Summer 2020 Update

Pathfinder Alumni

When we’ve paddled and portaged and the day is done, we sit by the fire and watch the setting sun, and as we lay down our heads on our soft balsam beds, we thank the great spirit that our blood runs Pathfinder red." 


For 107 years, Camp Pathfinder has preserved the practice of traditional canoe-tripping in cedar canvas canoes. Our campers and staff have paddled and portaged Algonquin's routes, set up tents and created delicious meals over fire. While gear, technology, and best practices have evolved over the years, what lies at the core of Pathfinder and it's trippers never changes. 

"Canoe Tripping defines the Pathfinder spirit better than any other expression... When Pathfinder family gather - young, old, alumni, family, friends - conversations ultimately turn to the one thing we love and remember the most: canoe trips... It doesn’t matter if you are 15 or 55. If you attended Pathfinder, canoe tripping is part of your soul... No matter where our journey in life takes us, we will always remember our time at Pathfinder ."    -Zach Arem 

In Their Own Words
ALUMNI STORIES, LETTERS, SPEECHES & MORE
Alumni Canoe Tripping
Zach Arem
A College Essay
Tom Hadala, 2006
Bill Remembers the 1940's
Bill Cass
1960's Remembrances
Mike Smith
Andy's Letter to Camp
Andrew Cameron
What Pathfinder Means to Me
Lt. Ted Hubbard
Bud Remembers the 1940/50's
Bud Wiser
Don Cooper's Camp Memories
Don Cooper
Algonquin Dawn - Essay
Rob Hayden
Mitch's Letter - 1980's Trips
Mitch Derrick

Alumni 

in Residence 

Our alumni residents are participants in the camp experience, a wonderful vibrant presence. A team of them split up our summer season so we always have a couple on-island, keeping Pathfinder values and traditions alive with the current generation of campers and staff.

 
Gyro_Coakley.jpg

Jim Coakley has been active with Pathfinder since the early 1960s and was a headman to Sladds and Glenn in their camper days, as well as serving as a tripping director and

longtime alumni guest staffer with a specialty in trip staff mentoring. In 2012-13, 'Gyro' served as camp's Alumni Director, helping to organize the Centennial celebration. He and his wife Sue are active skiers, hikers and community members on Lake Eastman in NH.

JIM 'GYRO' COAKLEY

Corot Reason joins in the action for his second season. A Toronto-based IT professional, Corot is a 1970s alumnus as camper and staff man. He has recently been extremely

active for Pathfinder as a Spruce Root guest speaker and attendee, and as a liaison for Pathfinder's Syrian Refugee Project. Corot will be all over the Island July 27 - Aug. 4, and wil help host our August Family Camp.

COROT REASON

Josh is a 1970s alumnus and branch of the expansive Anderson clan. He has participated in the residence for several seasons and keeps attending as long as he can keep the dreaded

'nibblers' of his many Boston work obligations at bay.

JOSH ANDERSON

Wit famously hailed from 'Historic Acton, Mass' in Lance's 1980s announcements, and spent Pathfinder years as both a camper and trip staff man. Mike was the first Pathfinder Headman - along with

Simon Mortimer - to lead a trip to James Bay. The well-known Missinaibi River trip of 1986 ushered in the far-northern trip program at Pathfinder, and 2019s version is extra sweet to Witmore, since his son Silas is on a massive 39-trip to the eastern shores of Hudson Bay. A Spruce Root speaker and all-around recruiter, Mike serves as the director of Washington's Folger Shakespeare Library, from a background as an academic and musician. His Washington home is campsite for annual DC soirees of campers, staff and alumni when they recruit the next generation of Pathfinder campers from the Capitol Hill crowd. Mike will be in residence during early July and late August, and you may find him in the Canoe Shop with canoe maker Dave Statten.

MIKE WITMORE

jim_lion.jpg

As a ‘70s camper, Jim won the moniker ‘Tiger’ from owner Roy Thrall, for thriving at Pathfinder after overcoming a bout of rookie homesickness. Thrive he did, tripping

with camp for years and then returning for our alumni program. As an alumnus visiting each summer, El Tigre is still a trusted confidant of campers getting their Pathfinder sea legs. Tiger’s always available to send off and welcome home canoe trippers, and generally liven up in-camp life. A man who relishes the call, “Power Crew!”

