Thru-hike of the 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park (without sleeping)

“Which campsite are you staying at tonight?” a fellow backpacker asked us as we hiked along the trail. When told that we were going all the way to George Lake, he replied, “No seriously, which campsite?” “Seriously,” Rebecca replied. And then the next morning, more than 24 hours into our hike, a woman in a group of four backpackers asked us, “So what campsite did you come from?” “Well, we started hiking at 6:38 yesterday morning and we’re going all the way to the end without stopping.” They looked at us incredulously. We wished each other well and parted ways.

View from The Crack.

The idea of hiking the entire 80 km La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park without stopping to sleep came to me as I considered different ways to train for Wilderness Traverse, a 24-hour adventure race. I have friends who had done the hike in one go before, and knew that it would provide an opportunity to practice exercising for a long period of time, to work out nutrition strategies, and to see how our team dynamics fared. We chose early October for our hike, and set about planning what we would carry with us, including food. I also got tips from my equally crazy friends, which helped us to settle on a counter-clockwise route (easier ending). I knew what kind of terrain to expect because I had previously hiked the entire trail (in 8 days going clockwise). The Friends of Killarney Park’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail Guide is a great resource, as is the park’s Backcountry Hiking and Canoe Route Map.

While my friend and adventure racing teammate Rebecca and I would be hiking (we are team “Define Lost”), our friend and support crew Jen would stay at base camp at George Lake. I would be carrying my Garmin InReach (satellite communicator) to allow our friends and family to follow our progress, and to get help if needed.

The Hike

We decided to start hiking approximately one hour before sunrise. Our alarms went off at 5 AM, and after oatmeal for breakfast and final preparations, we grabbed the last few snacks from the cooler and at 6:38 AM with headlamps on, we started walking! It was Tuesday, October 5. The temperature was supposed to reach around 17 degrees Celsius, and fall to around 12 C feeling like 11 C overnight. There was no rain in the forecast, and it hadn’t rained since we arrived on the Sunday. We were fortunate to have dry, cool conditions! The trail can be treacherous when wet.

Go time!

Killarney Ridge Section

Right off the bat we had to climb a hill – of course! The La Cloche Silhouette Trail goes up and down and up and down and up some more! We opted to wear our trail running shoes and to use hiking poles – I can’t imagine doing the trail without them. We carried 40 litre packs with 3 litre water bladders, plus a 600 ml squishable water bottle each with a filter that we used to refill our bladders. We had intended to use water purifying droplets but didn’t use them in the end. See below for a full packing list.

Our goal was to eat approximately 150-200 calories every hour. I had packed all of my snacks into individual portions, some sweet, some salty, and some other things. See below for a spreadsheet showing all the food I brought, and for info on what I ate – and didn’t! After hiking for hours and hours, some things became less and less appealing. We were reasonably successful at eating on schedule – at least earlier in the hike!

We learned early in the hike that our friends and family were not able to see our progress on the map as intended, however the update messages I sent were automatically accompanied by our location, so Jen was able to follow along with her Killarney map. In addition, each time I sent a message I noted how far we had walked and where we were (e.g. campsite number). It wasn’t until I came home that I realized my error – I had set my account to only share map data after November 1 instead of October 1! Lesson learned.

Beautiful fall colours.

The last part of this first section of the trail is the climb up The Crack, probably the most technically challenging part of the trail, as you have to scramble up rocks, including big boulders with no easy steps. We encountered a few people in this area. By the time we reached the top, we had covered 9.5 km. Unfortunately we had to walk through cigarette smoke as we crested the top, but then we were rewarded with beautiful views.

The next time we checked the InReach to see how far we had gone, it was only 12.5 km, which was rather demoralizing. We realized then that our loose goal of 30 hours was likely unattainable. From that point on we checked the InReach infrequently, so as not to be disappointed too frequently (but enough to share our progress with friends and family).

