Spring came late that year and the topic of conversation down at the bowling lanes was whether our trip to Burntroot was in jeopardy because of the ice conditions. Our original plan was to start at Cedar Lake and portage into Catfish Lake and onwards to Perley and eventually Burntroot. However, numerous phone calls to the Park indicated that this was not possible due to the lakes up in that region still being ice covered.
At the end of bowling, a quick meeting was held over a few brown pops at Carleton Tavern and a decision reached that Munchkin and Yvon would fly over the Park (both are pilots) this coming weekend and see for themselves whether or not we could reach Burntroot.
Upon their return, Munchkin's big smile told us that they had found a way. We would start at the Tim River and take it all the way down to Shippagew Lake and eventually end up at Burntroot. Munchkin indicated that this route was entirely ice free, except for the upper half of Burntroot and parts of Longer Lake. So at the very least, we could make it as far as Shippagew, camp there, and wait for the ice to go out on Longer.
So, with that advanced knowledge, it was time to pack and get ready for another spring trip into our beloved Algonquin Park.
We left Ottawa around 5:00 a.m. and started the long drive to Access Point #2. Our customary stop at Tim Horton's for coffee and donuts was done and then after a 4-hour drive we secured our permits, and found ourselves on the road to Access Point #2 with a stretch of about 50 yards of mud lying in front of us!
We knew we were close enough to our starting point that we could portage from here if we had to, but Munchkin would have none of that. He suggested that the three of us (Dave, PH and me) get out of the bronco to lighten the load and he would take a run at it. Munchkin backed the bronco up a few yards and with the words of 'Tally Ho', put the pedal to the metal and attempted the pass. With mud flying everywhere and the bronco at times going sideways and almost wiping out some trees at the side of the road, not to mention writing off the bronco and us walking home, he made the pass safely. High fives all around and a truck wash promised to his beloved bronco.
About 5 minutes after all of this excitement, we found ourselves at the access point and this is one of the most exciting moments of the entire trip. After months and months of planning, a long winter and a late spring, ice conditions not being great, we had arrived and the trip was about to begin.
We unloaded the two mud spattered Grummans from the top of the bronco and in short order had them in the waters of the Tim and all our gear placed inside. Tradition states at this point that a speech be made by the holder of our coveted World's Greatest Fisherman pin which goes each year to the person who accumulates the most points from the previous year's trip. Points are awarded for each trout caught and bonus points as to their size. The rules have been revised many times as a certain member of the party (me) would fish from shore at all hours of the day when others were still sleeping. Thus, a revision this year was made that all trout caught had to be caught from the canoe. My mind was now working overtime and I wondered if the committee would approve of me catching trout from shore while standing in the canoe. I, being holder of the pin, made a gracious speech and wished everyone a 20 pound plus laker, a 4 pound plus speck, and a safe trip.
The start of the trip is about a mile paddle down the Tim River until it reaches Tim Lake. A short paddle across this lake takes you to the Tim River again, a small portage, and then a long paddle to Rosebary Lake. At the end of this lake, you portage around a dam and put back into the Tim River once again.
I should mention at this point that having never done this trip before and with nowhere to turn to get information like you can today from the internet, we figured we could make Burntroot Lake in one day. But more on that later.
We had now completed the small portage around the dam and were now on the longest section of the Tim River that ends at Shippagew Lake. And not a speck of ice had been seen so far. We had been making real good time and thoughts now turned to an evening of fishing on Burntroot Lake where we had heard that the lakers were huge and the specks very plentiful. That evening of fishing didn't take long to evaporate when we discovered just how windy the Tim River is at this point.
Now one would think that going with the current would be ideal, but with all the sharp turns in the river, we found ourselves bouncing off the shorelines as we were unable to complete the turn. This game of canoe pinball continued on the rest of the day and with about only 3 hours of daylight left, we found ourselves at the 430m portage which is approximately the half way point of our trip. And to make matters worse and more depressing, it was starting to rain, and then the rain turned into a drenching downpour!
We decided to camp here for the night! No one was interested in fishing as the plan was to fish Burntroot Lake that night, and the Tim River was not a favorite topic of ours at this time. We set up camp in the rain. This is really a treat if you have never experienced it. Somehow we managed to erect the tent in the downpour, erect a temporary tarp tied between some trees as a roof shelter, and cooked our dinner.
We made a toast to Kingfisher who was getting married that day, and then retired to our damp tent for a well deserved sleep!
