Rockin' and Rollin' At Rock Lake

An early weekend in May saw us venturing down Rock Lake in Algonquin Park for a short weekend escape from the city and our busy lives. No bugs, the possibility of warm Spring sunshine, and no crowds make Spring and late Fall the perfect time to visit Algonquin. The ice had been out a couple of weeks and the water level was high from the spring melt.

Saturday sees us paddling south on the lake into a gusty wind that is blowing over our right shoulders from the west. Rock Lake is one of the few Algonquin lakes that still has cottages on it and motor boats with limited horse power are allowed. At the put-in there are a number of cars and an unfortunate display of garbage, evidence of the Opseu strike and some people's predilection to leave constant evidence of their passing.  However, out into the lake we go and we see few people. The water is definitely chilly and so is that west wind gusting across Kicking Frog's bow. No loons or other water fowl yet but we hope there are fish. When we renewed our licenses on the way north, we were guaranteed fish! (as long as we committed 200 hours to their pursuit!)

We paddle patiently down the lake, checking out all the potential campsites. A surprising number are occupied, accounting for all the cars in the parking lot. We are looking for that perfect site, out of the wind and in the sunshine, with a good view of the sunset. Our usual spot is taken, but we know from past trips that it is windy. (We remember the blizzard on Thanksgiving weekend.) Down the lake fifteen minutes takes us to a great campsite, semi-sheltered behind a rock spit. A flat spot for the tent, lots of sloping beautiful rocks down into the water and a perfect firepit with little garbage and some seats to watch the sunset and the flames of the dieing fire. (We will collect some garbage, left over from the winter snows, and are happy to pack it out on the next day. Our goal is to always leave every campsite in Algonquin a little cleaner, especially from the omnipresent tinfoil.)

David and I settle in, pitching our tent, enjoying dinner: soup, stroganoff, cookies and a mug of wine, and getting our fire started,  but then it is time to try fishing! After all we have 200 hours ahead of us to catch our fish- we had better get started. A few casts, and sure enough I get snagged, and not on a giant fish either. To make my pride feel a little better, David does the same thing. Both lures are now stuck on the rocks off shore and under water.

 I stay on shore and David hops in Kicking Frog as I watch. He has his rod in one hand and a paddle in another and out into the growing dusk he goes. The canoe is empty and he sits on the rear seat. And you must remember, that Kicking Frog is a beautiful responsive boat with no keel and we always kneel when we paddle her. I watch as David makes his way along the shore to where his lure is waiting. 10 feet from a rocky, slippery shoreline, he places his paddle in the bottom of the boat and points his fishing rod towards the sunken, stuck lure. The boat edges closer and David leans over. He not only leans over, he falls over- rocking and rolling in slow motion into Rock Lake two weeks after the ice has melted and headfirst he goes. He later describes the slow motion feeling of the icy cold water surrounding his head and then slowly flooding down his shocked body to his boots where the water pours in. I watch from shore, knowing I cannot easily get to him through the brush and over the rocks. I incoherently yell at him. He is not near shore. Later he says, his main concern was for the fishing rod and he valiantly doesn't let go. He struggles over his head towards the shore but meanwhile Kicking Frog starts to slip away. He eventually touches bottom but has to venture out again to rescue our precious boat. Boat and chagrined and shivering fisherman both make it to shore and David struggles in and paddles sheepishly and frozen to our adjacent campsite. We pull the boat ashore and David starts to shiver uncontrollably. Yikes! Hypothermia- that magic, scary word! Quickly we strip off his clothes and waterlogged boots. Luckily our fire is crackling away behind our windbreak and a dry shirt and a pair of tevas are at hand. His in-between parts are covered with my vest (but remember, David calls me "the little one!") However, a seat by the fire and some hot chocolate help to warm him and then we are soon in our down sleeping bags, leaving the soggy clothes to dry over the dieing fire. As we drift off to sleep, David's feet gradually thaw. And in the dark we hear the inimitable sound of our first loon of the year. A loon might think it is a mating call but I know it is a laugh!)

In reflection, we can laugh but we know how serious a situation this was. What saved David was the fact that he was close to shore, there was no wind, we had a fire started, and dry clothes and hot chocolate were at hand. We sometimes take safety in the wilderness for granted but there can be no carelessness with a wobbly canoe and cold water. We learned a lesson on this early May weekend. The next morning we paddle back to our car. The lake is benignly beautiful, we watch a pair of osprey fly over the water, and the sun is warm and just before we reach the put-out we see a solitary loon- large and beautiful. But is there a smile on his face?

The adventure unfolds:

kf2_rock.jpg (60776 bytes)             fire1.jpg (37898 bytes)                boots.jpg (96631 bytes)                    dave_fire.jpg (38362 bytes)