Using the data from my InReach, you will see that I was able to piece together a comprehensive picture of our progress along the trail.

Killarney Ridge Section Summary:

  • 6:38 AM – Left George Lake campsite #53
  • 6:53 AM – Eastern terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Started Killarney Ridge Section
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H54 (A. Y. Jackson Lake)
  • 7:13 AM – H53 (Little Sheguiandah Lake)
  • 7:36 AM – Sunrise
  • 7:44 AM – H52/H51 (Wagon Road Lake)
  • 8:32 AM – H50 (Sealey Lake)
  • 9:32 AM – The Crack

Silver Peak Section

Along the trail we saw an incredible variety of fungi. I didn’t want to slow us down by continually stopping to take pictures, but I did take a few. There was one kind of mushroom in particular that looked as if it had been coated with shellac – it was so shiny!

We saw a few people as we approached the trail to Silver Peak, but we had already planned to skip this climb (and the gorgeous views).

We knew that before too long we would be hiking in the dark. Mentally, it was hard to see tents set up at H38 and to know that we had to keep walking. Oh how nice it would have been to curl up in a cozy sleeping bag!

Silver Peak Section Summary:

  • 10:52 AM – Started Silver Peak Section
  • 11:32 AM – Sign to H49 (Little Superior Lake)/H48 (Proulx Lake)
  • 1:18 PM – H47 (Heaven Lake)
  • 2:04 PM – Sign to H46/H45 (Bunnyrabbit Lake)
  • 3:55 PM – Sign to H38/H37 (Silver Lake)
  • 4:55 PM – Intersection with trail to Silver Peak

Hansen Township Section

As darkness approached and we prepared to climb and then walk up high along the ridge for a while, we made sure to stop for water at David Lake so that we didn’t run out without access to more. I don’t remember how many times we filled our bladders during the hike, but I do know that we used lakes and fast-flowing creeks to do so. Our water stops were slightly longer than our other stops. When we didn’t need water, we stopped for 10-15 minutes to go to the bathroom, get more food from our packs to put into the accessible pockets at our hips, look at the map, rest our backs, and ask – again – why we ever thought this was a good idea.

After we left David Lake, we walked in anticipation of climbing and coming upon a long section of exposed quartzite rock. This is clearly what I was remembering from my previous hike along this part of the trail. In the darkness, navigation became more challenging. Our goal for hiking overnight was to make as much forward progress as possible and to not get lost! We followed the blue trail markers (only a few were reflective) and the rock cairns. A few times, we lost the trail and had to backtrack, but never very far! At one point in the night the trail started to seem less like a trail, and then there was a tree right in front of me that I had to push through to continue. At this point, despite being tired from lack of sleep, we realized we must have missed a turn and retraced our steps. Sure enough, we went down at one point instead of up. What were we thinking – of course we should have CLIMBED again!

Rock cairn marking the trail.

We walked and walked and walked, and it seemed like we would never reach the quartzite ridge that I was expecting. We walked on quartzite, but then we went into the forest again, and then out onto the rock, and then into the forest – and repeat. It wasn’t as I remembered it. We kept walking. We didn’t check the map frequently in this section. At one point, we stopped for a quick break, looked at the map, and were overjoyed to discover that we had finished the Hansen Township Section! This called for high fives!! We were further along than we expected, and we got a massive mental boost!

At one point overnight I got cold during a rest break, so I dug out my blue puffy jacket, which did the trick! Otherwise I wore just a t-shirt and shorts for the entire hike, except for the very beginning when I had pant legs on as well.

Hansen Township Section Summary:

  • 4:55 PM – Started Hansen Township Section
  • 6:16 PM – David Lake water stop
  • 6:26 PM – Signs to H35 (Boundary Lake)/H34 (David Lake)
  • 6:56 PM – Sunset
  • 9:06 PM – Sign to H33 (Little Mountain Lake)
  • 10:16 PM – Sign to H32/H31 (Shigaug Lake)

Threenarrows Section

Sadly, the high from discovering that we were further along than expected didn’t last too long! It seemed we had been walking for quite some time, so long that I was sure we must have just missed the sign to H21. So when we eventually reached a campsite, we looked at the sign with trepidation… only to discover it said H21. So disheartening!

