Overcoming fears: hiking through “what ifs” and a fear of heights

Do hiking, canoeing, backcountry camping or car camping force you to face your fears? In this guest post, my backcountry camping partner Cheryl explains her mental battles. She wrote this after our 8-day, 90k hike along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park.

I truly believe this hike was equal amounts mental and physical. Maybe more mental.

And it started before I put one boot on the trail.

In the days leading up to our trip, my brain was overloaded with all possible “what ifs”, each involving various degrees of plausibility. What if I twisted an ankle four days in. What if a bear ate our food. What if someone got sick. What if a monster serpent of Loch Ness proportions emerged from Three Narrows and swallowed Kyra whole, leaving me alone and without the Personal Locator Beacon, that was, in an ironic twist wrought with chapter-ending suspense, carried by … Kyra.

You get the idea.

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”, printed in bold lettering on our map to describe a steep section of trail after H21, weighed on my mind for the first three days.

Cheryl on Three Narrows Lake, contemplating the next day’s 30-metre vertical descent?

This trip, more than any others I’ve done, taught me to “be” in the moment. Breathe. Experience. Enjoy the journey. I reminded myself to do this throughout the day.

Kyra is right: 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 at the bottom of the 30-metre vertical descent.
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Backcountry kitchen: how to make do with less

In order to reduce the weight of our backpacks as much as possible for our 8-day, 90k hike of the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park, we cut our “kitchen” down to what we considered the bare essentials.

To save space, we nestled as much as we could inside of the pot.

We brought:

  • 6 cup pot and lid
  • 1 pot lid lifter
  • 2 soup spoons
  • 1 pancake lifter
  • 2 bowls
  • 1 mug
  • 1 400 ml Nalgene bottle
  • MSR Dragonfly stove with windscreen
  • MSR Dragonfly stove servicing kit
  • Outback oven scorch burner (to avoid burning our eggs, bannock and cornbread)
  • Outback oven teapot cosy (to boil water/cook food faster)
  • 2 x 325 ml MSR bottles, one filled to maximum fill line, and the other filled to the cap
  • matches
  • 1 Swiss army knife (not used)
  • 1 pocket knife (not used for kitchen)
  • dish cloth
  • biodegradable dish soap
  • parchment paper
  • 3-4 coffee filters in case water was murky (not used)
  • 2 large ziploc bags marked for 2L of water
  • chlorine dioxide water treatment drops
  • 2 water bladders (2 L size)
  • 1 waterproof bear bag with bell on it
  • 1 waterproof bear bag without a bell on it (not used, because all the food fit into one bag)
  • rope for hanging bear bag
  • homemade tarp plus thin lightweight rope

All of this fit inside the pot pictured.

We had everything we needed! My mug did triple duty for gatorade, tea/coffee, and measuring liquids (I had marked it with permanent marker in 1/4 cup increments), and Cheryl’s Nalgene did quadruple duty for gatorade, tea/coffee, a hot water bottle and measuring liquids.

We left behind some things that we used to bring, like a lightweight sink, forks, knives and plates!

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Packing list: 8-day, 90k hike along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, Killarney Provincial Park

Here is a complete list of what my friend Cheryl and I packed for an 8-day, 90k hike along the full length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park, and notes on things we did not use.

My trusty bag.

Clothing (including what I was wearing):

  • 2 bras
  • 3 pairs underwear
  • 5 pairs socks
  • 1 pair zip-off pants
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 long sleeved shirt
  • 1 fleece sweater
  • 1 rain coat
  • 1 rain pants
  • 1 winter hat
  • 1 fleece gloves
  • 1 long johns top and bottom
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 wide brimmed hat
  • 1 bug jacket (not used)
  • compression bag for clothes/pillow
  • sunglasses
  • quick dry towel
  • toiletries


  • 2 bowls
  • 2 spoons
  • 1 dishcloth
  • 1 six cup pot and lid
  • 1 pot lid lifter
  • dish soap
  • pancake flipper
  • parchment paper
  • a few coffee filters if needed for water filtering (not used)
  • 1 insulated mug
  • 1 nalgene bottle (400 ml)
  • 2 large ziplocs marked with a line at 2L for treating water
  • water treatment drops
  • 2 water bladders (2 L size)
  • MSR Dragonfly stove
  • MSR Dragonfly stove servicing kit
  • Outback oven tea cosy
  • Outback oven scorch protector
  • Matches (several boxes)
  • 700 ml white fuel split between 2 bottles of 325 ml (one filled up, one filled to the maximum fill line)
  • 1 Swiss army knife
  • 1 pocket knife (not used)
  • 1 bear bag with bell on it (waterproof bag)
  • 1 bear bag without bell on it (waterproof bag) (not used)
  • rope for hanging bear bag
  • homemade tarp plus thin lightweight rope
  • food!