JIM 'TIGER' LION

Jamey Bumbalo first came to Pathfinder as camper from Jamestown, NY, source of Andersons, Johnsons, Jennings and more. He went on to work on the

trip staff for years and to assist Mac Rand and later Sladds and Glenn over many alumni summers. His AA trips, including a classic with Glenn Arthurs, solidified his love for the Algonquin life, and he has been among Pathfinder's longest-tenured alumni guests over several decades. A school teacher recently working in Florida, Jamey is headed this fall for a new posting in North Dakota very near the Manitoba border. A marvelous trucker and boatman during his summer break.

JAMEY BUMBALO

Pete is a Buffalo legend, running the physical education program at Elmwood Franklin School. He's also the award-winning coach of Buffalo Shamrocks hockey. Pete has been

Elmwood's lead teacher on outdoor education experiences at Pathfinder for over 25 years, and spends the second half of camp seasons in residence along with a goodly contingent of EFS boys and many staff friends. An amazing resource and font of energy for the CPI traditions we all love, we simply couldn't do it in August without Pete.

PETE JOHNSON

A member of the expansive Roggow-Jabs- Chestnut- clan at Pathfinder, Valerie was a young camper at Northway and Tanamakoon in the ‘40s, and a big presence on staff at

Camp in the ‘70s, running arts and crafts. She has returned through the alumni program now that her grandsons are active campers. Valerie is a classic example of how the alumni in our residencies keep Pathfinder traditions and values alive just by her presence ‘in the mix’ of a bustling First Half session.

VALERIE GRIER

Alumni Canoe Tripping

Zach Arem

Canoe Tripping defines the Pathfinder spirit better than any other expression. When Pathfinder family gather -- young, old, alumni, family, friends -- conversations ultimately turn to the one thing we love and remember the most: canoe trips. There is no greater feeling than being out in the wilderness of Ontario and Quebec with good friends, camper or staff. Over the past 98 years we have turned canoe tripping into not just an activity to partake in, but an art form allowing us to bear the title of the greatest canoe tripping camp in North America.

But what happens after life at Pathfinder? The real world begins.

Just about all of us have had to come to the conclusion that Pathfinder is only a temporary part of our lives. It’s one of the toughest decisions we all have to make. When is it time to move on? Some of us come to the realization earlier than others, but in the end just about all of us figure it out. We need to finish school, get a job, earn money, experience other parts of the world, and finally get married and have a family. We get back to the island for a weekend during the summer, the GLM, reunions, but the dream of being at Pathfinder for an entire summer, and especially canoe tripping, is over. But does it have to be? Well, for some Pathfinder alumni the answer to that question is no.

 

While many Pathfinder alumni trips have gone out in the past, a number of more recent alums have taken it to the extreme. With a little effort, planning, and teamwork Max Brown, Brent Hurley, Barrett Wadsworth, Tim Lamont, Will Hopkins, Alex Hurley, Ryan Arthurs, Adrian Kelly, Mike Floyd, Karl Doench, Zach Arem, and non-alumni Garret Hart have been able to experience some of the most pristine wilderness areas and rivers in Ontario, Quebec, and Labrador.

The list includes the Kesagami River in 2009, the Moisie River in 2010 and 2011, the Missinaibi River in 2011, and an upcoming descent of the George River in 2012.

Click Here for the Full Article, trip photos, and story links.