While I thought it might be scary to walk for 12 hours in the pitch dark, imagining all the creatures big and small that we might encounter, in fact I didn’t find it scary at all! And we saw some pretty cool creatures in the night. Low to the ground I kept seeing very small lights, which I knew weren’t fireflies. I wondered if they were just water droplets, and then I got close to one – it was a spider! Actually, it was the spider’s eyes that were reflecting the light from our headlamps! Once I knew what they were, I saw them everywhere!! One small plant had 3 spiders within a very small space. In the night we also saw 2 salamanders within a foot of each other right on the trail, as well as toads and a mouse. During the day, we saw (and heard!) countless ruffed grouse (one scared the heck out of me!), a pileated woodpecker, a bird that was likely an owl, a frog, lots of chipmunks and squirrels, nuthatches and a dragonfly. I also walked through many cobwebs! The only bear we saw was very close to the George Lake campground office the day before we started our hike!

At one of our overnight rest stops, we turned off our headlamps and looked up at the stars – wow! What a view! Not too much later, both of our headlamps gave warning flashes that the batteries were dying. We put new ones in and were back in business!

At one point, we had to descend a waterfall in the dark. The step down was too big for either of us to actually be able to take a step, so we had to bum scoot down. I thought my footing was solid, but my foot slipped on the wet rock, and I ended up on my butt in the water! Thankfully, it didn’t take too long for my shorts and underwear to dry!

It’s hard to describe what it was like to walk for 12 hours in the dark. It was long. It was tiring. I was counting down the hours until the sun would rise!

I was hoping that the sunrise would give us a big mental boost, but after the initial joy of seeing the sun coming up, it became overcast and there wasn’t much sun to celebrate!

Sunrise on the trail.

However, the sun was up and I was grateful! Our new goal was to finish before it set again (really!).

Threenarrows Section Summary:

  • 12:36 AM – Started Threenarrows Section
  • 12:43 AM – Sign to H23 (no lake)
  • 1:18 AM – Sign to H22 (unnamed lake)
  • 2:13 AM – Waterfall descent
  • 3:41 AM – Sign to H21 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 5:12 AM – Signs to H20 (unnamed Lake) and H59 (Bodina Lake)
  • 6:47 AM – Sign to H19 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:02 AM – Sign to H18 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 7:38 AM – Sunrise
  • 8:02 AM – Sign to H17 (Threenarrows Lake)
  • 10:02 AM – H16 (Threenarrows Lake)/water stop
  • 11:06 AM – Sign to H8 (Threenarrows Lake)/start of long walk around the dam

Baie Fine Section

I mentioned the hills – the neverending hills – but I haven’t yet mentioned the mud! We each carried with us a 2nd pair of trail running shoes, with the intent that we would keep one pair dry. Before starting our hike, I envisioned changing into my spare pair for any necessary water crossings. However, within the first few km of the trail, our feet were already wet. There were so many creek crossings, and so many unavoidable puddles, that we never changed our shoes, and instead had wet feet the entire time. This, as you can imagine, is not ideal. But in case we got stuck on the trail for much longer than expected (e.g. if one of us got injured), I wanted to have dry shoes!

Rebecca tackling yet another creek crossing.

At some point, Rebecca started getting hot spots on her feet, which she treated with blister stuff. For me, the last 20 km were excruciating on my feet as I had developed blisters on the outsides of my baby toes. Downhills were the worst. I tried treating them (at which point Rebecca very briefly fell asleep while laying on her back with her backpack on!) but given that my feet were sweating and I continued to step in puddles and mud, nothing stuck!

