IX. AND THERE WAS MICHIKAMAU!
From the northwesterly end of Lake Disappointment we portaged on Friday
(August 28) across a neck of land to two small, shallow lakes that lay
to the northward, and in the teeth of a gale paddled to the northern
shore of the farther lake. There we went into camp for the day in
order that Hubbard might rest, as he was still weak from the effects of
his recent illness. We took advantage of the opportunity to patch up
our moccasins and clothing as best we could, and held a long
consultation, the outcome of which was, that it was decided that for
the present, at least, we should leave behind us our canoe and the bulk
of our camp equipment, including the tent, and push on with light
packs, consisting of one blanket for each man, an axe, the two pistols,
one rifle, and our stock of food.
Before us there apparently stretched miles of rough, rocky country. Our
equipment and stock of food at this time made up into four packs of
about 100 pounds each. The canoe, water-soaked and its crevices filled
with sand, must now have weighed nearly a hundred pounds. It was a
most awkward thing to carry over one's head when the wind blew, and
where there were rocks there was danger of the carrier falling and
breaking, not only the canoe, but his own bones. This meant that if
our entire outfit were taken along, practically every bit of land we
travelled would have to be covered twice. In leaving the canoe behind,
we, of course, should have to take chances on meeting intervening
lakes; but, once in the region of northern Michikamau, there seemed a
fair chance of our falling in with Indians that would take us down the
George River, and the advantages of light travel were obvious with
winter fast approaching.
The stock of food we had to carry would not weigh us down. The dried
venison had been reduced to a few pounds, so that we had to eat of it
sparingly and make our principal diet on boiled fish and the water in
which it was cooked. We had just a bit of flour, enough to serve bread
at rare intervals as a great dainty. Nothing remained of our caribou
tallow and marrow grease. It is true we held in reserve the "emergency
ration"; but this consisted only of eighteen pounds of pea meal, a pint
of rice, and a small piece of bacon. This ration we had pledged
ourselves to use only in case of the direst necessity, should we be
compelled to make a forced retreat, and we felt we must not think of it
at this time as food on hand.
In camp on Friday night I could see that Hubbard was worrying
considerably. Nervously active by habit, he found delay doubly hard.
The days we had spent on Lake Disappointment in a vain search for a
river had been particularly trying on his nerves, and had left him a
prey to many fears. The spectre of an early winter in this sub-Arctic
land began to haunt him constantly. The days were slipping away and
were becoming visibly shorter with each sunset. If we could get to the
Indians on the George, we should be safe; for they would give us warm
skins for clothing and replenish our stock of food. But should we meet
with more delays, and arrive on the George too late for the caribou
migration, and fail to find the Indians, what then? Well, then, our
fate would be sealed. Hubbard was the leader of the expedition and he
felt himself responsible, not only for his own life, but, to a large
extent, for ours. It is little wonder, therefore, that he brooded over
the possibilities of calamity, but with youth, ambition, and the ardent
spirit that never will say die, he invariably fought off his fears, and
bent himself more determinedly than ever to achieve the purpose for
which he had set out. Frequently he confided his fears to me, but was
careful to conceal all traces of them from George.
In light marching order we went out on Saturday morning (August 29),
making rapid progress to the northward, through a thick growth of small
spruce timber and over a low ridge; but scarcely had we gone a mile
when we were compelled to halt. There in front of us was a small lake
extending east and west. It was not more than an eighth of a mile
across it, but a long distance around it. Back we went for the canoe,
and at the same time brought forward the whole camp outfit. Again we
tried light marching order, and again a lake compelled us to go back
for the canoe and outfit. And thus it was all day: a stretch of a mile
or so; then a long, narrow lake to cross, until finally we were forced
to admit that our plan of proceeding with light packs and without the
canoe was impracticable.
Hubbard was feeling stronger on Saturday evening, and we had a pleasant
camp. George made a big fire of tamarack, and we lay before it on a
couch of spruce boughs and ate tough boiled venison and drank the
broth; and, feeling we had made some progress, we were happy, despite
the fact that we were in the midst of a trackless wilderness with our
way to Michikamau and the Indians as uncertain as ever.
