MAY 1980 'WHITE PARTRIDGE LAKE' OR BUST . . . by Ken Born
First of all, I have to state that the "bust" comment in the heading refers to the possibility of our new-fangled wheels breaking down on the cart trail to White Partridge Lake. Months of design and preparation went into the construction of those wheels and after a final testing on O'Connor Street at 8:00 p.m. on the first Friday in May 1980, the smiles on our faces showed that we were quite pleased with the result. I'm not so sure how our neighbours felt seeing four idiots (2 in canoe and 2 pushing) travelling up and down the street. So pleased we were, that we went about building another set that very same night.
The plan was for my brother Bob and his friend taking one set of wheels into White Partridge a week before our planned trip; thus, the 4 of us would only have to wheel in 1 canoe as the other one would be there already, and brother Bob and his friend would just walk back out to their car with a very light load.
The crew for this trip included Munchkin, McCart, PH, little PH, Kingfisher and, of course, myself. At the very last moment, little PH and Kingfisher decided to join in on the fun.
Munchkin, little PH and I decided to drive up early and secure our permits from the Sand Lake gate for our MIDNIGHT trek to White Partridge Lake. We'd estimated the portage in along the cart-trail road to be in the 12 mile range. With permits secured, off we went to a friend's house for a few brown pops and then to Harvey's for a late snack before meeting up with the rest of the group and heading into the park. Well, you know who (who wasn't driving by the way) decided that the Harvey's in Pembroke was rather boring ... so he went back to the trusty bronco, fetched his guitar, and proceeded to entertain the patrons and staff of aforementioned restaurant. After renditions of The Gambler, Wasn't That a Party, and Johnny B Good, it was time to leave as the others had arrived. We left to a standing ovation!
From the restaurant in Pembroke, it's about a 75 minute drive to the starting point of the "road" into White Partridge. We unloaded all the gear, placed our 17' Grumman canoe on our new set of wheels, put some of the heavy gear inside, and off we went into the darkness of Algonquin. It was 5 minutes passed MIDNIGHT and the trip had started!
The wheels worked perfectly ... for the first 10 yards! Then, Murphy's Law came into play. Soft sand on the road ... and lots of it! This was indeed a problem that wasn't envisioned in our months of planning and building of our set of wheels, which unfortunately were quite small ... as in the wheels you might find on a kid's tricycle. And on top of all this, I didn't see any wheel-prints in the sand from my brother's trip in. We decided to take the heavy packsacks out of the canoe and continue. We tugged and pulled and pushed our set of wheels along this sandy road for a long, long time. We had been paying attention to the mileage signs along the road and had just passed one that read "6" and we were quite elated as we figured we were half way there. When daylight came and I noticed Dusk Lake on my right, I knew we were not half way there and those signs must have been in kilometers, not miles! But how do I tell the group this bad news without them committing mutiny on their captain, namely, me! After all, I was the one responsible for the destination of this trip and I had assured them that it would be a pleasant midnight stroll. I decided to take out my "sambucca" and pass it around. So, there we were, 6 guys lying on the ground moaning and groaning and complaining of every kind of ache and pain imaginable! I passed the "sambucca" around and slowly let it slip from my mouth that the mileage signs were in kilometers, not miles. Well, the look on Kingfisher's face to this day still gives me chills! But in the end, the "sambucca" did the job and we all had a good laugh over what had transpired. But I wasn't too keen on Kingfisher taking a long rope out of his packsack, if you know what I mean!
For the next 5 hours or so, we slowly made our way down the road. Then, without even expecting it, we saw it! A yellow sign to our left that meant we had reached the portage off the road that would take us to White Partridge Lake. Again, we crashed to the ground for a well deserved rest. After a few minutes, voices were heard and brother Bob and his friend were walking along the portage on the way out. I asked him how their set of wheels worked and was quickly informed of where I should stick them. They told us that when they reached the soft sand about 10 yards into their trip, my name was mentioned quite often in conversation. And the reason I didn't see their wheel prints in the sand was because they carried the wheels all the way in because we would need them when it was time for us to leave. And then he told us that they had in fact camped 2 nights along the road on the way into White Partridge! And then to add insult to injury, they told us that they hadn't caught any trout at all. At this moment, everyone was looking at me with hate in their eyes and I knew I had to think of something quick to fend off their hostility. So I did the unthinkable ... I promised the gang that I would do the dishes for the entire week!
