As I stand on the corner of Dufferin and Lawrence waiting for a bus, cars whizzing by, people hurrying across the intersection, I find it hard to believe that only a few days ago I was paddling through Killarney’s backcountry. In fact, if it wasn’t for the bruises on my shoulders from schlepping the canoe around, bug bites around my ankles and a slightly darker complexion, I would think I dreamt it all up: Killarney’s signature white cliffs, blue lakes and mournful loons. A beautiful dream, one that keeps me going as I try to elbow my way to the back of 52A bus.
The adventure begins
Everyone who’s done a bit of camping knows that the adventure starts way before you dip your paddle into the water or hoist a backpack. It begins with a craving for undiluted nature, followed by choosing the destination, pouring over maps and planning the route, imagining what all those squiggles and lines look like in real life. This particular adventure started in February with a visit to the Outdoor Adventure Show in Toronto, where we purchased Jeff’s map of Killarney (with tons of additional features, including estimated travel times, this map is most helpful on any trip) and some gear.
Our little crew acquired a new member this year – my friend who rarely leaves the city (that’s the name we brainstormed for her a while ago, but since she’s been doing it more and more lately it probably no longer applies) decided to join us. In fact, that’s where the idea to go to Killarney originated – with her reminiscing about a canoe trip years ago and talking about going back. So Killarney it was.
It wasn’t our first trip to this park, often referred to as the crown jewel of Ontario Parks system and deservedly so. Located just south of Sudbury, it is home to beautiful La Cloche Mountains, which at one point were higher than the Rockies, and over 50 lakes travelled by Anishnaabek people long before the park became one of Ontario’s most famous wilderness destinations. Killarney now has a new neighbour – a First Nation owned and operated recreational park, Point Grondine. Earlier this year, Killarney and Point Grondine signed a partnership agreement so it will be interesting to see how both parks develop as a result of it. And I am really looking forward to exploring Point Grondine.
But back to Killarney. It is my favourite park in Ontario, if not overall. So no wonder we’ve been going back time and again. Last year, we spent a couple of days on O.S.A. Lake and then rang in 2016 in the park’s newly built cabin. This year, we decided to try the Bell Lake access, paddle to Boundary Lake, stay there for a day, hike to Silver Peak, Killarney’s highest point, then paddle to Balsam Lake, camp for a night, and finish back at Bell Lake.
We left town on Wednesday to beat the Canada Day weekend exodus the next day. While we managed to avoid the worst traffic, the trip wasn’t to a good start. Our son forgot to bring his book, and it wasn’t until Barrie that he finally started to let go of the disappointment (a veggie burger and fries at A&W might have had something to do with it). We then stopped in Parry Sound to pick up a new book by some author who was touted as a new queen of fantasy. Judging by how glued he was to the book during the whole trip and on the ride home, that title was well deserved.
With all the stops and breaks, it was already dark when we arrived in the park. On the way we saw three foxes cross the road right in front of our car and a moose standing by the roadside surrounded by fireflies. It was a magical moment.
The first night, we stayed at the George Lake Campground, site #7, same one we used before our canoe trip last year. Looks like it is now becoming a tradition. We set up camp but didn’t feel like sleeping just yet. So we spent a couple of hours talking and watching the star-strewn sky. Our conversation was occasionally interrupted by a lone racoon who’d leisurely walk across our site clearly disappointed that there was nothing but a bottle of Malbec on the table.
On the water
In the morning, we quickly packed, had some coffee and French toast, picked our backcountry permit at the office and headed to Bell Lake. We had two canoes booked at Killarney Kanoes conveniently located right by the lake. (They also issue backcountry permits so you don’t need to drive all the way to the office.) The staff were extremely helpful putting canoes right into the water for us. After throwing our gear in and taking a few group photos in all possible combinations, we set out.
We had about 5 hours of paddling to do, and it was a perfect day for it – calm waters and blue skies with the white quartz cliffs of La Cloche Mountains looming in the distance.
It took us about 30 minutes to get to the first portage from Bell Lake to David Creek. There was a beautiful patch of water lilies right before the portage so we spent some time just drifting through that field of white and green with occasional splashes of yellow, spellbound by the beauty.
Eventually it was time to move on. The first and longest portage of the trip was awaiting. It was a little over 700 metres but fairly level and, with the rainless weather we’d been having, it was very dry and mosquito-free. After terrible attacks we experienced last summer, it was a pleasant surprise. My friend acting as a mosquito magnet, even more than our younger son usually is, could also be an explanation for an almost itch-free weekend.
A paddle across David Creek was short and quick. The portage into David Lake was only 210 metres and didn’t’ take us long either.
David Lake is quite big with lots of campsites scattered around. The three we passed along the way were already occupied, and we came across a few canoes looking for an available site. That’s when we appreciated the fact that Boundary Lake, where we were heading, only had one, which eliminated the need to scout the entire lake. (Technically, there is another site but that one is for backpackers hiking La Cloche Silhouette Trail.)
It was a very pleasant paddle, which included a couple of loons, one dreaming peacefully, head tucked under its wing.
We had one more portage to tackle. It wasn’t particularly onerous, a little over 400 metres, and ended in the most splendid view of Boundary Lake and Silver Peak.
We didn’t realize that the portage was down the rocks and went a bit to the side, where we discovered a whole bunch of sundews along the shore and quite a few deer flies. Unlike mosquitoes that are usually partial to me, deer flies and all sorts of flies really seem to like me. My ankles still feel itchy.
The good thing: at that point only a short 20-minute paddle lay between us and our destination.
Site 110 – our home, sweet home (at least for the next two days)
Every time we go camping, I am always amazed at how quickly the campsite we stay at starts feeling like home. All it takes is a couple of tents and voila! Welcome home.
And site 110 on Boundary Lake was a great one too. It had ample level ground for multiple tents (four at the very least), a nice view of the lake from the firepit, and a smooth rock leading to the water where we could eat, read and simply breathe in the surrounding beauty. The thunderbox was a bit too close to the living quarters but had a great view.
Oh, and did I mention a lake all to ourselves? As I said before, site 110 is the only site on Boundary (the backpacking site is on the other side of a long peninsula that divides the lake in half). Plus it’s a dead end and no one comes here unless to camp so we didn’t see any people for almost two days. Loons and bullfrogs were our only neighbours.
Once we got on shore, we set up camp, made tortellini with roasted vegetables, found a nice spot for a bear hang and even had time for a quick swim.
And then it was time for campfire and songs, some of them ours but mostly belonging to our neighbours: loons and bullfrogs.
Read Part II of the trip report here!