Saturday, December 10, 2016

Backcountry Bucket List for Ontario in the next 5 years


So many choices!  Where to start?


During the winter months, Marianne loves to pour over the maps and books, along with online forums and websites to plan potential routes for us to paddle in the future. We began backcountry canoe trips in the year 2007 and continue to this year. Here is a list of our past trips that includes the location and total days.

2007: Killarney P.P (6 days)
2008: Quetico P.P (4.5 days)
2010: Frontenac P.P (3 days) not a canoe trip
2010: Algonquin P.P (5.5 days)
2011: Killarney P.P (8 days)
2012: Killarney P.P (6 days)
2013: Temagami (2.5 days)
2013: Algonquin P.P (6.5 days)
2014: Quetico P.P (10.5 days)
2015: Algonquin P.P (4.5 days)
2016: Killarney P.P (12 days)

As you can see, we have paddled Killarney Provincial Park the most and have probably covered over 90% of that park.  If we were going to recommend any area to beginning paddlers it would be Killarney.  What is so great about Killarney is that almost every lake you encounter is different.  You can go from crystal clear lake to marsh after one long portage, or from towering white mountains to a bay with smooth rocks and cottages in a day.  The only downside about Killarney (though we don't mind it) is that the length of the portages can be grueling, but it is definitely worth it for the views you will encounter at the end of your journey on lakes such as Nellie and Grace.

Algonquin is the next area we have paddled most frequently.  We have had 2 successful trips starting from Brent and Kiosk in the fall, and a somewhat unsuccessful trip starting from Canoe Lake where we were wind bound for a few days on Burnt Island Lake. We love paddling the north section of the park as there are less people.

Quetico Provincial Park we have visited twice.  The first time we had to take a detour as we couldn't find the portage for the life of us. We rocked it out on our second visit in 2014 with the Hunter Island Loop.  We wouldn't recommend a long trip in Quetico Provincial Park to a beginner paddler as nothing is marked in this park, as in no portage or campsite signs. Also be prepared to be wind bound as this particular route crosses some of the biggest lakes in the park. 

So as you can see we have barely scratched the surface when it comes to canoe trips in Ontario. 

Here is a bucket list of what we hope to accomplish in the next 5 years:

1. Algonquin Provincial Park: A 2 week trip possibly covering the majority of the park as our longest trip has only been 6 and a half days.

2. Temagami Region: After a failed trip in June (never again) we have just barely scratched the surface of this area.  A 2 week trip is in order for sure which will hopefully include a climb up to Maple Mountain, or if possible, Ishpatina Ridge which is the highest point in all of Ontario!

3. Woodland Caribou Provincial Park: Northwest of Quetico Provincial Park along the Manitoba Border, this is a definite trip in the next 5 years.  It takes 2 full days to drive there. If it wasn't for possibly buying a new vehicle next year (and this vehicle reaching the end of its life) this would be our 2017 trip. We have thought up a route this year, but due to forest fires that have consumed a pretty good portion of the park this past summer, we would probably make up another route.

4. Quetico/Atikokan Area and Sleeping Giant Provincial Park:  A week in Quetico Provincial Park, or the Atikokan Area on crown land, followed by hike in backcountry sites in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park for a few days.

5. Day trips or long weekends: This includes Bon Echo Provincial Park, Massasauga Provincial Park and even the Thames River which is practically in our backyard.

After reading over these possibilities, it is a toss up between Temagami and Algonquin Provincial Park as of now for 2017.  One region that many will notice that is absent is Wabakimi Provincial Park.  Unfortunately we have no maps of that area yet so planning a route is difficult. Hopefully when we go to the Ontario Adventure Show in Toronto February 2017, we can obtain some maps and info.  If not, there is always lots of information online which one can obtain as easily or with a little bit of research and reaching out to the proper individuals.  Going to the Outdoor Adventure Show itself will be fun as it is nice to get away for a weekend while there is still snow on the ground.  Also absent from this list are any routes that involve white water, as we lack the skill and canoe for such a trip.

Where will your next backcountry canoe trip be?

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Killarney Provincial Park: The Big Loop. September 10th - September 21st, 2016

Campsite signs and portage signs in Killarney Provincial Park are diamond shaped and not as visible as the signs in Algonquin Provincial Park that are about the size of a sheet of letter paper. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Killarney Provincial Park.  I would imagine most backcountry campers in Ontario have paddled (or at least know of) it's crystal clear lakes, while being mesmerised by a changing landscape as you paddle through the interior of the park.  Many sections of the park are dominated by ancient mountains of snow white quartzite. Even the lakes themselves change as you paddle into the interior of the park, from rich with wildlife and water lilies, to crystal clear acidic lakes devoid of almost all life.

Our route with the start/finish at George Lake at the bottom.  Route goes counter clockwise

Our route covered 12 days, with the first and last day being half days.  We started at the George Lake launch, the main access point of the park, and would paddle and portage around 115 kilometres in a counter clockwise loop. We would paddle as far east as David Lake, to the north up to Little Bear Lake, west to Baie Fine and return back to George Lake.  A couple of day hikes to mix things up a bit created our biggest Killarney trip we have ever had.

