Sunday, September 13, 2009

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!

1 comment:

Erin Gabrysz said...

Thanks for such a great post! We go camping for 2-3 weeks at a time, 4-6 times a year and Killarney is a place I have been wanting to go for a long time.

We will be checking out this year 100%.

Thanks again.

Erin Gabrysz