Dave and Helen Damouth
September 27, 1984
Please forgive the extra uninteresting detail in places - I'm using this report for my own recordkeeping as well as to communicate anything that may be of general interest.
Left Rochester west side (Ridgeway & 390), 3:40 PM Wednesday; Lewiston via 104, 5:30, Toronto (intersection 401 & 400), 6:45; Barrie, 7:40; a motel south of Parry Sound, 9:00 PM. Left Motel 7:15 AM, turned off 69 on 637, 9:00; arrived in park, 9:50. Total distance was 416 miles.
We left the beach on George Lake at 10:30 Thursday after some last minute repacking to accommodate the latest weather forecast. In spite of a brilliant blue sky, the forecast of snow for Thursday night caused us to include long underwear, warm gloves and hats, but we stopped short of taking our down parkas.
Because of a desire to bushwhack up the highest peak in the park, we chose a route to bring us to Sandy Lake, a small lake with a single campsite right at the foot of the mountain. We had not previously been in the Easternmost part of Killarney Lake, nor the chain of small lakes further to the east. We traversed George Lake, portaged 65 yards to Freeland Lake, portaged 475 yd to reach Killarney Lake at noon. A long (3.7 miles) but down-wind paddle brought us to the east end of the Killarney Lake at 1:00 PM. We portaged to Norway Lake (1575 yds), arriving at 1:27. There were clear moose tracks in the mud along this portage - the first real evidence of moose I've seen in many years of canoeing in this park. We lunched til 2:15 (bagels, cream cheese, and caviar) before starting into Norway Lake.
About 600 yards into the 1275-yard portage from Partridge Lake to Sandy Lake, we came to the lake. Very puzzling. I was watching time carefully, so I was quite sure of the distance. The lake didn't seem to be as large as the map indicated, either. But the trail clearly went right straight down to the lake. The trail was narrow and rarely used, but still unmistakable, so we couldn't have missed a turn. I spent half an hour hiking down the side of the lake looking for the trail to reemerge, without finding anything. So we launched the canoe and started exploring. On the far side of the lake, in the midst of a swamp, Helen spotted what appeared to be a blaze mark on a dead tree. We poled the canoe to it through very shallow water, and found a wet swampy trail. Another 200 yards or so of trail brought us to the real lake. Our year-old map showed no signs of this 500-yard-wide lake. It was quite deep in the middle. The beaver dam was difficult to get close to, but from a distance appeared to be something like six feet high. The reputation of beavers for industriousness is deserved! Recent rains had left lots of muddy spots on the trails.
We chose quick-drying nylon sneakers rather than waterproof boots, and spent a lot of time rock- and log-hopping, trying to keep feet semi-dry. In the summer, wet sneakers (with wool socks) are still reasonably comfortable footwear. But in cold weather, I think I'll start looking for high rubber boots that are comfortable enough to do some hiking in. Or maybe we'll again try the garbage-bags-inside-the-sneakers trick, which we have previously found workable but unwieldy.
For some reason, many of the campsite and portage markers were missing - not a major problem since we were familiar with the larger lakes. At 4:00 PM we found a primitive campsite on Sandy Lake (a level spot for the tent and a circle of rocks that had been used for a fireplace), but we are still not sure it was the one-and-only official spot. Since this lake is a dead end, reach by a 1275-yard portage and leading nowhere, we expected, and found, little signs of civilization. The campsite was perfectly clean (not even any aluminum foil in the fire ashes.) The trip in took 4 1/4 hours of actual travel, plus 45 minutes of lunch break and 30 minutes of unexpected exploring around the new lake. The map shows about 9 miles of canoeing and 3300 yards of portage, but the new lake turns about 400 yards of trail into water.
Thursday evening, we treated ourselves to large steaks broiled over a bed of maple charcoal, a package of frozen lima beans, and a bottle of 1975 Gemello Cabernet Sauvignon (yes, it STILL is quite woody, almost a Gemello trademark). Since we only had to carry three days of food, there was no reason not to splurge a bit on weight. We went to bed thinking about the snow forecast and expecting to get up to a white world.
The weather pattern apparently moved slower than expected. Friday morning the cloud cover was still quite light, and still no precipitation. We breakfasted on tea, hot chocolate, instant oatmeal, then stuffed lunch and a canteen into a daypack, a compass into a pocket, and started off at 9:30 am to climb a mountain. Silver Peak is 1783 feet high, and our camp was at about 680 feet. The direct ascent from immediately behind our campsite was about 2.0 miles, but appeared to have some impassable cliffs. (Killarney should be a nice spot for you technical climbers - lots of big beautiful rock cliffs). So we made a large circle to the West over what appeared to be more gradual terrain. At lake level, the leaves had still not reached peak color. As we climbed, the colors got more intense.
The 1:50,000 topographical map supplied by the park is still not sufficient to show local detail, and may not even be accurate, so we had several surprises, a bit of confusion, and several substantial detours. But this is part of the fun in bushwhacking. About half way up, we reached a large relatively level plateau. Here, the colors were quite good, although I don't think this will be a vintage year. The forest both here and at lake level is a mix of hemlock, white pine, and maple, with occasional birch, red pine, oak, and cedar. At about this halfway point, the front finally came through, dense clouds closed in, and the rain started. The temperature was probably about 40 degrees. As we neared the top, we began to see signs of a hard freeze in some areas (it seemed to be in depressions that trapped downward-flowing cold air). Leaves were falling in these areas. Interestingly, the blueberry bushes still had a good crop of berries, although all the leaves had turned color and in some spots had fallen completely. It's an easy way to pick - a dense crop of bright blue berries on a bush with no leaves. They still tasted good. We found the bright blue varieties and the dark, almost black, varieties growing almost side-by-side.
