In July 2015, we set out to explore the turquoise waters and white quartzite mountains of Killarney Provincial Park. The landscape inspired countless works by Canada’s Group of Seven Artists. This is a video of our trip. Filmed on several different cameras: Sony Nex5, Nikon 5200, GoPro Hero 2, Iphone 5 and 6.
I have always wanted to share the magic of the north with those who have never been there. Stories and photos could only tell so much; the feeling of sitting on a rock island, drinking hot coffee while listening to the cries of a loon can only be experienced. When I stopped by Toronto to visit my cousins after Killarney 2015, they took one look at the photos and decided they wanted to go on the next trip. All I needed was the spark of interest to set the trip planning in motion. After setting the launch date for August 22, 2015, I began mapping out the route. I’ve always wanted to paddle the waters of Temagami in Ontario, what I better way to experience it than with two first timers. I wanted it to be a trip they would never forget. I went all out and designed t-shirts for the trip on CustomInk. It actually turned out halfway decent.
So, on August 22, 2015, Brian and I left Richmond, VA to head to Toronto to pick up our cousins Andrew and Eric. From there, it would be another 4 hours to Temagami. We spent the night of the 22nd in Toronto, helping my cousins pack and trying on watershoes and prepping our gear. In the morning, we finished the drive, stopping only at North Bay to take a quick look at the town and eat some lunch at a restaurant called Cecil’s.
We arrived in Temagami at about 6:00pm, from there we head to our lodging for the night, a place called Loon Lodge nestled on an island on Lake Temagami. The lodge is owned and operated by a very nice couple, John and Jenny. I had never stayed at a lodge like this before, it was Canadian in every way. Outside were forest green, restored Keewaydin Camp canoes resting by the dock, plaques of trophy Pike and Walleye hung from the cabin walls, hummingbirds drinking from the feeder and a portrait of Grey Owl displayed proudly in the dining hall. Needless to say, we were in love with the place. We spent the evening swimming and diving off the docks, racing canoes and enjoying the glory of a Northern summer.
August 23, 2015: Monday morning, we each ate a giant breakfast at the lodge. I had forgotten how good Canadian sausages were. A couple of boys related to the lodge owners joined us and told tales of their fishing victories against giant Northern Pike. After breakfast, we packed up our gear and began navigating through Lake Temagami. Our journey had officially begun. We battled choppy waters and headwinds towards Diamond Lake. Halfway into the paddle and several hours later, we came to the realization that we would have to chose a different route.
The water was far too rough and we raced against threatening storm clouds that turned the water black. With such an open view of the wilderness, we could actually see the rain approaching. The drumming of rain hitting the water became louder and louder until it was finally right over our heads. After paddling a total of 20km that day, we made our way past the Keewaydin camp and into Upper Kokoko Bay where we found a nice rock campsite. I could tell Brian was excited, he’s been interested in the Keewaydin camp for quite some time now. One of the oldest camps in North America, they teach traditional camping and canoeing skills; paddling with woodvas canoes, hauling wannigans and portaging with tumplines. Their camps are broken up into sections of boys and girls. Some of the more experienced sections even take expeditions up to the James Bay. I was surprised to learn that Grey Owl actually was a member of the camp in his youth.
It was pouring by the time we reached the campsite. Brian and I worked quickly to set up the tarps while Eric and Andrew gathered firewood to dry our clothes. We had spicy curry chicken and chickpeas for dinner with a nice loaf of bannock, salami and cheese. The boys had ferocious appetites. As the night wound down, it was clear we were all exhausted. The sound of wind and rain rapping on the tents didn’t even hinder our sleep.
August 24, 2015: We woke up to a chilly morning and lowered the food barrel from the trees. It was time to make some breakfast. Scrambled eggs with cheddar cheese slices in tortilla wraps. Eric and I later took the canoe for a paddle around the bay in search of walleye, while Brian took Andrew for some canoe lessons. He was a natural paddler and was even starting to get down the J-stroke. This afternoon was actually the longest stretch we had on the trip without rain. We found a small rock island where we set our canoes and soaked in the passing sunlight. For dinner we decided to cook some chili with baked corn bread using the reflector oven. The corn bread is definitely something I will be adding to my camping menus, very easy to make and actually really good. For desert we ate smores and drank tea, coffee and hot chocolate. The clouds passed just long enough for us to get a great view of the big dipper.
