By Matthew LaRoche
Allagash Wilderness Waterway
Ice fishing and snowmobiling on the Allagash Wilderness Waterway (AWW) headwater lakes can be a very enjoyable experience. You should be aware, however, that when traveling on frozen lakes, you could be just one poor decision or miscalculation away from plunging into the icy waters of the Allagash.
Before you venture out onto the ice, especially early in the winter, you should check the thickness of the ice. It doesn’t take very long to chop a hole in the ice with an axe or chisel. I usually chop until I can see at least six inches of good dark ice. Six inches of ice is enough to support 4,000 pounds, according to U.S. Army Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory. I figure that is plenty to support me and my snowmobile. See the chart for ice thickness and strength calculations. Don’t assume that if there is a track on the lake that the ice is safe!
To minimize your risk when traveling on frozen lakes you should check with the rangers or wardens who patrol the area where you plan to take a trip. The AWW usually has a ranger on duty at Chamberlain Bridge. He will know the current ice conditions and give you advice concerning areas that should be avoided.
When riding on large, inter-connected lakes such as Chamberlain and Telos, some hazard areas to avoid are: thoroughfares, inlets, outlets, pressure ridges, and spring holes. Basically, anywhere there is moving water should be avoided because moving water will not freeze as easily as standing water. I have seen the thoroughfare between Round Pond and Telos covered with snow and ice one day and the same area be open water the next day after a warm-up in temperature.
I recommend that you bring some basic safety equipment on your winter excursions on frozen lakes. My emergency equipment includes a throw bag for pulling someone else out of the water and the “picks of life” for pulling myself out of the water. These are nothing more than ice picks with a retractable cover over the sharp end. A couple of good-sized spikes will serve the same propose. I also pack matches in a watertight container, a compass, and small first aid kit.
Even when there is plenty of ice, night travel and snowstorms add to the risk of becoming disoriented. When you put the two together, it can become dangerous even for experienced winter adventurers. One evening, I was invited for supper at Nugent’s Camps on Chamberlain Lake. I accepted the offer and stayed for a visit after the meal. It had started to snow while I was visiting with John and Reggie. I left the camps at about 8 p.m., headed down to the ranger station at the bridge. I had been this route a hundred times and figured I wouldn’t have any trouble making it down the lake. When I got out in the middle of the lake, I couldn’t see any landmarks and became a little disoriented. Luckily, I had my compass and took a westerly bearing until I came to the west side of the lake and followed the shoreline down to the snowmobile trail at the south end of the lake.
One of the most important things you can do for your safety when embarking on any outdoor adventure is — tell someone where you are going and what time you expect to return. This will help rangers and wardens find you when you really need help.
So play it safe, no fish is worth your life. You will be responsible for retrieving your snowmobile if it does fall through the ice. Remember that “the use of automobiles and trucks on ice covered portions of the watercourse is prohibited” in the AWW.
For information on the AWW, go to: www.maine.gov/doc/parks/ or call 207-941-4014, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or write to the Bureau of Parks & Lands, 106 Hogan Road, Bangor, ME 04401.
By Matthew LaRoche