A Killer Time in Killarney (for my Quads)
Updated: Oct 30, 2020
Finally getting around to blogging about our end of September trip to Killarney - October has been so busy and spooky to admit that was probably our last paddle of the season!
As per usual if you want the nitty gritty details of our trip keep on reading, otherwise wait for a "Just the Paddle" post (coming soon).
A Killer Time in Killarney (for my Quads)
We planned a late September (Sept 26-28) trip to Killarney mainly because it's so gosh-darn hard to get a permit there BUT let me tell you the timing was perfect. Late September offers comfortable paddling and hiking temperatures, fall colour viewing, and less crowds just about everywhere! Since a lot of the park was already booked up, we decided on the Bell-David loop for something a little easier than our normal treks AND an opportunity to hike up Silver Peak. We had a permit for Balsam Lake on Night 1 and David Lake on Night 2, again due to permit limitations BUT if you're looking for a trip focused on the hike I would highly recommend just getting two nights on David.
Important to note: this was our first EVER backcountry camping trip with another couple - our friends Ally & Peter joined along for the ride AND thankfully, it won't be the last (haha - you never know when you're travelling with people right?). ESPECIALLY in the backcountry where tension and hanger can reign supreme.
Another important note: this is the kind of trip (well to Balsam anyway) that I would have loved to be my introduction to Backcountry Camping not the 25k trek in and out we did... ahem Martin.
Now onto the good stuff - we packed up and hit the road around 4:30AM with our quiche in hand. I've gotten into this habit of baking a quiche the night before a backcountry trip - it makes for an awesome on-the-go breakfast, tastes great at room temp, and gives you lots of fuel to hit the lake and paddle upon arrival. The road into Killarney PP is a B U m P y ride, the sort of ride where I was grateful we didn't have a canoe strapped to our car already and maybe got a little car sick. BUT we arrived in one piece and were so happy to find out Killarney Kanoes was right there at the access point. It was a quick unload and onto the lake!
We managed to somehow not only stave of the rain that was forecasted but also get a tailwind which made Bell lake a literal breeze to paddle. When we turned into Three Mile Lake we were greeted with an unexpected surprise - a black moose staring at us and defending his territory. All four of us gawked and stared, snapped pictures, and this moose was not having any of it - pacing back and forth and eyeing us.. that was our cue to paddle on and rest assured he loved to watch us leave. Another thing that left us in awe was how quickly things felt remote in Killarney, unlike Algonquin, these routes are less traversed and it showed. The lily pads, the water grasses, and the leaves were all painting a real life water colour and it wasn't hard in that moment to see why the Group of Seven, and so many artists afterwards loved to paint there.
Just like that we were at the portage between Three Mile Lake and Balsam Lake - to call it a portage is an overstatement, this was a cute lil bebe (in Moira Rose voice). This 40m bebe is the remains of an old marine railway and despite old blogs I've read about there being a rumoured cart to roll your stuff over, no such cart existed (maybe COVID related). Regardless the railway enshrouded in fall colours was an excellent spot to stretch our legs and carry on.
The paddle through Balsam Lake was interesting in the way that it didn't really feel like a lake at all. The twists and turns gave riverlike movement I was a big fan of, and the camp sites were well dispersed. Because we were early birds who caught a tailwind, most of the sites were still occupied so we took it all in very leisurely and happened upon a group leaving site 113. My eyes were initially set on the island to get us closer to David for the following morning but we didn't want to take our chances, and I'm glad we didn't because this site was fantastic! We set up camp (+ tarp city for the forecast) and explored the site which surprisingly felt more like a peninsula upon further exploration. During said exploration, the forest earth opened up beneath me and I fell into a sinkhole, got tripped up by a root and face-planted - ahhh now it feels like the backcountry. We were very impressed at the amount of dry wood we could easily stockpile for our fires, especially as its something we all struggle to find in Algonquin. The day was chill, we were treated to our first cast-iron steak and potatoes (luxury item mmmm), the boys went for a polar dip, and we enjoyed an unusually warm late-September night.
As per usual I struggled to sleep on the first night with the sounds of the wind in the trees and all the "what-ifs" crippling my brain but before we knew it, it was morning.