We said our goodbyes to brother Bob and his friend and down the portage we hobbled. Wheels at this point were of no use to us (if in fact they ever were) so we left them back at the road hoping that perhaps a large chipmunk might wish to use them for the transporting of nuts and acorns to his hideaway! A short 55 minutes later found us on the shores of White Partridge Lake where brother Bob's canoe was. A short 15 minute paddle found us on our campsite, and a short 2 minutes after that found all of us collapsed on the forest floor of this gorgeous site!
It was great upon arriving, seeing that the site was already in living mode ... tent up, wood stacked beside fireplace, tarps up in the event of rain and rope strung over a large branch for the nightly hoisting of food to prevent Mr. Bear from having a snack!
It was 1:00 in the afternoon and we had been portaging for 13 hours! Obviously, no one was keen on going out fishing so we just lay there on the forest floor and went to sleep!
I was the first to wake up and on checking the time, discovered that it was 6:00 in the evening. I decided to start supper and proceeded to boil a pot of water in which to put the macaroni for our Kraft Dinner meal. Speaking of macaroni, I should point out at this time that we had packed in 28 boxes of Kraft Dinner, 12 dozen wieners, and 11 loaves of bread which was basically our entire food supply. Again, Murphy's Law came into play as we couldn't find the mustard to go along with the wieners and figured we must have left it back in the bronco. No one still was eager to go fishing that night so we just sat around the fire for a bit and eventually hit the tent at about 9:30 p.m. for a well deserved sleep.
I was up and out of the tent early the next morning and started the fire for our coffee. I was not the topic of conversation this morning, but rather it was Kingfisher for his impoliteness in preventing his other 5 camping buddies from getting much sleep last night due to his snoring! It was unanimously agreed that he would be banished to the small island (along with a little pup tent we had brought along) about 25 yards off shore from our site for the duration of the trip.
After breakfast of toast and coffee, we transported Kingfisher to his new home in order for him to put up his tent and get settled in to his new surroundings. Finally, at around 9:00 a.m. it was time to get out on the water to add some trout to our food menu for the week. I had the luxury of having McCart and Kingfisher in my canoe. The other canoe had Munchkin, PH and Little PH. We proceeded to troll the rocky bottom shoreline by our campsite up the lake to the bay where the portage exists that eventually takes you into North Branch Lake. Not even a bite after about 3 hours of trolling back and forth. I had heard from my Pembroke cousins that this lake was an excellent lake for trout and I had conveyed that message to the others, but at this point they weren't convinced, especially after brother Bob being here for a week without catching anything!
We decided to go back to camp for lunch (Kraft Dinner and wieners without mustard) and stock up on our firewood. After I did the dishes, little PH made a $1 bet with each of us that he could swim the 25 yards to the little island and back. Not a hard feat at the best of times, but with the ice just off the lake a week ago, I thought it was a worthy investment of my $1. All the others agreed with me so little PH had a chance to make or lose $5. It's with regret that I must report that I lost my $1 to that despicable lad. I wasn't too happy about this turn of events so I decided I would try to turn my loss into a profit and offered the same bet to the others after little PH assured me it wasn't really that cold! The others took me up on this so I stripped off my clothes (man the air was cold) and I proceeded to dive into the water for the short 25 yard swim. I have watched on TV how fast a cheetah can run, I have read in books how fast a hummingbird's wings beat, and I have seen firsthand how fast drag racers take off from the starting line. But nothing compares to how fast I proceeded to get the hell out of the water after diving in! I paid my debts and made a mental note to never, ever, tip the canoe this time of year!
It was now going on 4:00 in the afternoon so we decided to go back on the lake in search of those elusive trout. A short 3 hours later we were back in camp and the other 5 were again talking about me in not too pleasant terms. Again, to suppress all this hostility, I made supper (Kraft Dinner and wieners with no mustard), did the dishes and transported Kingfisher to his island home. We all went to bed around 10:00 p.m.
Munchkin was the first up this morning to start the fire for coffee. Again, the conversation turned to Kingfisher's snoring keeping us from getting a good nights sleep. Man, this lad could suck the air out of a helium-filled balloon with his snoring. After breakfast of coffee and toast, we were out on the lake again to fish. Everyone was getting tired of eating macaroni, so catching trout was now becoming imperative. Again, after 3 hours of fishing, my canoe had nothing fishy to report but when the other canoe came back to camp, PH had caught a 8 lb. laker on a small speckled rapala that was only about 1 inch in length. Seizing the moment, I demanded that they apologize for all the nasty comments they had made about me and the lack of trout catching we had experienced. PH immediately cleaned his catch and a hearty meal of trout was had by one and all. We devoured that laker. It was so good, that we went out in search of more.