Route
 
Total Days: 12 Days
Total Kilometres: Approx. 115 (this doesn't include 2 side trips)
Total Portages: 32
Total Portage Length: 21.501 Kilometres
Longest Portage: 2.945 Kilometres
Average Daytime High: 22.25 Celcius
Average Nighttime Low: 16.08 Celcius
Route: George Lake, Freeland Lake, Kakakise Creek, Kakakise Lake, Carlyle Lake, Johnnie Lake, Ruth-Roy Lake, Johnnie Lake, Clearsilver Lake, David Lake, Great Mountain Lake, Fish Lake, Howry Creek, Gem Lake, Howry Lake, Cat Lake, Van Winkle Lake, Rocky Channel, Little Bear Lake, Plunge Lake, Leech Lake, Murray Lake, Carmichael Lake, Grace Lake, Carmichael Lake, Nellie Lake, Helen Lake, Low Lake, North Channel, East Channel, McGregor Bay, Baie Fine, Artist Lake, Muriel Lake, O.S.A Lake, Killarney Lake, Freeland Lake, George Lake

*The following maps are by Jeff's Maps which was one of the maps we used on this trip.

Day #1 George Lake Launch to Kakakise Lake

Weather: Showers in the afternoon with light showers in the evening.  High: 22 C  Low: 20 C


Leaving from the cottage on Lake Muskoka, we arrived at the George Lake launch in Killarney Provincial Park at 12:15pm, picked up our permit, and launched the canoe off the beach.  The winds on George Lake were calm, unexpected as there were winds predicted for today.  Many people were out on the water enjoying the above average temperatures on SUPs, canoes, and kayaks.  As we continued west on George Lake, Killarney's geography becomes apparent right away with the snow white quartzite of the Killarney ridge to our left and the pink granite to our right. 

Pink granite in the foreground, with white quartzite barely visible in the background, one of the first things you notice while paddling east on George Lake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Continuing to paddle, we also look behind us to the west and see clouds rolling in.  The first portage at the eastern end of George Lake, is a mere 80 metres and includes a dock. This luxury will soon be a thing of the past.  Also at the portage is a beaver dam. 

Beaver dam at the George Lake/Freeland Lake portage.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Freeland Lake is the complete opposite of George Lake as it has water lilies, water shield, and a couple of beaver lodges.  Reaching the end of Freeland Lake we had a decision to make...Do we attempt to paddle Kakakise Creek in hopes that the water level is high enough, or do the 1975 metre portage?  We decided to try to paddle the creek and we are glad we did.  A lot of sharp turns while paddling through watershield and pickerel weed slowed us down, but it was just deep enough for the canoe.  The only obstacles were 4 beaver dams that required a liftover.  As soon as we entered Kakakise Lake the rain caught up with us and it poured!  Time to get out the rain gear and paddle to the first available campsite.  We choose Site #7 which was a large heavily used campsite with an island beside us and a tall ridge behind the site.  The tent quickly went up, and later between showers we put up our tarp for a shelter, and to hang our damp clothes under.  Tonight was a quick supper of Mr. Noodle with dehydrated carrots and broccoli from our garden back home. We were in the tent a little early tonight.  Tomorrow we will be climbing what is known as "The Crack", a popular lookout on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, the 78 kilometre backpacking trail through the interior of the park.

Wildlife Sightings:
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Common Loon
Red Squirrel
Eastern Chipmunk
American Crow
Common Raven
Wood Duck
Turkey Vulture
Black-capped Chickadee
Hairy Woodpecker
People

Remember To: No remember to for today! Yeah!


Day #2  Kakakise Lake to Ruth-Roy Lake

Weather:  Mainly sunny with wind.  High: 24 C  Low: 14 C

After the weather front went through last night the winds picked up.  At 11:30pm the night before we got out of the tent to take down the tarp as it was keeping us awake during the gusts of wind  The winds continued this morning as well though not as strong.  Cooler this morning we wore long sleeves, grabbed our day bag, and were back in the canoe to head over to the La Cloche Silhouette trail to climb The Crack.  The trail, which started out fairly easy, got steep quite quickly and we soon realized that we were overdressed as we began to sweat.  Climbing over rocks we reached the lookout at the top and the beautiful view of white quartzite, and lakes that included O.S.A Lake and Georgian Bay presented themselves beautifully!.

 View from the top of The Crack lookout with, we believe, views of both Killarney Lake and O.S.A Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill


 The only photo of Marianne on this trip.  Photo by Aaron Balkwill

 Returning back to our site around noon it was time to take down the tent, pack up, and continue on to our next site.  Paddling to the western end of Kakakise Lake we met our first real portage of the trip, a 940m into Carlyle Lake which was easy going.  On Carlyle Lake we were lucky enough to have the winds at our back, which continued as we entered Johnnie Lake.  Along the south shore of these two lakes we saw quite a few cottages. We are staying on Ruth-Roy Lake tonight which is accesed by a 90m portage at Johnnie Lake's west end. We have never visited this lake before, and we were glad we did.  We had a backdrop of the Killarney ridge in front of us and the site itself was small and cozy.  The waters are crystal clear and pretty much void of life as it has lower pH level making the water acidic.  Being surrounded by quartzite which is inert, the chemical makeup of the water has a hard time recovering. You will notice this in a few lakes in Killarney's interior, particularly Nellie Lake near the park's north end. Not only is this lake dead due to a low pH, but having acid rain between the 1940s and 1970s falling into the lake due to smelting operations in Sudbury doesn't help the ecosystem of these lake either.  Today though, things are looking up and some lakes are slowly returning to their historic pH levels. 