As per usual, I was the first out of the tent that morning and started the fire and boiled a pot of water for our coffee. The rain had ceased and although the skies were still cloudy, one could see bright sky in the distance and it looked like it was going to be a sunny day. This cheerful news brought the others out of the tent to the fire. The conversation around the fire that morning over coffee was what the hell tripped over our tent guy ropes during the night. For a moment, we thought the tent was coming down as it really buckled. An inspection around camp indicated that it was probably a moose. At least we were hoping it was a moose as I would hate to have a chipmunk that size in camp!
We broke camp after a good breakfast and started to do the 430m portage. It's a somewhat hilly portage and on our return for the canoes, Dave and Munchkin decided that after inspecting the rapids, that they could shoot them. I was instructed to get my camera out and walk to the end of the portage and get a picture of them coming around the last bend. I was in position and I managed to get a good picture of Munchkin coming hooting and hollering around the last bend. I waited another 5 minutes and managed to get another great picture .. not of Dave, but rather his paddle floating around the bend. Apparently, Dave had a mishap along the way and was struck in the chest by an overhanging limb that tossed him into the river. And with no paddle to continue his trip, managed to climb back up the hill to the portage and carry the canoe the rest of the way.
After Dave changed into some dry(er) clothes (remember the previous day's downpour), we were on our way once again. Nothing further to report of the exciting nature except the Tim seemed to be getting windier if that was possible. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally managed to reach Shippagew Lake and a toast was made to the windiest river in the Park and a vow to not go back this way if indeed another route could be found. And there was still no ice to report.
We did the mile plus portage into Longer Lake and still couldn't see any ice. Excitement was beginning to mount again as we were close to our evening of fishing on Burntroot Lake that should have happened yesterday. We went back for the second load and down Longer Lake we paddled. We didn't have to paddle long before encountering ice around the first bend. Luckily, the ice was not thick at all and we had no trouble paddling through it. We shot the two small rapids at the end of Longer Lake and with no more portages in front of us, we paddled hard to get to our campsite that we had planned to camp on. As it turned out, upon reaching Burntroot Lake where it really opens up, our campsite was on the upper half of Burntroot and this part of the lake was still frozen. The lower half was open and we found a great site on the right hand shore that was really spacious and could easily house a small army contingent.
I was shocked to see a knife in the ground where we wished to erect our tent. This knife was about 8 inches long with a bear head on the handle. There was no rust on it and seeing that no one could get here from the upper end of Burntroot that was still frozen, and no other marks in the snow that still existed on some of the portages the way we came in, this was a mystery to all of us. And then Dave calling us to the outhouse and showing us a ripped up sleeping bag and clothes, well it was all a bit wierd.
Camp was set up in good order and we were out on the lake for an evening of fishing. The trout stories that we had heard of this lake didn't come to fruition that night as after three hours we hadn't even had a bite. Finally, we gave up at dark and went in to sit around the campfire and warm up before retiring for the night. The others retired early but I wasn't that tired so I took a stroll down to the lake and sat on the flat rocks and looked towards the heavens. It was a cold but clear night and the sky was full of stars. I managed to see a few satellites that night and a couple of falling stars. What a great introduction to the majestic waters of Burntroot. I thought of my dad and how he would have loved to fish this lake if he was still alive, and seen the satellites and falling stars that I saw while listening to the cry of the loon! I can't believe it can get any better than this. I was getting numb from the cold so I too retired to the tent with the expectations of great fishing the next day.
I was up at daylight and had a good fire going and a pot of water boiling before the others showed their smiley faces. The topic of conversation this morning was who the hell was throwing rocks into the lake in the wee hours of the morning. Of course, some fingers pointed to me but I was protesting my innocence and Dave backed me up as the splashes woke him up once and I was still in the tent sound asleep.
A quick breakfast was had, a lunch packed, and we were out on the lake for another day of fishing before 8:00 a.m. The upper half was still frozen so we decided to paddle down to Redpine Bay to see if the fishing was any better down there. We trolled from camp through the narrows and all the way to the portage that takes you into Lake LaMuir without any action on the end of our rods. We went to shore for a lunch break of chicken noodle soup, pepperoni and crackers and it sure hit the spot. After a short lunch break, we were back on the water for more abuse and trolled and trolled without any success. Never mind a 20 pound plus laker; I would've loved to start with anything of the trout variety on the end of my line.
It was now going on 6:00 p.m. so we decided to head back to camp as it was getting quite chilly, and very windy, sitting in the canoes fishing. It was quite unnerving, to say the least, that the knife that was in the ground on our arrival and which Dave placed into the bark of a dead tree-stump in camp was missing! This combined with the rock throwing into Burntroot Lake the night before sure made for one uneasy group of fishermen. We made a nice fire, had a spaghetti dinner, and retired to the tent for the warmth of our sleeping bags as it was getting colder and windier by the minute. I had a hard time getting to sleep that night as I was listening for anything out of the ordinary. Sure enough, the rock throwing into Burntroot Lake started again and I went out to investigate, with hatchet and fishing knife in hand, but didn't see anything. I eventually went back to the tent and somehow managed to fall asleep.