  • 1 Sierra Designs Zilla 2 tent
  • 1 MEC Perseus -7 sleeping bag
  • 1 North Face -7 sleeping bag
  • 1 silk liner
  • 1 fleece liner
  • 2 thermarests 3/4 length
  • 2 compression bags for sleeping bags
  • 2 bags for thermarests

Our tent/shelter setup.


  • 2 headlamps with extra batteries
  • 1 bear spray (not used)
  • 1 bug spray (not used)
  • 1 sunblock
  • 2 cameras with extra batteries
  • 1 camera tripod
  • 1 Jeffsmap
  • 1 compass (not used)
  • 1 GPS with extra batteries
  • 2 cell phones
  • 1 ResQLink emergency beacon (not used)
  • 2 driver’s licences, credit cards and money
  • 1 emergency kit (Gorilla tape, buckles, dental floss, notepad and pencil, matches, mini bungees, emergency blanket, firestarting materials, needle and thread, benadryl)
  • 1 first aid kit (miscellaneous bandaids, gauze, tape, compression wrap)
  • hiking poles
  • pen
  • trail description
  • 6 rolls toilet paper (used 5 1/2)
  • 2 backpack rain covers
  • 2 whistles
  • 1 lightweight saw (not used)
  • 1 vehicle key!

Emergency kit.

Cheryl and I discussed everything we brought, and decided that we wouldn’t leave anything behind next time!

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Trip planning: Menu planning for an 8-day spring hike along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park