So here is why I would recommend getting a site on David for two nights if you plan on hiking Silver Peak...we were basically in a race against time all day. We had to wake up and pack up quickly then shoot onto David lake early (not ideal given campsites are still occupied). The portage into David isn't an easy one, but it's also not significantly worse than some of the ones we've done in Northern Algonquin. Be prepared for some steepness (256m elevation) and length (620m) BUT if I can do it with a double pack, you can do it too. The bonus of this portage was that it wasn't slick, which given the exposed quartzite of the region is totally possible.
We got onto David Lake and well the headwind was undeniable, the more we got out onto open water the worse it was AND David is a beast of a lake.
please note: this photo was not taken when we were out in the full headwind, it would've been impossible to capture.
The campsites are all dispersed and difficult to spot from afar (small signage, small signage for the portages too). This made it particularly difficult for us with waves lapping the canoe and with a little miscommunication between canoes we ended up having to double back to find an empty site. We settled on site 99 which was thankfully sheltered from the aggressive winds blowing over David, and conveniently had not one but TWO fire pits with ample spots for tents - seems like a great group site. We quickly set up shop and headed back onto the water for the access point to Silver Peak, which again wasn't the easiest thing to find with tiny signage. The paddle from site 99 should have taken no more than 30 minutes but thanks to the headwind we struggled.
We finally got to the access point of Silver Peak trail - specifically we accessed it from the portage into Boundary. It was 2 o'clock! From what we had read about the hike it could take up to 5.5hrs to complete and with the sun setting around 7 we were really pushing our luck (knowing we had to paddle back to the site before dark). BUT alas we ventured out. This hike is not something I'd classify as easy, especially not with some slick conditions.
The elevation is consistent. The terrain is rocky. It is also hauntingly clear you are in Bear country (spotted plenty of scat).
When we stumbled upon the first viewpoint, very early into the hike, we knew it was worth it. I would imagine some people stop the hike here because the views are so damn stunning, and being honest we almost did too - with chilli on our mind and the race against the clock the ladies of the group put up a bit of a fight especially when one of our pack had twisted his ankle on the rocky terrain... but alas the boys pushed us on and I will defeatedly say... they were right. The last 2km of this hike is straight incline with little relief - be warned.
My short little legs were burning up and my cardio was truly tested to its limits, nonetheless she persisted.
We made it to the top to what we thought was the peak, took in the views with a water and snack break and realized there was MORE! Just a tiny bit more but definitely worth it to see the final peak with the exposed quartzite and gusts of wind that take your breath away. I'm told you can see all the way to Sudbury on a clear day but not today. With our race against time there was not a moment to spare before we had to get back down the mountain and so we started our descent. In dry conditions I can see how this would almost be easier, but with the slick rock every step had intention. By the end of it there was not a part of my legs that wasn't shaking but through the skin of our teeth we made it back to the canoe and back to the campsite just before 7PM!
Total hike time ~4h15 BUT keep in mind we did NOT stop and were a bit rushed if I'm being honest. If you can though, DO THE HIKE. It's easily the best hike we've ever done in Ontario!
Suffice to say I slept like a baby that night...
We woke up to what had been forecasted all along, rain. The pack up was quick and we set off home. To complete the loop we finished off David Lake, portaged (210m) into mini David, portaged again (700m) into David Creek - this one isn't noteworthy, despite it's length it's relatively flat BUT we were met with an absolute torrential downpour at the end of it. We decided to power through and made it back to Killarney Kanoes. The total paddle + portage time from site 99 to Killarney Kanoes was ~2hr but we really plowed through given the conditions.
Overall Learnings from This Trip
Backcountry camping with a couple that has similar experience is fun!
There is a clear reason it's hard to get permits in Killarney, for one the sites are sparse and also it is so strikingly different than other backcountry destinations in Ontario.
Tarp-city makes camping in the rain enjoyable, especially for packing up the tent while sheltered.
Late September trips are lit.
Hiking in Ontario can be challenging if you know where to hike. Silver Peak is a notable 539m elevation, by some definitions a true mountain.
Blessing you all with the shorter "Just the Paddle" version of this trip shortly.