Sunday morning (August 30) broke superbly beautiful, and the day
continued clear and mild. We made an early start; for every hour had
become precious. While we were doing this cross-country work without
any streams to guide us, it was George's custom to go ahead all the way
from half a mile to two miles and blaze a trail, so that when we were
travelling back and forth bringing up the packs and the canoe we might
not go astray. In the course of the morning we came to two small
lakes, which we paddled over.
We had believed that our goose chases were over; for these birds now
having grown their feathers, could fly, and were generally beyond the
reach of our pistols and the uncertain aim of a rifle at anything on
the wing. For two days we had heard them flying, and now and then
would see them high in the air. But while we were crossing one of the
small lakes this Sunday, five geese walked gravely down the bank and
into the water ahead of the canoe. One of them we got with a pistol
shot; the others flew away. In another lake we reached late in the day
we came upon five or six ducks. They were not far away, but dived so
frequently we were unable to shoot them with pistol or rifle. A
shotgun might have enabled us to get nearly all the geese as well as
the ducks and other game we saw on the wing and in the water on other
occasions. We often expressed the regret that we had no shotgun with
us. At one time Hubbard had intended that one should be taken, but
later decided that the ammunition would be too bulky.
A low, semi-barren ridge running east and west lay just beyond the
small blue-green lake in which we saw the ducks towards evening. About
seven miles beyond the ridge to the north was a short range of high,
barren mountains that were perhaps a trifle lower than the Kipling
Mountains. Upon ascending the ridge we heard the rushing of water on
the other side, which sound proved to come from a small fall on a
stream expanding and stretching out, to the eastward in long, narrow
lakes. Apparently these lakes were the headquarters of a small river
flowing to the southeast, and in all probability here was the source of
the Red River, which, as I have described, flows into the Nascaupee
some fifteen or eighteen miles above Grand Lake.
The whole character of the country had now changed. It was very rocky
and steadily growing more barren. Ridges and hills extended to the
mountains on the north. Great boulders were piled in confusion behind
us and in front of us. Portaging over them had been most difficult and
dangerous. A misstep might have meant a broken leg, and as it was, the
skin had been pretty nearly all knocked off of our shins from the
instep to the knee.
Below the fall we had discovered was a deep pool in which Hubbard
caught, with his emergency kit and a tamarack pole, twenty trout
averaging twelve inches in length. We camped near this pool. The hard
work of the day had brought on Hubbard another attack of his old
illness; apparently it was only by a great exertion of will-power that
he kept moving at all during the afternoon, and at night he was very
weak. Before supper he drank a cup of strong tea as a stimulant, and
was taken immediately with severe vomiting.
Watching his suffering, the thought came to me whether, disregarding
all other considerations, I should not at this point strongly insist on
the party turning back. I was aware, however, of the grim
determination of the man to get his work done, and was convinced of the
uselessness of any attempt to sway him from his purpose. Moreover, I
myself was hopeful of our ability to reach the caribou grounds; I felt
sure that Hubbard's grit would carry him through. Looking back now, I
can see I should have at least attempted to turn him back, but I am
still convinced it would have been useless. I thoroughly believe only
one thing would have turned the boy back at that time—force.
After this vomiting ceased, Hubbard said he felt better, but he ate
sparingly of the boiled fish we had for supper. George and I also felt
a bit weak, and our stomachs were continually crying out for bread or
some other grain food. As we reclined before the fire, Hubbard had
George tell us of various Indian dishes he had prepared. After he had
entered into these gastronomic details with great gusto, George
"Wouldje believe it, fellus?—I once threw away a whole batch of
"No!" we both cried.
"Fact," said George.
"For Heaven's sake," said Hubbard, "why did you do it?"
"Well," said George, "it was when I first went cookin' in a surveyor's
camp. The cookies wasn't as good as I thought they ought to be, and I
was so ashamed of 'em that I took the whole lot out and buried 'em.
Supposin'," added George, in an awed whisper, "supposin' we had 'em
"Why what in the world would you do with them?" asked Hubbard.
"Um!" grunted George. "Well, I guess we'd find a way to use 'em, all
The story of the buried cookies started us all to talking of doughnuts,
and cake, and pie, and Hubbard extolled the merits of the chocolate
served at one of the New York hotels.
