Twenty-six years ago, my late friend Bill Kaiser recruited me to represent the Appalachian Mountain Club in dam relicensing tests on the Rapid and Magalloway Rivers in western Maine. I was one of perhaps a dozen participants from several regional paddling organizations.
The purpose was to navigate the two rivers in canoes or kayaks for three consecutive days at different release levels and provide feedback on the best volumes for whitewater boating. The dam owner provided food, lodging and transportation. The participants’ responsibilities were to paddle the rivers and evaluate the releases.
If this sounds like a sweetheart deal for an avid whitewater paddler, it was. There was a minor catch — although a veteran of many Rapid River excursions, I had never heard of the Magalloway River and had no idea what to expect. When I met with the other river testers, the scuttlebutt was the Magalloway was a very stimulating sector of whitewater that began with a difficult Class V rapid.
After an entertaining low-volume outing on the Rapid on the first morning, we were transported to the Magalloway for the highest of three levels to be tested, 1500 cubic feet per second. When our group arrived at the parking area next to the river, only one participant elected to paddle the Class V section. Everyone else walked to the bottom where a Class III rapid began and watched intently as the solo kayaker completed his run. He had some difficulties tumbling through a couple of nasty holes, but remained in his boat. Several of us believed we saw a better route staying tight right and plummeting over a vertical ledge drop near the bottom. The remainder of the 2.1-mile trip was a succession of easier but exhilarating rapids.
On the following day, the Magalloway test level was 900 cubic feet per second. Again, only the one kayaker challenged the Class V. That release received a high rating from everyone.
On the final day, the release was 1200 cubic feet per second. After a careful scout, several of us ran the difficult rapid. Negotiating down the right worked. We all had successful descents. The downriver rapids offered several exceptional surfing waves. The 1200 cubic feet per second level received glowing reviews from all of the testers. As a result of our group assessment, the 1200 and 900 cubic feet per second levels were selected as the primary releases.
Flash forward to Labor Day weekend 2022, my wife Nancy and I learned several young friends were camping near the Magalloway and paddling the river during a weekend of 1200 cubic feet per second releases. My email trolling for a Sunday invite for two senior citizens received a positive response.
We met a large enthusiastic group at the take out in Wilson Mills. The three paddling families were equipped with rafts, canoes and kayaks. Nancy decided to paddle on a raft and I brought a kayak.
At the put-in, young Mason Galway chose to attempt the Class V section while the remainder of the crew carried down the trail to the Class III launch. Age 16, seemingly overnight Mason has matured into a solid Class IV boater. He scored a perfect 10 nailing the line on the right.
While Mason played in the waves, the rest of us began embarking one boat at a time from the confined launch area. The first Class III is the most complex of the remaining rapids. The gradient is steep and congested with boulders, ledge drops and sticky holes requiring precise maneuvering. Rolling is difficult in the shallow descent. One kayaker had flipped and swam the previous day and everyone was on high alert. We aced the tricky extended assortment of river impediments.
The excitement continued as we progressed downriver. The next couple of rapids were similar to the first but easier. Waves at the bottom provided excellent surfing opportunities.
Rounding a bend, we encountered a Class III rapid called Double Wide. Viewed from above, there is no obvious route through a maze of pour overs and breaking waves. We plunged down a narrow slot on the right, rode the left side of a wave train past a boat flipping hole, and negotiated easier rapids and quick water to the takeout.
After lunch, we did it all over again. Our energetic friends completed yet a third run. We were right 26 years ago — 1200 cubic feet per second is the best.
Several more Maine whitewater adventures are narrated in my book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine.”