birchbark oldie     Shogomoc: The Haunted Stream

"What's the name of that river, Dad?"

"That's the Shogomoc Stream, son. They call it the roughest river in New Brunswick."

That's surely enough to make a dent in an impressionable young mind. Every time we crossed this rocky river on our trips west on the Trans-Canada Highway after that, I fantasized what it would be like to run it in a canoe. It's too bad Dad didn't tell me it was haunted too.

Biff and I decided to make an overnighter by paddling between the two headwater lakes that Mother's Day weekend not so long ago. There was no deep water anywhere that spring, and Shogomoc Lake was connected to Kilburn Lake by a long deadwater with one portage around the Kilburn Rips. We'd paddle upstream first so that coming back home would be a breeze. Little did we know....

Big Falls of the Shogomoc
Big Falls of the Shogomoc seen from upstream 
 bigfalls (118K)
Downstream view

It was warm and sunny as we started out. There were several boats on the lake, mostly fishermen and motorized pleasure boaters. We met a party coming down the portage trail as we went up, and we took turns shouldering boats as we went our separate ways. The portage was long, and led up a side-hill through a forest dense with dead tree trunks, many four and five feet thick at the base.

The meanders into Kilburn Lake were long and torturous. It seemed that if we stood up in our boat, we could see just over the bog brush where we'd been a half-hour ago, as the stream turned back on itself so it visited every corner of the bog.

Big Falls of the Shogomoc
The Shogomoc tumbles over several high falls and through steep rock gardens as it approaches the Saint John River.

Kilburn Lake was austere ... a rock-filled bog lake with only one possible campsite, exposed on a point. We scrounged up some bracken, made an sorry excuse for a fire, and went to sleep wondering why we were here.

The wind came up in the night. A steady, dry wind from thin cirrus clouds skating across a dark sky. The keening woke us up, and we tossed and turned in our sleeping bags in what could only be called a fitful attempt at sleep.

At dawn, the wind gave us a respite, and we decided to check out the far shore since the water was calm. I wanted to see a moose. No such luck. As we started back, the wind picked up in our faces again ... a merciless wind that would be our nemesis.

The paddle back to the bog was difficult enough, but only a taste of what was yet to come. The wind sharpened into a full gale, and we made it to the portage with a sigh of relief ... here we would find some shelter, we thought.

We were sorely mistaken. As we wrestled our canoe and gear up the hillside and down to the end of the rapids (a 500-yd logjam perched on a rock-pile), the wind bent the tinder-dry stalks over and toppled them with abandon. Our trek was punctuated with sharp cracks and booming thuds as the dry wind pushed the husks over at will all around us.

As we came back with the last of the coolers, a sharp snap sounded directly behind me. I turned at that instant, and saw Biff jump as the edge of a falling four-foot thick tree brushed his back and crashed across the trail directly behind him with awesome impact. We both took to our heels and sprinted the last 100 yards or so to our waiting canoe, no questions asked.

Pic by Daniel Cattoni
The Shogomoc in autumn splendor
The dark rocks of the Shogomoc offset fall's brilliant foliage as the stream approaches its confluence with the Saint John River

That was only our first brush with death. We loaded up our canoe, filled up with water, and set out to cross Shogomoc Lake.

The alders at the entrance to the lake were bent over double as we leaned into our blades. We had told our wives and children we would be home for supper that Mother's Day, and there was no way we could wait out the windstorm without worrying everyone else. Our cars waited for us four kilometres across a wave-tossed, rock-strewn lake, and the wind blew directly in our faces.

The worst of it was the fact that we could not take our hands off our paddles to get a drink, even from the murky lake, or the boat would start to turn sideways and water would pour in. Our path took us through rock gardens, granite slabs who would flip us for certain if the wind should push us against them. This was my wooden boat, and was not fitted with a spray skirt. Our every ounce of energy was focussed on keeping our boat into the wind and making headway. Thirst began to gnaw at us with increasingly sharp teeth.

Our only hope was to use the rocks to get us across. We began slipping behind them and tracking up the calmer water in their wind eddies, ferrying from rock to rock. We finally edged our boat into the lee of the lake's main island, where we could catch our breath, and started to make some headway. It took us over two hours to finally reach the calmer waters of the cove where our car awaited to take us home.

We never went back to the Shogomoc again. Biff is positive the river gods took a run at us that day. I learned that the wind can be a greater risk than many hair-raising rapids I've run since, and I now treat it with respect.

Check out Jason Belyea's kayaking video on the Shogomoc!

Check out Kent Orlando's kayaking video on the Shogomoc and Pokiok rivers!!

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