July 2008 Canoe Trip Report - Killarney

Each year myself, and my sister and her husband, go on a "big canoe trip". This is usually a week long excursion, done in Killarney for the last few years. For 2008, we planned a fairly aggressive route of 83 km that would take us up to the north-west part of the park, one of the few areas we have not explored in Killarney. The loop was counter-clockwise from the George Lake, Three Narrows, Great Mountain, Fish, Howry, Nellie, West Channel, Kirk Creek, Muriel, OSA and back to George Lake.

Unfortunately, my brother-in-law had prior work commitments, so it turned out to be only myself and my sister, Nita, for 2008. We decided to stick with the planned route over 7 days and 6 nights, which averaged about 12km a day in travel (including several of the most nasty portages in the park).

Day 1 - Friday July 18th

  • Pick up Nita in Toronto, 7am.
  • Stopped for lunch at the Hungry Bear at the French River, as usual.
  • Threatened rain on the drive up, but cleared by the time we get to the George Lake access in Killarney Park.
  • Reservation for our first night is for Killarney Lake, but the staff confirm that Three Narrows is not even 1/2 booked.
  • We arrive at the portage from Killarney Lake to Three Narrows with plenty of sunlight left, good weather, and feeling fine. So, we decide to push through.
  • The 3.5 km march to Three Narrows is as I remember it... long and grueling. We single trip the full length, with 4 stops (almost 3).
  • Still good energy, so we push on past camp sites 43 and 51, hoping to get to 39, making our second day's trip to Great Mountain easier.
  • Arriving at site 39 around 7:30pm on the east-most point of Three Narrows, we wish we had stopped earlier! Poor camp site, over grown, weedy landing. We're too pooped out to turn around, so we make the best of it.
  • Steak for dinner... last day for fresh meat on this trip, but now 2 lbs lighter!
  • Total distance traveled: 13 km. Total Portages - 3725 meters: 80m, 360m, 2950m, 335m.

Day 2 - Saturday July 19th, to Great Mountain

  • Up at 7:30am, beautiful sunny and calm day. Fog lifts from the water shortly after we wake up.
  • I have been looking forward to this next section of travel from Three Narrows to Great Mountain for years, as I've not done it. Nita always said how scenic it was; a meandering route through gentle flowing creeks.
  • Well, the scenery was not to be had! Water levels the whole way are down 3 to 4 feet, the water is tea-brown stagnant, and stinky. Mud at every portage landing.
  • The water levels cause an extra small portage not otherwise on the map, causing us great confusion. The low water also adds confusion between the 835 and 770 portages, as the access is fully hidden 50 feet in land!
  • Arriving at Little Mountain Lake makes it all worth it: Caribbean blue water unlike any I've seen in northern Ontario waters.

    Little Mountain Lake
    Little Mountain Lake, from the stern

    Little Mountain Lake water
    Caribbean blue water of Little Mountain Lake

  • Short video of Little Mountain Lake (8 meg.)

  • Jorge had raved about site 157 in the past, noting the spectacular cliff view opposite the camp site. So, we land and stay there.

    Great Mountain Lake, view from site 152
    View from site 157 on Great Mountain Lake

  • Alas, more minor challenges... the main lower site is completely over-run by red fire ants! We're clearly not the first to note this... a tent pad and fire pit has been made on higher ground a ways in. Not as scenic, but the ants below are fierce and bite.
  • A couple of young park rangers in a canoe paddle up not long after, having planned on removing the extra fire pit on the site. They disassemble the lower pit which was over-run by ants, up turning the nest and sending the ants into a frenzy. These two girls look completely at home up here, and we have a nice chat before they are on their way to their own semi-permanent ranger site somewhere on the east side of Great Mountain Lake.
  • The rangers had tossed the old log covering the ant nest into the water, sending frantic ants floating out into the bay. Small fish jump like crazy for them. Using bits of branches and bark, I feed a juvenile urge and toss more ants into the water for the fish to eat. I'm surprised to see any fish at all in the lake, as it's fairly clear and acidic (not as clear as OSA, but similar).

    Great Mountain Lake, south view from site 152
    You can't see them, but red and black ants are covering the canoe

  • Pizza for dinner, in my home-made oven. Oh... a new favorite camp meal!

    Man, was that pizza GOOD!

  • Total distance traveled: 9 km. Total Portages - 1945m:, 130m, 45m, 110m, 45m, 835m, 770m, 55m.

Day 3 - Sunday July 20th, to Howry Lake

  • Up a bit later at 8 am. A tad cloudy, but otherwise pleasant.
  • Today starts another unexplored part of the park as we head out of Great Mountain, then west along Fish Lake to Howry.

    Inverted tree stump
    Artistic inverted tree stump in the bay of the north portage out of Great Mountain

  • We've been dreading the winds along this section, given the predominant winds from the west in Killarney. Amazingly, a light wind is directly behind behind us from the east for the whole paddle to Howry! And, the sun comes out too!