Campsite at Ruth Roy Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings: 
Pileated Woodpecker
Eastern Chipmunk
Red Squirrel
Red-breasted Nuthatch
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Belted Kingfisher
Turkey Vulture
Common Loon
Great Blue Heron
Barred Owl
People

Remember to:  Under dress for big hikes!


Day #3  Ruth-Roy Lake to David Lake

Weather: Partly cloudy with a breeze.  High: 24 C  Low: 15 C




View from our Ruth Roy campsite.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

We slept in until 8:00am today, and for those who think that isn't sleeping in, we are used to getting up at 5:00 am. After a leisurly breakfast that included a hot tea, we left our site at Ruth-Roy and headed back over the 90m portage into Johnnie Lake.  Lucky for us the wind was at our backs again today as we headed to our first portage, a 830 m into Clearsilver Lake.  It was an easy going portage with both flat and inclined sections.  Clearsilver Lake is another lake that is quite clear (hence the name).  We have paddled and stayed at its single campsite before.  The portage at the end of Clearsilver Lake is 980 m.  By this time it was already 2:00 pm and we were getting hot and sweaty.  After one last quick portage we entered David Lake.  Paddling near David's southwest shore we hoped to get our old site (site #103) and see if the friendly Snapping Turtle with the tumour from 2012 was still hanging out there.  We did see a Snapping Turtle as we neared the southern campsites but site #103 was taken, as were the next 2 sites.  We had to settle on the site at the far western end, or else paddle back into the wind to explore the sites at the northeast end of the lake which we were not up for.
Our site was #105 and it was crap!  It was over used, the firepit was a mess (with hot coals and food/garbage remaining!). The seating there consisted of one old splintered/rotting log, and there were dead birch trees ready to fall near the fire pit.  In fact, the top of one did fall while we were deciding where to move things around!  Now we know that you are not supposed to move firepits at a campsite, but the fire pit was literally in line with a number of dead birch trees ready to fall.  We also found some logs to make some seating, since there was literally no where to sit, except on the ground.  We also tidied things up a bit so the site didn't look so much like a dump as we were spending 2 nights here. It was around this time in our trip that our first roll of toilet paper (we brought 2) was seriously starting to run low! We suspect that toilet paper companies are starting to skimp out on how many sheets per roll. Hard to believe we already had to conserve toilet paper so early on the trip.  Luckily, Marianne found a quarter of a roll in her rain jacket left over from last year's trip!

A fixed up, but still somewhat crappy, campsite on David Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

After scrubbing our stinky clothes, hanging them to dry, and rebuilding the fire pit, we had our first fire for the trip.  Tomorrow we are going to paddle over to where the La Cloche Silhouette Trail hooks up to the section that takes you up to Silver Peak.  This will be our second climb up Silver Peak, the highest peak in Killarney at 1768 metres.

Wildlife Sightings: 
Red Squirrel
Eastern Chipmunk
Turkey Vulture
Pileated Woodpecker
Common Loon
Canada Goose
Red-breasted Nuthatch,
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Merganser
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Spotted Sandpiper
People

Remember to: Fuji apples dipped in lemon and dehydrated, rehydrate very well! Remember this variety!


Day #4  David Lake

Weather:  Partly sunny and windy, giving way to showers in the afternoon.  High: 21 C  Low: 18C


We set the alarm for 6am this morning so we could get a head start before the forecasted rain that was supposed to start around noon.  After a breakfast pancake we grabbed our daypack paddled over to the La Cloche Silhouetter trail to make our way up to Silver Peak. The hike up Silver Peak is a bit challenging with very few flat sections.  The first section is almost as beautiful as the top as we walk over snow white quartzite with white quartzite cairns to guide us in this section.

Not even halfway to Silver Peak and the landscape is already breathtaking! Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Later we were more enclosed by trees steadily making our way to the top, resting along the way taking sips of water.  Nearing the top we noticed that it was getting cloudier, hazier and getting very windy.  At the top it was quite windy and with the haze no good photo oppurtunities presented itself.  We hid behind a rock at the top out of the wind and had a snack.  Here are photos from our July 2012 trip:


 The city of Sudbury off in the distance


Seeing rain clouds not too far off in the distance we made a hasty retreat back down the mountain and to our canoe.  On our way down we met our first groups of people heading up, and we also heard a distant rumble of thunder.  Arriving back to the canoe around 12:30pm we paddled back to our crappy (though now improved) campsite, bathed, washed our stinky clothes, pumped some water and made it back into the tent before the rain fell.  Time for an afternoon nap!  Evening was gloomy and damp so we made a fire and had some homemade dehyde chili. 

