Canadian Park Hound

Outdoor Trips & Tips With The Novice Bushwacker

O.S.A. Lake, Killarney, May 15-18, 2013

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It’s been 2 years since the last canoe trip with my lady (see: Ragged Lake, 3 days/2 nights). After my first taste of Killarney last August (see: Killarney 3 days/4 nights), I just had to bring her to see the incredible scenery that this park has to offer. Knowing that O.S.A. Lake is usually fully booked, I called ahead with the intention of reserving a site. The person taking the reservation told me that there was plenty of availability for the days that we were planning, so I cancelled the reservation (to save on the extra fees) and was able to book three nights upon arrival at the George Lake access. The lake was indeed fully booked for the long weekend, so we had just hit that sweet spot in the schedule. Personally, I think that this is one of the best times of year to visit a park. The weather is generally favourable, the bugs aren’t crazy-making yet, and we leave the park as the throngs of ill-equipped party paddlers jam the lakes and portages.

Day 1

We arrived at the George Lake access point around 10:00 am. The parking lot was empty. We walked right in and booked three nights on O.S.A. Lake and the staff let us know that we’d have the lake pretty much to ourselves until Saturday (our departure date). After that, we drove down to the canoe launch where our rental canoe from Killarney Kanoes awaited us, and we were on the water by 10:30 am.

Side note: while we were getting our permit, I mentioned to the office staff that I had read a post on myccr.com (a terrific resource, I love the trip report forum), about a bear encounter on Muriel Lake a few weeks before. The staff hadn’t heard of it at all. I’ve never had a bear encounter or sighting, but it’s worth mentioning that you can get better information on sites like myccr.com than you can from some of the park staff.

The skies were clear and the wind was nothing more than a pleasant breeze. We reached the portage from George Lake into Freeland Lake within the hour. It’s a tiny 80m portage with a well-built dock right by a picturesque little waterfall. Looking back at George, the wind had just picked up and we were thankful to have avoided the choppy water that had just been brewed behind us.

Freeland Lake is calm and shallow by comparison (with no campsites) and it only took about 20 minutes to get from one end to the other. This early in the season it’s free and clear of vegetation, but I bet that changes quickly with the warm weather. The approach to the 380m portage into Killarney Lake wasn’t too mucky (another benefit to traveling early in the season), and the portage itself is very easy.

The water in Killarney Lake is quite transparent and beautiful. As you kick off, you’ll find yourself winding through little inlets, points and bays along the way to O.S.A. One of my favourite experiences while paddling in Killarney is the trick of the eye that occurs when paddling around a point with the quartzite mountains in the distance. The optical illusion of the scenery moving in opposite directions gives the feel of watching two back drops being pulled away to “reveal” the mountains. It’s as if you’re watching one of the oldest theatre tricks… two scenic flats being pulled by stage hands.

There are two portages from Killarney Lake into O.S.A. The first one is a 455m, but if you paddle a bit further into the shallow end of the lake, there is a much shorter (and flatter) 130m. We opted for the short portage. If you choose this route, be on the lookout for dead trees lurking just below the surface. Also, you’ll serve yourself best by choosing to go to the left of the beaver dam that sits in the middle (fewer trees that way). There is a low-lying section indicated on the map that we were just able to wiggle our way through into the last little bay of Killarney that gives you access to the 130m. (Note: on our way out of the park, this low area had the beginnings of a beaver dam being built, so it was a quick lift-over as opposed to a tight “scootch through”).

As we made our way through the short 130m portage, we were excited to finally lay eyes on the fabled O.S.A. Lake. We could hear the wind and the waves lapping at the shore. At the end, we were met with strong wind and a view of a very choppy lake. White cap choppy. For everything that I’ve ever read about O.S.A. (and believe me, I love to read anything and everything that I can find out about a route during the months leading up to a trip), I hadn’t read anything about how strong the wind can get on O.S.A. I’d read about George Lake being a bit of a wind tunnel, but nothing about O.S.A. That said – we were finally here! And it was stunning despite the wind and waves.

Determined to make it to site #29 (on the large island), we tackled the waves. Right out of the gate, I knew we were in for some trouble. We were in swells and white caps from the first moment. I wanted to turn back but it took some figuring to turn around in high waves without capsizing. The water is fiercely cold right now and the last thing I wanted was a swim and wet gear. Mercifully, the lake turned our canoe around and sent us back to shore.

The 130m portage is a pretty little place to spend an hour or two… we tied up the canoe and carried our gear to the leeward side of the portage to have lunch, listen to the weather radio and plan our next move. The weather report was telling us that a strong wind warning was in effect. 40km/hr gusting to 60km/hr. Since buying the weather radio, I’ve developed a bit of an addiction to listening to it every hour or so, and there was no mention of wind prior to our arrival. There had been no hint of strong wind until the moment that we were facing it. We decided to try again when it died down and make it to the first site (#28) by the portage.

