On an Allagash River adventure, we took time out at one campsite near the end of the trip, to get a quick lesson on canoe poling. Our guide for the trip, Chip Cochrane from Allagash Canoe Trips, is a canoe poling legend. He has dominated the world of competitive poling for over twenty years according to a past Canoe & Kayak Magazine article. When we received instruction from him, it was like getting a jump shooting lesson from Larry Bird.
Related: Moose madness on the Allagash River
What is canoe poling
Canoe poling is the art of propelling a canoe with a 12 foot aluminum or wooden pole. The poler stands in the back of the canoe and pushes off the bottom of the river. The poler can also use the bottom of the pole as a canoe or kayak paddle if it is too deep; however, the technique is best used on shallow rivers.
Allagash Wilderness Waterway canoe poling
The first part of our Allagash Wilderness Waterway canoe adventure was through a series of lakes. We also paddled through a stretch of class I-II rapids. This was followed by a few more lakes before the river constricted into a shallow river perfect for canoe poling, especially for beginners.
The last campsite of the trip, Chip gave a short instruction on where to stand and how to balance and then got in the canoe and demonstrated some techniques. Besides the regular technique of simply pushing off the bottom, there is also a windmill option where you twirl the pole and rotate the end of the pole that is used to push off the bottom.
Let loose on the Allagash
Each canoe had a pole in the bottom of it, so once the short instruction was over, we were able to give it a try. I have never poled before, but my dad used to do it. Watching him and being in the bow when he poled, I had a good idea of what the technique was all about.
I jumped in and poled upstream. I was surprised how much control and power you could generate. It was really easy poling upstream. Standing up provides a better vantage point to see rocks and read the river. I poled up a few riffles and seamlessly darted from one eddy to another. After just ten minutes, I was hooked.
Of course it is easy to find yourself hooked on anything when you are on a wilderness canoe trip in Maine. As I poled upstream the sun was near setting and created a magical reflection off the water. As soon as I paddled aways from camp all I could hear was the the sound of the rushing water and the sound of my pole bouncing off the rocks.
Poling is ideal for the solo paddler
Poling is perfect for a solo paddler. It is easier to keep up with tandem canoes with the power one generates by poling. Another benefit of poling is you can go upstream faster. If you are paddling by yourself you do not necessarily need a car shift when poling. You can put into a river and pole upstream and then drift back to your car.
I did fall once. I lost my balance and fell forward, but I was able to brace myself by putting the pole horizontally across the gunnels. Note to self, if you do fall, fall forward. Backwards or sideways would not be as graceful. I placed my GoPro at the bottom of the canoe and captured me in action, my fall, and also got some video of the stream.
Look forward to future poling
I definitely need to get a canoe pole now. The Midwest is full of great shallow rivers perfect for canoe poling. I just need to find a place that sells canoe poles.
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