Wildlife Sightings: 
White-tailed Deer
Eastern Chipmunk
Red Squirrel
Black-capped Chickadee
Turkey Vulture
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Loon
Common Merganser
People

Remember to:  No remember to for today


Day #5  David Lake to Fish Lake

Weather:  Partly sunny in the morning with sun and clouds in the afternoon. Light breeze.           High: 16C  Low: 12C

This morning we got up before sunrise (which is after 7am) and were back on the water by 9:30am.  We started off the morning with our biggest portage for the trip, a 2945m from David Lake into Great Mountain Lake.  We did it first with our packs (which don't feel much lighter yet), and then went all the way back for our canoe and daypack. Though the map indicates that about a third of this portage can be paddled, water levels on the creek were way too low.

 Probably the deepest section of the long portage between David Lake and Great Mountain Lake.  Still not worth putting the canoe in.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

It was a realatively easy portage, with the steepest section at the Great Mountain Lake end. We encountered a male Ruffed Grouse that showed off his "ruffs" by lifting some of the feathers around its neck. Also while walking along and above the creek we encountered a River Otter, that grunted at us and hastily retreated back down the bank to the creek.  Though the portage was long, we didn't sweat as much as we did yesterday when climbing Silver Peak, as it was cooler this morning with a nice breeze.  While paddling on Great Mountain Lake towards the portage that leads into Fish Lake we heard what we thought was a group of rowdy teenagers.  Instead we encountered solo canoeist who was getting quite frustrated paddling through the low water and mud near the next portage.  He warned us to be prepared to get muddy and grumbled as he paddled away.  We analyzed the situation while approaching the portage, got out about 150m from the put in, and walked along the grassy shoreline without getting muddy.  The 375m portage was a cake walk compared to one before with the only obstacle being going over a fallen tree.  At the end of the portage was a wooden shack with a "No Tresspassing" sign on it.

 Wonder what's inside?  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Paddling on Fish Lake we hoped to get the island campsite we were at a few years ago.  Unfortunelty it was taken so we took Fish Lake's other campsite that was up on a rocky hill giving us a great view of Fish Lake. 

View from campsite at Fish Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

After making camp, pumping water, and having supper, we made a fire.  As evening approached we heard a moose calling in the distance. There is a marshy area behind the tent so this came as no surprise.  Later we heard a pack of wolves calling very far off in the distance, along with a distant Barred Owl.  Combined with a full moon that made the features of the land easily visible, we were in for a nice night.

Evening at our Fish Lake campsite. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings
Black-capped Chickadee
Ruffed Grouse
River Otter
Blue Jay
Canada Goose
Hairy Woodpecker
Moose
Wolf (Recently known as the Algonquin Wolf)
Barred Owl
Wood Roaches (a few found in the firepit at Fish Lake campsite),
Common Loon
People.

Remember to: Bring instant stuffing for future trips.  This will go great with our sheppards pie!


Day #6  Fish Lake to Little Bear Lake

Weather: Very foggy in the morning with partly sunny skies in the afternoon.  High: 22C  Low: 8C



We had a bit of a paddle this morning so we didn't sleep in.  Very thick fog and a chilly 8C greeted us when we stuck our heads out of the tent. While taking down the tent we heard the wolves howling in the distance again.  Around 8:50 am we set off into the fog.  It was a nice quiet paddle.  As we neared the west end of Fish Lake, the fog cleared. 

Fog begins to lift as we approach the western end of Fish Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill.

Our first portage was a 90m portage that would take us into Howry Creek.  Howry Creek can be interesting along it's entire section.  It can be high enough to paddle, just high enough to paddle, low enough to paddle with some lift overs, or really low where you have to get out and drag the canoe.  Through it's twists and turns, we hit some shallower areas, but only 2 beaver dams and a single liftover was all we had to contend with.  At the end we entered Gem Lake which is aptly named as it was absolutely gorgeous with the LaCloche mountins clearly visible to the south.

Gem Lake.  The photo doesn't do it justice.  This small lake is breathtakingly beautiful! Photo by Marianne Balkwill

 After a fairly easy 130m portage we entered Howry Lake which was also beautiful.  A single cottage on a small island in the middle of the lake made us wonder how that individual got such a great spot inside a provincial park?  It's probably been in the family for years.  Finding the 665m portage into Cat Lake along Howry Lake's north shore was really easy as a few warped canoes flipped upside down were sitting right beside it.  This was our longest portage for the day with some uphill and downhill sections.  Entering Cat Lake there was a rustic cabin on its shoreline that included a solar panel.  More overturned boats along the shore made the 480m portage into Van Winkle Lake easy to find as well.  After a brief paddle we made it to our last portage for the day, a 190m into Rocky Channel.  We were now out of Killarney Provincial Park and into the new Killarney Lakelands and Headwaters that was created in 2006.  Differences between the two parks became noticeable right away.  Motor boats are allowed in the Lakelands and Headwaters, as is hunting.  In fact, hunting became even more apparent when we passed campsite #204 where a sign was posted warning that the area was baited for bears, and that camping was at "your own risk"! 