 

 

What Pathfinder Means to Me

Lt. Ted Hubbard, 2007

Camp Pathfinder is many things to many different people.  To some it is just a summer camp for boys, and others a wilderness experience of difficulty but also of lasting friendship.  To me, it is where I grew up.  When I look back on my life as I developed into who I am today, Pathfinder stands out as the defining experience that helped me grow the most.  In my ten summers as a camper and staff on the lakes and rivers of Algonquin Park I learned more about camaraderie, courage, and dedication to goals than I could have anywhere else.  I knew what it meant to push that little extra to make it over the last portage to your destination lake, and then have the energy to set up camp and take care of those around you.  I also knew what it meant to pull over and wait because one in your group was too cold, hungry, or weak to go on without a rest.  Most of all, Pathfinder instilled a desire for things in life that are not easily or readily attainable.  Life is and should be hard, but Pathfinder made it so that instead of walking down the easier path, I run up the more difficult one.


Today I am a U.S. Marine Corps Officer.  The path to get here was the most difficult I have ever taken, but I owe much of my success on that path to my time at Pathfinder.  Pathfinder taught me how to be a leader, which is essential to being a good Marine Officer.  It taught me how to make mistakes, but more importantly how to recover from those mistakes.  My experiences on the waterways of Ontario gave me the confidence in myself to accomplish almost any task given to me.  Improvisation and adaptation to unexpected situations on Pathfinder trips is huge.  A headman has to be able to fix broken gear, feed his trip even when food gets spoiled, and maintain the morale of his campers. 

 

Marine officer has to do all of those things and more, and Pathfinder inadvertently prepared me to meet those challenges head on.  
As Marines we all have something called Esprit de Corps.  It is the intangible belief that our Corps and our fellow Marines are the best in the world, and that we have a moral obligation to live up to the legacy left to us by Marines of the past.  I first found that kind of esprit at Camp Pathfinder.  As Pathfinder trippers we know that we are the best in Algonquin hands down.  We can out paddle and portage anyone in the park, and everyone knows it.  Pathfinder taught me how to take pride in my work and my organization.  Today I am a Marine, but I couldn’t have gotten to where I am today without my summers on Camp Pathfinder Island.  

Noonway and Semper Fidelis,
2nd Lt. Edward J. Hubbard USMC  

 

 

A College Essay

Thomas Hadala Jr., 2006

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.
    
We look out from the train as it comes to a crawl at two in the morning on the edge of the abandoned town of Peterbell, beginning this unforgettable journey into the Canadian wilderness.  We throw our packs and canoes from the slowly moving boxcar onto the steep gravel embankment and watch them slide down into the darkness along the Missinaibi River. As the engines roar and the air horn blasts, together we jump off the accelerating train and slide down to where the now drenched packs lay.  Aware of my responsibility for the others, I turn on my flashlight and peer through the pouring rain to account for everyone as the train speeds away.  It’s just the nine of us here now, miles from civilization.  In under a month’s time, we must travel over four hundred miles to James Bay, and meet at the last train stop of the famous Polar Bear Express.

While wilderness canoe tripping, I can forget about my iPod and cell phone.  I must remember to pack the axe, dehydrated food, map and other necessities as I have done so many times before over the past seven years.  I feel confident.  I bring what I need to survive, but only what I’m willing to carry.  Up here, if you forget it, you do without it, or improvise.  Calling home for additional provisions is not an option.

I deftly leap into the cedar canvas canoe, push off from the rocky shore, place my wooden paddle into the raging current, and with each powerful and deliberate stroke I gaze at the tree tops growing shorter and shorter. I watch the jagged and potentially deadly rocks go zooming past as my bowman and I begin to drop over a four-foot ledge into the class three rapids.  Water rushes into our canoe as the bow crashes below the surface, drenching us from head to toe with the icy water.

My bowman and I hold our breath as we jump out of the canoe just before reaching the edge of the thirty-foot waterfall.  We breathe a sigh of relief, splash cold river water on our faces, admire the distance just paddled, rest, and prepare ourselves for the two-kilometer portage ahead.

I secure the fifty-pound pack on my back, flip the even heavier canoe above my head, and begin the challenging hike.  I’m trudging along, confident I will eventually get there.  Keeping a wary eye open for stray bears, I concentrate on the various bird melodies and listen to the crackling of twigs beneath my feet to take my mind off the canoe thwart digging into my neck.
   
