Trip report: 8-day, 90k early May hike along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park

After 2 previous 4-day hiking trips along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (1st trip 2 days in clockwise, 2 days out, and 2nd trip 2 days in counterclockwise, 2 days out), I knew that I wanted to hike the entire trail in one go. My friend Cheryl and I did some research and finally settled on an 8-day route from May 5-12 (after ice out but before the black fly season!). While most people seem to hike it in less time (some in 3 days!), we wanted to actually enjoy ourselves and not experience a torturous backpacking trip. This would be our longest one to date. We booked the campsites in December, but couldn’t reserve for the first night because reservations weren’t accepted for dates earlier than May 6. Thankfully, when we arrived at the park around noon, our preferred first night’s site was available!

The La Cloche Silhouette Trail is challenging, rewarding and beautiful. There are constant ups and downs, including some difficult ascents and descents. For more background information on the trail, check out the Killarney Outfitters site.

Shortcut to the full slideshowClick on the first picture, and then on the little “i” so you can read the picture descriptions.

Despite cutting back as much stuff as possible, our packs still weighed between 45 and 50 pounds each at the start of our trip (including 2L of water per pack).

Related posts:

Day 1: George Lake campground to H7 (Topaz Lake)

  • Distance: 10.9 km
  • Time hiking (actual moving time): 3 hours 19 min
  • Time stopped (to admire the view, catch our breath, have a snack or lunch, chat with other hikers or canoeists, take a pee break!): unknown (did not track until day 3)
  • Hiking speed: 3.3 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: treacherous approach to the campsite

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One of many creek crossings. [Photo by Cheryl]

On our first day, we hit the trail by 12:45 PM, under clear sunny skies and temperatures close to 20 degrees Celsius. We had expected to find a bit of snow on the trails (based on reports of trail conditions at Algonquin Provincial Park), but only spotted small patches here and there. We crossed 5-10 streams, but never had to remove our boots and socks to cross in sandals (as we had to last year). We also crossed one very large beaver dam, just one of many beaver dam crossings along the trail. Part way up “the pig” (the steepest portage in the park), we turned onto the 500m side trail to our campsite. We somehow missed the end of the side trail, instead picking our way along the side of a cliff dangerously close to the water rather than hiking along the cliff top. During our hike we saw a heron, turtles, frogs, a grouse, a muskrat and a butterfly. By the time we arrived at our campsite, I had a blister on my right heel. We set up our tent, found a tree suitable for hanging our food in a bear bag, threw a rock over it (tied to our rope), and made our dinner. We were beat, and had no interest in gathering wood for a campfire! All we burned was a piece of parchment from our dinner! We realized days later that we should have been burning things as we went along instead of carrying them (e.g. toilet paper that we used on drippy noses). A beaver swam past our campsite. There were spring peepers close by, very loud for a time, and then all of a sudden becoming quiet. Each night we read a description of the section we had hiked that day, and looked at highlights for the next day’s hike. Before climbing into the tent for the night, we heated up a cup of water for Cheryl to massage her sore butt (pre-trip injury), and continued to do this every night. Overnight she either heard an owl or heard Stuart McLean talking about an owl on a Vinyl Cafe podcast!

Day 2: H7 (Topaz Lake) to H17 (Three Narrows Lake)

  • Distance: 12.0 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 46 min
  • Time stopped: unknown (did not track until day 3)
  • Hiking speed: 3.2 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: “swimming” in Three Narrows Lake

On our first morning waking up at Killarney, we packed up everything in our tent before getting out of it. I took down the bear bag, and while Cheryl packed up the tent, I cooked breakfast. This became our morning routine. We loved our cup of gatorade, hot breakfast and tea each morning. We soon learned that it took us about 2 hours from the time we decided to get up to the time we started hiking. We heard several grouse as we hiked, but saw very few people. We encountered a dead deer on the trail. We ate lunch at H16, where we noticed that the sleeping bag we had found in the base of a tree last year was still on the site. By the time we arrived at our campsite (120m off the main trail), I had blisters on both heels! It was a hot day (+20 degree Celsius), so I decided to “swim” as soon as we got to our campsite. In my bra and underwear I did a canonball into the water, then got out as fast as I possibly could. It was c-c-c-cold (remember, the ice just melted days ago)! So refreshing! Cheryl got wet without submersing herself. There was enough sunlight and heat left to dry my clothes and hair before bedtime. We had a hot drink to warm ourselves up, and continued to do this most afternoons, from tea to “specialty” coffee (instant coffee with milk powder and some sort of chocolate treat added in). We crawled into the tent before it was dark, but came out one last time to pee before falling asleep! This too became a routine.