  • All along the north shore of Fish Lake, we see pine trees chewed free of bark full-round the trunk. We suspect skunks, but aren't completely certain.

    Fish Lake
    Fish Lake... a long paddle, made better with a tail wind!

  • Howry feels very remote and rugged. Site 150 is taken, but site 151 is fine, with a good swimming rock/ledge.

    Howry Lake
    Rustic cabin on the island in Howry Lake, across from site 151

  • After dinner of Shepherd's Pie (more dehydrator and home-made camp oven magic), we paddle over to the old cabin on the island across from our camp site. The island is loaded with blueberries, which are well defended in the evening by biting black flies. The owners leave the rear section of the cabin open for travelers. There's a log book going back many years, which is historic and interesting reading. The cabin and island has been in their family for generations. Along with the blueberries, we find a plastic baggie of fishing worms, still alive! Despite an hour of fishing back at the camp site with the worms, I don't manage to catch anything worth keeping, but it's fun all the same and I do catch and release about half dozen modest sized bass.
  • Total distance traveled: 11 km. Total Portages - 600m: 375m, 90m, 130m.

Day 4 - Monday July 21th, to Nellie Lake

  • Up as usual around 8am. Cloudy day, but warm.
  • Stretching down by the shore, I see a pike flopping around in the weeds of the shallow bay to our right. Lures or worms, nothing seems to tempt that fish! Instead, it's muffins for breakfast.
  • We stop for rest and lunch at the portage from Murray Lake to Nellie. Having been warned by Kevin Callan in his books, we know this portage is not going to be easy. Once we start, it's not long before we hit an incredibly steep section that pictures do not do justice to. For the first time in all my many canoe trips, we are forced to double-carry our load, leaving the food pack and extras behind for the return trip.

    Nellie portage
    Grueling steep climb from Murray to Nellie

  • Short video of Nellie Portage Hell (7 meg.)

  • Despite having done "The Pig" and the Killarney/Three Narrows portages more than once, this portage wins the top spot in my Portages From Hell category! Steep, and just long enough to not be walkable with 75+ lbs of equipment in one go.
  • But the portage is worth it, when we arrive at Nellie Lake (via Carmichael). It is a surreal lake, the clearest I've ever seen. The sun is out, and one can see down to the white bottom rocks about 100 feet below! You can't look over the gunwales for too long without getting a bit of vertigo. Possibly because of the lack of life in the lake, the surroundings seem very quiet and devoid of life. It's a very remote, forlorn feeling place.

    The clear waters of Nellie Lake at dusk

  • Camp site 143 is meticulously laid out, logistically excellent in every way with two nice level tent pads, the ideal front canoe landing ledge, perfectly spaced hammock trees, and a clean thunder box. Very twilight-zone.
  • I try a dip in the water to cool off and clean up, but Nellie is cold! I last in the water for less than a minute. Must be the clear water and light-colored bottom that keeps it so cool.
  • After dinner (dehydrated seafood alfredo... no camp oven tonight), we venture along the bay for more blueberries. We pay the expected blood toll to the hungry black flies, but score a healthy amount to make excellent pancakes in the morning.

    Fresh blueberry pancakes in the morning... yum!

  • Short Blueberry pancakes in the morning video (4 meg.)

  • Total distance traveled: 10.5 km. Total Portages - 1935m: 465m, 1470m.

Day 5 - Tuesday July 22th, to the East Channel

  • Up as usual around 8 am. Overcast, but eventually turns into a gorgeous, warm, sunny day.
  • The portage out of Nellie, south, is longer, but mostly downhill and much easier.
  • Between Helen Lake and Low Lake on the 70m portage, we discover a huge patch of unpicked blueberries. We pick over a liter of them in less than 1/2 hour.

  • Short video - a nalgene of blueberries! (4 meg.)

  • Exiting Low Lake on a 20m portage south into a swamp, we discover a female moose and her calf grazing in the weeds. They don't spot us, and we get a precious 10 minutes to watch them eat.

    Moose 1
    Female moose and calf eating

  • Travelling down the East Channel is fairly disappointing, as we immediately start encountering boats of all shapes and sizes in varying states of party readiness. Again, somehow the winds are just right today, with a modest breeze from the north.
  • We plan on paddling to site 137, to shorten the next day's travel back into the park. Unfortunately, site 137 is rarely used, and really unpleasant overall: swampy weedy entrance, widow-maker trees overhanging the main tent pad, and completely over-grown. We scout the crown land neighboring the area, but return to the park camp site to make the best of it.
  • Site 137 does have it's surprises though! Mid-way through dinner toward dusk (dehydrated chicken dumpling stew), a large buck leaps through the bush directly into our camp, not 10 feet from us! It stands there for a full minute, quite surprised by our existence, an annoying obstacle to his probable nightly routine of eating the plentiful grasses and ferns in this overgrown site. An attempt to grab the camera sends him off in a huff.
  • Bored with the infinite supply of blueberries we've collected, and no pack mule to carry them, we decide to experiment and make blueberry turnovers out of the bannock mix (using the now cherished camp oven). They taste as good as they look.

