West Branch Penobscot
The author's son running up from West Branch Penobscot
Charlie Clynes new the Canvas Dam Campsite
Charlie Clynes new the Canvas Dam Campsite

"We struck it lucky," Ray said, echoing my thoughts. This July night had it all: a half-moon shimmering over misty water, steady breezes to keep bugs away, laughing loons, and plenty of good, witty company.

It was our final night on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, which runs through upper Maine northwest of Bangor. We had spent four days paddling in the wake of America's first great naturalist writer, Henry David Thoreau, and his Penobscot Indian guides. Our journey was a small part of the recently inaugurated Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail, a network of paddling and hiking routes through what was then–and still is–New England's largest expanse of wilderness. The 200-mile path forms a rough circle from Bangor to the northern border of Baxter State Park.

Thoreau journeyed to northern Maine several times in the mid 1800s, traveling with friends and relatives, river men, and Native American guides. He talked and wrote often of the "numerous forest-clad islands, extending beyond our sight both north and south, and the boundless forest undulating away from its shores on every side, as densely packed as a rye-field, and enveloping nameless mountains in succession."

Though the forests are no longer uninterrupted, most of Thoreau's descriptions hold true. This has to be one of the few places in New England where you can read an account of a place written 150 years ago and know exactly where you are.

The series of essays, lectures, and magazine stories that resulted from Thoreau's travels in Maine were collected in The Maine

Woods, published posthumously in 1864. It would take nearly 150 years before Thoreau's routes would be stitched together into the Thoreau-Wabanaki Trail by a nonprofit called Maine Woods Forever, which is dedicated to protecting the legacy of the largest officially uninhabited area in the Lower 48–some 10 million acres of rivers, lakes, ponds, hills, and mountains.

Our 30-mile paddle would take us from Hannibal's Crossing, just downstream of Moosehead Lake on the West Branch Penobscot, to Umbazooksus Lake. Our group of 11 included Maine outdoor educators Ray and Nancy Reitze and photographer Bridget Besaw. And I had brought along my son Charlie in celebration of his fifth birthday. The trip would be Charlie's first deep exploration of the northern wilderness.

The upper West Branch is an intimate, narrow path of river cradled by thick forests. Thoreau descended this section twice, in 1853 and 1857.

We paddled past Thoreau Island (called Warren Island in Henry's day), where the author camped. We glided by a stream he fished, and another he ascended in hopes of sighting a moose. Thoreau was interested, more than anything, in seeing moose, which looked, to him, like "great frightened rabbits, with their long ears and half-inquisitive half-frightened looks." He searched many of the West Branch's tributaries, such as Moosehorn Stream, usually returning to the main waterway frustrated. But within an hour of launching we had caught sight of a moose cow splashing in the river.

We paddled to the beats of chattering kingfishers, rasping mergansers, and tail-slapping beavers, whose dams held back ponds at river's edge, a forested backdrop speckled with red and yellow flowers.

A few puffs of cumuli added character to an otherwise seamless sky, reflecting off the water. It seemed unlikely, as we glided down the river, that a more brilliant day had ever stretched across the bow of a canoe.




Subscribe to Backpacker magazine
Sign up for our free weekly e-newsletter
Name:
Address 1:
Address 2:
City:
State:
Zip:
Email (req):

Reader Rating: Star

READERS COMMENTS

Jgreen
Sep 30, 2011

GREAT! Would love to see!

Jgreen
Sep 30, 2011

GREAT! Would love to see!

ADD A COMMENT

Your rating:
Your Name:

Comment:

My Profile Join Now

Most recent threads

Gear
Ruined jacket in dryer
Posted On: Sep 01, 2014
Submitted By: SWest
Trailhead Register
Stick is fine
Posted On: Sep 01, 2014
Submitted By: eyebp
Go
View all Gear
Find a retailer

Special sections - Expert handbooks for key trails, techniques and gear

Check out Montana in Warren Miller's Ticket to Ride
Warren Miller athletes charge hard and reflect on Big Sky country, their love for this space and the immense energy allotted to the people who reside in Montana.

Boost Your Apps
Add powerful tools and exclusive maps to your BACKPACKER apps through our partnership with Trimble Outdoors.

Carry the Best Maps
With BACKPACKER PRO Maps, get life-list destinations and local trips on adventure-ready waterproof myTopo paper.

FREE Rocky Mountain Trip Planner
Sign up for a free Rocky Mountain National Park trip planning kit from our sister site MyRockyMountainPark.com.

Follow BackpackerMag on Twitter Follow Backpacker on Facebook
Get 2 FREE Trial Issues and 3 FREE GIFTS
Survival Skills 101 • Eat Better
The Best Trails in America
YES! Please send me my FREE trial issues of Backpacker
and my 3 FREE downloadable booklets.
Full Name:
City:
Address 1:
Zip Code:
State:
Address 2:
Email (required):
Free trial offer valid for US subscribers only. Canadian subscriptions | International subscriptions