That evening we felt like we were on TV filming some fishing show on a remote lake teeming with trout. We had found Glory Bay! This is the bay that was mentioned before that takes you to the portage into North Branch. By trolling across the start of this bay to the high point of land on the opposite shoreline, we caught laker after laker. Nothing the size of PH's 8 pounder, but all in the 3-5 pound range.
At this point I should point out that back in 1980, the limit for lake trout was 5 per person, and we had 16 on our stringers! Back to camp we went and proceeded to build our own fish pond close to shore in an effort to keep these trout alive. We released the trout into the pond and discovered a few flaws in our design, as a few trout were escaping through a small hole in the rock wall we had just built. We plugged this hole up immediately and managed to still hold 12 lakers in our pond.
Another fine trout dinner that night and the guys were actually congratulating me for organizing such a trout-catching-bonanza of a trip. I reiterated back to them that they hadn't seeing nothing yet about the trout that this lake can produce. With a contented and happy group sitting around the fire, I proceeded to happily do the dishes and transported Kingfisher to his island home as dark was fast approaching.
I was up and out of the tent before daylight. Not because of any snoring by you know who, but because I was freezing! I knew it had been a cold night because the little bit of water that was left in the coffee pot was frozen solid! I started a good fire and proceeded to thaw out all my extremities. I guess Kingfisher could smell the smoke of the fire and pleaded with me to come and get him as he too was freezing. Guess that's why no one was kept awake by his snoring as he never slept a wink!
Eventually, the others joined us by the fire to thaw out. To this date, it was the coldest night I've ever spent in the Park. After breakfast of toast and coffee, we again proceeded out on the lake to fish. Kingfisher and PH decided to stay on shore to try and get some sleep. We decided to give the trout a chance and trolled away from Glory Bay to the place where we portaged in. We came across a few motor boats. The guys in them were fishing and were camped at the "meadow". This is a place on White Partridge Lake where parties come in via horse and wagon. It is indeed a meadow as there is room for about 5-6 parties to camp at the same time. They had commented to us about their lack of trout. In return, we mentioned boastfully that we had had great success for lakers. Little PH and I noticed it at the same time. Some of these guys were smoking cigarettes and we had run out the day before. We were the only 2 smokers in our group and had brought in one pack to share as we were trying to quit. We decided to troll around this area while Munchkin and McCart in the other canoe went elsewhere. I started the bartering process with the smoker in the "meadow" group. Eventually, a deal was made for 2 packs of cigarettes for 5 lakers. After all, we had plenty and knew where we could catch many more! We went back for the 5 lakers and the exchange was made.
To this day (unless the others read this) they have no knowledge of this at all. Little PH just informed them that he had packed in another 2 packs as he didn't think he could quit! The lack of trout in our pond was explained by high wave activity that must have allowed them to swim out.
We trolled all morning and except for a puny laker under a pound, which we released, we had nothing to report in the fish department. We noticed the other canoe had gone back to camp so we proceeded to head back ourselves. Munchkin and McCart hadn't caught anything. Trout, Kraft Dinner and wieners with no mustard for lunch and back to Glory Bay for an evening of fishing. Glory Bay wasn't glorious that night as we fished till dark without catching anything.
The plan for the next day was to try and catch some specks and a side trip to North Branch Lake was scheduled. I went to bed that night with every bit of clothing on that I'd brought along, including my rain gear! Kingfisher crawled into a big garbage bag inside his sleeping bag in search of added warmth.
I awoke to a bright, sunny morning at about 6:00 a.m. I must have slept good as I don't remember any snoring and I was toasty warm all night. I proceeded to start the fire for our usual breakfast of toast and coffee. While the water was boiling, I retrieved Kingfisher from his island lair to join us.
A short 485m portage to May Lake (steep climb) followed by a 1135m portage to North Branch (flat) found us fishing for specks just before noon. That day, we did manage to catch 4 specks all weighing about a pound. This is a very beautiful little lake with a lot of bays on it and we rejoiced in the warmth of the sun that was shining down on us. Nothing else worthy to report on this side trip so we started the trek back to camp with the knowledge that a return trip to this picturesque lake must be made in the years ahead. We did, in fact, camp on this lake on a return trip to White Partridge (via horse and wagon) and the speckled trout fishing was fantastic. The majority of the specks were less than 1 lb. but the quantity more than made up for the lack of weight.
Left to right: Little PH, McCart, Ken, PH and Munchkin (seated).