Another thing that we both experienced during this hike was hearing and seeing things that weren’t there. So many times Rebecca or I would think we heard people talking. At one point (during the day, once we had hiked past the dam), I thought I saw someone in an orange jacket sitting along the shore in a chair. I looked again and only saw leaves. Just before we reached the Pig, I pointed out a backpack to Rebecca, which was sitting on the trail with no person in sight. But as we got closer, I realized it was a fallen tree. Other times I saw bear-like shapes (in bark, in trees). The mind sure does play tricks in times of sleep deprivation!

While the Baie Fine section of the trail was the flattest, it seemed to stretch forever!

A sinking bridge.

We kept thinking that we were getting close to George Lake and the bridge that marks the end of the trail (“Look! A clearing in the forest!”), but the trail just kept on going. And then finally, unbelievably, we saw the bridge! We stopped for a quick picture, then headed up the hill to the park road. Once we hit the road, wow! We had the strangest feeling in our feet. First, the road felt like it was moving, and second, the road was so incredibly hard on our feet!

We made our way to our campsite, where Jen was jumping up and down excitedly! It was so awesome to have a support crew waiting for us! She had cooked homemade macaroni and cheese for us, chopped up a whack load of vegetables, and offered to do anything we needed – get dry shoes and socks, get cold drinks, get clothes, anything! We plunked ourselves down in our chairs for a few minutes and had cold drinks. We removed our shoes, and hobbled to the comfort station for showers (me wearing Jen’s flip flops because I couldn’t tolerate shoes anymore on my blisters)! I even used a hair dryer (for the first time ever while camping), since I didn’t want to go to bed with wet hair. We sat at the roaring campfire for a few minutes telling Jen about our adventures before sleep called our names! Shoutout to Killarney Outfitters for having dry firewood! We bought lots after a disappointing campfire our first night in the park trying to get the wet park wood to burn!

Thank you Jen for being the best ever support crew, and Rebecca for always being up for an adventure, no matter how ridiculous.

DONE!

Baie Fine Section Summary:

  • 1:06 PM – Started Baie Fine Section
  • 1:16 PM – The Pig (steepest portage in the park)
  • 2:57 PM – Sign to H6 (Cave Lake)
  • 3:02 PM – Sign to H5 (Cave Lake)
  • 4:27 PM – Signs to H4/H3 (Acid Lake)
  • 4:57 PM – Sign to H2 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 5:17 PM – Sign to H1 (Lumsden Lake)
  • 6:15 PM – Western terminus of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail/Finished Baie Fine Section
  • 6:24 PM – Arrived at George Lake campsite (35 hours and 46 minutes after starting)

As my friend Heidi said, “You are so ready for this but don’t underestimate the challenge.” She was right! While the trail is physically demanding, the hardest part for sure was the mental battle. The further we got into our hike, the more frequent our short breaks became, and the harder it was to get going again (physically and mentally)!

I wouldn’t recommend a thru-hike as a way to see the sights and appreciate the beauty of the trail, but it definitely gave us experience exercising for a long period of time, and taught us what foods we do – and don’t! – want to face after hours and hours of exercise. We also got a chance to test out our team dynamics over a much longer period of time than our longest race to date so far – approximately 14 hours.

What an experience!!

Food

In planning our hike, we estimated that it would take us approximately 30 hours (a pace of 2.7 km/h). However, we wanted to bring extra food in case it took longer. Based on previous experiences racing, plus research we had done (including advice from friends who had done this before), we planned to eat 150-200 calories per hour. I brought 37 different snacks with me, a total of 41 servings. Near the beginning of the hike, I suggested that we play a game and try to remember the order in which we ate our snacks. I thought it might help keep us awake during the long night! But after eggs, bar, muffin, something, I stopped trying!