Are you looking for new ideas for things to eat while backcountry camping? Take a peek at my menu for an upcoming 8-day hike along the entire length of the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park. I’ll be going in early May with my friend Cheryl. We’ve done two 4-day hiking trips at Killarney now, the first time hiking 2 days in counterclockwise, then hiking back out, and the second time hiking 2 days in clockwise, then hiking back out. It was on that second trip that we realized we need more food when hiking compared to what we need for canoe trips! On a canoe trip to Killarney, we paddled from our campsite to the trail and hiked to Silver Peak (and saw a bear). What a beautiful park. For our last couple of hiking trips, including last fall’s 38.6 km hike along the Highland Trail at Algonquin Provincial Park, staying at Faya, Harness, and Provoking Lake East, and this February’s 4-day snowshoe adventure again along the Highland Trail, we’ve been able to estimate very well our energy needs! We’ve arrived back at our vehicle with only our last day’s lunch and afternoon snack. So, we are confident that the amount of food we’ve packed will be just right – however, I’ll be reporting back in May after the trip!
Dehydrating a variety of fruits and vegetables (top to bottom: pear, red pepper, carrot, zucchini, sweet potato, kiwi).
Cheryl and I got together a few months ago to plan this trip, setting out our menu and dividing up who would prepare what. All of our food was assembled at home meal by meal, and labelled with instructions if needed (e.g. add 1 1/4 cups of boiling water). We packed lots of our favourite meals, but are also trying some new things this time! Given that we will be carrying 7 days worth of food on our backs, we wanted to pack nutrient dense food that didn’t weigh a ton (it’s an 8-day trip but we’re not carrying the 1st day’s breakfast, morning snack or lunch, or the 8th day’s dinner and evening snack). We each used our Excalibur 9-tray dehydrators to remove as much weight as possible and keep things fresh on the trail. Where normally we may have used skim milk powder, we used whole milk powder instead to have extra calories for the same weight. I added coconut oil to some things, more cheese and bacon than I might usually, etc. However, we’re not willing to eat bars for every meal, or pre-packaged store-bought meals. We want to eat real food, healthy food, and a variety of things! All told, our food weighs 23.6 pounds. The recipes we used come from the following books:
  • Backpacker Backcountry Cooking by Dorcas Miller (B)
  • A Fork in the Trail by Laurie Ann March (F)
  • LipSmackin’ Backpackin’ by Christine and Tim Conners (L)
  • The Trailside Cookbook by Don and Pam Philpott (T)
Where a recipe was followed, you’ll see a (B), (F), (L) or (T) after the recipe name.  The weight of each meal is also included in brackets.
All of our food ready to go! There’s a column for each day, with day 1 on the far left, and day 8 on the far right. Breakfast for each day is up high, and the evening snack down low.
Day 1:  Breakfast: at home Morning snack: in car en route Lunch: picnic lunch en route Afternoon snack: peanut crisp (T) (151g) Dinner: quinoa spinach soup and bannock, including bannock for lunch the next day (F) (502g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (e.g. dehydrated banana + mini turtles) (97g) Day 2:  Breakfast: strawberry peach muesli (F) (277g) Morning snack: honey mustard gorp (F) (142g) Lunch: bannock from night before, cheese, nuts and dehydrated fruit (276g) Afternoon snack: peanut butter chocolate squares (117g) Dinner: minestrone soup and cornbread, including corn bread for lunch the next day (F) (569g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (88g)
Food for day 2.
Day 3: Breakfast: oatmeal with nuts and dehydrated fruit (344g) Morning snack: trail mix (144g) Lunch: corn bread from the night before, pepperettes and cheese sticks (168g) Afternoon snack: beef jerky and applesauce (115g) Dinner: huevos rancheros (F) (237g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (83g) Day 4:  Breakfast: apricot/pecan cream cereal and dehydrated fruit (B) (518g) Morning snack: quick energy bar (T) (130g) Lunch: hummus, dehydrated veggies, naan bread (374g) Afternoon snack: beef jerky and applesauce (117g) Dinner: pasta with tomato sauce, dehydrated veggies and parmesan (280g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (71g) Day 5:  Breakfast: Canadian maple blueberry granola (F) (287g) Morning snack: pizza gorp (F) (140g) Lunch: peanut butter, dehydrated apple, sunflower seed, blueberry tortilla wraps (369g) Afternoon snack: peanut butter chocolate squares (121g) Dinner: chili and mini pitas with parmesan (324g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (92g)
Big river apricot granola.
Day 6:  Breakfast: maple pecan couscous and dehydrated fruit (F) (290g) Morning snack: quick energy bars (T) (117g) Lunch: black bean dip, veggies and bread (278g) Afternoon snack: honey mustard gorp (F) (140g) Dinner: egg, bacon, cheese, and dehydrated veggie wraps (T) (302g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (85g) Day 7:  Breakfast: big river apricot granola and dehydrated fruit (L) (380g) Morning snack: peanut crisp (T) (155g) Lunch: tomato and toasted almond spread (B), cheese, pitas, dehydrated veggies (276g) Afternoon snack: trail mix (148g) Dinner: pasta alfredo with dehydrated veggies, bacon bits, parmesan cheese (277g) Evening snack: dried fruit and chocolate treat (95g)
1 ziploc for each day’s food (except for 2 days, which required 2 bags)
Day 8:  Breakfast: apple crisp (190g) Morning snack: pizza gorp (F) (139g) Lunch: carrot raisin peanut salad (F) (416g) Afternoon snack: trail mix (164g) Dinner: on drive home In addition to the above, we packed gatorade to have at breakfast and lunch (516g), tea and whole milk powder for breakfast and 2 mugs of hot chocolate for each of us over the 8 days (325g). Sometime soon, I’ll take all the bags out of the freezer, open every ziploc bag and make sure I squeeze out as much air as possible so we can actually fit all this in our packs! And speaking of ziploc bags, a concerned facebook reader noted (when I posted a picture of all our food) that we were using an awful lot of plastic bags, and that we should try to find an alternative. I agree. While we do use some of them to store our garbage during our trip, the vast majority are brought home. Some are thrown out (e.g. greasy ones) and some are washed to be re-used. But that’s a lot of water and soap to clean them. In any case, I did a quick google search and found this idea – wrapping food with wax paper using masking tape and a stapler. I will definitely consider doing this to cut down on the amount of plastic. Thanks Michelle D S for raising the plastic issue! After the trip, I’ll do another blog post on the food, noting how far we hiked each day, whether we had the right amount, too little, too much, what we loved, what we wouldn’t make again, what we forgot to pack (hopefully nothing, unlike one particular canoe trip at Algonquin or another trip where someone forgot to pack utensils!!), etc. Stay tuned!! UPDATED May 2016: Menu review here. Follow me on Facebook: Kyra on the Go: Adventures of a Paddling Triathlete Follow me on Twitter: @kyraonthego Follow me on Instagram: @kyraonthego

Hiking Killarney: Epic Boot Fail, Stream Crossings and Animal Encounters

Another late ice out, another canoe trip converted into a hiking trip! What was supposed to be a 4-day Massassauga Provincial Park adventure turned into a 4-day backpacking trip along the La Cloche Silhouette Trail at Killarney Provincial Park! I’ll remember this trip for the epic boot fail, stream crossings, and animal encounters!