Lunch break at the edge of Killarney Provincial Park.  In the background you can see the No Hunting sign on the park's border and the smaller yellow diamond portage sign. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

We paddled west and landed at campsite #203.  This is our first site ever in the Killarney Lakelands and Headwaters and it has a lot of potential.  The site itself has barely been used as the ground was very scruffy, unlike heavily trodden sites in the park.  We even had to clear a spot to place the tent by removing 2 inch tall shrubs from the only flat area so as not to poke holes in our tent. As for the view, it was quite nice with even a shallow area to bath in which Marianne took advantage of.  The site itself though has been visited for a number of years as we found some broken glass, old cans and very old bottles.  We collected all of these and threw them into the firepit that Aaron rebuilt.  Tonight we dined on sheppards pie and once again heard the wolves howling in the distance. 

The minimally used campsite on Little Bear Lake.  This site did not have a sign stating that there was bear baiting in the area. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings: 
Wood Duck
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
Red Squirrel
Common Loon
Hooded Merganser
People
Turkey Vulture
Great Blue Heron
Common Raven
Leopard Frog
Snapping Turtle
Golden-crowned Kinglet
Swamp Sparrow
Algonquin Wolf

Remember to:  Don't use the precious toilet paper to blow your nose.  We are beginning to seriously run out!


Day #7  Little Bear Lake to Grace Lake

Weather:  Partly cloudy and breezy.  High: 21 C Low: 12C


Long before sunrise we heard the howling wolves again, though this time they were a lot closer.  It was great!  The alarm was set for 6am today (yes this is our vacation!) as we have a lot of portaging ahead of us.  We were on the water before 8am and headed west towards Plunge Lake and the short 412m portage that would take us south and return us to the main park.  Campsite #202 on Little Bear Lake also had a notice that bears were baited in that location as well. The first small portage into Leech Lake was an easy find.  Finding the portage from Leach into Murray Lake was difficult as the takeout was in a marshy shallow area behind a campsite that was on a hill.  The portage sign itself was also hidden out of view until you were pretty much there.  At 1090m this portage was another easy go.  After a short paddle south on Murray Lake we arrived at the 1470m portage that runs along Notch Creek.  This portage is known as "The Notch", and you just know if a portage has a name it must have a reputation.  This one apparently has the steepest section out of all the portages in the park.  The steepest section was at the Murray Lake end and it was pretty darn steep!  We doubled over this one first with our packs, and then went back for the canoe. 

This is vacation? Yessiree!  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

The rest of the portage wasn't that bad and even had some scenic sections with water trickling over the rocks along the creek.  Along here we met a really nice couple on their way to Howry Creek (the section we avoided) and we hope it wasn't too shallow for them.  As we approached the end of  "The Notch" we were back into the heart of the LaCloche Mountains and one of it's trademark crystal clear Lakes, Carmicheal named after Franklin Carmicheal of The Group of Seven, the famed Canadian artists. Some of its members spent time in this end of Killarney Provincial Park and did such works as "Waterfalls on the Way into Nellie Lake", c.1939,  and "La Cloche Hills, Rocks and Stream". 1932.  It was here at the end of The Notch portage that we sat down and shared a couple of freeze dried meals while looking at the acidic crystal clear lake that was devoid of any life.  For our lunch we used all of our water except for a 750ml bottle.  This was saved for the next portage, a portage we were previously familiar with, the 2085m into Grace Lake.  This is a long portage with the Carmicheal Lake end being steeper than the Grace Lake end, and was a portage we just had to double over, first with the packs, which was a sweaty ordeal.  Coming back the first time for the canoe we got to air out a bit, then it was a third time over with the canoe and daypack. We arrived on Grace Lake around 4:00pm.  This lake is absolutely spectacular and is Marianne's favourite lake in the whole park with white quartzite mountains and islands, along with some history with the Group of Seven.  Our site, #179, also has some historical significance as it was said to be the same site that Group of Seven artist A.Y Jackson stayed at while camping in Killarney.  The site itself was very scenic, fairly large, and had some smooth quartzite to walk on. 

A view from our Grace Lake campsite during our first evening.  In Marianne's opinion, the best lake to camp on, but you gotta work to get there. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

After a quick bath to take the stink off, we rinsed our clothes and made a clothesline to hang them to dry.  In the distance we could barely hear the sounds of motorboats just outside of the park's western boundary on Frood Lake. 

 Laundry day on Grace Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

After a supper of spaghetti, we had a fire under the full moon, which on Grace Lake was amazing as you could still make out the features of the land in the moonlight.

Wildlife Sightings: 
Algonquin Wolf
Common Loon
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Turkey Vulture
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Raven
People
Common Merganser
Beaver

Remember to:  No remember to today! Whoot!


Day #8  Grace Lake

Weather: Showers in the morning, giving way to partly sunny skies in the afternoon with evening showers.  High: 23C  Low: 20C


During the night, the forecasted rain fell and we woke up just after midnight with it hitting our tent.  It was hard to fall back to sleep but we managed.  Today we actually slept in until around 8am.  Today is our second of 2 layover days.  A cloudy and somewhat foggy morning greeted us. 