I awoke before the sun came up the next morning and boy was it chilly. I'm sure the temperature had dropped below zero that night and ice in our tea billy proved this point. While boiling a pot of water over a nice fire I had started for warmth, the mystery of the rock throwing was solved as I saw a beaver frolicking near our campsite and slapping his tail which sounded identical to the sounds in the wee hours of the morning of the previous nights. By now, the others had joined me around the fire and I told them I solved the mystery of those sounds at night and pointed out to them the beaver that was still having a good time playing near our campsite. So, the rock throwing had been solved, but what about the knife?
PH was the first to notice that the upper end of Burntroot was now clear of ice and immediately a plan was hatched to explore and fish that part of the lake after breakfast. We had a quick breakfast of toast, honey and porridge and were out on the lake for more fishing by 9:00 a.m. We trolled up Burntroot and passed the site that was our intended destination which didn't even remotely compare to the great site we were already camped on. Going around the point of this campsite, I felt a tug on my rod, gave a pull, and believe it or not, I had something that was fighting on the other end. It didn't appear to be big, but it was a fish and was more action than I had had the previous two days. A short while later, Dave netted this small laker which went about 1-2 lbs. It wasn't hooked badly so I released it back to the waters from which it came hoping that the fish Gods would grant me something really big for this act of kindness on my part. Sure enough, not five minutes later, I had this tug on my rod again and I had hooked into something that seemed really big. I was praying for a huge speck and a few minutes later, I was into the Big Speck Club as this beauty went 4 lbs. on our scales. To this point, this was the biggest speck that I had ever caught anywhere. I have since caught specks over 5 lbs. in Algonquin Park.
We trolled all the way to the portage that goes into Robinson Lake and by now the fishing was getting good as everyone had caught at least one laker, nothing big, but no other specks. We let all the lakers go and upon our return to camp, had our first speckled trout dinner, served with rice, onions, frozen corn and lemon juice. And boy was it tasty! After supper, it started to rain again so we scurried around getting all the gear under tarps and retired to the tent for some euchre playing. It started to rain harder so we decided to forego our evening of fishing, and continue playing cards. Just before dark, the rain stopped and we all went out and sat around the fire for a spell. For some reason, I looked towards the tree-stump and the freaking knife was back in it once again. I pointed this out to the guys and we knew it wasn't there when we had our trout dinner. Somehow, during our euchre playing in the tent it had appeared once again. This was now really beginning to spook us and plans were made to leave this site in the morning and backtrack to Big Trout and camp there. That is, if we were still alive come morning! None of us got much sleep that night for on 3 occasions we thought we heard footsteps and voices on our campsite outside our tent. On all 3 occasions we went out to investigate and found nothing. I don't know what the plan was if, in fact, we did find someone so I am really glad we didn't! Finally after what seemed like an eternity, dawn came!
Up and out of the tent at dawn and immediately started preparing to leave. The sooner we got away from this site, the sooner we could all relax once again and enjoy the trip. We decided to forego breakfast until our arrival at Big Trout and we had the camp disassembled and loaded into the canoes in short order. I took the knife from the stump and placed it back into the ground where it was on our arrival. Perhaps we had disturbed some kind of ritual or something so I wasn't taking any chances. I have since camped on that site again with nothing unusual to report and I have never seen that knife since! And I don't care to either!
It was only about a 4 hour trip to Big Trout and we set camp on the site that I camped on when I took my very first trip into the interior of Algonquin way back in 1966. This site was sure relaxing compared to what we just left. While I started a fire and boiled some water for coffee, the others erected the tent and got the site into living conditions. After various chores had been done, it was time to test the waters of Big Trout. It wasn't long before this lake lived up to its name. In short order, Dave, Randy and PH had each managed to catch a 5 lb. plus laker, whereas I was only able to catch a small one. Our group prefers specks to lakers for dinner so all were released in the hope of catching some specks. Our dinner that night consisted of Kraft Dinner so our hopes didn't pay off.
The topic of conversation around the fire that night centered on how we were going to return to our vehicle. No one was too keen on canoeing back up the Tim so the map was fetched in order to see if we could find an alternate route. The best we could come up with was Big Trout to MacIntosh to Misty to Daisy to Magnetewan and then a long, long walk back to the bronco. It was unanimous that this then would be our return route. Munchkin, who by the way competes in marathons, even agreed to run back to the bronco as this would be a good training session for him. There were no arguments from the rest of us!