"Wallace," he at length asked, "do you like pig's knuckles?"
"I like," I replied, "anything that can be eaten."
"Well," confided Hubbard, "I know a place down on Park Row where they
serve the best pigs' knuckles you ever ate. I used to go there for
them when I was on the old Daily News. They cook them just right, and
serve a big plate of nice greasy cabbage or sauerkraut with them, and a
cup of pretty good coffee. We'll have to go there some time when we
And until it was time to go to sleep Hubbard continued to talk of the
good dinners he had eaten when a child and of those his wife had
recently prepared at his Congers home.
As he had decided that before proceeding farther we should know
something of the country that lay to the northward, Hubbard on Monday
morning (August 31) sent George on a scouting trip to the short range
of mountains just ahead. He and I planned to spend the day catching
and drying fish. For some reason the fish refused to rise near the
camp, and Hubbard, who was so weak he could hardly stand, returned to
lie down, while I went farther down the stream. Towards luncheon-time I
returned with only two or three small fish. Hubbard was still resting
in the tent, but soon after I had begun to repair my fishing rod by the
fire he came out and joined me.
"Oh, how glad I'll be, Wallace," he said, "to get to Michikamau and
finish my work here and get home again! I've been wondering when that
will be. I'm afraid," he added slowly, "I've been a bit homesick
"We'll surely get there soon, old man," I said encouragingly, "and when
we do get there, we'll appreciate it more than ever. Just think how it
will be to eat good bread, and all we want of it." "Yes," he said, "and
then we'll be glad we came here, and can laugh at the recollection of
these terrible ridges, and the whole awful country, and the hard times
we've been through. I'm dead glad I had just you two fellows come with
me. If I'd had a single man that growled about the grub and work, or
wanted to quit, it would have been hell. But we haven't had a growl or
a word about quitting or turning back."
"There's no reason for quitting," said I. "And as for growling,
there's no call for it. We've done the best we could, and that's
enough to make any real man satisfied."
"That's so," said Hubbard. "Take things as they come and make the best
of them—that's good philosophy. I was thinking that here it is the
last of August, and we don't know where we are; and it bothered me some
as I lay there in the tent. But we've done our best and ought to be
In the afternoon I took my rod and went about three miles to the
westward, where I came upon an isolated pond with no apparent outlet.
Everywhere I could see the trout jumping, and by sundown had as long a
string of them as I could conveniently carry. It was an hour after
dark when I reached camp. George had returned, and they were beginning
to fear that I was lost.
George had climbed the mountains, and he reported a fair line of travel
to the northwest, with a "long lake that looked like a river," and,
some distance northwest of that, "big water" and a tolerably good route
for portages. What he told us led Hubbard to decide to continue on
with the canoe and our entire outfit. George brought back with him two
grouse he had shot.
The next morning (Tuesday, September 1) Hubbard was much better, and we
began September with a renewed effort. It was rough and painful
portaging over rocks and knolls. Every forty or fifty rods we came
upon deep ponds with water so clear we could see the pebbles on the
bottom. Between these ponds boulders were piled indiscriminately. In
directing our course to the northwest we avoided the mountains that had
lain just ahead. For two days we pushed on among the boulders, then
over a wide marsh and through a heavy spruce growth, which brought us,
on September 3d, to George's "lake that looked like a river." Let us
call it Mary Lake.
Along Lake Mary we paddled, in the pouring rain that began that day,
some five miles to its western end; and there, near a creek that flowed
into it, we found the remains of an old Indian camp. George looked the
camp over critically and remarked:
"The beggars killed two caribou, and they broke every bone up and
boiled out the last drop of grease."
"What was it—a summer or a winter camp?" asked Hubbard.
"A summer," said George. "And they'd been fishing, too. There's a
good fishing place—just try it!"
We did try it, and we had a fairly good catch of large trout. For
supper we had a few of the trout boiled, together with the water, with
one spoonful of flour for each man stirred in. We ate the fish entire,
entrails, head, and all, and from that time on we let no part of the
fish we caught be thrown away. Everything now in the way of food
George divided carefully into three equal parts, even the fish broth.
