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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

Aren’t you afraid of bears when you sleep in a hammock?

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This post was inspired by a comment that I received today. Andrew asked, “never concerned about animals (bears) when sleeping in a hammock??”. 10 times out of 10, whenever I mention that I sleep in a hammock I get asked this question, so fair enough. Here’s my perspective on the question.

Yes, I concern myself with animal encounters. No, I’m not worried about them.

I came to find out about hammock camping after researching solo tents. Previously I only had a 3-man tent and I quickly discovered just how heavy it was for solo tripping. I checked out the Hennessy Hammock, read the reviews, testimonials, watched a bunch of clips on YouTube and decided to take the plunge. The sales guy at MEC did make a crack about being a “bear sausage”, but that didn’t deter me. My first hammock was the Hennessy “Ultralite”. I’ve since added the “Expedition” model to my gear.

I actually feel safer in my hammock than I do in a tent. When it comes right down to it, you’re wrapped in nylon and you find yourself in the extremely rare situation to have a predaceous bear clamped down on your ass… it won’t matter which shelter you’re in.

That said, I’m not worried, but I do concern myself with the idea and take precautions.

  1. I keep my site fastidiously clean and I hang my food in a well sealed bag as far away from my sleeping area as possible.
  2. I never eat in my tent. Ever.
  3. I carry bear spray.

The great thing about the Hennessy Hammock (and why I feel safer in it than a tent), is that the upper half of the hammock is “no see-um” mesh and you can see outside (even with the fly up) much easier than if you’re in a tent. You have a wider range of vision and therefore, more reaction time if you do in fact get an unwanted visitor to your site. There is a ridge line inside the hammock that you can clip handy items to (ie. – bear spray, hunting knife, air horn etc.).

View from inside the Hammock (Guskewa Lake, Algonquin) IMG_1852

I have yet to see a bear.

Famous last words, perhaps. My feeling is that, if it should come to pass that I meet my end by bear attack or by a mauling from a bull moose during the rut (or a deranged wolf that hasn’t eaten in months)… at least they’ll have a helluva story to tell at my funeral. I’m not sure that cancer or a car crash would be a more desirable way, even though those situations are more likely (statistically speaking).
I visit the backwoods knowing that I’m not on the menu and that I need to give the true inhabitants of the woods a great deal of respect and a wide berth. I haven’t seen a bear during my travels yet, but I’d like to… from a safe distance, of course.

During my last trip (blog post to come), we did see clear evidence of a bear visit on the island that our site was on. I’m sure it took one whiff of us and gave us the wide berth.

They’re out there though. No doubt about it. When I came back from a solo trip a few years ago, this is what my car looked like…

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Written by canadianparkhound

February 7, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Poll question: Killarney or Algonquin?

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Written by canadianparkhound

December 26, 2012 at 11:45 am

Killarney: (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/3Mile-Balsam-Deacon) 4 days/3 nights. August 6th – 9th 2012.

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I’m beginning to notice a pattern in my camping habits. The schedule that I start out with as a plan is rarely (if ever), the schedule that ends up being the trip that I end up taking. This particular trip into Killarney started out on paper as 6 – 7 day trip, but ended up as a 3 night/4 day stay for a variety of reasons. My friend Danny joined me and this was the first time that either of us had been to the park.

Killarney Provincial Park is beautiful and busy. Very busy. We were lucky to get permits for 6 nights just walking in without reservations on the day, but I wouldn’t recommend doing it this way. Next time, we’ll book well in advance.

Johnnie Lake access point

Day 1 (Carlyle Lake):

We arrived at the park around 10:00 am, having left Waterloo at 5:30 am. The staff at the permit office on George Lake were very helpful in choosing a route, but the pickin’s were slim as the park was nearly full. The plan at this point being for 6 nights, we were given the following route:

Day 1: Carlyle Lake – Day 2: Bell/Three Mile Lake – Day 3: Deacon Lake – Days 4 & 5: Balsam Lake – Day 6: Boundary Lake – Day 7: out.
We put in at Johnnie Lake between 12:30 – 1:00 pm and paddled into Carlyle Lake. It was a quick paddle (less than an hour), with a small beaver dam that we had to get out and walk over. The wind was strong coming into Carlyle and Danny had already realized that he had too much gear, so we landed on the first site that we came across. (Site #60).

Making dinner at the Carlyle Lake site

Our route had us doubling back through Johnnie the next day, so we planned to make a pit stop at the car and dump the unnecessary gear. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’ll notice a theme of “too much gear”. I’ve never dreamed to be an ultra-lightweight interior paddler or hiker, but now that the sport has its hooks in me, I’m quickly realizing that traveling light is the way to go for a whole host of reasons. This was Danny’s first time in the backcountry and I was supplying all of the gear and food, if only to keep the weight down. I prepared dehydrated meals and we used both of my Hennessey hammocks. I sent a very sparse list of necessities (clothing, toiletries, book… no more) to Danny a week prior to our trip, but… he’s his own man and prefers to make his own lists. Anyway, the decision was made to stop at the car and dump gear on our way past the access point the next morning.