After waiting about an hour or so, the wind was still strong, but the lake appeared to be a little less choppy. Foolishly, we decided to make another attempt. Our goal was to get out past the point to the southwest of the portage, thinking that the wind would push us to site #28. The wind was a *little* less intense than it was earlier and we did indeed make it out further than our previous try. I was doing everything in my power to keep the nose to the wind and not be blown sideways and into the water. We were paddling as hard as we could and moving backwards once we got close to the point. As we inched forward beyond the point we could see a canoe at #28 and a fellow sitting at the site, cross-legged, enjoying the view of two paddlers in the choppy water, moving 1 inch forward and 2 feet back. Once we saw that the campsite was taken, we struggled to get the canoe over to the shore and plan our next move.

It was as if Mother Nature was saying, “today’s not the day”. We sat on the point between the portage and site #28 for an hour or so debating our next move. Being hammock campers, we can sleep almost anywhere. We weighed our options of staying put, turning back to sling the hammocks at the portage or doubling back even further to Killarney Lake and picking the closest site. We were fairly certain that the park wasn’t full, so we chose to head back to Killarney Lake after a very quick and nervous paddle back to the portage.

The difference in the wind between the two lakes was remarkable. It was still windy on Killarney at times, but we were thankful to have a home for the night. Site #23 on Killarney Lake is the closest to the portage and has a covered thunderbox. Luxury. The wind did subside a bit for the night, but we stuck to a dinner of jerky and gorp rather than fire up the stove. A small campfire was had (and thoroughly doused) before turning in for the night. We fell asleep to an orchestra of loons, crickets, frogs and a lone wolf.

Day 2

We were up and on the water by 9:00 am, hoping that the folks at #28 on O.S.A. weren’t heading to the island site that we were aiming for. Being well acquainted with the 130m portage, we made quick work of getting our gear across and thrilled at the sight of an O.S.A. Lake that had mere ripples on it compared to what we saw the day before. There was still a bit of wind to contend with (and some nerves, I’ll ‘fess up to that), so we stayed close to the south shore, avoiding crossing in open water until absolutely necessary. The fellow at site #28 was sitting in the same spot, this time with his lady. We waved and said “good morning”, knowing happily that the odds on getting site #29 were good. If you look at the map, you’ll see that there is a larger, longer point to the southwest of site #28, putting you into open water again. There is nothing like a crosswind at a point to make you a better paddler…

The wind was coming from the northwest and the safest way to the large island with site #29 was to go around the leeward sides of the islands and approach it from the south. Despite the challenging winds, the vista that unfolds when you come past that large point is incredible. All of a sudden, you’re treated to a view of the bay and the large mountain that sits there covered with a huge stand of birch. Worth every trial and tribulation. This would be the view from our site for the next 3 days. We were beyond happy to arrive at site #29.

Our first order of business was breakfast. We lounged over coffee and gorp for well over an hour on the south side of the island. The wind was picking up again on the windward side and we’d had enough of paddling in it. There was a plan on the table to make a day trip to the infamous “Pig” for a hike, but we scrapped that in favour of exploring the island.

The island is just shy of 1 km long and is home to another, albeit retired, campsite. You can easily spend an afternoon exploring the place, climbing the rocks and finding great little spots everywhere. At the far end of the island, we saw evidence of a recent visit by a bear. There were distinct paw prints and then a full-body depression in the pine needles on the ground that looked like a springtime, bear version of a “snow angel”. That was our only sighting of any bear evidence for the entire trip.

Days 3, 4 and out…

We really didn’t do a whole lot on the third day aside from taking a short day trip through Muriel Lake (where the nuisance bear had been reported) into Artist Lake. It was clear and sunny and the water was tropical looking. So tempting to dive in, but the water was still about 4 degrees so… no swimming. We were hoping to make our way to Baie Fine for the day, but we couldn’t find the portage out of Artist Lake. We did pass a solo paddler who had come from that direction and he said that the water level was way down and that he had to pull his canoe for the better part of a kilometer. So, we decided to make our way back to O.S.A. and enjoy the rest of the day exploring the islands. It was easy to kill a few hours just staring at the horizon.

The next morning, we packed up and started the journey out of the park. Sure enough, the “May Two-Four” party paddlers were starting to clog the portages. It just amazes me to see what people will wear and carry into the backcountry. One very affluent looking family were wearing flip-flops, Chanel sunglasses, t-shirts and jeans. They looked miserable. Another pair of guys had a bear barrel full of liquor and smokes. It takes all kinds…

Killarney really is the “crown jewel” of the Ontario Parks.  My next trek into the park will likely be a loop that includes Nellie Lake. I’m counting down the days until the next…

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Written by canadianparkhound

February 24, 2014 at 10:35 am

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