I ate the eggs first since they were not going to stay cold for long. My favourite snacks were the pickle, olives, moon cheese and dill chips! I also loved the lemon square. The further and further we got into our hike, the dryer and dryer I found some of the foods to be – for example, I had to wash down chickpeas, my PB&honey sandwich, and the Pro bar PB chocolate chip with water to be able to swallow them. And as we spent more and more time on the trail, sweet things appealed less and less to me. I could never face the chocolate bar, boiled sweet potatoes, Endurance Tap, and most of my homemade bars and energy balls.

While in the end I had too much food, I don’t regret bringing all of it. If one of us had been injured and we had been forced to stop on the trail, we would have needed it! I did learn, however, that I need more salty snacks and less sweet snacks.

At the suggestion of my friend Barb, Rebecca and I had each packed “mystery” snacks, to pull out when we deemed appropriate! Mine was so sweet that by the time we talked about it, neither of us wanted one! Rebecca had brought Goldschläger (Swiss cinnamon schnapps), which she thought could be helpful in the night if we were cold! We didn’t have that either.

Packing list

Note: I am not sponsored by any companies. I bought all of the items that I used.

Worn:

  • Gregory Zulu 40 litre backpack
  • Topo Athletic Mtn Racer Trail Running Shoes 6
  • T-shirt, pants with lots of pockets and detachable legs, underwear, bra, compression socks

Carried:

  • Tubbs hiking poles
  • Garmin InReach
  • Map in waterproof pouch
  • Compass
  • Bear spray (Rebecca also carried a horn)
  • Bear bell
  • 3 litre water bladder
  • Katadyn BeFree Microfilter with Hydrapak 0.6 litre flask
  • Water treatment tablets
  • Sun screen
  • First aid kit
  • Petzl Actik core headlamp
  • AAA batteries
  • Lightweight emergency bivy bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Cell phone
  • Flint and fire starter
  • Swiss army knife
  • Contact lenses and solution
  • Toilet paper
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Camera
  • Altra Lone Peak 5 trail running shoes
  • Running socks (2 pairs)
  • Hat – lightweight/squishy baseball
  • Hat – lightweight running
  • Hat – winter
  • Running gloves
  • Long john pants and long sleeve top
  • Blue puffy compressible jacket
  • Rain coat and pants
  • Food!

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Trip report: Canoeing Killarney (glowing eyes in the night and the “Amazing Race”)

I remember this October 2013 trip for the glowing eyes in the night, the “Amazing Race” adventure, and paddling in strong winds and waves! My friend Cheryl and I had never been to Killarney Provincial Park before, but we had heard great things.

As we drove to the park on a Thursday morning, the sun began to disappear, clouds covered the sky, and we wondered when we would get rained on. We made a quick stop at the French River Provincial Park to eat our lunch, and then we were on our way again. At the Bell Lake access point, more than 400 km from home, we went into the Killarney Outfitters office to get our camping permit. We were immediately asked how we enjoyed our trip! Surely we looked too clean, dry, and chipper to be heading home? Permit in hand, we got the canoe down to the water, loaded everything in, and set out, with me in the stern.

We had chosen the popular Bell Lake/Three Mile Lake/Balsam Lake/David lake/Bell Lake circular route, because it also gave us an opportunity to hike to the highest point around – Silver Peak, part of the La Cloche Mountain Range (which apparently used to be higher than the Rocky Mountains out west). Our first campsite was to be on Little Bell Lake, a very small lake with just one campsite on it, and only a short portage (130 m) from Balsam Lake. We learned quickly that you need eagle eyes to spot the portage and campsite signs at Killarney! The signs are significantly smaller than the ones at other parks. Before we got to Little Bell Lake, we had to portage 40 m from Three Mile Lake into Balsam Lake – the portage was on an old marine railway, which apparently used to be like a moving carpet that you could put your boat on… and watch it portage itself! That little mechanism is no longer in action. At the start of our paddling, the lakes were super smooth, with no wind and awesome reflections in the water. That changed when the light rain started. It then rained off and on for the entire time we were at Killarney.

