New Jersey Mom becomes the first woman to through-paddle the Northern Forest Canoe Trail

Photos: Alain Ouellette and NFCT

Cathy Mumford wasn’t aware of the double precedent she could set when she loaded up her kayak and set off to paddle the 740-mile Northern Forest Canoe Trail alone this summer. Mumford, a Colts Neck, NJ-based graphic designer and mother of two, did the journey both to celebrate her 50th birthday and to “clear my mind and do something that made me feel good.”

Before she launched her 9.5-foot Perception kayak in upstate New York’s Fulton Chain of Lakes in mid-June, Mumford, who’s been paddling for five years, had only car-camped and done daylong trips. When she finished her Northern Forest expedition in Fort Kent, Maine, on the St. John River last Monday, she’d fallen in love with wilderness tripping. She also became the first woman to through-paddle the NFCT solo-in a rec boat, no less.

Mumford paddled in four-foot swells and ran rapids up to Class II on her trip, which crossed the states of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, and the Canadian province of Quebec on the volunteer-maintained NFCT. She says the biggest challenges were the portages, which in her case involved emptying her kayak and making three trips over muddy, ankle-twisting trails. The infamous 1.8-mile-long “Mud Pond Carry”, the portage leading to Maine’s Wild and Scenic Allagash River, took Mumford seven hours to complete. But even on the toughest days, Mumford says “the incredible beauty and solitude” made her forget the sweat, pain and toil of shouldering her boat and gear. “Even after a bad day, I would sit down and watch the sunset and found I couldn’t possibly be sad.”

All told, fewer than 30 paddlers have completed the full length of the NFCT in a single trip, since the water trail was completed in 2006. For Mumford, her precedent-setting trip on the NFCT is only the beginning. She hopes to share the “empowering challenge” of wilderness tripping with young women, and write about her experiences. “I know I’m going to be taking more trips like this,” she says. – Conor Mihell