August 25, 2015: We woke up to yet another morning of overcast. It actually took us a few hours to eat breakfast and pack up all of our gear for the paddle home. At this point, we polished off the remainder of the food. I actually originally planned for an additional day and night out in the backcountry, but our food supplies were low, the fishing unsuccessful and the rain persisted. We decided to head back and get an extra day in at the lodge. We had a 6 hour paddle ahead of us and it was time to feed these guys. We made all 12 packs of oatmeal, as well as the mac and cheese with tuna.
With satisfied bellies, we made the easy paddle to the portage site. It would be a 570m portage and we were dreading it. It was wet, slippery and the mosquitoes were out. The fiberglass canoes were much heavier than kevlar. In addition, the yokes were not formed very well. We decided to assign two men per canoe for the portage and it ended up saving our spines. The paddle home was much more scenic than the way in. Kokoko Lake had several beautiful island campsites with Jack Pine scattered throughout. There were also shallow marsh regions which reminded me of Algonquin. We then reached our second portage a short 120m that was even rockier. After a quick snack break of gorp, salami and dried fruit we paddled through the beautiful and peaceful Kokoko bay. The water was calm and the paddling was smooth. The boys have come a long way since the beginning of the trip. Their paddle strokes were now powerful and consistent. Despite the rain and overcast, the beauty of Temagami was overwhelming.
Upon reaching Loon Lodge at 7:10pm (closing time at 8:00pm), we were happy to see John and Jenny once again. We were all starving. John fired up the grill and we ate massive meals of fish and chips, burgers and poutine. After the feast, we carried our gear to the welcoming and familar common room of the lodge. We were cold, our faces weathered from the wind, our muscles sore from paddling. We each took turns taking hot showers and felt like kings. I don’t think the feeling of dryness and warmth could never be appreciated enough. We hung our clothes by the imitation fireplace and watched Steven Seagul movies on Canadian television. It amazed me how easy it was to get dry indoors. While we were out in the upper Kokoko bay, hanging the clothes out to dry was basically futile against the intermittent showers and wind. Even during times of sunshine, there was an invisible mist of humidity which kept things damp.
The next morning we packed up early and said our goodbyes to John and Jenny. John gave us a boat lift back to the access point and we loaded up the car. They seemed likely truly genuine nice people. As we were driving down the Temagami lake access road, the corner of my eye caught sight of a whole family of bears. One mama bear and 4 cubs. The tradition holds true! An epic wildlife sighting at the end of every trip. Tradition recap: Algonquin 2014 (moose), Killarney 2015 (black bear), now Temagami 2015 (family of black bears). The perfect exit to our time in the Temagami wilderness. We decided to explore the town, and hit up markets and local businesses. Andrew ended up buying a dreamcatcher, a necklass and bracelet. I ended up buying some local gin by a distillery near the Georgian bay. Brian picked up a case of beer. We picked up grapes as well and ate lunch in the town, fish burgers with poutine. We also visited an old site where they made wood canvas canoes many years ago. It appeared that the shop was no longer in use.
Before leaving the town, we decided to make the climb up the Temagami firetower. It was a high climb with 157 steps to reach 100 feet. It stands on top of Caribou Mountain 400′ above town and 1300′ above sea level. The scenery was beautiful as we marveled at the boreal forest and Canadian shield while a beaver plane took off for an adventure.
The main reason I wanted to go on this trip was to immerse my cousins in the experience of true backcountry camping. By the looks on their faces, I knew they had a good time despite rain for four straight days. In a short time, they learned the basics of canoeing, they learned how to make fire with wet wood, they filtered water, they looked after one another and they cooked meals in the wilderness. They portaged difficult trails and carried heavy fiberglass canoes from lake to lake. I think most importantly, they learned the lesson of delayed gratification. If it’s raining, it’s okay to be uncomfortable, wet and cold, as long as you are working to improve the situation.
Setting up tarps, gathering firewood is all hard work under wet conditions, but knowing that we will be warm and dry once again is something to work for. Portages are difficult, but they too are conquered one careful step at a time. By enduring these difficulties that not many people are willing to take on, you are rewarded by being present in the splendor of Canadian wilderness.
Watch “Spirit of Killarney” above.