Arriving at the next navigable location on the river, we prepare a campsite as the sun begins to set behind the tree line.  The tents are set up, and the fire is lit for dinner, but we are too tired to cook.  The moon rises as the eerie cry of the loon echoes throughout the river basin.  Huddled around the crackling campfire, comforted by its soothing warmth, my friends and I tell our most revealing secrets as we develop our life long friendships.
   
I slip into my sleeping bag and begin to recap the strenuous day.  I realize I have developed self-reliance, individual leadership, the ability to cope with adverse conditions, and most importantly, team cooperation.  All of a sudden it’s morning.  We quickly break camp and prepare, much as in the real world, for the arduous and unknown adventures that lie ahead.

 

 
 

Bud Remembers the 1940's/50's

Bud Wiser

I became involved with Pathfinder at the end of my sophomore year in high school. I may have mentioned that I went to Aquinas. At the time it was the only Catholic Boy's high school in town.  I had gone to Camp Stella Maris since I was 8. It was a Catholic boy's camp on Conesus Lake. At the end of my freshman year in high school I worked there. Up until then all of the counselors had been seminarians. But, the war was on and people were questioning the fact that these seminarians weren't going to war but were spending their summers playing baseball and swimming at Conesus. So, they decided to make them go to school year round. And, for that one summer guys from Aquinas were the counselors. But, the next year, the war was over and the seminarians were back.

I really couldn't go back to Stella Maris as a camper, My father, who was a dentist, had a patient who worked in Herman Norton's office. So, I went in and talked to "The Chief". I was hired as, what was euphemistically known as a "chore boy". We cleaned the forts, cut ice in the ice house, met the incoming trains, filled the lanterns, swept the dining hall etc. We met and unloaded the train. I worked with the caretaker, Fred Lamke.

It was a great job. I loved it and I loved Pathfinder. The next couple of years I came back as a lifeguard. Then, for a season I was Mic and Chipp supervisor. My last year (49), I was in charge of the trading post. I did spend time in Nick's [Zona] cabin on the island, the name of which I can't remember (Paradise?). The year we built the Forest Five it fell down because of the heavy snows. So, I went up in the spring to put it back up.  

That trip resulted in one of the greatest compliments I've ever gotten. I took a couple of friends from the city to help. We picked up our carpenter, Bill Payne, in Huntsville. When my friends saw the place they said that four guys could not put it up. The roof was in four huge, tar papered sections, way too heavy for four to raise up ten feet. So, they never did help. In fact, they didn't even come over to the site with my lunch. Bill said, "those guys may be alright in the city but they don't belong in the woods.” I took that as a great compliment.  He had indicated that I did belong. Bill and I did what my friends said four guys couldn't do. Two of us put the whole place back up, including raising the roof.

The Ontario government decided it would open Source Lake for leasing. Up until then Pathfinder was the only thing on the lake, no cottages...nothing. So, I figured that we'd better get a lot. Later on we could build a luxurious place. I got JB Walsh, Mert Miller and Danny Anderson. The fifth was Bill Nye.  He wanted out that winter and we bought him out...probably for $25.00 or so. I have no idea what happened to Mert Miller. I saw Danny a few years later when I was in graduate school in Syracuse and he was working for, I think it was, GE. The Andersons were an old Pathfinder family. I think there are paddles up there in dining hall for Quint and Tim and maybe Dan. The only member of the Forest Five that I know is JB. He and I are best friends. He was my best man and I was his. We're in constant contact.

I'll write more later. I do love to think about Pathfinder.

Bud

 

Bill Remembers the 1940's

Bill Cass

On a whim recently I stuck "Camp Pathfinder" in a Google search and found the web site.

 

It was very satisfying to see that Pathfinder is still there.......  !!

 

I was a camper, Chippewa if I remember correctly, way back in 1940 and 1941and remember Chief Norton, and "Tick" very well...  I was from Buffalo back then, now live in Maine.. and also remember taking the train to camp as it stopped in Buffalo and had the Rochester campers already aboard.  We all had blue shirts with Pathfinder in red above the pockets back then.... got the clothes at Sibley, Lindsay and Curr in Rochester..