 Early morning fog on Grace Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

We managed to gather enough sticks and birch bark to make a fire so we could have some hot coals for a pancake with peanut butter and jam smothered on top which was absolutely amazing!  As we were having tea it began to rain again so we retreated to the tent as we never had a chance to put up our tarp. 

 Best breakfast of the whole trip! Pancake with peanut butter and both strawberry and blueberry jam.

Today's plan was to climb up the mountain across the lake from our campsite to search for Carmichaels's rock.  This is a rock in the exact spot that Franklin Carmicheal was photographed while he was painting (or perhaps just sketching) here at Grace Lake.  We brought photos to aid us in searching for the spot as no one wants to give away the exact GPS coordinates which is very understandable as the rock has been rolled off the hill once before. Also this leaves you with the challenge (a good one) to find the spot.  For us today we had one problem...the rain.  Any smart minded individual would not want to climb these smooth rocks in the rain.  There is no designated trail to the site so a lot of climbing and searching is involved.  We decided to forego the search.  It was probably for the best because we already felt like we needed this day off to recoup as we had to take the long portage out of Grace Lake again tomorrow plus another long portage immediately after.  The rain did eventually let up around 1:30pm so we ventured out of the tent and had lunch which was homemade mac and cheese with dehydrated broccoli.  A pair of female Common Merganser slowly drifted by our site, while a Double-crested Cormorant dried it's wings on a nearby rock. Around this time we saw a canoe land at the opposite shoreline from our site.  No doubt they were going to search for Carmihael's rock.  We were still pretty content to skip the search and instead took the advantage of the sunshine to bath.  While walking along the shoreline we saw a view blobs of paint on the rock (yellow and blue).  No doubt someone was inspired by A.Y Jackson and Franklin Carmichael to paint Killarney's landscape. After bathing we hiked up for some scenic views from just behind our campsite.  As evening approached we could see clouds rolling in pretty fast.  We had just enough time to quickly make supper, stuff our faces and run into the tent before it poured. 

 View of Grace Lake just behind our campsite.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings: 
Common Merganser
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Turkey Vulture
Red Squirrel
People

Remember to: If rain is in the forecast, cover firewood.


Day #9  Grace Lake to Low Lake

Weather:  Scattered showers, giving way to partly cloudy skies by the afternoon and into the evening with a light breeze.  High: 25C  Low: 19C


All rested up, it was time to say goodbye to our lovely site on Grace Lake as the sun rose over the eastern mountains. While having breakfast we could hear gunshot sounds to the west.  Being on the western edge of the park this is no surprise. It was time to tackle the 2085m portage yet again to exit Grace Lake and back into Carmichael Lake.  This time it was easier.  We were now rested, it was cooler this time around, and our packs were now starting to get lighter as we slowly depleted our food.  As we went along the portage it began to rain, though the maples acted as an umbrella and we only felt a few drops.  When we were done we were pretty sweaty as it was quite a workout.  Altogether with doing this portage twice (today and Day #7) plus double backing for packs and canoe twice, we hiked 12,510m!  It began to rain a little harder when we paddled on Carmicheal Lake and we seeked shelter under a tree waiting for the rain to ease off.  When it got to more of a light drizzle, we were off again.  Paddling on Carmichael into Nellie Lake we were mesmerized by how clear the water is.  Both these lake are dead lakes, not even plant life lives here due to the lower pH level of these two lakes. Nellie Lake is one of the clearest lake in the park as you can see 28 metres down to the bottom. The latest information we can find is that it has a pH of 4.7. A pH of less than 7 is considered acidic. Picture yourself in your canoe in a swimming pool, that is what Nellie Lake is like.  It was also kind of creepy for us when we saw this dark shape moving under the water.  If it wasn't raining we probably could have seen it clearly.  Most likely it was a beaver going places as there are no fish in either Carmichael or Nellie Lake. 

Nellie Lake viewed at the head of the portage on the way to Helen Lake.  This photo doesn't even come close to capturing how clear this lake is.  An underwater camera would be great to use here!  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

The rain let up when we reached our next big portage for the day, a 2525m from Nellie into Helen Lake.  This was a long portage, though not incredibly hard.  We met a young couple on their way to Ishmael Lake, along with a poor fellow that took the wrong turn and thought he was on the portage to Grace Lake! This means he had to do this portage at 2525m (twice) and then do the 2085m into Grace Lake.  Not fun if that's not what you planned to do! 
According to the map, if water levels are high enough, we could paddle the creek that runs along part of the portage.  There was no way this was happening this time as water levels were low.  Entering Helen Lake we leave behind the white LaCloche Mountains yet again where we have spent the last couple of days.  We had our eyes on site #138, a campsite on a portage.  We were at this site back in 2011 and it is one of our favourites!  Unfortunetly, when we arrived, we were shocked and saddened by the state the site was in.  All of the trees were cut down where we would place the tent.  This was not good as the site is on smooth rock which gets pretty hot in the sun, so these trees were our only shade.  It looked like they were just cut down this year.  We placed our tent in the same spot, had a quick bath, washed our clothes, and then relaxed.  This was when we started hearing a "crunching" sound that was coming from the felled pine trees.  Apon further investigation there were little holes and piles of sawdust on the ground.  There were quite a few of these holes found and more crunching sounds.  Not sure what kind of borer were in these trees, but we guess that was the reason why these trees had to be taken down.  The only good thing about this was that making a fire was ridiculously easy.  We made some coals and had homemade bannock with Black Bean Hummus (Mary Janes brand).  We went to sleep that night with not the chorus of frogs, but those insects chewing away.

