Sunday, September 13, 2009

Killarney Wildlife

One of the biggest thrills of this year's trip to Killarney, was the variety of wildlife that I was able to see up close--for the record, I saw 2 black bears, a red fox, a black snake, 4 beavers, and 2 loons. Well, of course, I didn't get pictures of all of them, but I did get a few....

On my Thursday mid-day canoe trip, I decided I wanted to go to the cove on George Lake that is lined with 2 large granite cliffs on it's sides and has a small wilderness lake right behind it (a small granite embankment separate the two lakes, so you can easily walk up to the little lake). I thought this would make the perfect spot for a picnic lunch.

As I paddled around the tall rock cliff to enter the cove, I discovered that someone else thought this place was a good lunch spot too....a big black bear!!! He was perched halfway up the rocky cliff eating his lunch and was only a few hundred feet away from me. We looked at each other for a few seconds in surprise, and he then continued to eat his lunch as I began to reach for my camera. He stayed up on the ledge another minute or so before deciding that I was taking far too many bad photos of him, so he decided to walk down to the shoreline. I kept my distance and stayed in the middle of the cove ("Bears can swim" I kept thinking to myself!). Fortunately, the bear didn't catch wind of the pepperoni and cheese slices I had in my lunch bag and decided he would rather retreat back to the rock cliffs and forest around the little wilderness lake than come swim out into the cove to steal my lunch.

I stayed in the cove a few more minutes to see if he (or any of his kinfolk) would return, and then decided to briefly park my canoe along the shore to quickly check out the wilderness lake (I wasn't going to be dumb enough to still eat my lunch there, but at least wanted to scope it out to see if any other animals were around). All was calm-- no more bears or other animals.

Amazing to wonder what would have happened had I come into the cove 10 minutes later, not seen the bear, and had set out to eat my lunch on that very rock the bear had just walked across! Wow.

Thankfully, what a thrill it was to share a few minutes in the wild with this beautiful creature in a calm and peaceful way.

After the bear encounter, I thought for sure that'd be the only memorable wildlife sighting of the whole trip, but the very next day, Millie and I decided to take a hike to a granite boulder trail near Georgian Bay on our way to the town of Killarney. Here's a pretty little shot of Millie on the trail:

As we were driving out of the trailhead parking lot, there sat another black bear eating berries along the side of the road. Millie took a good hard look at him and must have deducted that it was "the strangest looking big black dog" that she'd ever seen! This bear wasn't too fond of a Subaru less than a 100 feet in front of it, so it took off into the woods quickly before I could reach for the camera. Same scenario when we saw a red fox cross the road in the campground a few hours later--too quick for a photo opp.

On the water that night with my camera, I had a bit better luck with some of the other animals--
this pair of loons:

and this delightful beaver who let me get really close and take dozens of pictures of her before she decidededto swim away. What a treat!

Canoe Trip to Ontario - Killarney Provincial Park

George Lake, Killarney Provincial Park, Ontario

I bought my first canoe in 2004 after attending the annual winter expo in Madison, Wisc (Canoecopia), seeing all the boats on display in the convention hall, and hearing a number of Canadian and US canoeists give some wonderfully inspirational slideshow presentations. One of the places mentioned often was Killarney Park in Ontario, so it was one of the first places I headed that summer.

That trip in '04 was magical but miserable too! It rained the whole week, was cold, and bugs were everywhere! To make matters worse, I was camping in a small tent and had only brought freeze-dried backpacker food to eat. I was also too fearful and inexperienced to try paddling anything but the one lake next to campground, but ah, what a lake it was! George Lake was the most amazing place I'd ever experienced---virtually wild except for the one campground, with amazing red, gray, and white granite rock cliffs rising straight out of the water-- many a few hundred feet high! And the water!!! Most mornings and evenings, it was perfectly still and provided mirror reflections of the rocks. This was no ordinary "state park"-- it was a revered and spiritual place: THE "Yosemite Valley" of all canoeing lakes on the continent!