 

Learned to swim at Pathfinder.... my grandfather had told me he would get me a sailboat as soon as I did... great incentive.. but probably the reason I was at Pathfinder for only two summers.  The boat ended up being a 10' Peterborough sailing dinghy exactly like one of the two at Pathfinder in those days. I had that boat on Lake Erie until 1953 when I graduated from Hobart College and headed for the US Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.  Sold it to a friend....

 

I was a dedicated fisherman even way back then, and had brought my lake trout wire line deep trolling rig to camp with me... caught quite a few  lakers in Source Lake while there.  I remember that the camp cook was only too glad to serve them, too, along with batches of frogs legs we managed to catch on the old floating brush pile.

 

The one trip I most remember included Opeongo, Burnt Island, and I seem to remember a lake off the western upper end of Opeongo that might have been called Green? At any rate, the color of the water was close to that and perfectly clear.  Didn't know what fish there might be in it but quickly found lots of smallmouth bass.  Had a good supper that night...

 

Enjoyed reading through the reports, comments etc. and glad you are still going strong.  I had lots of outdoor exposure and experience before getting to Pathfinder as a result of spending time from four years of age on up at my grandfathers camp on Pythonga Lake in Quebec (that's why I knew how to catch lake trout) but learned a great deal there, and look back on that time with fondness.

I went on to the world of work, and ended up the Orvis Company in Manchester, VT for about 12 years which was great for a fly fisherman, and ended up going back to school at age 60 and getting a Masters in Counseling at the University of New Hampshire, where I worked as a career counselor until 2002 when I retired.

 

I'm doing a bit of woodworking these days, and of course fishing, and at going on 74 years and in pretty good health expect at least a few more good years. I keep a web site going that you might enjoy looking at, its at:

http://home.comcast.net/~grizzly01/index.html

 

Anyway, enough of an old man's ramblings, just wanted to let you know how glad I was to find that Pathfinder's still there and looking good.....

 

That old brush pile was something....  If it is long gone or no one else remembers it, it was along the south shore of the island and consisted of three at least, maybe four huge logs hooked together at their ends to make a floating frame.  If memory serves me well, boards had been laid on top of the logs to serve as a walkway. Into this was dumped all the cuttings and clearings of brush  and wood, to allow them to deteriorate and sink to the bottom. The frame logs were plenty big enough for 9 and 10 year old boys to step on and still stay afloat.  The bullfrog population was huge, both in numbers and in size of each frog. While the food in the mess hall was excellent, there were a couple of us who had tasted frogs legs in the past, which is what prompted the foraging on the brush pile once the frogs were discovered.  I am sure that this was not officially viewed as a desirable or encouraged use of camper's spare time, but we sure learned how to catch bullfrogs.

 

Hard to believe that was 63 years ago or thereabouts...

Bill Cass

 

 

Don Cooper's Camp Memories

Don Cooper

Hello,
 
It is a Sunday.  Just for fun I googled Camp Pathfinder, to look at the place that gave me the opportunity to become a tripper in one of the most memorable times of my life.
 
I was a University of Waterloo Kinesiology student in 1969 and I was hired by Roy Thrall and Bill Swift during an interview process at the U of W for the summer of 1970.  At that time I had never been to camp before so I must have presented myself as an enthusiastic "wanna work at a camp" sort of person.

Here are some of my memories....
I remember getting on the bus on the 400 and arriving at Source Lake and having all my stuff brought over on a pontoon and being met enthusiastically by Roy. Staff training followed and I gradually learned the J stroke and how to prepare for a trip.   The first campers arrived and we  helped them unload their gear.   I remember it like yesterday.  

Some other memories are the moose call in the dining room and  the great food.  After dinner we would sometimes go to the playing field and play a great game called Fresher.  Do you still play it?  I remember being the archery instructor for the month of July and becoming immune to mosquito bites.  The highlight of course was being second man on several canoe trips.  I was thrilled to see the trip archived in the 1970 section .  To this day I remember the headman Paul Hurley standing up in his canoe in the middle of a small lake and singing "Love Potion Number 9".  Pathfinder canoe trips allowed me to find out what I was made of.  I was quite pleased with the discovery.  Pathfinder's never quit, push attitude seeped into my soul.

