It was time for something different.
In 2014 we paddled the Agawa River (fortunately, we made it there before train service ended). The year before that we ran the East Branch of the Spanish River. This year we returned to our roots and took on an old-fashioned flat water & portaging trip. Killarney, here we come!
Day 1: Carlyle Lake
Day one began in customary fashion. I spoke at Wellington Street Pentecostal Church in Bracebridge while my buddy Brian Lachine spoke at Calvary Pentecostal Church in Wawa. We returned from church to find Ben West waiting in my drive way. Nathan West came over shortly after and we loaded up Clifford (his big red truck) with our new custom-build canoe rack and gear. It turns out the rack was a little higher than we needed. We have some modifications to make for the next trip. We hit the road for Killarney by 2:30 in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Brian and his son Brodie were driving south from Wawa. We were supposed to beat them to Killarney, but we missed the turn and ended up approaching Sudbury. Once we fixed our mistake we found Brian and Brodie waving us down at the entrance to George Lake campground. We made some quick arrangements with a park employee and drove back to the parking lot at Carlyle Lake.
We were fortunate. No one was using site 57, a mere 100m or so from the parking lot. We left the bulk of our food in the cab of our truck, got changed, and headed over to the site. It’s a well used site with plenty of space for tents.
For canoes, Brian and Brodie paddled their faded burgundy Souris River canoe. Nate and Ben paddled my green Langford Nahanni. I solo paddled an old 1930s era red wood & canvas canoe that had been refinished with fiberglass. I used a long kayak paddle to keep up with the tandem paddlers when necessary. I was proud to see both of my canoes traverse Killarney’s waters!
For sleeping arrangements, Nate and Ben slept together in Nate’s tent. Brodie slept in Brian’s tent solo. Brian and I slept under an old Spalding tent-fly we dubbed “the flying squirrel”. It’s a light-weight option we have used while hiking the La Cloche Silhouette trail before. There’s something special about waking up and looking outside at the scenery with no polyester in the way.
Supper was a feast. We packed in a bag of charcoal for the first night which we used to grill Cowboy Steaks. While they were cooking, we roasted a peppercorn squash beside the fire along with some potatoes. The potatoes were not so good—apparently I was too generous with the Tony’s seasoning. The squash, however, was delicious. Once it softened up we attacked it with our sporks under the light of our headlamps.
Carlyle Lake Campsite:
N 46° 03.221′
W 81° 18.240′
(Note: If you highlight and copy the coordinates, you can paste them into the search bar of Google Maps.)
Day 2: Carlyle Lake to David Lake
Estranged by distance, he relearns
The way to quiet not his own,
The light to rest on tree and stone,
The high leaves falling in their turns,
—Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 (New York: Counterpoint, 1998).
I brought my little paperback collection of Wendell Berry’s poems to read aloud in the mornings. Strangely, this Kentucky farmer’s deep sense of place makes sense of the Killarney wilderness.
We woke up this first morning to a misty and overcast day. A quick paddle to the truck for supplies led to a breakfast of bacon and eggs cooked over the fire we restarted from last night’s embers. We set down camp and paddled one last time to the vehicle to retrieve the rest of our food and to start the paddle up Carlyle Lake.
It took about an hour—I used my kayak paddle in my solo canoe to keep up with the tandem paddlers. We paused at the Eastern end of the lake to pull over a low beaver dam. The transition between Carlyle and Johnny Lake was choked with lily pads. Nate and Ben followed the maze-like path through the weeds.
There is a beautiful moment on Johnny Lake where you turn almost 180 degrees around a low cliff and catch your first glimpse of the Killarney Ridge. Catching sight of that first quartzite ridge lets you know that you’re in Killarney! We celebrated with granola bars.
We took the P830 to Clearsilver Lake—a smooth and easy walk amongst falling fall leaves. At the far side of the portage we paused for lunch—Montreal Smoked Meat sandwiches, crackers, goat cheese, and venison pepperettes. We paddled our full bellies across Clearsilver and took the P980 towards David Lake. This portage was easier than the previous one. The trail ended with a 20 metre paddle to the final P200 to David Lake.
We met a couple sorting out gear on the shore of David. They mentioned that they had been in the park for a few nights and that they planned on camping on David tonight. I told them of our plans to stay on the same Lake. David Lake is a large lake with 15 canoe sites on it, but many of them are in the Eastern end of the Lake, an hour’s paddle from where we wanted to stay. By the time I had made a trip back to help carry more gear over, the couple had left and headed toward site 102. They claimed their campsite quickly! We were surprised to find many of the campsites on David occupied. Fortunately, site 104 was available.
David Lake Campsite:
N 46° 08.358′
W 81° 18.240′
We set up camp on this peninsula site and decided to make a run to Silver Peak. It looked like only 3 km or so on the map and it was only 4 p.m. We took the narrow path from the peninsula to the mainland then took the David / Boundary Lake portage to the main trail. There are two places between the portage and the drop into the Boundary Lake marsh where the trees part and you climb onto rocky ridges.