As I looked through those old photos from the 2004 trip, I wondered if I'd get the same feeling on the second visit. This trip was certainly more comfortable than the last-- no rain, no bugs, no dreary tent or camp food. Even though I didn't get another one of those mystical foggy morning paddles that I got to experience on the first trip, I still felt every bit as awe-inspired of this place this second time around. Most of the park, the campground, and the small town of Killarney itself were preserved the same way as they'd been 5 years ago. I hope that it will stay this way for years and future generations to come.

Killarney is 5 hours north of Toronto and takes some dedicated effort to get to-- there's only 1 road in and out, and it's a 40-mile drive to/from the highway and gas stations. The little town of Killarney does offer a few conveniences (an awesome fish-and-chips stand, an old-fashioned general store, a marina, a few small lodges, and a small airstrip), but you mainly get your gas, food, and supplies before you get here.

Like Algonquin, this is a park with hundreds of lakes linked together by portages (well-worn trails that you carry your canoe and supplies from one lake to the other). But unlike Algonquin, Killarney's hills and mountains seem a bit bigger and have more exposed rock. One of my main goals for this trip was to get into some of the interior lakes and try a few of the portages myself.

Wednesday was in the 70's, partly cloudy, with calm winds-- a perfect day to leave Millie in the T@B and head out for a day-long trip into the park interior. I paddled down to the end of George Lake, and found a nice wood dock at the first portage point, a short 80-meter jaunt over to Freeland Lake. Here's the canoe all ready to go onto Freeland:

Freeland was a long, narrow shallow lake with lots of lily plants and relatively flat, forested shoreline (very different from George Lake's large granite cliffs and deep waters). After 2 hours of paddling these 2 lakes, I arrived at my first "real" portage-- a 400-meter trail that would lead me to Killarney Lake. This portage was a bit more difficult, as it followed next to a waterfall and was a modest uphill climb along a shaded trail of tree roots and granite rock slabs. I decided I had better do this portage in 2 trips-- one to carry my pack and paddles, and the other to carry my canoe. After navigating around most of the mud at the Freeland Lake access point, I made it up the trail to a drop-dead gorgeous entrance to Killarney Lake-- well worth all the effort to get there! Killarney had some similar features as George Lake, but was a bit larger and completely silent except for the crickets and other sounds of nature. After an hour of paddling (and still only seeing a small portion of this lake), I stopped into a quiet cove for lunch. Here was my view:

After lunch, the winds started to pick up and I knew my 3 hour paddle back to the T@B was going to take some effort. Fortunately the killer portage was a bit easier going back as the trail was now mainly downhill. I did the same approach as before-- carrying my stuff first, then returning to carry my canoe next. As I neared the end of the portage, with the canoe perched over my head and my arms and shoulders getting very tired and ready to drop the thing, out in front of me darts a foot-long black snake across the trail...YIKES! Note to self-- wear big tall hiking boots next time! Thankfully, the snake seemed more scared of me and didn't stop for a confrontation. But it certainly put a renewed spring to my final steps! A man watching me said he'd never seen anyone finish a portage quite as quickly as I did! The rest of the trip was indeed paddling into the wind, but at least had no further portaging along snake-infested trails!

I arrived back to camp to find Millie well-rested in the T@B and ready for her afternoon swim in George Lake.

On Thursday, I was still pretty sore from the long trip the day before, so I decided to just stay on George Lake and paddle to a quiet cove there for a lunchtime picnic. Here was my spot on George Lake (looks pretty similar to Killarney Lake with the white Le Cloche mountain range in the distance).

Here are a few additional scenes from George Lake:

On my final morning at Killarney, I did a morning hike around Proulx marsh and the cranberry bog just as the morning ground fog was lifting.

My final evening sunset paddle was a serene end to a terrific trip-- calm waters, warm weather, dry and bug-free. An added bonus for this week after Labor Day-- all the kids were back in school, so even the campground was just filled with older, quiet adults. I think I'll make September my preferred month for all my future Canadian canoe trips!

