Killarney Hiking Trip - March 2012
Myself and my buddy Dan Payne decided to get a jump start on the paddling season with an early hiking trip in Killarney (see our 2010 trip in Chiniguchi). I've done this a few times now, getting out for an early hiking trip while there's still snow on the ground, but only in Algonquin. This would actually be my first real hiking trip in Killarney, sans canoe!
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Day 0, Wednesday Mar. 28 - French River In
We left on the Wednesday afternoon, having booked a room at the French River Inn for the night, so we could get a good start on the hike the following day. The weather report looked cold, but passable. The prior two weeks had been incredibly warm, but the spell broke, leaving us with sub-zero temperatures for our trip. At least the warm weather had melted all the snow, so snow shoes would not be required.
The French River Trading Post Motel is where I usually stay overnight when looking for a layover night, but they close for the winter season, leaving the French River Inn 500m south of them to pick up the business. I had not stayed there before... nor will I plan to again if at all possible! It's been for sale for a couple years, and is definitely run down. The room was stark, had flies buzzing around (yes, in March), but it was just a lay over night. First trip of the season to look forward to there after! Actually, the restaurant, which I had not eaten in before, was acceptable, although I would have preferred the Hungry Bear Restaurant up the road, had it been open.
Day 1 - "The Crack" Access point to Little Superior Lake
It was a crisp 1C day, overcast, but no forecast for ugly rain or snow. We drove to the George Lake park office to get our permit... but there was no one there! Not a car or person in sight. So, for the first time ever, I used the self check-in, and we drove back to the highway access point for "The Crack" hike.
On arrival, and we were the only car there. As we loaded up, a few flakes of snow drifted down into the grey stillness. We set off, with the long sad winter of waiting for the next trip behind us. Although we didn't know it then, we would not see a soul for three days until Sunday: I doubt anyone else was even in the park, given the poor weather.
The hike to Kakakise, where the real "Crack" hike starts, was uneventful. I've not hiked this preliminary section from the highway to the trail head, as usually I'm doing "The Crack" by boat from Kakakise. My sister Nita and husband Jorge once made the rotten mistake of taking the fork right instead of left coming from Freeland years back, and ended up at the highway with their canoe and gear!
My buddy Dan had never actually been in Killarney, so I was hoping that all my tales of the majesty vistas would live up! Indeed, one hour later we arrived at peak of the "The Crack", to be greeted by a family of three moose munching on green branch tips and buds. We were no more than 10 metres away from them... they looked at us, and simply went back to eating! I've been to the Crack probably ten or more times, and I've never seen such a thing. So, we simply sat down, pulled out our lunch, and ate alongside the moose!
Killarney Lake and OSA were still frozen over, with just a few ribbons of open black water along some south shorelines. There was not a breath of wind up there, which is rare, but even more stunning was the bald eagle soaring around the peak. We watched it circle southward from across Killarney Lake toward us, and carry on south west to Freeland.
Although I've been up to The Crack many times, I've never actually taken the hiking trail further east. Killarney is my favorite park, and the most beautiful place in Ontario. I was really looking forward breaking new ground.
I expected the ridgeline trail to Little Superior to be fairly straight forward, but it took us a lot longer than I expected. We arrived at campite H49, tired and ready for a fire. Dan Payne is a master of fire (on a trip in 2006, he managed to get a blaze going in the pouring cold rain), so he focused on that and I got the camp setup. Dark came quickly, so we ate, stayed close to the fire, and warmed up water for our nalgenes to bring into our sleeping bags. I've heard of this trick before, but never needed to use it. We we're certainly glad for it that night, as it dropped to -3C.
Day 2 - Bush Whacking in the cold
There was little doubt how cold it got overnight, as the water nalgenes had 5mm of ice on them, as did the previous day's open water along the shoreline. We had a slow start to the day, never leaving the warmth of the fire for long.
Our plan for the day was to hike down to the east-most tip of Killarney Lake, then cross over and get to some peaks on the La Cloche range. We made it down through the open bush to Killarney fine, but the creek cut to Norway across the old beaver dam was completely open and running, and just too wide to cross over. We contemplated trying to ford the creek farther east, but the water was brutally cold, and just not worth risking. So, we worked our way back to the trail near Shinwak Lake. Once we connected with the trail, it was easy enough to work our way west back to camp. Along the way, we spotted a family of four deer bouncing along the south face, probably eating the just opening tree buds as well.
The warm weather the week before had completely melted all the snow, and in some ways we were lucky it got cold again, so that the ground was firm and not a muck puddle. We did see a few pockets of ice on north-facing spots, but very few. Back in camp, a few flakes of snow started coming down once more. One didn't stay long away from the fire!
Day 3 - Clear, sunny weather for our return
It cleared up over night, which also brought our coldest temperatures, around -5C. After a hearty breakfast, we started off west back to "The Crack". The sky was clear, and I could not wait for Dan to see the view on a sunny day.
We arrived in time for lunch, greeted by incredible views of the surrounding area. I still think The Crack is more scenic that Silver Peak, despite being less high. We had the place to ourselves, but I guessed eventually Sunday hikers would make there way up for sure. And indeed, as we munched our lunch, some day hikers made their way to the top, clearly surprised to see us, and especially our hiking gear. A regular train of day trippers arrived at 10 minute intervals, each equally bummed to not be the only people at The Crack off season.
I'm not big into hiking, since if the water is unfrozen, I always prefer to take canoe trips. But, early spring hiking trips get me out there earlier, so I always do one in late March or early April. My knees though have a stronger opinion on this than the rest of me... by the time I got back to the car, my left knee was surpisingly sore. I had got our pack weights down to 43 pounds each, certainly not in the ultra-light category. The hike up and down the ridge had it's toll on me for sure! But, we made it back fine, although sad to leave behind such amazing weather.
So, it's December 10 2012 as I write this, and already I'm missing Killarney.
Dan and I are planning to go back again in the Spring of 2013, maybe
east to Acid Lake... if the weather co-operates!