 Low Lake campsite.  Would not have been able to take this photo the last time we were here as there were trees.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill 

Wildlife Sightings: 
Moose (tracks only on portage)
Hairy Woodpecker
Common Loon
Turkey Vulture
Eastern Chipmunk
Red Squirrel
Frogs
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker
People
Canada Goose
Belted Kingfisher

Remember to: Unfortunelty, campsites do change....

 Pale corydalis was a common site at our Low Lake site. Photo by Marianne Balkwill


Day#10  Low Lake to McGregor Bay (East Channel)

Weather:  Partly sunny with thunderstorms in the afternoon into the evening.  Severe Thunderstorm Watch!  High: 26C Low: 15C



 Morning at Low Lake.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

We had another bright moonlit night last night.  In the early wee hours of the morning we heard both Great Horned Owl and Barred Owl.  This morning was a bit more leisurely as we crawled out of the tent around 6:30am, got another fire going and had oatmeal with tea.  Today we only have 8km to paddle.  Paddling south on Low Lake we noticed the trees on the western shore were burned just on the trunks with dead lower leaves.  We assume a recent fire.  At Low Lake's most southern end we expected a couple of liftovers, but due to low water levels we had to portage around a small log jam instead.  After a short 20m we entered a shallow marsh.  It took us a while to find the 19m portage in a marsh with many cactails and mudflats.  Following this portage it was straight south into the North Channel that immediately opened up in front of us.  Paddling south we entered into the East Channel and started to see more modern cottages including a new one being built.  Before we knew it, we arrived at site #136, another site we stayed at back in 2011. We got here around 10:30 am so we had the rest of the day to enjoy ourselves.  We set up the tent on a bare rock (bare rock being the only option), and chilled. 

 Rocks holding down our tent at our site on East Channel out in the McGregor Bay area.  Photo by Marianne Balkwill

There were grasshoppers at our site that would make short flights (display flights?) and they would blend in perfectly with the lichen coloured rocks.  A few boats cruised by our site with folks out to enjoy the warm temperatures. 

 Grasshopper camaflaging perfectly amongst the lichen at our site. If anyone knows the species of this grasshopper please feel free to comment. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

In the west there were blue clouds.  Our wind up radio on the weatherband predicted a 30% chance of showers for the day. In the afternoon we hung out in the tent with the sides open to let in the breeze and protect us from the hot sun, while looking over our map and reminiscing about our trip which was almost over.  When a light shower passed over us, we wound up our weather radio to listen to the local afternoon show on CBC radio.  It was then that we found out we were under a severe thunderstorm watch that could produce 75 km hour winds and even ping pong sized hail!!  We then stepped out of the tent and in the distance we see thunderheads rolling our way and even heard a rumble of thunder! (Fun Fact: The last time we were at this spot we were under a Tornado Watch!) 

 Oh crap!

We were in a bit of a predicament now.  Our tent was on the top of an exposed bare rock, which, really isn't the best spot when there is the chance of 75 km winds!  We also didn't want to place it near the trees either (for obvious reasons!) so we set up the tent in a low spot between two rocks which was a better spot in general to have a tent during a thunderstorm.  We moved the tent and hid inside while the storm approached and played war (the card game).

 New spot for our tent which was now in a low spot between two rocks and not even close to any trees. Photo by Marianne Balkwill 

Luckily for us, the storm seemed to go around us for the most part.  At 8pm the storm moved off and we ventured out with just enough light to have a couple of Kind Bars for supper, and brush our teeth.

Wildlife Sightings: 
Sandhill Crane,
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Mallard
Wood Duck
Herring Gull
Grasshopper sp.
Blue Jay
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Black-capped Chickadee
Common Raven
Great Horned Owl
Barred Owl
Turkey Vulture
American Crow

Remember to: No remember to today!


Day #11  McGregor Bay (East Channel) to O.S.A Lake

Weather:  Parlty cloudy with strong west winds by afternoon.  High: 24C Low: 21C

We didn't sleep very well at all.  We woke up last night at 10pm to tighten the tent and woke up a few more times before the alarm went off at 6am.  We ventured out of the tent in the pre dawn, had breakfast with tea, and were on the water by 8am to beat some expected West winds.  Today is our longest day at 21 km of scheduled paddling, along with some portages.  Paddling south on McGregor Bay it was calm in the early morning and we saw some more cottages.  As we neared the Blue Ridge and the 905m portage that takes us into Baie Fine (pronounced Bay Finn) the breeze began to pick up from the West.  The portage was really easy going as it was a low spot with a creek cutting into the mountains. While hiking along the portage we saw markers on the ground indicating where the underground powerline runs.  We arrived on Baie Fine and headed east with the increasing wind at our backs.  This was our first visit to Baie Fine and it was neat having the Blue Ridge to our left and the Killarneny Ridge to our right.  This was also our first time ever paddling in a fjord!  Check that one off the list!