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We spent a lot of time under a tarp.

We arrived at our campsite after 2 hours of paddling (a distance of about 8 1/2 km), and set up the tent and the bear bag to hang our food – we used the “Reg method” for the first time, which is my go to method now. It took 5 minutes, used just 1 bag, 1 long rope, no pulleys or carabiners, and was dead easy to do! Unfortunately it rained while we were cooking our tortilla pizzas (with rehydrated dehydrated veggies and pineapple), but they were delicious. I also discovered – while prepping dinner – that we had failed to pack forks, knives and spoons (the guilty party shall remain nameless)! I did have a Swiss Army Knife, and Cheryl had a knife too, so all was not lost. We also had a big stirring spoon and a spatula. But, we spent the next few days experimenting with sticks as chopsticks, stir spoons, scoops, and knives! Cheryl lit a 1-match fire later, which we would have enjoyed more had it not been so wet out! That night when it was pitch dark out (no moon, no stars), I spotted what I thought was a 5-Lined Skink while I was sitting on the loo, but later at home I realized (with some photo comparisons) that in fact it was an Eastern Red-backed Salamander. It didn’t seem too bothered by my headlamp, or later my camera!

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Pretty fall colours.

On Friday morning we had an awesome pancake breakfast with rehydrated dehydrated bananas, peaches and kiwi, Chai tea and gatorade. We packed up, and with Cheryl in the stern this time, we headed back to the portage to Balsam Lake, and then paddled our way to David Lake. At the 630 m portage we met 2 girls who were studying at Laurentian College in Sudbury and taking an Outdoor Recreation Management program – or something to that effect. They had to do a 3-night 4-day canoe trip before they could graduate. However, based on the STUFF they had with them, they clearly hadn’t yet learned how to pack lightly. One of the girls did carry one of our paddles and a pelican case, since she had a free hand. Getting under the boat with the canoe pack on was fun, and the portage started straight uphill, but it wasn’t bad. It turns out the girls were also hoping to camp close to the trailhead for the hike to Silver Peak, since they intended to do the hike the next day as well. When we saw the girls the next day near the top of Silver Peak, we found out that they saw a bear just after we left them (sleeping on a rock)!

We paddled David Lake toward the trailhead, getting increasingly concerned as all the campsites were taken (we had a permit to camp on the lake that night, but not on a specific site). We were really hoping that we didn’t get to the far end of the lake only to discover that we had to paddle 4 km back (into the wind!) to find a site. And we knew that the girls would be behind us, also looking for a site. We decided to forego lunch in favour of finding a site, and our determined paddling and race against the clock (we eventually saw their canoe behind us) made us feel like competitors on the Amazing Race! Finally we saw what we thought was a site, but it said that it was NOT a site and we should NOT camp there. We continued, passing a few more occupied sites, until finally we found a free site! We weren’t sure why it didn’t have a campsite sign visible from the water, but we pulled everything out of the boat, put the boat on shore, and breathed a collective sigh of relief! And then… we could see the girls’ boat… and at our site, we saw trail markers… that’s odd, we said… we quickly realized we were on a backpacking site, which we did NOT have a permit for! Survival instincts kicked in. We also felt badly that the girls may not have a site… but not badly enough to not take one ourselves! We quickly debated staying there anyway, or putting everything back in the canoe and heading further down to the lake to the last possible site (which we couldn’t see). Thankfully, the last site was free and we took it. We saw the girls paddling in the other direction (not sure where they were going). We had a site and we were very relieved!!! We put up our tent and bear bag, and then we had our lunch at 5 PM – a yummy carrot raisin pepper peanut salad – eaten with chopsticks, followed by some delicious apple crisp. I used the rehydrating apples (in very hot water) to warm myself up!

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Warming up with rehydrating apples.