It was now starting to get dark and the guys retired to the tent early. I spent a couple of hours down on the flat rocks by the shore reminiscing about my previous trips to this site (see my 1966 trip log), while listening to the wind and the cry of the loons way off in the distance somewhere. All of a sudden, the wind died down and the cry of the loons disappeared. The silence was very eerie, yet comforting. I listened for quite a spell for any kind of noise, but heard nothing! Finally, the silence was shattered by what sounded like a tree falling into the water on the far shore, the wind picked up again, and the sounds of the loons could again be heard in the distance. I decided it was time for the tent. On our way out the next day, I canoed by where I believed the tree had fallen the night before but found nothing of the sort on the entire shoreline.
This was the end of our trip and the dreaded moving day. I always hate this day when you have to break camp knowing that all the months of planning had now come to an end. I keep dreaming that after my time on earth comes to an end, that I am somehow transported to another Algonquin Park where I can camp and fish forever!
And then as if on cue, it started to pour! Now setting up camp in the rain is one thing, but breaking camp in a downpour is another. We tried to wait it out, but it seemed the longer we waited, the heavier it rained. Finally we succumbed to the thought that it was going to be a rainy day out, got out of the tents, proceeded to get totally drenched, and started breaking camp. We did have rain gear, but it wasn't that great and really didn't protect us from the onslaught of this downpour.
We loaded all the gear into the canoes and set out across Big Trout to Little Trout (now called White Lake). We canoed down Little Trout and found MacIntosh creek that would take us to MacIntosh Lake. There were only two portages to do on this creek and both were done quite easily. Upon reaching MacIntosh Lake, we had a choice of a long portage over some land and a short paddle to Misty Lake, or a longer paddle and a short portage to reach Misty Lake. We couldn't agree on which route was the best so Dave and I opted for the shorter portage one, while Munchkin and PH took the longer portage one. We met up on Misty Lake and PH was giving Munchkin a tongue lashing for not opting for the route that we took. Apparently, their long portage involved lots and lots of fallen trees on the trail, coupled with a steep climb.
It was at the end of Misty Lake that our only map had succumbed to the conditions we were experiencing and all future portage distances were now a mystery as they were unreadable on the map! We did the portage from Misty to Little Misty and then canoed for a good time before arriving at Daisy Lake. It was now raining harder than ever and we had been traveling almost 8 hours in pouring rain. And what had we had for breakfast that morning? Well, if you remember it was pouring rain when we awoke so Munchkin fed us bacon and eggs! He told us that the brown smarties were bacon and the yellow ones were eggs!
It was on Daisy Lake that we almost decided to stop and camp as we were all quite chilly. However, we realized that our tent, sleeping bags, and clothes would be rather damp so we decided to just keep on moving. We canoed a long way down Daisy and then did the small portage into Hambone. By now it was dark! And we still had to find the portage into Magnetawan Lake. This was eventually accomplished after a series of passes down the shoreline where we believed the portage was.
We carried our gear and canoes to the parking lot and were looking for a spot to put up the tent to wait for Munchkin's return after his "training jog" to retrieve his bronco. Luck was on our side that night as there was a camper trailer with lights still on in the parking lot. We made our way to the trailer and introduced ourselves to a Mr. Thomas and his three daughters. They were planning on leaving earlier that evening but because of the pouring rain, opted to stay the night. And boy were we glad they did! We told Mr. Thomas of our predicament and he graciously offered us a drive to the bronco. He refused to take any money for his kind gesture, but we managed to convince him to take $20. Hell, I would have paid $1,000 for that drive that night! Upon listening to the radio the next morning, we heard the sad news that 3 guys had upset their canoe on Manitou Lake and two had died from hypothermia before the one guy who went to get help returned.
We thanked Mr. Thomas for his hot chocolate and toast he offered to us, as well as the drive back to our vehicle. And to this day we are still exchanging Christmas cards!
We loaded all the gear in the bronco and started our journey home. We had to stop quite often to tighten down the canoe straps as we didn't seem to have the strength to do it properly the first time. We sure had a story to tell to our kids, friends and grandkids!
I was quite anxious on my return to Ottawa to get my film developed to show everyone the knife, ripped sleeping bag and clothes, and the pictures of the fish we had caught. After all, who would believe this story without pictures? I took my film in to a photo lab and returned in two days to retrieve them. The lab technician informed me that none of the pictures on the film could be developed as they were all "black". I was speechless for one of the few times in my life! Now perhaps this had to do with the bad weather, or even the cold nights. But just perhaps it may have had something to do with the knife in the ground! It's your call! But I must add here that other weird stuff that I can't explain has happened to me on other trips in the Park. But they are "trip- logs" for another time!