Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NHVSP 2011 Update 13

"Home, sweet home..."

What should I write now, more than three weeks since you last heard from me? How can I describe all these moments of passed time, all that has passed between 14 people (and sometimes more) and their ever changing surroundings – so many Now-s that I could use more than the time passed to write it all. For now I will have to be short – the end of our spring expedition does not in any way mean the end of our work, and I too want to take part in setting up our homes and taking care of our gear and clothes.
Icy Spectacle Pond 
We left from Northwoods Stewardship Center on Sunday the 24th of April, on foot, carrying all our gear down to the Clyde River, where we had brought the canoes the day before. Then we departed: pushed our loaded canoes into the water and paddled off, not to return – a strange feeling. We had Kevin Slater with us as a guest teacher for these first five days of the expedition, an experienced canoeist and Maine Master Guide who runs Mahoosuc Guide Service with his partner Polly Mahoney, whom we had already met. Also with him was Joey Becker, their apprentice and a NH-Ecuador Semester Alumnus of Tobias’ semester. We really enjoyed having them with us as they slipped right into our community as if they’d been there all along.

Canoeing in the ditch
The first two days we spent on the Clyde River, paddling upstream. The current got stronger as the river narrowed, and the second day there were some parts where we had to line the canoes from shore. Then we reached Island Pond where we carried the canoes over the road, full of anticipation of the sight that would greet us. Island Pond was still mostly covered in ice, but we had a nice paddle-way just along the shore where we could get through easily. After the pond we got a taste of real portaging: carrying all our gear over to Spectacle Pond, walking back the same way and then carrying our canoes on the third walk of the same stretch. This was something that we would become very familiar with… Spectacle Pond was partly ice covered and we started paddling along the open edge that got thinner and thinner. Before long our pioneers Tobias and Jake were icebreakers forcing through the arctic on an epic expedition, until there was no way to break the ice anymore. We had to shuffle our canoes on top of it, one leg on either side so we had something to fall on if the ice should break under us. We camped before we went on to our next stretch, reaching the very beginnings of the Nulhegan. Here the river is a trickle in the swamps, hindered by beaver dams and fallen trees, a place seemingly devoid of humans until you suddenly cross under the railroad. We paddled through in the morning mist, watching birds, and feeling the wilderness coming in close. As the river goes on and grows it turns and twists in endless s- and u-turns. We got good practice in steering our canoes and had lots of fun trying to find the best shortcuts through the somewhat flooded banks.

Then we anticipated an exciting day of paddling and mostly lining the now bigger and more rambunctious Nulhegan, with a few smaller portages at the worst rapids. We awoke that morning with the river 2 feet higher than when we went to bed – the rains that had come the afternoon before and lasted all night had done it’s job of finally melting away the last of winter. As we ate breakfast the water rose even more, and out on the water it soon became apparent that we could not go down that river. We set our course instead towards the road, paddling through a hemlock forest (not on a river) before we reached the road ditch where we continued paddling for a while. But we didn’t really have much choice - gear on our backs and in our hands we started portaging along the road. This was the beginning of what turned into our three-day-portaging-all-the-way-to-the-Connecticut (all scientific mile/km numbers will have to wait until the next update as our maps and expedition plan accidentally went on a second expedition out to the main coast in our guitar case). We also had to put in an extra live-over day to wait for the water to go down to somewhat more practical levels. On the day the water level was the highest, there was only 6 inches of space between the river and the bridge where the Nulhegan flows into the Connecticut, which last year’s students paddled under.

Rope swing adventures
A dam on the Connecticut was opened to help decrease the water levels, and then all was finally clear for us to start on our Connecticut journey, though there was still 6 times more water passing through the river every second than on average, and most of our planned camp sites were under water. But the weather was finally with us and we enjoyed warm sunny days floating down the fast moving river, feeling as if we were barely dipping our paddles. We finally got into a rhythm and found time to focus on different things than the paddling, except for the whitewater day we had at Summers Falls with Randy Knaggs from Marlboro College, where all we did was focusing on our paddling technique. You’ll hear more about it later along with lots of other stories, but all in all the Connecticut brought us good warm days of enjoying our life (I almost forgot that we did quite a bit of portaging on the Connecticut River too, but as I said, stories for another day…)
Lining up the Cold River

Sunny days on the Connecticut
For a few days we had a group solo (filled with adventures and floating naps), before we then reached the Cold River below Bellows Falls. It was time to leave the Connecticut, and we put on sandals and socks to start lining up the much smaller river, too shallow to paddle. The river itself wasn’t as cold as the name would suggest, but the rain finally caught up with us and gave a new meaning to the word drenched. It was two rainy days of walking up the river, sometimes on the bank, sometimes thigh-deep in the water and sometimes slipping and falling all the way in, before we reached Alstead and left rivers behind. We were in familiar territory, in a car only a few minutes from Kroka, but we patiently portaged two more days before we again set sight upon our home from January, now green and welcoming and full of life. The Kroka Village is coming alive, summer staff is appearing, and our time feels short. But we are still here and our days are still full (of life and work and learning and crafts and adventures and goofy jokes), and there is still some time before you will all see us out in the world.
On the journey home

Last mile of our many portage
Until next time, in not very long,

Mathilde Vikene
Spring Scribe NH-Vermont Semester ‘11

Rafting on Sumner Falls with Randy


  1. Nice! I wish I could take a floating nap!

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