Shortcut to the full slide show: https://plus.google.com/photos/100072489463896099913/albums/6145154351111584961?authkey=CJPJupLCgOz_YQ

Day 1: George Lake Campground, Killarney Provincial Park, La Cloche Silouette Trailhead to Cave Lake (H6) — 8.4 km

Seen on the side of the road just before turning into the George Lake campground

For the first time, we headed out without a reservation – this caused mild concern, but I assured Cheryl it would all work out! By the time we cancelled our canoe trip, Killarney was no longer taking reservations for backcountry sites (flood watch?), so we had to hope that not too many others planned on hiking when and where we were intending to. After an early morning start, we were at the George Lake Campground office by noon and paid for our backcountry permit – we had hoped to camp on H6 the 1st night, H16 the 2nd, and H6 the 3rd. As it turned out, H6 was booked for the 3rd night, so we chose H5. If you haven’t been to Killarney, you wouldn’t know that the hiking campsites are quite spread out – if one is booked, you might have to hike much further to the next campsite. But H5 and H6 are near one another, so it wasn’t a big deal.

Cheryl and I were due for some good weather camping for a change, and the weekend delivered! The forecast was for +9 to +15 degrees Celsius, and pure sun!

We were at the trailhead just before 1 PM on Thursday, April 30, heading in the recommended clockwise direction (last year, we did a 4-day trip in the counterclockwise direction from “the Crack” parking lot – much more challenging terrain). When we opened the trunk of the car, we discovered that my cambelbak had completely emptied – it seemed to be absorbed by cardboard lining Cheryl’s trunk, but the wet cardboard didn’t seem to be as big an area as you might expect…

A very excited woman seemed thrilled to take our pictures at the trailhead. Cheryl had decided to leave her sandals in the car to save weight, so I did the same – I could just wear my boots at the campsite! And then…

… well, we headed out, enjoying our hike through the spring forest. Cheryl had brought a walking stick with her, and found me one early in our hike. The ice was out on all the lakes, but there were a few small patches of ice in the forest. We encountered many stream crossings, some easier than others. We heard the distinctive thumping of ruffed grouse many times, but didn’t actually see many of the birds. We stopped for a carrot date bar snack, and within about 200 m of our campsite, I experienced an epic boot fail.

The rubber sole of my right boot separated except for the toe area!

I managed to flop my way to our campsite on Cave Lake (H6), and understood why I had wet feet! I took my boots and socks off and put them in the sun to (hopefully) dry before morning. We were disappointed to find that someone had left a big garbage bag hanging from a tree, as well as a deflated raft, a hat and a small bag! We put up the tent, the bear bag, pumped water from the lake, and heated up our pre-cooked butter chicken and naan bread, which we ate with carrots. Yum! I had forgotten to pack the “scorch protector”, which lifts the pot up off the stove a bit, so we had to be careful not to burn our food. We also discovered that my camelbak had mostly emptied onto Cheryl’s sleeping bag, which was pretty wet! Thankfully, there was enough sun to dry it before bedtime. After dinner we cut one of the lightweight tarp ropes into 3 and melted the ends so the rope wouldn’t fray. We were counting on these pieces to hold my boot together!

We enjoyed the sunset with our Baileys, dehydrated banana, chocolate treats, and one bat fly-by. There was also something making loud noises and splashes in the water, but we weren’t sure if it was a fish or a beaver! We were accompanied by a few very large mosquitoes, but they weren’t really biting. I had a great night’s sleep!