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Using a warm pot to soothe a sore muscle. [Photo by Cheryl]

Day 3: H17 (Three Narrows Lake) to H21 (Three Narrows Lake)

  • Distance: 9.52 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 10 min
  • Time stopped: 1 hour 22 min
  • Hiking speed: 3.0 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: yellow-spotted salamander

On day 3 we woke up to the sound of raindrops on our tent. Thankfully we had put up a tarp the night before (and continued to do so every day for the rest of the trip, just in case), so we had a dry area to cook and eat our breakfast. At times we hiked through the pouring rain, but we were dry in our rain clothes, and our packs were dry under their rain covers. We saw another dead deer on the trail. We chose H21 because a friend told us we had to stay there. It was 460m off the main trail, and seemed to take forever for us to get there. Mind you, the last couple of kilometres every day felt like that! The site is on a point, and other than a nearby cottage (no one was there), it was a great site. However, it was so wet and windy that we decided not to put our tent on the site, and instead to walk back up the side trail and set it up in the shelter of the woods. It worked out great, but meant that we had to walk 165 steps (yes, I counted!) to reach the toilet. We set up a tarp for the kitchen shelter, and Cheryl went looking for a rock to reinforce one side of it – she lifted a big rock up, and found a yellow-spotted salamander (aka Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma Maculatum))! Of course, I tried lifting up other rocks to see what I could find and never found anything. The rain stopped and we were able to enjoy the setting sun down at the point. We watched some birds of prey flying high in the sky. I saw an unidentifiable small animal scrambling across some rocks on the other side of the lake. Because we spent time in the woods and at the point, we carried our bear bag back and forth with us – just in case! We enjoyed a hot cup of tea in the afternoon. There were a few black flies, but they weren’t biting. This was the only day where we didn’t see a single person other than each other! I saw a bat just before getting into the tent, and heard a Barred owl in the night. We also heard a bird in the night that may have been a Whippoorwill. Some days we were also treated to the beautiful, haunting sound of loons on the lake.

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Our dry kitchen shelter.

Day 4: H21 (Three Narrows Lake) to H32 (Shigaug Lake)

  • Distance: 11.0 km
  • Time hiking: 4 hours 6 min
  • Time stopped: 3 hours 33 min
  • Hiking speed: 2.7 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: 30 metre cliff descent and climb up waterfall

On day 4 I fell on my butt within the first kilometre of the hike (down a wet rock). Thankfully, I was fine.  We would have had many more falls without our hiking poles! This was the day that we would descend a 30m cliff and then climb up a waterfall on the other side of the creek. Reading the description we had visions of descending a very steep cliff and ascending an equally steep rushing waterfall. It didn’t turn out that way. We needed to be careful where we put our feet on the descent, but it was not bad at all (Cheryl had worried about this part for days, as she is not a fan of heights). On the other side of the creek the path continued for a ways before eventually turning up the waterfall. It wasn’t exactly like Niagara Falls, and we only had to step a short way up into the falls before the trail turned to the side. Later we decided to see if we had cell signals, and lo and behold, we did! We were able to connect with our families and tell them that we were okay. Cheryl heard a mystery big animal along the trail as we sat having a snack, but we never did see anything. After following an 800m side trail to our site, we were relieved to finally arrive. I swam again. We were quite hungry and our pasta/veggie/parmesan dinner hit the spot!! At this site, the toilet was so far that cairns guided our way up the hill – I measured and it was 190 steps from our tent. When we got into our tent for the night, we put on multiple layers of clothes, because it was very cold! I wore long johns (top and bottom) plus my pants, a long sleeved shirt, a fleece sweater, hat and mitts. Even my -7 sleeping bag didn’t keep me warm. Cheryl and I were both cold, so eventually we covered ourselves with a thin metallic survival blanket in hopes it would keep some heat in. We’re not sure it worked, but when the sun came up, we started to roast! Other nights we were able to sleep in underwear and a t-shirt!