One of the greatest challenges I faced was on Lake Opeongo during a tremendous  two day storm.  We hit camp and couldn't even start a fire.  My hands were blue and I was soaked but we never quit and made it to our destination.  Another character building experience was completing each portage without putting down the canoe.  Several years after Camp Pathfinder I achieved my Canadian Canoe Instructor award.  Without Pathfinder that never would have happened.
 
Camp  Pathfinder revealed my character to me and provided me with an identity to be proud of.  I am a very lucky person to have been part of Pathfinder  during the summer of 1970. The archives brought back memories of the people I met.  Priceless!!!! Your website indicates that the same great experiences are continuing under different leadership.  Congratulations!
 
Best regards,
Don Cooper

I also remember :
 
 -the time lightning hit a tree near the dining hall and passing buckets to put out the fire
 
 -the camp theatre night
 
 -the swim dock on a day off
 
 -hitching to Hidden Valley Huntsville  to see the famous Canadian group Lighthouse
 
 -watching Roy comfort a very homesick camper
 
 -beautiful sunny breezy tripping days
 
 -walloping
 
 -Lance and cabin inspection
 
 -the huge campfire with fire flying from the sky on guide wire.
 
 -Bob Roggow interacting so wonderfully with my campers
 
 -going under the water fall at Little Joe
 
 -tetherball
 
 -the number of really musical people at the camp
 
 -the end of camp newsletter , which I believe I still have a copy of …

 

 

1960's Remembrances

Mike Smith

I remember:

The can pits …

Walloping in the lake …

Getting sick from the Brent sewage near our Cedar Lake camp site …

Seeing my first partial eclipse, July 20, 1963, on Bonfield-Dickson …

Hearing wolves on Lavielle ...

The moose that followed people on the camp road …

Being the only head tripper that year to have his permit checked at Canoe Lake ...

Seeing a 12-foot Old Town with the missing bow covered by plastic. A train hit it.
The canoe made it down the Barron River ...

“Fat Man’s” Portage misery in Temagami …

Having the whole trip watch me yell at a non-existent bear from my tent, my antics clearly visible due to a flashlight. One big practical joke. 

Whistling the theme from “Bridge on the River Kwai,” walking into South River Village.
Carrying 150 lbs. on the Tim River when one of my campers couldn’t (1967).
When the Canadian flag flew upside down accidentally. …

Bill Swift’s laugh. I babysat for him New Year’s Eve 1962-63. That dates me …

Paddling up to Porky Point on the final night of a trip. We were ¼ mile off the dining hall when everybody sat down. What a racket …

Bob Roggow going into the Canoe Lake grille and saying, “I want 3 raw hot dogs.” As the young woman put them on the grille, he said, “I want them raw.” He muttered a “hmmph,” picked them up, and walked out. Not sure what he did with them …

Breaking into a cabin on a horribly rainy day coming up from Welcome L. The next morning the owners showed up. Not sure how Sully dealt with it. Don’t think Roy S. Thrall was too happy …

Lot of memories. Think I’ll look into coming up next year!

 

 

Algonquin Dawn - A College Essay

Rob Hayden, 2009

As I rounded the point, I could see the morning’s first light illuminate the racks of red canoes across the lake; the familiar sight was exhilarating. This was the home stretch. I was racing the clock with each stroke of my paddle. I was determined to finish in less than twenty hours.

The clock started when my team of six staff men pushed off from the northern-most access point in Algonquin Park. The northern Ontario sky was a cloudless blue, and the morning air was crisp—a perfect day for canoe tripping. As we paddled lake after pristine lake, with spindly cedars lining the shorelines, I heard the distant loon calls pierce the silent solitude of the north woods. Yet there was no time to stop and listen or to admire the moose wading across Maple Creek as we paddled by. We had to push on. There would be muddy trails and headwinds in the hours to come.

