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Lamprey River Source to Sea Paddle & Fundraiser

50 mile scout trip - complete!

On Tuesday May 14th, Peter Sawtell and myself parked our truck at Northwood Meadows State Park in Northwood, New Hampshire, unloaded gear and headed out with the intent of following the Lamprey River all the way to saltwater. This was a 50-mile scout trip and fundraiser to ensure proper planning on an upcoming Lamprey River Source to Sea program that will take 12 kids onto the river for a 5-day program teaching paddling skills, river knowledge and outdoor education.  Peter is with Seven Rivers Paddling out of Newmarket, NH and Rivers for Change is partnering with his business to offer this program. 

Talking with Tim of Newmarket Channel 13

Getting a late start, we made our first portage around 2pm – a 1/2 mile stroll through the woods to find the official source of the Lamprey River, a small pond in the state park.  We quickly found the pond and within ten minutes had made the short paddle across the pond, perhaps the easiest section of paddling for the next three days.

On the far shore, a small stream flowed from the pond, under the trail and into the meadow, full from all the rain in the past couple weeks. Knowing that this was the official source of the Lamprey River, the trip had begun in earnest and once we floated the boats, we were committed.

The next 5.5 miles took every minute of five and a half hours of walking, pushing, pulling and paddling the boats downriver. Not being large enough to actually paddle yet, the goal was simply to follow the flow and explore the upper stretches of this river as it changed from meadow to swamp to pond to creek to river. It was truly exciting but took much effort and positive energy to continue, knowing that eventually the river would increase in volume enough to paddle our way towards sea. 

Floating boats at the source of the Lamprey

Slowly and carefully following the river downstream

Lots of beaver activity to contend with

Miles of walking the upper stretches of river, still just a creek

beautiful surroundings on our walk

By 7:30pm, about twenty minutes before sunset, we reached Freese’s Pond and the first dam on the trip. It’s about six miles downstream from the source and is a fairly large expanse of water considering the river had been so tiny until now. Finding a good camp spot, we setup, ate dinner and settled in for a cold 39 degree night, opting to go without a tent since the seasonal black flys had not shown up yet.

Hitting the river at 7:00am the next morning fueled with strong coffee and granola, day two would hold twelve hours of paddling at a much faster pace. Luckily, volume continued to increase, even below the first dam and sections became easier to negotiate. To our surprise, the Lamprey holds much more whitewater than we had anticipated. Small drops, modest gorges and dozens of riffles awaited our day as we followed the river, reading and running the entire time.

Lamprey flow was great during our three days, 5/14-5/16

Snack breaks, map checks, portages, strainers and social media posts all broke up the day slightly, and before long we were making true mileage while experiencing the transformation of this mighty river from little to big. The most beautiful sections of river were deep in the woods with nothing around but rocks, trees and the feeling of history with the odd piece of metal or human made rock structure. It was cool, to say the least. A number of weeks earlier, we spent a day scouting river crossings in the snow, peeking at rapids, drops and stretches that became familiar while paddling.

One of dozens of strainers we climbed over or under

By nightfall, we covered a respectable thirty three miles of river, feeling every bit of it with bangs, bruises & scratches to our bodies and equipment. Finishing the day at Wadleigh Falls, a dangerous set of falls where a historic dam had broken, we portaged and called it a day, opting to finish out the last 11-12 miles in the early morning. The entire day had been spent analyzing the river to decide what sections were safe enough and interesting enough to paddle during the July Source to Sea Camp with 12 kids from the local area. Feeling good about many sections, we developed a rough plan by nightfall.

Way more fun whitewater than we expected

A significant portion of the Lamprey is federally dedicated Wild & Scenic river

The next morning we had only three stretches of river left to paddle – Wadleigh falls to Wiswall Dam, Wiswall Dam to Packers Falls and Packers Falls to Newmarket, the sight of the last dam on the river and the barrier between freshwater and saltwater. Past that dam lay three miles of the Lamprey River and fourteen more miles of Great Bay and Piscataqua River before flowing into the Atlantic. Before we  reached that location, we still had to portage Wiswall dam and run Packers Falls, the biggest stretch of whitewater on the trip, a section of Class III with a decent drop and a substantial volume of water. 

Peter threading the needle on some small whitewater barely big enough to run

Leading the way, I dropped into the falls with my 16′ 

Esquif

 Avalon, a far cry from a whitewater canoe. I swamped in the first drop but paddled through the rest of the rapid without incident, clearing the water in the eddy below the rapids. Peter steered his 15′ 

P&H

 Delphin straight into the steepest part of the drop, got slightly worked by water but recovered control quickly to make it through the rest of the falls unscathed and hooting. 

After three days of paddling and only 3 miles from our destination, we made it through the crux. After a quick break onshore to change into board shorts and sandals, we cruised the last three miles of flatwater in warm sunshine, feeling good about the trip and the planning. We are definitely ready to guide kids down the river in July and are much better off knowing the route intimately.  

Day One: 6 miles in 6 hours

Day Two: 33 miles in 12 hours

Day Three: 11 miles in 4 hours

To learn more about the Lamprey River Source to Sea Program, visit 

riversforchange.org/lampreyriver

.

To learn more about Seven Rivers Paddling, visit

sevenriverspaddling.com

To make a tax-deductible donation to the program, visit 

grouprev.com/lampreyriver-mattpalmariello