 Paddling in a fjord with the Blue Ridge on one side and the Killarney Ridge on the other side. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Thanks to the wind we arrived at the eastern end of Baie Fine in no time, and approached the 230m, followed by a 700m portage into Artists Lake.  We also took a side trip up "The Pig" portage to see Topaz Lake.  Topaz is a small, beautiful lake with blue green water.  Back on Artist Lake it was quite shallow and marshy with some mudflats.  Along the next portage, a steep 185m, we met a group of highschool students and there teacher from Meaford Ontario that were pretty much doing the same route as we were to earn there highschool credit! What a great opportunity, that we never had while attending high school!  After a quick 110m portage, followed by a swift paddle across Muriel Lake, we arrived at our last portage for the day, an uneventful 595m into O.S.A Lake.  O.S.A lake is probably the most popular lake in the park as it is completely surrounded by white mountains and has clear blue waters.. The intials stand for Ontario Society of Artists, harkening back to when artist A.Y Jackson petitioned to the government to protect that lake (then called Trout Lake) from being logged. This was our second visit to O.S.A Lake (the first all the way back in 2007) and this time it was windy!  The wind was so strong that paddling into the head winds would have proven very difficult, if not impossible.  We passed sites hoping to get the island campsite, but it was taken.  We decided to try our luck and go for the last campsite on the lake's southeast shore and pray it's not taken, or else we would have to turn around and battle the winds while trying to find an unoccupied site.  We were lucky as the site wasn't taken, and we landed on a nice sandy beach, and quite earlier then expected thanks to the wind at 2:30pm!

 White caps on O.S.A Lake. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

This was the site we stayed at previously back in 2007 and boy has it changed!  When we first camped here it was a brand new site, as the site on the main island got closed (I believe due to hemlock loopers defoliated and thus killing the trees).  So our site saw little foot traffic and the ground was soft due to lichen.  Now it has been well trodden and even some trees have been taken down. The site was still nice with a great fire pit and the fallen trees were made into seats. The only issue was trying to find a spot for the tent. 

 The now heavily used site on O.S.A Lake.  This looks competley different from when we were here only 9 years ago. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

The flat spot was next to a dead tree, and in these winds we didn't want to risk it. Instead we decided on a low spot further back and out of the wind. Exploring the site, and scanning the lake, Marianne saw a red canoe way over on the opposite shoreline.  No doubt someone was waiting out this wind. We used the rest of the afternoon to relax. The wind calmed down around 5:30pm and we sat around the fire pit and had supper.  Around this time we noticed that the red canoe on the opposite shore was owned by a solo canoeist who finally entered the lake again and began paddling west.  Hopefully he was just staying on this lake tonight.  For us, it was time to enjoy our last night in Killarney as we stared out over the water and watched the setting sun leave a warm glow over the land.

Wildlife Sightings
Pileated Woodpecker
Belted Kingfisher
Turkey Vulture
Red Squirrel
Wood Duck
Common Loon
Double-crested Cormorant
Mallard
Herring Gull
People

Remember to: Backpackers Pantry Cinnamon Muslei With Milk tastes better cold then warm.


Day#12  O.S.A Lake to George Lake launch

Weather: Partly sunny and calm.  19C


We had a good sleep last night, which is always rare for us on our last night before heading back.  We woke up before sunrise and were back on the calm waters of O.S.A lake at dawn.  We decided to go back to George Lake via Killarney Lake instead of the unofficial portage that goes straight from O.S.A to George Lake.  After a 455m into Killarney Lake we continued to paddle across great scenery and sites that either had people still asleep in their tents, or who were just waking up whom we greeted with a good morning wave.  It was a very nice paddle, and we took in as much of the scenery as we could in the early morning light.  The next portage was a 380m that runs along the Chikanishing River.  We could definitely feel a temperature change as we portaged along the cool river, even though it was just a trickle.  We returned to Freeland Lake which we saw 12 days ago.  Paddling through the watershield and lily pads we noticed that the fall colours were just starting to show along the shoreline.  One last portage for the trip, the 80m portage that included the dock, and we were back into George Lake.  Here we saw more recreational paddlers out including a kayak.  Approaching the George Lake launch we could smell campfires from the campground.  Arriving at the launch, we grabbed our gear and headed back to the car, but not without one last look back at one of our favourite parks.  It was then off to the campground showers (which felt absoloutely amazing!), followed by lunch at The Hungry Bear restaurant in French River, and return to the cottage for a couple days off before setting home. 
This was our longest trip to Killarney, and in fact it was our longest trip ever, though it went by incredibly fast! Being our fourth trip to Killarney, we probably won't be back for awhile, as we have a lot more routes to cover in Ontario. 

 Back on George Lake with Pink granite contrasting with white quartzite. Photo by Marianne Balkwill

Wildlife Sightings:
Common Loon
Herring Gull
Blue Jay
Common Raven
American Crow
People
Barred Owl

Remember to:  Bring more toilet paper. Marianne used the last 2 squares this morning and if it wasn't for that quarter of a roll we found in her rain jacket we would've been in trouble!