July 21, 2015 : We embark upon a 15 hour road trip to Killarney Provincial Park in Ontario, Canada. Our mission, to answer the calling of the La Cloche mountains and sapphire waters of OSA lake. We left at 1:15pm and arrived to Barrie, Ontario at 2:00am spending the night at a Best Western, apparently the only hotel room left in Barrie. Thankfully my brother was able to find us this hotel from his desktop in Virginia. In the morning we completed the final 3.5 hours of the trip to the town of
Killarney, picking up our canoe along the way at Tyson Lake Marina. Our vessel was an old but sturdy Scott Kevlar canoe weighing in at 52 lbs. The small town of Killarney has a population of less than 1000, it sits on the coast of the Georgian Bay which opens up into the mighty Lake Huron. It is hard to describe the beauty of this town. The air is fresh with a similar atmosphere to a coastal city although without the hint of salt in the air. Just fresh water. It was a warm 27 degrees celsius, dry and sunny with breezes from the lake. We couldn’t believe the water when we saw it, a crystal blue unlike anything we’ve seen before. Most of the people who come to Killarney Provincial Park, stop by this town to visit Herbert’s Fish and Chips, a place where they serve fresh fish caught right out of the Georgian Bay. We had walleye that was simply superb. I now know what they mean when they say that Walleye (pickerel) is the best tasting freshwater fish. After filling our bellies, we headed into the park.
Prior to entering the park, we saw signs warning us that Killarney is open bear country. We took all the necessary precautions before entering the park to camp safely, including a water proof food barrel to tie up a tree at night, we hung bear bells on our duluth packs while we portaged to create noise and not startle any bears. I have always been interested in bears and their behavior, I used this trip as an opportunity to learn more. Fortunately, only black bears are present in central Ontario. They are definitely the least aggressive of the species in North America and will avoid human contact 99% of the time. It is the rare 1% of black bears that have developed a predatory instinct toward humans that we must be wary of. Although there has never been a fatal bear attack in Killarney Provincial Park, this is unfortunately not true of all Ontario parks. The following is a link to all of the fatal bear attacks in North America (notably two incidents at Algonquin Park).
In addition to the predatory bears, one must be cautious of bears that have become too comfortable around humans. Due to the frequent use of camp sites and the improper disposal of food, some bears can develop a habit of lingering around campsites in search of food. These bears can become dangerous when they are defending food or if they are feeling threatened by campers. The best defense one could have against bears is to practice safe camping measures: stay in large groups, make noise while you portage, hanging your food and all scented items in a food barrel suspended high in a tree. Needless to say, LEAVE NO TRACE. Some portagers even had their toothpaste snatched by a bear from their packs in between trips! When all measures fail and you find yourself face to face with an angry bear, bear spray is probably your best defense. I bought it for this trip and fortunately never had to use it against a bear.
While obtaining our camp permits, we were surprised to find that a spot had opened up on OSA lake for our 2nd and 3rd nights instead of our initially reserved Muriel Lake. We were pumped at the prospect of camping in the heart of Killarney. We unloaded our car and packed up our gear at one of the George Lake access points. In terms of size, Killarney is much smaller than Algonquin, yet both are totally different parks. The climate in Killarney is dry with relatively little rainfall throughout the year. It is usually sunny and the quartz mountain range provides a totally different backdrop as well.
The voyageurs in the past used to implement the Hudson Bay start before beginning on a big journey. Basically, on the first day of multi-day trip, they would paddle a very short distance and set up camp for the night, this way, they could get accustomed to the gear and the loads they would be carrying and also could turn back if they noticed that they forgot something. We decided to use this practice as well and it worked perfectly. We camped the first night right on George Lake, we needed as much daylight as possible to set up and cook dinner, and of course to swim! I couldn’t pass the opportunity after seeing young campers plunge from cliffs into the blue waters. We cooked up some hot chicken curry and had some tea, watching the beautiful late sunset.
The next morning, we made our way to the first portage, a short one at only 45m to enter Freeland Lake. The Scott canoe was surprisingly very easy to portage. I attribute this to the well designed yoke which rested comfortably on my shoulders. The Freeland Lake area was more consistent with Ontario backcountry canoe camping that I was familiar with, hundreds of lily pads and flowers in full bloom.
Sarah spotted a snapping turtle the size of a sewer grate swimming under our canoe. After another 410m portage, we were on Killarney Lake. We noticed that as we went further into the interior, the water became even clearer. Killarney Lake is surrounded by the white mountains and was clearly a popular site for campers. We saw a family of campers settled comfortably on one of the islands. We then traveled across a swampy area with numerous beaver dams, after hauling our canoe across one, we made our last 120m portgage of the day to OSA lake!