Campsite at Carlyle Lake

Our site, the last one on Carlyle Lake before heading into Johnnie, was a nice one with a great rock formation that came out to a point, facing a small island with a sweet cottage on it.
After a meal of cheesy beefy macaroni with homemade tomato sauce, we cleaned up, hung our food bag and went for a paddle around the island at sunset.

Rock formation on Carlyle Lake

We ended the evening with a small campfire and were in our hammocks by 10:00 pm.

Day 2 (Carlyle-Johnnie-Bell/Three Mile):

We woke up to cloudy skies and light wind. The forecast had called for the next two days to include rain with possible thunderstorms in the evening. Knowing that we had a significant day of paddling ahead, we loaded up the canoe and readied to kick off. Just before we left, Danny turned around to adjust his backpack, and in doing so, set off a cloud that was unmistakeably bear spray. The canister only discharged for about 2 seconds, but that was enough to set us up for a challenging next several hours which we couldn’t even begin to imagine this early in the day. Suffice it to say, we had a brief conversation about the need for safety when traveling and handling bear spray and Danny had a cough and burning eyes and ears to scold him.

We stopped at the Johnnie Lake access as planned for Danny to do a gear dump. What with the intense burning and general misery of having just gassed yourself and your buddy with bear spray, the gear dump took a bit longer than initially hoped for. We were back on the water by about 12:30 pm.

Heading out on Johnnie towards Bell happened without too much of a headwind. Johnnie is a nice lake that zig-zags its way towards Bell. You get to pass quite a few cottages along the way. It’s hard not to envy those lucky cottage owners!

A quick storm approaches towards the end of Johnnie Lake.

Towards the end of Johnnie Lake, the thunder signaled some serious business and we pulled on our rain gear just in time for the onslaught. We pulled over to the shore and debated our options. During a small break in the torrential downfall, we made a break to one of the two campsites nearby. Perhaps not the smartest thing to do with the threat of lightening, but we saw another canoe making the same choices and decided that we’d take those odds. We finished setting up a tarp just in time for the rain to stop. The sun came out, and all of a sudden, the burning from the bear spray that had gotten on our rain gear and canoe bag that we unloaded during the rain, took the pain to a new level. We chilled out on the campsite for an hour and once again, debated our options.

Temporary rain shelter on Johnnie Lake

I use a quick and easy method for keeping my tarp taught on a tight ridgeline. I’ve attached an alloy climbing ring (MEC – $4?) to a loop of rope using a prusik knot and clipped it to a carabiner attached directly to the tarp.

As you’ll see in the pictures, we took a belt of whiskey and decided to push on. We had no desire to turn back, our permits were strictly for the next lake and it was pushing 3:00 pm. We had to find our home for the night.

The portage into Bell Lake is a short one (300), but you will have to do short one (10-15. We did a full carry, just picked up the canoe, bags and all and dead-lifted it) around a beaver dam just prior to the actual portage. The portage goes through the parking lot at the Bell Lake access and has a wide, flat nice entry point into Bell. There is also a park office here as well as an office for Killarney Kanoes.

Our plan was to stop at the first site that we liked. We canoed the length of Bell, checking out each site and each site was taken. We entered into the narrower Three Mile Lake by 4:30 and found each and every site taken, except for the very last one at the end of the lake. After setting up and getting our dinner ready, it finally occurred to me that my bear spray rash and the burning that accompanied it was pretty much gone. Good to know, eh? Note to self: the pain and discomfort of a quick blast of bear spray will dissipate by the end of the day. Unless you touch your eyes…

Sunset on Three Mile Lake. Site #70

We set up our hammocks by the water again. The Hennessey Hammock really does help ease the pain of a backwoods trip. So comfortable.

Inside the Hennessey Hammock

Campsite on Three Mile Lake

Day 3 (Three Mile-Balsam-Deacon):

Having covered a lot of our distance the day previous, we took our time over coffee in the morning before setting out for Balsam Lake. Aside from the 30m portage into Balsam, we could only see having to deal with a low-lying area getting into Deacon. Easy-peasy.

The portage from Three Mile Lake to Balsam Lake (looking into Three Mile)

During our 10:00 am coffee, a couple canoed our way and asked if we were staying the night. They were relieved to find out that we were soon to be on our way since ours was, still, the last available site on the lake. We invited them to set up while we packed, but they opted to hang out a ways down the shore and enjoy the morning on their own. We pushed off and promptly lost 45 minutes by paddling up the low-lying creek to the south of the low-lying area that approaches the portage into Balsam. So glad to get out of the low-lying creek, I thought to myself, “thank God that’s over with. I won’t do that again.”

We finally found our way into the right creek leading us to the portage. When we approached we met a group of 4 guys carrying their canoes over the old cart track, coming out of Balsam. They told us that there wasn’t a soul to be seen on Deacon or Fox Lake (they spent the last night on Fox) and said that they thought Fox was the more scenic of the two and to watch out for the wasp’s nest that was on the site if we did make it that far.