There was a lot of mountain ash near the summit - huge clusters of bright orange berries. We also saw a lot of what I think are elderberry. The deer and/or moose apparently love berries. We saw high elderberry bushes bent and broken down to ground level, and unmistakable signs that a big meal of berries causes very upset stomachs in animals as well as people.
This mountain is part of the ridge of pink quartzite which runs East-West through the center of the park. Freshly exposed rock is a real pink, and as it weathers it turns almost pure white. It weathers slowly enough so that the softly rounded shapes and deep scratches left by the last glacier are very visible (the glacier melted up here only 10,000 years ago).
The summit is also reached by a hiking trail which comes in from the Northeast. This trail skirts close to several large lakes and lots of campsites near the eastern border of the park. So we weren't surprised find a dozen other folks at the top. There are signs that a substantial building once existed there. We had a good view in all directions except East, which was blocked by another peak, and we could see a substantial distance when a break in the clouds and rain allowed. At one point, a large chunk of Georgian Bay was in bright sunlight while we in mist and rain - quite a sight.
We continued hiking to the East, through ravines and up the next peak in the chain, and finally on to a third peak, where we got a good view to the East. We should have been able to see the infamous smokestacks of Sudbury, but the clouds were too low by then. We seemed to be the only people who were bushwhacking along the ridge - everyone else was on the marked trail on the one peak reached by that trail. We had a wet, cold, somewhat miserable lunch of gorp on the summit then decided to take a more direct route back to camp, skirting just to the East of the cliffs. Climbing down through rock would normally be fun, but with soaked gloves, soaked feet, soaked pants, and fingers going numb it was less fun than I would have liked. We probably took a few more chances on the wet slippery rock than was wise, instead of exploring through dense wet foliage for longer safer routes.
We got back to camp about 3:30, built a huge fire, drank some hot soup, and spent the next several hours drying out and warming up. I had forgotten to put some dry tinder and kindling in the tent, and after five hours of almost steady rain, dry fire starting material was scarce. I found some white birch not too far away. Even when dripping wet, fine shreds of birch bark will flare up with a single match.
Dinner was a mixture of lentils and rice, seasoned with lots of cumin and a few ounces of dried beef. I lit the stove to cook the lentils, but used instant rice. This was the only time we used the stove. The fire was too big to get close to, and I wasn't about to let it die down. We retired shortly after dark, and thick warm down bags have seldom felt so good.
Saturday morning dawned cold but with a rain-washed deep blue crystal clear atmosphere. We packed up and retraced basically the same route. (We should have circled through Kakakise Lake to see some new territory, at the cost of an extra mile of portage). This time it was a head wind most of the way, and the going was considerably slower. Although the temperature probably never got out of the 40's, the sun counteracted the wind and made the day quite pleasant. Except when big fluffy white clouds occasionally obscured the sun, giving the wind no competition at all. We arrived back at our car at 4:15 PM. By 4:40 we were loaded and on our way out of the park to a motel.
Except for lots of ravens, there was surprisingly little wildlife. The water birds had all gone South. We saw deer droppings but no deer. There were a few small birds high in the pine and hemlock trees. We heard a few late evening splashes that could have been a big fish or a beaver. Nothing else.
I tried to check some previous estimates of travel time and came up with the following planning guide: If I assume that we paddle at 3.5 miles per hour and walk at 2 miles per hour, and further assume that each paddle-to-walk or walk-to-paddle transition takes an extra five minutes, the calculated total comes very close to the actual measured times. This excludes major breaks such as lunch, but includes other minor delays. I again found that I can carry a well-fitted 35 pound pack (with most of the weight carried on the hips), plus a 45 pound canoe on my shoulders across a one mile portage with no rest stops and no pain. Everything except paddles was in, or attached to, a pair of 35-pound packs so we were comfortably able to cross all portages in a single trip.
Traffic moves amazingly fast in Ontario. On 400, there were times when we were going 70 mph and being frequently passed. We were warned that radar detectors are illegal, and further that if the OPP have reason to suspect you have one, they will take your car apart to find it.
There were approximately 8 cars in the parking lot when we arrived in the park mid-week, and about a dozen when we lift on Saturday. We saw several occupied campsites on Killarney Lake, and one occupied on Norway Lake. Most of the rest of the people were probably on OSA Lake.
Afterthoughts: Several years of good luck with the weather had led to complacency. This was the first time in several years that we ran into continuous all-day rain. We used to carry a 10' x 12' plastic tarp with grommets which could be used as a rain fly above a cooking/sitting area. We used to carry waterproof pants as well as jackets. This time, we left the tarp and the pants home but would have been much more comfortable if we had them with us.
Helpful Hints of the day: Paper towels are great! Except for very sticky or greasy meals, two or three sheets of carefully used paper towel and a few drops of warm water (no soap needed, except a drop or two for greasy things) are enough to get two people's cup, plate, fork, spoon, and a cooking pot completely clean (although obviously not sterile). Just wipe, throw the paper in the fire, and relax. This is much quicker, easier, and neater than conventional dishwashing. A few extra sheets are nice to have around for grimy hands and faces. The convenience is well worth the extra few ounces of weight.
We now carry a few ounces of dishwashing detergent in a plastic bottle with an eyedropper top, and use it for everything - dishes, hands, hair, etc. One drop goes a long way. We used to carry a bar of Ivory soap (it floats) for baths in the lake. But the lakes are now so fragile that getting any soap or detergent into the water is a real crime. So now it is a sponge bath on shore with a few drops of detergent, a rinse with a few buckets of water, and then a swim. In cold weather we stay dirty.
Question: We are still drinking untreated lake and stream water in Killarney and Algonquin. Has anybody heard of any trouble with water-borne disease in these areas? There are real problems in the Adirondacks and much of the West, but so far Ontario seems ok.