Upon first laying eyes on OSA lake, I suddenly understood why the Group of 7 artists visited Killarney for inspiration. I don’t think any camera would ever do this place justice, the clear blue waters allow visibility up to 20ft. The white quartzite mountains seemed to enhance the blue by reflecting even more sunlight. The clouds were spectacular.
Amazingly, this giant lake only has 4 campsites. As we paddled around, we found that several were already occupied. We took our time searching for a place to set up camp and stopped to have lunch on a small island. We even contemplated staying on this island to camp but decided it would be much too windy without the trees to shield the wind. Finally, We found a perfect island campsite at site #32. A beautiful spruce island inhabited by red squirrels that were apparently tagged with white collars.
Our time on OSA was simply bliss. Perfect weather, with a cool shade among the pine and spruce. We were exhausted and slept for 10 hours after dinner, it was still light out. We swam and sunned on the rocks without a care in the world. There was tiny island just off the shore that we could swim to. Seemed like someone already built a little Inuksuk on it.
The next day we packed up and we paddled to the unofficial portage trail, a little tricky to find but we found some canoes parked on the trail already. I must commend JeffsMaps once again, this portage is not official and we would have never knew about it without JeffsMap. It was a tough one, at 1285m with an elevation gain of about 65 ft. The trail also had many downed trees along the path. I think it is tradition for me to see a wild animal during the last portage of a canoe trip. The previous year in algonquin park, I longed to see a moose on our 7 day trip. By the 6th day I was starting to lose hope, it was only till the last portage on the 7th day did we see young moose grazing by Tom Thomson Lake.
Such moments I believe are truly religious. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t spend a significant amount of time outdoors. In Killarney, a part of me wanted to see a bear, but a bigger part of me did not. During this last portage of Killarney as I heaved the canoe over a down tree, I spotted an adolescent bear at the corner of my eye, running away from us as it heard us approach. After all of my years camping and hiking, this was actually the first encounter I’ve had with a wild bear. It was pretty awesome. I decided to tell Sarah at the end of the portage about the bear sighting. We kept conversing and making noise during the rest of the portage.
The rest of the paddle home was relaxing. As we came closer to civilization, it was nice to see occupied campsites on George Lake and kids jumping from cliffs into the water. As we packed up and headed to Toronto for the night, I couldn’t help but think what amazing luck we had during this trip. Clear skies, warm and dry weather, no injuries, and tons of memories. Killarney is really a magical place unlike any other park in Ontario, truly deserving of the title of the crown jewel of Ontario.
The smell of expedition is in the air. Preparing for a canoe trip in the backcountry of Ontario is no easy feat. We decided to plan a trip to Killarney Provincial Park with our 7 day vacation period. What draws us there is the amazing geography, with white quartzite hills, sapphire blue waters and solitude. The La Cloche mountains run through Killarney and are thought to be some of the oldest mountains on earth. At one point in time, they were taller than the Rocky Mountains. The park owes it’s existence to one of Canada’s Group of 7 Artists, A.Y, Jackson. When he heard that the area was to be logged, he petitioned and lobbied and eventually won his way. The birthplace of the park is Trout Lake later to be named OSA Lake after the Ontario Society of Artists. The region was inspiration for countless paintings by Canadian artists.
To start planning for such a trip, one would need to map out the canoe routes and portages. Thankfully, a ridiculously dedicated outdoorsman by the name of Jeff (not sure what his last name is) has created a series of incredibly detailed maps of Temagami, Algonquin and Killarney Provincial Park called JeffsMaps. They include portage elevations, fishing areas, secret trails, historic sites, old trapper cabins etc. I can’t imagine how much time he has spent in each of these parks to create such elaborate maps. The guy actually even posts ALL of the maps online for free (http://jeffsmaps.com).
Either way, I wanted to plan a relaxing route that was not too strenous. This is the first extended canoe trip I would go on with Sarah. No heroics this time. I planned a Hudson Bay start, basically no portages the first night, we will paddle out and sleep on George Lake on night one. The next two nights will be spent on Muriel Lake. OSA lake and Killarney lake were as expected, completely booked. Still much to prepare to get ready, but this time of year is like Christmas: Duluth canoe packs in the living room, maps sprawled out and camping gear to tune up. Killarney here we come.