Balsam Lake as seen from the end of the 30m portage from Three Mile Lake.

It took about an hour and a half to paddle the length of Balsam and, once again, every single site was taken. We were certain of our course into Deacon and there was no way that the map could be wrong. However, once in the low area, we felt as if we were up the wrong creek again, just like we started out the day! Danny kept asking me, “are you sure?“, but the map couldn’t be wrong. It was hard to tell at the roughly 0.5 km distance to the “shore”, but I reassured him that we needed to follow the path through the lily pads. We were navigating the canoe more like a gondola in a river of mud. The stench of putrid organic muck right at the surface had me worried at the notion of standing in it if need be. We finally reached a point where the muck wasn’t as bad as it was in the middle and we could jump out and scout ahead to see if there was, in fact, a passage into Deacon. We were in deep and out of options it seemed, if there wasn’t a passage.

The low lying bog between Balsam & Deacon. Behind Danny, you’ll see about 500m of muck. We managed to stay in the canoe up until the end of the lilypads.

Sure enough, we found fresh footprints and saw how close we were to Deacon. Again, we deadlifted the canoe and carried it in short spurts to the lake. Mucky, tired and wet, we landed on the first island site on Deacon to spend the night. As we unpacked the canoe, we thanked that group of 4 guys on the Balsam Lake portage for the helpful info about the wasp’s next on Fox Lake… and wondered aloud why they kept the part about the boggy portage into Deacon to themselves.

Heading into Deacon Lake

We figured, quite certainly, that we’d have the lake to ourselves, but around 6:30 pm, we saw a canoe make its way out of the bog and into Deacon. As they got near to our site I called out to them, “how was that?”. “Holy f***!! What was that?!” was their reply. We chatted briefly with the campers and they marveled at how busy the park was. They were headed to David Lake the next day and thought that it was perhaps a bit too much work to get in and out of Deacon for a one-night stay. I guess Deacon is a bit of an “overflow” lake for last minute campers, or for those who are looking for more solitude than the bigger lakes.

Cooking shepard’s pie at the site on Deacon Lake.

For dinner, we polished off a cheesy beefy macaroni and a package of shepard’s pie. After cleaning up and hanging the food bag, we hung out by the water’s edge where I gave my feet a much needed soaking.  The noise of my feet in the water attracted a small school of fish and one large turtle who came right up to us for a close-up.

The turtle who came for an after dinner visit on Deacon Lake.

Home for the night on Deacon Lake. Site #123

Day 4 (Deacon-Balsam-Three Mile/Bell-Johnnie-out):

Overnight, the weather turned from clear to overcast and windy. When we woke up, we decided over coffee that we didn’t want to spend the next two nights on Balsam Lake or do all of the portaging over the following days with the amount of gear that we had. Having paddled the length of Balsam the day before, we were acquainted with it and we weren’t totally thrilled with the idea of hanging out on the same site for two days (or even one) with the wind that was beginning to pick up. We opted to pass on making a hot breakfast and agreed to make the push to paddle all the way back to the Johnnie Lake access point, retracing our route rather than attempting the loop through David Lake with all of its portages. This meant that we would only have to deal with the bog between Deacon and Balsam and the easy 30 metre portage from Balsam into Three Mile, as well as the 300 metre between Bell and Johnnie.

Packing to start the trip from Deacon back to Johnnie.

Using the map of Killarney and my compass (which has markings to measure in kilometers on a 1:50,000 scale map), I calculated that we had about 29 km to cover and budgeted between 6-7 hours for us to complete the journey. Luckily, we had a tailwind for the majority of the trip and covered the distance in 5.5 hours. At the Bell Lake portage we met 4 older women in 2 canoes who were setting out (at 2:30 pm!) for David Lake against a strong headwind. I’ve since wondered many times about how they fared on such an arduous task so late in the day. There were a few tricky crosswinds to be encountered during the trip as we came around the occasional point of land and a couple of challenging headwinds in some areas, but the wind pushed us through large waves during the home stretch on Johnnie.

At the Johnnie Lake end of the 300m portage from Bell Lake.

Filtering a couple of litres of Lake Johnny water before heading home.

We made it to the George Lake permit office in time to get our refund for the remaining unused days, and the staff told us that we had made the right decision in leaving early as the weather was only going to get worse. Within the hour, the rain came and stayed for two days (according to the Environment Canada webpage). The rain stayed with us for almost the entire drive back home.

Even though the trip was cut short by a few days of our own accord, we were very happy with what we’d undertaken. Aside from the bear spray incident, we considered it to be a success. I told Danny that my definition of a successful canoe trip is when you: 1) don’t dump the canoe and gear and, 2) have more fun than stress. This was definitely a success.

People spotted: Dozens.

Wildlife spotted: Loons. A turtle.

Unnecessary gear: Books (again… why do I think that I’ll get bored?), backgammon board.

Gear wishlist: Weather radio

Written by canadianparkhound

August 18, 2012 at 5:44 pm