For every stroke, I counted, “one, two, three...twenty-nine, thirty, ready, switch!” It helped me stay focused, and eventually my counting became almost involuntary. The day had a rhythm to it. Every last lake faded from memory as soon as I began the portage into the next. When I paddled, my arms ached with pain, and I longed to be on the trail. When I portaged, all I could think of was that glimpse of blue through the trees that signaled the end of the path; I yearned to be on the water. The canoe was ninety pounds of water-logged cedar, and the wooden thwart fell on my shoulders like the weight of the world. The leather tumpline on my forehead pulled at my hair and strained the back of my neck until it hurt to swallow.

As the sun dipped below the tree line I flipped down, splashing my red cedar-canvas canoe into Burntroot Lake. We were only halfway home, but already I was drained of energy. Night fell. It was clear, and the moon was bright. On the long paddle down Big Trout Lake, the Perseids meteor shower lit up the night sky. I felt small, contemplating the astonishing expanse of the cosmos. I thought of the French voyageurs who paddled these lakes before me and of the natives who inhabited these sacred lands before them.

We soon found ourselves lost in the darkness, paddling up Otterslide Creek. Our headlamps were only useful for a few feet in front of us. All three boats worked together, scouting tributaries, dead-ends, and portage landings. It was useless trying to spot rocks in the murky water, but at least when my canoe scrapped the bottom I could tell my friends where not to go. As I flipped up the canoe at the Alder Lake portage, the end of our journey was just a few lakes away. The ragged, uphill trail ahead was covered in mud, and it soon became the greatest challenge of the night. As my boat partner and I struggled over the last portages, we took turns pulling each other out of the mud—canoe and all—until we finally reached the lake I’ve called home for eight summers. It was dawn, and we had just one short paddle remaining to reach the dock.

We had traveled non-stop for ninety-six kilometers and trekked over thirty-six portages. This race was a canoe trip from the landing at Kiosk Lake to the Camp Pathfinder canoe dock on Source Lake, and my group covered the distance in nineteen hours, fifty-nine minutes, and fourteen seconds, shattering the record by three hours. The adventure was the culmination of eight years of canoe tripping, and it is one of my greatest achievements. 

After the evening meal is done and the food pack is hung, I love to watch the fire die after an exhausting day of canoe tripping. On this night, the dim light of the embers barely allows me to see the faces of my six young campers. For a moment, I catch a glimpse of the past—I see my ten year old self, living in the Algonquin wilderness for the first time. I hear the echo of my voice across time. “Get these things off me! I already have a thousand bug bites. I can’t go any further. My pack weighs at least two hundred pounds. I want to go home, and I miss real toilets.”

“How come we have to go on canoe trips?” asks the closest camper. “I just wanna do the activities back at Pathfinder.”

I respond, “You can do arts and crafts at home, but you can’t say you’ve paddled seven lakes and seen two moose in your backyard like we did today.”

But there’s got to be more to why I canoe trip—more than the beautiful lakes and incredible wildlife. It is fulfilling. There’s something oddly refreshing about not bathing for seventeen days. So simple, unlike home. I’ve learned a lot up here. If I can trip all day and night without stopping for more than an occasional granola bar, I know I can face the challenges that lie ahead. I am a leader now. People study leadership in textbooks, but do they experience it? Evacuating a camper with a high fever. Paddling all the way up a creek, realizing it’s the wrong way, motivating the boys to turn around and to try again. Seeking shelter as a microburst sweeps through the campsite, felling trees in its path. I guess canoe tripping is about the unknown—no—it’s about accepting the unknown and learning to deal with it.

I’m part of a continuum. Ninety-six years of Pathfinder traditions and values. Centuries of wilderness exploration. Who will follow me? I’ll be proud if one of these kids breaks my Kiosk to Source record.

And I add, “I hope you’ll keep coming back and that you’ll come to love canoe tripping as much as I do.”

