Killarney Outer Loop Canoe Trip - July 2010
This is a trip report for the annual "Big Canoe Trip" with my sister Nita and her husband Jorge, and myself (Dan). This is an annual tradition for us, going back many years. This year, like last year's trip in Temagami Ontario, we were joined by our friends Lee and Sherri.
Although we've paddled almost every part of Killarney in the past, it is still our favorite canoeing park, so we planned for another "outer loop" trip covering the boundary of the park over eight days:
Nita, Jorge and myself would paddle my 17'6" ultra light Temagami Swift, as we've done many times in the past. Lee and Sherri paddled their beautiful kevlar Langford canoe. This was an eight-day trip in 2010, from July 21st to 28. We planned the trip to start from Johnnie Lake, namely because that provided the most convenient daily travel distances given the lakes we wanted to stay on. Most importantly, we wanted to have two nights on Nellie, the clearest lake in the park. The plan was to use the layover day on Nellie to explore neighboring Grace Lake and hike to locate some Group of Seven painting locations.
Day 1 - Johnnie Lake Access Point to David Lake
As usual, I got up before dawn and headed to Toronto to pick up Nita and Jorge for 7am. Lee and Sherri left an hour behind me from Kitchener as well, so that we would all meet up at the Hungry Bear Restaurant on highway 69 for lunch, before entering the park. The "Big Trip" is always the canoe trip I look most forward to every year. The length of the Big Trip means getting farther into the park, more remote locations, and a peaceful state of mind that is harder to obtain on short duration trips.
We met up at the Hungry Bear Restaurant around noon, and enjoyed a big lunch at this traditional northern rest stop. The French River Trading Post, home of the big blue bear icon of this restaurant, is an interesting and historic place. It's been there since the 1960s, probably selling moccasins and fudge back then too.
Fudge. Nothing says highway 69 and Up North than fudge at roadside tourist hut. Strange, but true. And of course, the Hungry Bear has it's homemade fudge for sale as well, although I've never actually tried it. I'll stick to the eggs and bacon.
I headed to the George Lake park office to get our permits, while the rest of the crew started unloading at our start and end point, Johnnie Lake. The weather was perfect... warm, no wind, and sunny. A great way to start the trip!
Our route took us through Clear Silver Lake, to David. We had hoped to take site 105 at the north end of David, given we were heading to Great Mountain Lake the next day, but unfortunately, it was occupied. As were almost all of the other sites we passed! We ended up paddling a fair distance off our route and took site 94.
Despite having paddled through almost every lake in Killarney Park, I had never actually camped on David Lake before (I generally stay on Boundary Lake, which is well worth the extra portage.) There are two sets of cottages on islands in the lake, one of which is turning into an urban landscape of hot tubs and out-buildings. Plus, the cottages are supplied by float plane, which land all too frequently on David. These owners retained their land rights when the park was formed. The park maintains an official policy strictly governing these few private properties that pre-date the park's formation, and often the lands are sold back to the park over time. Sadly, the cottages on David Lake do not seem to be going this way, and will remain an eye-sore.
Lee and Sherri had cooking duty that evening, serving up a tasty chili for dinner. While we normally plan for steaks or other (heavy) food for the first day's meal, we opted out on this trip to save weight and space. Dehydrated all the way, baby!
In this sort video, Jorge interrogated our boat crew on "Why we Love Killarney Park":
Day 2 - Howry Lake
The perfect weather held over Thursday morning, as we headed off for the portage between David and Great Mountain Lake. I have camped on Great Mountain before, but I reached it from the long set of small portages from Three Narrows Lake. Jorge had done this 3 kilometer portage before though, and said while it was long, it was not as grueling as "The Pig".
A bit past halfway at a high point in the trail, we paused for a snack. We passed three different groups going the other way to David Lake, including a youth group of young girls. One young guy in a fishing group was quite literally jogging with his canoe, pack, and outgrowth of attached gear. I thought we were pretty ambitious by single tripping all portages, but this guy was another breed altogether! Later, a women came running back to us along the trail, saying one of the girls in the youth group had fallen and done something to her ankle, so she was racing back to get their first aid kit to help (it turned out it was only lightly twisted, nothing trip-ending.) Eventually, the traffic subsided, and we arrived at Fish Lake.
The paddle from Fish Lake to Murray is directly West, which usually means tough paddling into the predominantly eastward winds of Georgian Bay. Two years earlier when Nita and I completed our Killarney loop trip, the wind had mercifully been at our back the whole way, including this stretch. Our luck continued this day, with almost no wind to contend with (ok... not as good as a wind pushing us, but I'll take it!)
We arrived at Howry, and took site 151, the same site Nita and I had used two years ago. For this year's trip, I was sporting a new piece of high-tech gear, a Hennesy Hammock. Usually, Nita, Jorge and I share a four man tent for our trips together. But I decided to give them some relief from my constant tossing and turning at night (my back gets very sore at night when camping), and opted for the sleeping hammock. I had tried it at home before leaving, and thought it would be ok. In fact, my back had not hurt at all, so I thought I had solved all my problems!