By this time we had not enough flour on hand to make more than half a
dozen cakes of bread, and we continued to use only a spoonful or two a
day for each man, mixing it with game or fish broth; in this way we
hoped it would satisfy to some extent our craving for grain, and last
As evening approached the sky cleared, and a big full moon tipped the
fir trees with silver and set Lake Mary to gleaming. The air was
filled with the perfume of the balsam and spruce, and it acted as a
tonic on our spirits and drove away the depression of the day's work in
the rain. Hubbard seemed to be as full of vim as ever, and all of us
were quite contented.
Sitting on the couch of boughs, George looked up at the sky and said:
"There's a fine Indian story about that moon."
Of course Hubbard and I begged that he tell it to us.
"Well," said George, "it's a long story about a boy and girl that lived
together in a wigwam by a great water. Their father and mother were
dead, and the boy had learned to be a great hunter, because he had to
hunt for them both, though he was young. One day he found a tree that
was very high, and he climbed it, and told his sister to climb it with
him; and they climbed higher and higher, and as they climbed, the tree
grew taller and taller; and after a while they reached the moon. And
then the boy laid down to sleep, and after a while he woke up with a
bright light shinin' in his face—it was the sun passin' 'long that
way. The boy said he would set a snare for the sun and catch it, and
the next night he had his snare set when the sun came 'long, and he
caught the sun, and then it was always bright on the moon.
"There's a lot more to that story," added George, after a pause, "and
I'll tell it to you some time; but it's too long and too late to tell
Unfortunately we never heard the continuation of the tale. George
often hinted at interesting folklore stories about the milky way and
different stars, and various other things in nature; but this was the
nearest approach to a story we ever wrung from him.
From our last camp on Lake Disappointment to our camp at the western
end of Lake Mary we had travelled about twenty-five miles. In leaving
the latter camp on September 4th we inclined our course directly west,
to reach the "big water" George had seen from his mountain. During the
next four days we encountered bad weather. As evening came on the sky
would clear and remain clear until morning, when the clouds and rain
would reappear. On the 4th there was sleet with the rain, and on the
6th we had our first snow, which soon was washed away, however, by rain.
Our progress on the 4th was along the edge of a marsh between two low,
wooded ridges, and then over the marsh and through several ponds, upon
the shore of one of which we camped early in order that George might
climb a hill, view the country and decide upon the shortest and best
route to the "big water." He reported it about three miles ahead.
It had been our rule to defer our bathing until the evening's chill had
quieted the flies, but now there was no need of that, as the colder
weather had practically killed them for the season. About this time I
noticed that Hubbard did not take his usual bath, and I remarked:
"The weather is getting pretty cold for bathing in the open, isn't it?"
"Yes," said Hubbard; "but I wouldn't let that stop me if I weren't
ashamed of my bones. To tell you the truth, Wallace, I'm like a
It was true. We were all very thin, but our lack of food told upon
Hubbard's appearance the most, as he was naturally slender.
The "big water" George thought was only three miles away proved to be
like the wisp of hay that is held before the donkey's nose to lead him
on. Day after day we floundered through swamps and marshes, over
rocky, barren hills, and through thick growths of willows and alders,
and at the end of the day's journey it would apparently be as far off
as ever. The explanation was that in the rarefied atmosphere of
interior Labrador distances are very deceptive; when George reported
that the "big water" was three miles ahead it must have been fully
On the 5th, while crossing the barrens we came upon some blueberries
and after eating our fill we were able to gather enough to supply each
man with a big dish of them for supper. We were working our way over
some bluffs on the afternoon of the 6th, when George, who was carrying
the canoe, became separated from Hubbard and me. The wind was blowing
hard, and he had difficulty in keeping the boat above his head.
Suddenly I heard a call, and, looking back, saw George running after
me, empty-handed. Hubbard did not hear the call, and went on. I
dropped my pack, and waited for George to come up.
"You fellus better wait for me," he panted. "I can't manage the canoe
alone in the wind, and if we get separated, I might strike the lake one
place and you somewhere else. And," added George, sententiously, "you
fellus have got the grub."
We shouted to Hubbard to wait, and when he answered, George and I
returned for the canoe. Hubbard, however, kept on, and George and I
carried the canoe ahead until we reached the thick woods into which he
had disappeared; then George went back for my pack. Presently we heard
Hubbard call from the depths of the woods, and a little later the sound
of an axe.