 

 

Andy's Letter to Camp

Andrew Cameron, 2009

7 December 2009

Hey Sladds,

I read Aydin Perese’s story about your cedar-strip canvas canoes. I’m shocked! Shocked and appalled! No cans? No canvas tents or packs? Waterproof raingear? These boys are not getting the proper Voyageur experience that will turn them in to hairy-chested MEN. My most memorable trip in my entire Pathfinder career was a 12-day trip with 11 days of rain where I had to carry the tent pack. They were canvas tents in a canvas pack with rusty cans of food wedged into the crannies. It weighed 70 pounds when we left and 470 pounds by day three. That was a REAL trip! (As I recall, Mike, you were on that trip.)

What today’s campers need are Camperiffic Misery Kits, one to be issued to each tripper at the start of every trip. Each kit contains a sleeping bag with insulation in only half the bag, sox with a lump sewn randomly into the sole, a hole-punch to put proper leaks into the tents and raingear, honey-laced peanut butter to smear on the food packs to make them easier for the bears and raccoons to find, and the traditional Voyageur mosquito repellant made of skunk oil and bear grease, which smells vile and is almost completely ineffective. And, to top it off, or bottom it out, a ballast rock to balance all the nylon and provide proper dead weight to the packs. The rocks should be placed near the bottom of each pack, preferably so they chafe the camper’s back. And, with a nod to modern light- weight tripping, they include one freeze-dried meal – liver stroganoff. That will do the trick! Trippers will leave camp happy boys and return angry, blistered, bloody and itchy, but stinky, tough and manly men.

Now, Aydin is right about the canoes. They are perfect. They are things of beauty that glide with grace and purpose through the majesty of the Park. The organic connection of canvas canoe, paddler and water draws out one’s soul to connect with nature in a place and in a way that has become vanishingly rare in our world.

Keep it up and cool runnin’. Andy

Andrew Cameron, Publisher
City At Night Magazine Nashville, TN

 

 

Mitch's Letter - 1980's Canoe Trips

Mitch Derrick, 2008

From Mitch Derrick to Camp 12/08

 

Fellas,
 

Very nice to hear from you and it's outstanding to see that Pathfinder lives on....such an incredible place. I do not have any photos, but I have a host of memories that will hang with me forever. I actually attended for two years back in the early 80's. I never made it to CIT status as other activities roped me in so I had to hand the reigns over to my younger brother Brad who also went for a couple of years.

Brad and I often talk about making the trek back up to Algonquin for a reunion tour of some sort. We often reminisce about being buried up to our necks in mung and wondering whether to laugh or cry (neither of which helped any). Bonfield-Dickson certainly got my attention, but I remember walking by what appeared to be bigger/stronger guys who could not handle the mental challenge....only to be later passed by a smaller guy who ate up the trails (but of course they must have been lugging a tent and a couple of sleeping bags....yes, I'm still bitter about always having to carry the food or axe pack).

Probably my greatest trip was my second year when we hit the Western Territory (I think that's what it was called). The park rangers flew in all sorts of gear for us and we spent two weeks trying to take back the trails from the forest. We managed to reclaim some trails and a few campsites, but were never able to rid the region of mosquitoes. It was one night during that trip that we ran into some bad weather and were late getting into camp. One of our guys actually began experiencing early-stage hypothermia. Everybody came together and, thanks to the leadership of our guides, we were able to set up camp and get him stabilized. All in all, the trip was incredibly rewarding and I often reflect back on just how intense things got at times. I found it especially humorous listening to guys talk about their eagle scout status after my second summer at Pathfinder....if I was stranded on an island I'd rather be with those 8 Pathfinder guys than an entire eagle scout troop any day of the week.

Pathfinder was definitely one of the more defining activities of my upbringing and instilled a drive in me that carried over into both athletics and academia. The three and a half weeks always flew by. There were kids from all over thrown together without any fancy electronics gear or any way to differentiate one another based on socio-economic backgrounds. Sadly, with private schools and social pressure to live in the 'right' neighborhood these days, such socialization opportunities are far and few between. Pathfinder instills a real 'can-do' attitude in kids and gives them the confidence to pursue their wildest dreams.

I have referred many to Pathfinder and long for the day to hear the stories as told by my future son(s).

Keep up the good work, fellas!! Best, Mitch Derrick

 

 
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