Alas, the dream solution was not to be found in the Hennesy hammock. While some people rave about this thing, it simply didn't work well for me. It cramps your shoulders together, and I constantly woke up with different aches and pains. There's no way to get a sleeping pad to stay under you, and your back gets incredibly cold, even with 15-20C weather. There is no comfortable sleeping position, and I just could not get to sleep night after night. And the rain fly is far too small, so even a light rain with wind means getting wet inside. I managed all the same for this trip, but it was no joy. The only good news is that the company was very good about allowing me to return the hammock after the trip.
Nita and Jorge provided dinner that night, a wonderful traditional Mexican chicken tinga with rice and tortillas. Jorge's Mexican food makes a great canoe trip, a perfect canoe trip.
Day 3 - Nellie Lake
We woke up to a gray day, threatening rain, and a bit cool. We took our time getting ready that morning, preparing mentally for the grueling portage from Murray to Nellie. I had done this trek, in this direction before, and it is without any doubt the hardest portage in the park, even though it is not the longest. It's just so steep! Lee and Sherri had not done it before, so I hoped I was not scaring them too much about it. Normally, we single trip portages, each carrying heavy loads, and pausing for breaks every 600-700 meters. I was very concerned about this one, and with the bad looking weather, I wanted us to be cautious and double trip it, which was the topic of conversation that morning.
It had drizzled a bit on and off on the paddle to Murray Lake, and continued to threaten rain as we hit the start of the portage to Nellie. We stopped for lunch first, then packed up for the steep vertical climb. After ascending the first steep section, I was chastised for making such a big deal of this portage... of course, just maybe it was not so bad because we so prudently broke up the load! We headed back for the second load, continuing the rest of the portage with our normal single-carry method. It was a tough haul all the same getting to Carmichael Lake, and we were all beat, and ready to relax for a couple days on Nellie. Thankfully, the weather cleared by afternoon and the sun came out.
Nita and I had camped on Nellie before, so we had talked up the amazing beauty of the lake repeatedly to the group. Thankfully, it did not disappoint... the crazy clear water (30m depth) is thrilling to paddle over as you look down and see bottom. We stayed at site 143, which has to be the most picture-perfect back-country camp site in all of Ontario. The site has a perfect canoe-width drop off and landing rock, the tent pads are perfectly level and plentiful, the thunderbox is pristine, and there's a rock to laze out on in the sun. They should have a heater for the lake though... because the water is clear and the bottom is white rock, it does not absorb much energy from the sun, so it is always freezing for swimming.
Despite the cold water, we all managed to get in to wash away the sweat and dirt. Jorge had found a pair of abandoned swimming goggles at a prior site. Using them in the clear Nellie water was a thrill! A large beaver dam was located 100m away on the shore, so you could swim over and view the structure clear as day all the way to the bottom. It was amazing to learn that beaver dams are like icebergs... there is 3 times more wood and structure under water than above. This unique experience was well worth braving the cold water.
That night, I was up for cooking duty, preparing burritos from my own dehydrated string beef and refried beans. You can never get too much Mexican food.
Day 4 - Nellie Lake (layover)
A day of rest! And we woke to another perfect day, promising sunshine for our day-trek to Grace Lake. Grace is a lake none of us had visited yet, and well known for the paintings of A.J. Jackson and other Group of Seven painters. Sherri had diligently prepared before hand, copying photos, while I had made surveys to guess the possible painting locations. As it turns out, many others have done the same before us, especially Jim and Sue Waddington.
Nita and Jorge decided to stay back at camp, as my crazy sister had brought some editing work "that just had to get done." So, Sherri, Lee and myself headed off with our painting photocopies, maps and lunch.
Grace Lake did not disappoint: it is spectacular, very similar to OSA Lake with it's little rock islands scattered throughout. We headed to a small white-rock island at the west end, which we thought was the source of the "Bent Pine" painting by A.J. Jackson. It was moving, imagining this famous painter sitting there in that same spot, taking in the same inspiring scenery.
We then headed to the north shore, and picked our way up the steep hill to try and get to another painting spot. We knew we had arrived, because others had made a rock cairn at the obvious spot. We enjoyed lunch on the hilltop, enjoying the stunning view East across Grace Lake, and West to Georgian Bay. I will never get tired of the views from the many hilltops of the LaCloche mountain range in Killarney. Thankfully, there's probably still 50 or more hills for me to climb in the coming years!
We made our way back to Nellie, reluctantly leaving behind Grace Lake. It was at this point that I vowed I'd return to Grace Lake in the future and camp there for a couple of nights, to explore the area some more.
Back at camp, Nita and Jorge were itching to get some hiking in too. So, the three of us headed up the hilltop between Nellie and Carmichael Lake, another painting point of the Group of Seven. We were rewarded not only with an amazing view, but also an overflowing patch of ripe blueberries! Past readers of my trip reports will know that Nita and I have a genetic disease, inherited from our northern Quebecois roots, for blueberries. We cannot pass any patch without grazing them. Of course, we had not planned for a blueberry haul, so we had to empty a nalgene and fill it up on the spot.
Day 5 - East Channel
Day 6 - Muriel Lake
Day 7 - Killarney Lake
Day 8 - Back to Johnnie Lake