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Sunset on Shigaug Lake.

Day 5: H32 (Shigaug Lake) to H35 (Boundary Lake)

  • Distance: 9.1 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 13 min
  • Time stopped: 2 hours 17 min
  • Hiking speed:  2.8 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: lunch at a small stream

On day 5 we enjoyed eating our lunch along a little stream, where we put our bare feet in the (cold) water. By now we both had blisters on our heels, and our sweaty feet meant that bandaids would not stick to them for long. We changed our socks frequently during the day (those 5 pairs came in handy!) but still the bandaids fell off. I’d love to hear your recommendations on the best bandaids for blisters and sweaty feet! At our campsite (700m off the main trail) I swam again, this time falling back in while trying to get out! We smelled a campfire and discovered that there was a smouldering log in our fire pit. We had a very luxurious kitchen shelter, complete with log backrests – so nice, as our backs weren’t too happy otherwise! I used some Gorilla tape to repair rips on the backside of my rain pants, which I must have ripped while scrambling down rocks. We heard owls again in the night, and we also heard wolves or coyotes just after we got into the tent. They were very far away at first, but were definitely moving closer. It was kind of spooky!

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Overlooking Little Mountain Lake. [Photo by Cheryl]

Day 6: H35 (Boundary Lake) to H37 (Silver Lake)

  • Distance: 11.1 km
  • Time hiking: 3 hours 33 min
  • Time stopped: 2 hours 49 min
  • Hiking speed: 3.1 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: mama bear and baby bear

On day 6 we were wakened by an owl that must have been in a tree above our tent! While eating our breakfast we watched a Common Merganser couple swim by, with what we can only imagine was another male swooping in to try and woo the female away. The male of the couple would have none of it, and did an admirable job defending his mate. Eventually, the challenger flew away. Even though we had already hiked the Silver Peak trail during a previous canoe trip to the park, we decided that it wouldn’t really be hiking the entire trail unless we hiked it too! So, we set out for the side trail, but left our big packs at the junction with the main trail, and hung our food in a bear bag. We carried food, water, and our valuables with us. Not 200m up the trail, Cheryl realized that she hadn’t hung her toothpaste etc. We decided not to go back. By the time we reached the top of Silver Peak, there were only 2 guys there, but we had passed many coming down. In fact, we saw 15 people that day (the most of any day of our trip). We had cell signals again, and enjoyed our lunch at the top. The views are spectacular. When we were near the bottom of the hill, we started looking for our backpacks and bear bag. Just before the final switchback, I spotted a mama bear and cub – the cub ran up the hill, but the mama bear just wandered along slowly. We waited a short time, then continued down the hill. We were relieved to eventually see our things, and to find out that even if the bears had checked out our stuff, they didn’t do anything to it! I swam again at our campsite (140m off the main trail). In the evening, Cheryl spotted a beaver, and we watched it go onto the shore just across from our campsite and find something yummy to eat. Cheryl heard the beaver slap its tail a few times in the night.

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At the top of Silver Peak. [Photo by some guy from Barrie!]

Day 7: H37 (Silver Lake) to H48 (Proulx Lake)

  • Distance: 11.9 km
  • Time hiking: 4 hours 4 min
  • Time stopped: 2 hours 20 min
  • Hiking speed: 2.9 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: “reward” of chocolate from Ted from Hamilton

On day 7, we decided to stop for lunch at H47, which was right on the trail. However, when we got there, there was a man and a dog. It turned out that they were just resting, waiting for the man’s son and nephew to hike “the Crack”. The 11 year old dog wasn’t able to make the hike. We got talking to Ted from Hamilton, and he told us that we deserved a reward! He gave us part of a chocolate bar, 2 delicious pieces each, which we ate after our lunch. Thank you Ted from Hamilton!!! What a treat. We chatted with him about different canoe routes, and finally we packed up and headed on our way. At our campsite (400m off the main trail) I had trouble for the first time all trip hanging the bear bag. I managed to loop the rock over the branch twice, getting it stuck. Luckily, I was able to get it unwound, so that we didn’t have to cut the rope. At that site alone there were 2 ropes in trees that people had gotten stuck. There was a hum from the black flies (lots of them), but they were hanging out over bushes and not bothering us. We used the last of our bandaids in the morning. From then on, we had to improvise, using gauze and gorilla tape!