Day 2: Cave Lake (H6) to Three Narrows Lake (H16) — 11.4 km

The morning started with a big cup of gatorade and whole wheat cheesy mushroom pancakes with tea. We packed up camp (sleeping bags were damp at the feet), put on dry socks and boots (!), and headed back out on the trail. Not long after we started, we reached a stream that seemed impossible to cross without either getting wet feet or taking our boots off and crossing in bare feet. We chose the latter. We picked the slowest moving water with the least slippery rocks, and managed to cross without falling in! After drying our feet and reassembling my boot, we were off! It wasn’t long before I stepped in mud (the trail was very wet in places!) and my foot was soaked all over again. Sigh. We heard – and then watched – as a limb fell from a tree just off the path. We met 2 women who had camped at Topaz Lake the night before (H7), and based on their description of the lake, we decided to take a detour and eat our morning snack there. We left the trail midway up “the Pig” (the steepest portage in the park) to go to Topaz Lake. We enjoyed our trail mix and dried fruit while admiring the blue-green water. Later we stopped at a man-made dam to have our lunch – homemade sesame seed crackers with hummus, dehydrated peppers, and a few leftover carrots. It was delicious! We continued on our way, and were shocked to discover that the blue trail markers appeared to be sending us across this:

You try balancing a 40-pound pack on your back as you walk across this jiggly log!

Instead, we avoided certain disaster by walking further along this:


We eventually reached our campsite on Three Narrows Lake (H16), only to discover what on quick glance appeared to Cheryl to be a body stuffed in the base of a tree trunk (it was a sleeping bag – why it was there, we’ll never know). We also found a very tilted toilet quite close to the trail! Otherwise, the site was nice but not as big as our previous one, there were no flat rocks at the water to sit on, and it wasn’t West facing, so no great sunset viewing! We set up camp and cooked our minestrone soup and cornbread, then enjoyed the fading light (and nearly full moon) with our Baileys, bananas and chocolate! I think it was Day 2 that also saw my left boot fail!

Day 3: Three Narrows Lake (H16) to Cave Lake (H5) 10.9 km

An egg/bacon/veggie wrap, cup of gatorade and a mug of tea is how we started the day. We packed up camp, and then headed back the way we had come, toward Cave Lake and site H5. We crossed the beaver dam again, and had a morning snack of beef jerky and dehydrated applesauce at campsite H8. We did the boot-less stream crossing again, where we encountered a group of 4 women and 1 man, and wondered how they could possibly carry everything they needed in the small packs they had! They even had a dog which would entail carrying dog food! This is where we ate our lunch (pepperettes, cheese sticks, leftover hummus and cornbread, and gatorade). At one point, we turned a corner and there was a young deer lying on the trail. It took a while before she got up, and then she took a couple of steps – toward us! She scratched her head, had a snack, and then finally took off!

I told the deer that she wasn’t exhibiting very good life sustaining behaviour!

Just a few metres further on, we finally saw a ruffed grouse while it made its thumping noise. It looks and sounds like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVfiIp3QGs4.

We reached our campsite on Cave Lake (H5), and were really impressed with it! It was big, West facing, with great rocks, a private toilet, and no garbage! We were hot from hiking, so I decided to “swim” (dunk – first before I was ready, the second time intentionally). It felt great! Cheryl had a “sponge bath” (didn’t dunk). It was warm enough that we just lay on the rocks on the sun for a while. After getting into dry clothes, we boiled some water for our Skor hot chocolate with marshmallows, and ate a harvest oat bar with it. We enjoyed the sun, the view, the rock backrests and the busy beaver, before finally deciding to make our pasta carbonara for dinner. It was the only “miss” of all our meals. I would have liked less pasta, more veggies and sauce. Cheryl would have preferred less pasta, more bacon, and more sauce. We won’t make that one again! We enjoyed the beautiful setting sun, and you guessed it – Baileys, bananas and chocolate – before climbing into the tent for the night! Before falling asleep we heard an owl, but weren’t sure what kind it was.


Day 4: Cave Lake (H5) to George Lake Campground — 8 km

On our last day, we had a bowl of oatmeal, dried fruit and nuts, gatorade and tea for breakfast before packing up and heading back to the car.


We stopped for a snack of homemade jerky and energy squares at campsite H3 on Acid Lake. It looked like a great site for kids, with deep water for swimming. We heard a barred owl as we were hiking, and experienced a few drops of rain – the only rain all weekend! It wasn’t until we reached the car that we had our lunch of granola and dried fruit.

It was a great weekend. We packed the perfect amount of food, had awesome weather, very few bugs, and managed to deal with my epic boot fail! In addition to the animals already mentioned, we saw: loons, ducks, geese, hawks, chipmunks, squirrels, a water snake, turtles, frogs, a crayfish, and heard woodpeckers, bullfrogs, and tons of spring peepers.

Next time, we’ll try to muster up the energy to forage for wood and make a fire! We’re dreaming of hiking the entire 80 km trail in one go!

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