Speckled trout, Kraft Dinner and wieners without mustard for supper. McCart must be having a real good time as he even offered to do the dishes for me which I accepted graciously! Only 2 more days left in our trip and with 1 day already booked for our trip out, we were left with only one more day of fishing. We decided that we'd fish the very far end of White Partridge. At the very least, we'd be covering new territory and seeing new scenery, even if the trout didn't cooperate.
We awoke to a sunny but very windy morning. The plan to see the end of the lake was jeopardized by the size of the waves that were rolling past our campsite. For safety reasons, we decided to stay on shore and bobber-fish for specks. The sun was really warm that morning and I dozed off for a bit. I was awakened by someone yelling that I had a fish on, as my bobber had disappeared. I jumped to my feet and ran to my fishing rod and gave a mighty yank and I had it hooked good. It didn't fight very much and McCart had the net ready as I brought it to shore. It weighed exactly one pound! I know that for sure as the guys had tied a pound of wieners to my line while I was napping! Real funny guys! I had caught my first "dog fish"!
It was now early afternoon and the waves were settling down to the point where we felt they were manageable. I was lying on the flat rocks that graced the shoreline of our campsite devouring the sun rays that were shining down upon me. Suddenly, the air was pierced with what sounded like someone yelling. I looked at McCart and he thought he heard something as well. It was coming from the opposite side of the lake and someone was in trouble.
Immediately, McCart and I jumped into our canoe and were joined by Munchkin and little PH in their canoe. I'm convinced that we set a speed record for paddling across the width of the lake as this point! Half way across, we could see that someone was in the water and someone in their canoe was yelling and waving frantically at us. They weren't too far from shore and why he didn't swim to it to this day I don't know. We paddled furiously and my mind was racing trying to figure out what to do once we got there. McCart and I were the first to reach the other side of the lake. It was still choppy! We paddled close to the one in the water and immediately he tried to pull himself into the canoe, almost capsizing us in the process. We paddled a short distance away and I starting talking to him saying that we would be of no help if we all ended up in the water. There was no response! Again, I said that if he upset our canoe we would be of no help to him. Again, there was no response! Finally, I said sternly that if he tried to climb into our canoe that I would hit him over the head with my paddle! This got the message across as he said OK he wouldn't try that again.
Now, Munchkin and little PH had arrived! They had brought along a rope and threw it to the young lad in the water and tried to pull him to shore. They weren't having much success so McCart and I again paddled close to the lad in the water and I grabbed on to his life jacket and with McCart paddling in the front and Munchkin and little PH paddling and trying to pull him to shore by the rope, we eventually made it! I immediately started a fire to warm the lad up. He stated that he was in the water about 5 minutes before we arrived and was part of the group that was camped at the meadow. I guess no one in his group could hear his yells for help over their outboard motors.
All the action and activity that was happening on the lake was finally noticed by a passing motorboat and they dropped in and transported the two young lads back to the meadow. I felt that I had just paid my dues back to society as at approximately the same time the previous year on Rock Lake, I was pulled from the frigid water semi-conscious, eventually waking up in the cottage of the four people who had pulled my brother Randy, friend Rob and myself out!
We paddled back to camp and decided to go fishing. We managed to catch a few small lakers that night that were all released as we still had more than enough back at camp. That evening around the fire, the topic of conversation turned to the depressing thought that we had to leave the next morning! Not to mention the 12 mile hike out with two canoes now, instead of only the one we'd brought in. It was a gorgeous evening and I sat for hours on the flat rocks down by the shore and watched the moon and the stars, and listened to the cry of the loon that was bidding me his goodbye. With tears running down my cheeks and a lump in my throat, I said my goodbye back to Mr. Loon and started the long, lonely and mournful walk back to the tent for my last night's sleep in this magnificent park for this trip.
I awoke as the sun was coming up over the hills. I was in no hurry to get out of the tent this morning. Eventually, I got up and started the fire and was quickly joined by the others. The usual dismantling of the campsite took place. With all the gear loaded in our canoes, we started the journey across the lake to begin the trek out.
Our two sets of wheels were still waiting for us at the end of the portage at the "road". You can't even depend on the chipmunks these days to carry off of these despicable things! The trip out was easier than the one in, as it was basically downhill all the way. We must have been in trail shape as we made it back to the cars in only seven hours. When we started to put the gear into our vehicles, I noticed that our plastic minnow pail, which we'd never even used, seemed heavy. And what did I find upon looking inside? If you guessed mustard, you are absolutely correct!