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Writing my day’s notes at Proulx Lake. [Photo by Cheryl]

Day 8: H48 (Proulx Lake) to George Lake Campground

  • Distance: 14.8 km
  • Time hiking: 4 hours 40 min
  • Time stopped: 1 hour 31 min
  • Hiking speed: 3.2 km/h
  • Highlight of the day: completing the loop!

For the first time all trip, we set our alarm to make sure we got an early start. We were on the trail by about 8:45 AM, hoping to get back to the park office before it closed at 3:30 PM. We knew that we had a long day ahead of us, including a 5 hour drive home at the end! The day’s hike was split into 3 sections: from our campsite to the top of the Crack, from the Crack to the Crack parking lot, and from the Crack parking lot to the George Lake campground. Finally the black flies were starting to annoy us – flying around our heads when we stopped (and a bit when we walked), but not biting. We encountered a group of high school students and their teacher from Michigan at the Crack, whose school has been doing the same trip since 1960! We carefully picked our way down the big boulders. Once we reached the turn off to the Crack parking lot, we saw a sign saying that we had just 6 km to go to reach the George Lake campground. Yay! Unfortunately, that 6 km turned into a few more! That last section of hiking was fairly flat, but we were pretty ready to be done hiking, and the end couldn’t come soon enough. We stopped for lunch, and eventually, we reached one last very steep uphill and an equally steep downhill (which Cheryl’s knees really did not like) before we came to the end of the trail. We knew that we had to walk through the campground to our vehicle, parked at the other trailhead, but we weren’t sure exactly how to get there. We managed, but it added 1.8 km to our trip!

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Just one of many delicious meals on our trip! [Photo by Cheryl]

In the end, we hiked 90.32 km! We enjoyed our time at Killarney, and while the hiking was difficult at times, the trail was beautiful. Different sections of the trail brought different kinds of trees, different kinds of rocks, and different spectacular views! It is such an amazing place! Check out the Killarney Provincial Park page on the Ontario Parks website. It’s well worth a visit!

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6 Responses to Trip report: 8-day, 90k early May hike along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park

  1. Cheryl says:

    I truly believe this hike was equal amounts mental and physical. Maybe more.
    At night, in the tent, I would listen to podcasts that I had downloaded at the last minute, to distract my mind from the next day’s hike. The words, “almost 30-metre vertical descent”, used on our map to describe a steep section of trail after H21, weighed on my mind for the first three days.
    This trip, more than any others I’ve done, taught me to “be” in the moment. Breathe. Experience. Enjoy the journey.
    Kyra isn’t kidding when she says I’m not a fan of heights.
    Sometimes, in the midst of descending a steep, rocky section of the trail near the top of a mountain peak, and fighting a heavy pack that always seemed to push you forward, looking out into the distance was scary.
    I learned to focus on the path in front of me. One step. Then another. And maybe, in a moment of either planned courage or unfortunate miscalculation, I’d sneak a peek at the stunning view that extended below my feet.
    Some days were long, and we were exhausted by the time we reached camp. I think the human body, and the inner spirit, is designed to just keep going, when there’s no other viable option available (like asking Kyra for a piggy back out. 🙂
    I’m very proud of our accomplishment. And, oddly, I am both relieved that I’m home, and sad that I don’t have one more day in front of me, in Killarney.
    Cheryl

    Like

  2. wow, that looks like a beautiful trip!

    Like

  3. Canuck Carl says:

    Such a wonderfully detailed trip report. So much wildlife both identified and unidentified I could feel myself there experiencing this rugged country.

    Blisters can really be a pain. I remember the times I’ve had them hiking my mind is consumed with them. What is use is moleskin. For me anyways it seems to stay on better than regular Band-Aids.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I enjoyed the read! :).

    Liked by 1 person

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