All of a sudden, Silver Peak looked a bit further away than 3 km! (It was more like 5 or 6 km from our campsite). We persevered and climbed the trail to the peak, arriving at 5:30 p.m. This was my third time on Silver Peak. We could see the local lakes and the Georgian Bay, but the damp weather prevented us from seeing too far.
It was still worthwhile. After about a half hour on the summit we raced back to camp.
As the daylight waned, the transition from exposed rock to forest canopy began to look like a cave entrance. We made it back to the site with the help of our headlamps, arriving at 7:30 p.m. There’s nothing quite like a fast 3 hour hike up and down a mountain to cap off the first full day of a camping trip!
Back at camp, I laid down under the gravity filter and gorged on water (we didn’t bring enough on our hike). Water never tasted so good! Brian heated up a bag of delicious homemade chili that his wife, Cathy, prepared. We feasted on trail mix and chili and went to bed full and happy. A cool wind blew up overnight, forcing me right into my mummy bag.
Day 3: David Lake to Howry Lake
Here where the world is being made,
No human hand required,
A man may come, somewhat afraid
Always, and somewhat tired,
—Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 (New York: Counterpoint, 1998).
Pecan pancakes are a great way to start any day, but they’re a spectacular way to start a morning on a canoe trip! We ate until we were stuffed.
As we packed up I talked to two men paddling across the lake in front of our campsite. They were catching the trail that led to Silver Peak. They were quite surprised to learn that we had hiked to the peak the evening before! They wished us well on the big portage we had ahead of us.
On the final kilometre of David Lake we saw a group of 5 loons swimming in circles, and diving for fish. As we approached the portage, we watched a little red squirrel swim across the bay. I used my single blade paddle today which felt so much more natural (and quiet) than my kayak paddle, albeit slower.
At the beginning of the P2945 I realized that I left my fishing rod behind at the last site. What a rookie mistake! Nathan and Ben volunteered to paddle back so I did a few trips up the first leg of the portage with some of their gear. I found a Williamson lure hanging eye-level in a tree beside the portage. Someone must have been frustrated and yanked their gear ahead without realizing what they left behind.
The map shows beaver ponds beside the portage with low water marks. We were able to paddle through two of them to cut a bit of distance off of the long portage. It was more of a mental break than a time saver.
We walked the last 1500m of the portage in a single trip. Brian carried the food barrel and paddles, Brodie carried his pack on his back and Brian’s pack on his front! Ben carried his pack and Brian’s canoe along with some assorted paddles. Nate carried his pack, my green Lanford, and the fishing rods. I carried my pack under my red canoe.
There was a beautiful smooth quartzite ridge on the portage that was quite treacherous to walk down under a full load. Fortunately, by Vibram soles held fast. Ben, Nate, and I took a break only to discover later that we were only about 200m from Great Mountain Lake.
We paddled across a small bay to a campsite and went swimming. It was as cold as you could imagine, but it felt fantastic after a long sweaty portage. Brodie won the day when he came down to the water with his blown-up sleeping mat for a floaty. Well played, Brodie. Well played.
I cooked up a pot of Angry Red Lentil soup, a staple on our trips. It tasted so good with a bit of lime juice. While I cooked, Ben checked out the camouflage options on the campsite.
Brodie got a nice fire started and we enjoyed a relaxing lunch before striking out across Great Mountain Lake to the P470.
I had always imagined what this lake looked like ever since camping on Little Mountain Lake on our hiking trip years earlier. The lake was as rugged and beautiful as I had expected. The water level was low, and we had to navigate around many dead trees in a swampy bay to find the muddy take out.
The P470 was nice and easy. The trail was wide and downhill. It was odd to walk through a green forest of trees whose leaves had not even started to change colour. We arrived at Fish Lake beside a cabin.
Fish Lake lived up to its name. We trolled down the length of the lake. Nate was first to bring in a nice sized bass. After that we all started getting hits. Not to be outdone, Brian pulled three into the boat with Brodie. I brought one up to the canoe before it spit out the lure. If we were closer to our campsite we could have had a nice feast. We decided to catch-and-release and keep paddling.
The end of Fish Lake had beautiful cliffs rising out of the water on the North side.
A quick P130 brought us to a beaver pond which ended abruptly at a five foot high dam with no water on the other side. There were boot prints of people who had portaged the length of the creek ahead of us. We had a different plan.
It took us about twenty minutes to break the dam enough to fill the lower side with water. We jumped into our canoes and rode the flow out onto Gem Lake. The beavers had some work ahead of them that night!
Gem Lake was stunning. It might be the prettiest little lake in the park. The sun light reflected off the jagged cliffs while the water reflected the blue sky and drifting clouds.
A short paddle led to the P155 to Howry Lake. There are two campsites on the middle of the lake. We planned on camping there for the night. We were shocked to find people already on the first site! They told us that they had come in from the other direction (HWY 6), and wondered what the paddling was like where we had just been. We informed them about the beaver dam and the walking they would likely have to do tomorrow.
A paddle around a point brought us to campsite 150 where we spent the night.
Supper was smokies and fried onions. Glorious. It looked like it would rain when we set up our tents, but the clouds passed. We spent time lying out on the rock watching the stars before bed.
Howry Lake Campsite:
N 46° 09.311′
W 81° 28.766′