As we learned later, he had dropped his pack, and was blazing a trail
towards us in order that he might find it again. He was as nervous as
George had been over his narrow escape from being permanently separated
from the rest of the party, and at a time when such a happening would
have had serious consequences for us all. Under the best of
circumstances, the prospect of being left alone in the midst of that
inhospitable wilderness was enough to appal.
On the 7th we reached a creek, and launched the canoe. Hubbard went
ahead to fish below the rapids in the creek while George and I brought
down the canoe and outfit, making several short portages. That night we
camped two miles down the stream. Hubbard had caught, by hard work,
thirty small trout, half of which we ate for supper.
We were still ravenously hungry after we finished the trout, but the
bag contained only one more meal of venison and we did not dare draw on
it. This, together with the difficulty we were having in reaching the
"big water," set Hubbard to worrying again. He was especially anxious
about the sufficiency of the material he had gathered for a story,
fearing that if he failed to reach the caribou grounds there would not
be enough to satisfy his publishers. I told him I thought he already
had enough for a "bang-up" story.
"Anyway," I said, "we'll reach the caribou grounds, and see the Indians
yet. George and I will go with you to the last ditch; you can count on
us to the finish."
"All right," said Hubbard, evidently relieved. "If you boys aren't
sick of it, it's on to the caribou grounds, late or no late. But I
feel I've got you fellows in a tight place."
"We came with our eyes open," I replied, "and it's not your fault."
On the morning of September 8th, following our stream out to a shoal,
rocky bay, we reached the "big water" at last. It was the great body
of water that I have mapped out as Windbound Lake. Forty miles we had
portaged from Lake Disappointment. We were practically out of food of
any kind. Looking over the great expanse of water stretching miles
away to the westward, we wondered what our new lake had in store for us
of hope and success, of failure and, despair. Would it lead us to
Michikamau? If not, what were we to do?
On its farther shore, about twenty miles to the northwest, rose in
solemn majesty a great, grey mountain, holding its head high above all
the surrounding world. It shall be known as Mount Hubbard. To this
mountain we decided to paddle and view the country. Instinctively we
felt that Michikamau lay on the other side. We launched our canoe
after a light luncheon of trout and a small ptarmigan George had shot.
Once in the course of the afternoon we stopped paddling to climb a low
ridge near the shore and eat cranberries, which we found in abundance
on its barren top. From the ridge we could see water among the hills
in every direction. In the large lake at our feet were numerous wooded
We camped at dusk on one of these islands, and on Wednesday, September
9th, launched our canoe at daybreak, to resume our journey to Mount
Hubbard. We reached its base before ten o'clock. Blueberries grew in
abundance on the side of the mountain, which, together with the country
near it, had been burned. One of us, it was decided, should remain
behind to pick berries, while the others climbed to the summit. I
volunteered for the berrypicking, but I shall always regret it was not
possible for me to go along.
Before Hubbard and George returned, I had our mixing basin filled with
berries, and the kettle half full. The day was clear, crisp and
delightful—one of those perfect days when the atmosphere is so pure
and transparent that minute objects can be distinguished for miles. On
the earth and on the water, not a thing of life was to be seen. The
lake, relieved here and there with green island-spots; the cold rocks
of distant mountains to the northeast; the low, semi-barren ridges and
hills that we had travelled over bounding the lake to the eastward, and
a ridge of green hills west of the lake that extended southward from
behind Mount Hubbard as far as the eye could reach—all combined to
complete a scene of vast and solemn beauty; and I, alone on the
mountain side picking blueberries, felt an inexpressible sense of
loneliness—felt myself the only thing of life in all that boundless
From the moment Hubbard and George had left me, I had not seen or heard
them. But up the mountain they went through the burnt spruce forest,
up for four miles over rocks, up and up to the top; and then to the
westernmost side of the peak they went and looked—looked to the West;
and there, only a few miles away, lay Michikamau with its ninety-mile
expanse of water—the lake we so long had sought for and fought so
desperately to reach. It was there, just beyond the ridge I had seen
extending to the southward.