We gathered wood, and had a great fire! While Cheryl was filtering water and I was keeping her company at the shore, an otter swam up out of the water about 10 feet from me, stood on its back legs and took a good look at us. Then it ran up the hill away from us. (I had seen what I thought was likely an otter on the first day too, but while we were paddling and it was scampering up a rock on shore.) That night, I was almost at the loo – in the complete dark – when my headlamp caught glowing eyeballs not too far away! Coyote? Wolf? Fox? Bear? Moose? Do I stay to pee?? I did, and the thing clearly saw me, because it moved a bit higher up the hill. I walked back to the campfire very quickly and told Cheryl that I wasn’t going to the bathroom alone again that night!! It was freaky! (And maybe it was just a raccoon! But it seemed higher off the ground…. )

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Using birch bark as a spoon.

Saturday morning it was quite windy. We had an awesome oatmeal breakfast (with nuts, raisins, and rehydrated dehydrated fruit) with Chai tea and gatorade, and then headed for the trailhead to hike 5.2 km up to Silver Peak. It was a short paddle there, and when we arrived there were 2 other canoes pulled up on shore. The trail was well marked with little signs, but in some places they used big rock piles to mark the route. When we were nearly at the top, a group coming down asked us, “Did you see the bear?” Apparently we were the only group going up who hadn’t seen it. We kept our eyes open, and as we made the final turn up the hill, we heard that group yelling at the bear “Go away bear!” They were loud! A few minutes before meeting that group, we had heard another group (around 15 men and teenage boys) yell something but we figured it was because they reached the top… later we realized it might have been them yelling at the bear. In any case, we got to the top, and as we arrived we met the 2 girls from the day before heading down (being “escorted” by 2 guys they met at the top) – because they too had seen the bear. I forgot to ask them where they found a campsite the night before!! We looked around, took some pictures, accidentally discovered a geocache, and then had our lunch before heading down. Of course the rain started pretty much as we arrived at the top! While eating our lunch 3 women reached the top, one carrying bear spray (Cheryl had some too), one carrying a fog horn, and one a massive knife. The one with the knife said she had no idea what she would do with it, but her husband made her take it!

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View from Silver Peak.

We started our descent knowing that a bear was in the area, and it didn’t take long before I spotted it! We backed up, talked so the bear knew we were there, Cheryl pulled the bear spray out of its holster, and we waited for the bear to make a move. It was happily eating, but did eventually cross the path back towards the way we had come (uphill). Unfortunately, we lost sight of it, and didn’t want to keep walking because there was a big mound of earth that we couldn’t see over or around… and the bear could be right behind it…. eventually we did proceed, and saw that the bear wasn’t behind the mound – it was sitting or standing with its bum in a little den (at the base of a tree) watching us! The bear really didn’t seem bothered by us, so no bear spray was deployed! Just before arriving back at the canoe we decided to check out Boundary Lake, so we walked about 500 m and had our snack there. It was cold so we didn’t stay long. We walked back to the trailhead and paddled back to our campsite, and on the way passed very close to a man who was slowly – very slowly – going into the water in his white boxers! His friend said that he had intended to get in before we got there! Back at our site we gathered more wood, had rehydrated dehydrated minestrone soup, and fresh baked corn bread for dinner. Later we had chocolate pudding and Baileys. Yum.

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Such a pretty landscape.

On Sunday we awoke to rain, and decided to pack up the tent and put everything under our tarps while we had our no-cook breakfast (homemade bran muffins and dehydrated applesauce – eaten like fruit leather – with gatorade). We had another windy paddle, but not quite as windy as the day before. At the first portage (210 m), Cheryl had a go at portaging the canoe, which left me to carry the huge pack, 3 paddles, and 2 pelican cases. At the 2nd portage (705 m), we were just pulling the boat out of the water when a fleet of canoes arrived – the group of 15 or so hikers from the day before, and I took the opportunity to ask for help to stand up with that huge pack on. Two men quickly ran over – “How long have you been sitting like that?” one said, “3 days?!” – let me tell you, it made standing up EASY! Part way through the portage Cheryl and I switched, so that I took the boat and she got the rest of the stuff. I was hoping that when I got to the end there would be at least one of the big group there and able to help me get the canoe off (I haven’t mastered that part solo yet). I was lucky! I got to the end and asked for help – 2 different guys jumped up, took the boat right off of me (I only asked for help for them to take the weight off one end) and asked where I wanted it – I said anywhere, so they put it right in the water for me! For the rest of the paddle back to the van it was pouring rain, and we were relieved when we arrived, knowing that we would soon be in clean and dry clothes (left in the van)!

