Backpacking Trip Report: Killarney Provincial Park

Area: Ontario, Canada

State: Michigan

Mileage: 48

Days: 6

Type: Loop

“I’m just trying to survive.” Bob muttered in obvious pain as he trudged down the trail. This was a far cry from his blissfully ignorant demeanor before the trip. Then, he was sending out emails with an exact hour and minute countdown to the start of the trip. He was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. Now he was disgusted that he had agreed to join us on his first backpacking trip ever.


We were deep into the remote Canadian backcountry of Killarney Provincial Park in Northern Ontario. The temperature spiked into the 90s each day. The trail was extremely rugged and much more challenging than expected. The rangers recommend 7-10 days to complete the entire loop trail. However, knowing from past experiences that these recommendations are almost always overly conservative, I planned our trip to last for 4 full days and 2 half day. What a mistake. Who would’ve thought that we would average less than one mile per hour on some of the days? Each night, as we hobbled into camp near dusk the race was on to set up camp and eat dinner before the mosquitoes attacked like piranha. The annoying little blood-suckers swarmed in every night as soon as it got dark.


We all suffered through various levels of agony during the trip. At the end of each grueling day we pried off our boots to inspect the damage. We marveled at the large blisters and skin tears on our feet dreading the fact that we would have to put the boots back on and do it all over again the next day.


My partners in pain were Mark Kowalczyk from Mt. Pleasant and Midlanders Bob Peters and Dennis Maschue. While Dennis and I had extensive experience, Mark had not backpacked and Bob had never even hiked before. The trail we tackled was the La Cloche Silhouette. Of the 46 miles that constitute the trail, about 8 of them are the smooth, well-beaten dirt variety on flat terrain. The rest are root and rock infested with steep inclines and declines that sometimes required using your hands as well as feet to cover them. The trail climbs up one mountain to a spectacular view and them immediately down the other side only to reach the start of yet another climb. A couple parts of the “trail” even consisted of beaver dams with loose crisscrossed sticks that you had to balance across while trying not to fall in the water.


By the middle of the trip, we developed a system and fell into a routine. Mark and I hiked together at a fast pace. Bob and Dennis hiked slower and would meet us at a predetermined campsite at the end of each day. Part of the difference in pace was due to a truly nasty fall Dennis had taken at the bottom of a ridiculously steep section we scaled down. Bob, who witnessed the accident, said that Dennis slipped and his chest landed full force on a large pointy rock. Dennis then rolled onto his back and closed his eyes. Bob later admitted, “I thought that he was dead!”


On day four, Mark was hiking behind me and shouted, “holy crap, there is a wolf coming right at us!” As I turned around, my view was blocked by Mark. Not being terribly mobile with my 60 pound backpack, I held up my trekking pole ready to stab the beast if it attacked. Suddenly, a large wolf-like creature ran right past us on the trail. Stunned, we cautiously moved ahead to see where it went. Around the next corner we saw it drinking in a small stream. To our relief, we also noticed a bell around its neck and realized it was someone’s dog.


 


Day five was torture. We followed the trail up and down on an exposed rocky ridge in sweltering heat. Amazingly, after purifying water at a lake off the trail, I led us down the trail the same way we had already come from. While it took Mark and I just under 6 hours to complete (not including the extra hour I bought us retracing our steps), Bob and Dennis stumbled into camp at around the 10 hour mark. Despite the oppressive heat, the injuries, and the severe pain, amazingly everyone kept a positive attitude.


Beauty surrounded us. There were many views that took my breath away (or was that the hiking?) The wild blueberries that grew all over the place were the sweetest I’ve ever eaten. Also, we were rewarded for our struggles, each night, by a spectacular campsite. Day five’s site was at Proulx Lake. The campsite sat on a raised peninsula which jutted out into the bluish-green lake and was surrounded by exposed white rock cliffs. There was even spot to jump off the rocks into the deep, refreshingly cold water. As always, we had the place to ourselves. It was our last night in the park and we savored it.


The next day, the challenge was on. Dennis and Bob had figured out an escape route which would get them out to a lightly traveled road several miles before the end of the trail. They planned to then hitchhike back to the car from there while Mark and I completed the trail. Whoever got to the car first would be able to take a long hot shower at the campground while waiting for the others to arrive. Mark and I set our alarms to get up before sunrise and got a two hour head start on our friends.


The amazement factor was at full strength as we reached a famous section called “The Crack.” The trail descended several hundred feet very quickly. The first part of The Crack consisted of a fairly easy fifty yard long section that went through a skinny gap in the rock where the walls rose up on both sides. The second part was an exposed cliff-like area that was made up of large boulders ranging from the size of a suitcase to an SUV. The only way to proceed down the slope was to hop from one boulder down to another all the way to the bottom. It was not a place you’d want to lose your balance and fall.


At the bottom of the descent we eventually reached the relative safety of the woods. Mark and I then trudged on for a few more hours until we got to the car. After getting showers we found Dennis and Bob sitting by the side of the road at the end of their escape route apparently unable to flag down a ride. Within an hour or so of being off the trail, we were eating fast food and felling better. Everyone already started to forget the struggles we had endured along the way. It is remarkable how quickly only the good things come to mind when remembering an adventure. I guess that is what keeps us coming back for more.


To view a short video of this hike, go here

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