    Blueberry turnovers
    Fresh blueberry turnovers

  • We head out into the swampy bay to the east at sunset for a paddle. We're rewarded with sightings of a doe and deer, a beaver building it's lodge, a muskrat diving into it's hole, and several heron wading for minnows.

    East Channel Bay
    Sunset on the East Channel

  • Total distance traveled: 14 km. Total Portages - 2600m: 2525m, 70m, 20m, 19m

Day 6 - Wednesday July 23th, to OSA

  • Up around 7:30 am. Windless, sunny and hot already. Modest fishing attempts fail, as usual.
  • Today we camp on OSA! After years of failing to get a reservation on this lake, we finally get to camp on it (rather than just paddle through it). Helps to plan OSA as the last night of a seven day journey.
  • The trip from the East Channel up Kirk Creek to Three Narrows is not as easy as one would think. The constant in-and-out for the short portages to climb elevation are annoying and tiring. None of it made easier knowing we have to climb "The Pig" portage at the end of it. The creek is very scenic though, and the weather co-operates with us again, providing a perfect start to the day.
  • The Pig, oh, so aptly named! Not as steep as the Nellie portage, but it's a longer climb up, and a boulder scree all the way. Eating lunch at the portage before the climb, a couple of fisherman arrive by boat and head toward the 6-wheeled specialized ATV at the base of the portage. No amount of smiles and pleasantries from us weary foot-travelers seems to break their dark mood as we lay the way to grovel a ride, but in the end they just dump off some gear in the vehicle and head off in their boat. No free ride for us!
  • We plan, as usual, to stop after the summit of the portage at Topaz Lake, and as usual, don't do so once we get there. We're just too tired, and instead trudge on, but at least downhill, to Artist Lake. Also as usual, we encounter several casual day-hikers who want to stop and chat about the up-hill portage we just completed. I'm always surprised that the canoe on my head, full pack on my back, and my strained breathing, doesn't quite dissuade people from requesting a social visit right then and there!
  • The weather turns on us, bringing an ugly looking set of thunder clouds from the west (the usual multi-seasonal weather of Killarney experienced all in one day). We get a deluge of rain for 20 minutes, but minimal distant thunder and no lightning near us, thankfully.
  • OSA, here we are! With a late arrival, we knew it would challenging to find what would most likely be the last remaining open camp site. 31 is available, but set back in the woods and missing out on all the great scenery. We press on hopefully to site 29 (the best site on the lake), which is of course taken. Site 30 is available, and we settle for it.
  • The storm passes over us moving eastward. So, we get brilliant clear sunny skies to the west, and an ugly storm front to the east.

    OSA - 1
    Storm front on OSA

    OSA - 2
    Rainbow on OSA

  • Short video of the storm front on OSA (5 meg.)

  • The water is not as cold as Nellie, but still not pleasant on my thin frame. Spaghetti for dinner: the most basic of dehydrated meals, but always tasty.

  • Total distance traveled: 14.5 km. Total Portages - 3060m: 75m, 40m, 50m, 50m, 75m, 20m, 50m, 1810m, 185m, 110m, 595m.

Day 7 - Thursday July 24th, to George Lake

  • Up around 8:00 am. Another nice day in Killarney, sun is already out and steaming the lake surface.
  • 7 days is not enough... Nita and I wish we could just loop around again. Sigh.
  • We make our way back to George Lake without incident. The usual killer eastward winds running along the top of George Lake are not bad today, so it's a fine paddle back. We stop for a swim and bit of fishing on the south return arm to the George Lake Access point, delaying our return.
  • On the road back to Toronto by 2 pm or so!

  • Total distance traveled: 11.5 km. Total Portages - 915m: 455m, 380m, 80m.

So, another amazing trip in our favorite park, Killarney, the Crown Jewel of Ontario. There are now very few places and lakes we haven't been to in the park, even with the new expanded areas to the east. Next year, a fly-in trip to Temagami.

But in closing...

We get a rude return to civilization unfortunately. On the way home, we pick up two stranded and exhausted dogs abandoned on the road to the highway out of the park in the middle of no where, and find out that municipalities up north have less than no concern for lost animals. We end up finding a sympathetic cop at the police station in Stillwater, who takes in the dogs. Says it's not the first time, and he's not surprised that none of the municipalities will help us (including Parry Sound and Barrie).

On arrival in Kitchener at 1 am, only 2 km from home, my Subaru car engine dies unexpectedly. Days later I find out the engine is burned out, possibly from a radiator leak (and no light in the dash came on). A Toyota Highlander has since replaced the very suspect Subaru Forrester.