All told we paddled/portaged/hiked about 42.2 km. Despite the rain, it was a great trip!

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We couldn’t have been much wetter!

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Menu review: 8-day, 90k hiking trip along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, Killarney Provincial Park

In March I posted the menu for my upcoming 8-day hiking trip at Killarney Provincial Park. My friend Cheryl and I planned to hike the entire La Cloche Silhouette Trail, and prepared all of our food months in advance. For us the food is an important part of the trip! We enjoy getting together to plan out the menu, and to decide who is going to bring what. Then it’s time to buy what we need, prepare it, get it all together, sort it into meals/days, and put it in the freezer until our trip! The original post I did on the menu drew lots of feedback. Many people were interested in how it all worked out. I can now tell you that it worked out great!! At the last minute, Cheryl added 6 or 8 instant coffee packets, as well as 8 electrolyte tablets to add to her water bladder.
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One of many delicious snacks.
Day 1: We both started our hike with a granola bar in our pocket, one that wasn’t part of our original menu! Consequently, we didn’t eat our bedtime snack. We started a bag of “leftover food”. Day 2:  At lunch, we only ate a few of the nuts, as we had enough food without them. We put the nuts into our leftover food bag. We also had a very small amount of bannock left over from lunch (31g, weighed at home), which went into the same bag. That night, my stomach was a little “off”, but Cheryl ate about 1/4 of the 1st night’s bedtime snack. We put day 2’s bedtime snack with the leftovers. Day 3: We both felt that there was too much oatmeal for breakfast, but later on we were happy to have eaten it all. We had a tiny bit of cornbread left over at lunch (36g), but ate everything else as planned.
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I forgot to pack dehydrated veggies for this one, which we both felt would have made dinner better! It was the only thing we forgot to pack!
Day 4: Everything eaten as planned. Day 5:  Everything eaten as planned. Poached leftover chocolate treat from a bedtime snack to make “specialty coffee”. Day 6: Everything eaten as planned. I had my first night’s bedtime snack as well. Poached leftover chocolate treat from a bedtime snack to make “specialty coffee”. Day 7: Everything eaten as planned. Poached leftover chocolate treat from a bedtime snack to make “specialty coffee”.
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One of 7 delicious bedtime snacks!
Day 8: Added leftover fruit from bedtime snack to apple crisp at breakfast. We arrived at our vehicle with our afternoon snack not yet eaten. We did, however, eat them on the way home! So in the end, the only thing we didn’t eat was the nuts from lunch on day 2, and Cheryl’s lunchtime gatorade from day 8. We did wonder, however, whether we should have packed a meal or two extra, in case we were delayed for any reason and had to spend another night. Do you pack extra meals? Finally, we used about 6 L of water per day, a combination of water that we drank in our water bladders, water used to make gatorade, tea and coffee, and water used to rehydrate or cook our food. With the exception of cooking eggs twice and baking bannock and cornmeal once each, all of our meal preparation involved simply boiling water. We estimated that we used approximately 597 ml of white gas in our MSR Dragonfly stove. We were happy with all of our meals and snacks! There wasn’t a single one that we wouldn’t want to have again. A few of my favourites were our day 4 dinner (pasta hit the spot!), our day 7 breakfast (apricot granola) and our pizza gorp! Yum! Related posts: Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

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 cannonball 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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