I really hated to leave Canada and return to the States. I don't know what it is, but everyone just seems friendlier up there and less stressed-out than in the States. Even the dogs seemed friendly-- Millie had no shortage of eager playmates at each afternoon swim!
An older couple who was camped next to me invited me over to their campfire each night and were delightful to talk to-- Jack and Dawn from west of Toronto. They camped in a Sportmobile and had driven it all over Canada and the U.S. (including a trip to the artic circle in the Northwest Territories!).

But alas, I had to head back to the hustle and bustle of the U.S. and turn the laptop and cell phone back on. One final stop to Tim Horton's to use up my remaining Toonies, and my immersion into all-things-Canadian was finished for another year. But I'll definitely be back!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Canoe Trip to Ontario - Algonquin Provincial Park

Dawn, Lake of Two Rivers, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario

I had been so busy this summer learning all the finer points to RV'ing with the new Winnebago, that I had neglected some of my other great summertime passions-- T@B camping, canoeing, and an annual trip to Canada. So, when I found some last-minute campsites available at the two prime canoeing parks in Ontario, I quickly reserved them and planned a week-long vacation.

I initially thought I'd leave early Friday evening and stop in Michigan for the night, but the last day of work before a vacation never goes as planned (nor does getting the camper packing finished on-time). So, I got Millie up at 4 a.m. on Saturday and we drove all the way to Algonquin in one lonnngggg day (750 miles in 16 hours). Luckily, I made it to the final town for gas and supplies (Huntsville, Ontario) just before the stores closed, and to my relief, I was not bothering any of the other campers with setting up my camp late at night as a roudy bunch of school kids and their intoxicated parents were making plenty of noise to cover for me (and fortunately, they called it a night about midnight just as I was ready to sleep).

Millie and I stayed at Canisbay campground, one of the many along the "Highway 60 corridor." Algonquin is really 2 different parks in one-- a populated corridor of campgrounds, lodges, cottages, and lakes that are easily accessible from the road; and the interior park of hundreds of additional lakes that are only accessible via multi-day backcountry canoe tripping. I opted for the comforts of the corridor park for this visit.

We had a large electric site at Canisbay so I decided to rig up the rope lights. Millie and I also enjoyed our nightly Firedancer campfire-- what a "must-have" camping item for campers like me who can't ever seem to keep a real campfire lit (and who don't want to mess with hauling/chopping wood around with them). When we later got to our non-electric site at Killarney Park, the Firedancer did double-duty at providing lighting for the inside of the trailer (so my battery power could be used solely on keeping the fridge running).

Our daily routine at Algonquin was to putz around camp in the morning or take a hike, then take Millie for a swim after lunch, and let her sleep and dry off in the car while I would go canoeing for a few hours. (A bit of history-- when Millie was a puppy, I had visions of her growing up into one of those great canoeing dogs that just sits quietly in the front of the canoe and enjoys the ride....but alas, she much preferred being in the water than on it inside some tippy boat).

Since I knew I'd be canoeing a lot of lakes at Killarney, I decided in Algonquin to take advantage of the Madawaska River that connects a number of the corridor lakes to each another. This section connected the very large Lake of Two Rivers to Pog Lake and featured a number of lily plants.

While most of the lakes in Algonquin prohibit motor boats, some of the larger corridor lakes allow them. These are also some of the lakes that still have "grandfathered-in" private lodges and cottages on them as well. As I paddled the connector between Rock and Whitefish lakes, I came across this classic old cottage that had a great dock to sit on-- pretty nice digs!

Pog Lake is a very popular campground and canoeing lake-- but fortunately, for me this day, the campground had just closed for the season, so the lake was completely mine to paddle!

On Tuesday after Labor Day, we left Algonquin for a pretty 4-hour drive over to Killarney Provincial Park along Georgian Bay. Our days in Algonquin had been warm and sunny with virtually no bugs. My only regret was not getting to see a moose (which apparently are all over the place here in the spring and fall). In fact, I didn't see much of any wildlife at this park-- they must all know better to stick to the vast interior sections of the park and leave the corridor to the wild humans.