A tandem canoe team navigates difficult Little Holmes Falls during a paddling trip on the Machias River. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

Ken Gordon and I awoke to a remarkably beautiful spring day at our campsite next to Little Falls on the Machias River. It was the second day of our river trip and we were sharing the scenic site with six canoeists we met the previous day.

Anticipating an exciting paddle on upcoming Wigwam Rapids, our young newfound friends were excited to get started. Ken and I were moving at a much slower senior citizen pace. We were still eating breakfast when they departed. One paddler called back announcing they’d see us somewhere in the Wigwams.

When we broke camp, the temperature was about 70 degrees and a handful of dreaded blackflies were pestering us. Paddling expedition kayaks, we began the five-mile flatwater sector to the First Wigwam with the hope that predicted strong winds would alleviate the blackfly menace.

First on our agenda was an exploration of Ingley Cove, located on the left about two miles downriver from Little Falls. The Maine Atlas and Gazetteer indicates there is a campsite there. In my 45 years paddling the Machias, I’d never seen it. Hidden away deep in the cove, we found a clearing with a fire ring that would accommodate a small group.

Canoeists prepare to leave Smith Landing on the Machias River. (Courtesy of Ron Chase) Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

Shortly after passing Mopang Stream on the right, we arrived at the beginning of a two-mile stretch of challenging whitewater called Wigwam Rapids. The Wigwams consist of four distinct rapids separated by pools or quick water.

The protracted first Wigwam began with a steep pitch replete with large waves and unappealing pour overs. After scouting, we successfully navigated left before proceeding through the rollicking runout. Quick water and easy rapids followed to Second Wigwam which entailed cautious maneuvering around two ledge drops.

Entering a pool immediately downriver, the tops of breaking waves could be seen just over the horizon line. Third Wigwam was next. Our canoeing friends were investigating the falls from the right bank. We eddied out on the left at the beginning of the portage trail to scout.

Following careful investigation, we plunged down the left side and over a pitch at the bottom while avoiding boulders and a powerful hole. Our canoeing friends successfully followed. The exhilarating visit with the Wigwams ended with a Class II descent through large waves in Fourth Wigwam.

A canoe team avoids boulders on Little Holmes Falls. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

Four miles of flatwater brought us to Holmes Falls where we cautiously disembarked in a micro eddy immediately above the treacherous cataract. The demanding portage was only partially completed, since we elected to camp high on a bank overlooking the falls. The canoeists soon joined us. A gusty northwest wind minimized blackfly problems.

We were the beneficiaries of more glorious weather for our final day on the river. Replicating the previous day, the canoeists were up early and off on their next adventure while Ken and I lingered. We encountered them a half-mile downriver at a small island above Little Holmes Falls. We stopped there to visit a stone monument erected in memory of Obadiah Hill, an early Machias River pioneer. The island is an excellent location to inspect the entrance to the falls.

Little Holmes Falls is a complex rapid that flows on both sides of a rockbound islet. The left side is more difficult and cannot be readily scouted. The right offers a narrow, twisting, technical route but is easily scrutinized from the right shore. One canoe team went left and filled up but stayed afloat. Another literally rock-hopped down the right side.

Paddlers visit a stone monument in memory of Machias River pioneer Obadiah Hill. Credit: Courtesy of Ron Chase

After carefully studying the right channel and setting up safety, Ken and I enjoyed stimulating descents. The final canoe team followed our line.

Under normal circumstances, the last thing paddlers want to endure is a headwind. However, we welcomed a strong breeze out of the southeast as it kept us black fly-free on the remaining nine-mile paddle to Smith Landing, our final destination.

We parted company with our new paddling friends at the landing. They had another three miles of canoeing to their next campsite at the bottom of Great Falls. We didn’t envy them. A major storm was forecast to arrive during the night. The intrepid group would be paddling 12 miles in a driving rain the next day. Ken and I were content with three wonderful days on a remarkable river.

Ron Chase resides in Topsham. His latest book, “Maine Al Fresco: The Fifty Finest Outdoor Adventures in Maine” is now available at northcountrypress.com/maine-al-fresco.html. His previous books are...