Killarney Provincial Park
Dave and Helen Damouth
May 26-30, 1988
This trip was our first Spring trip to Killarney, and our first experience as formal trip leaders. We announced the trip several months ago as a chapter outing for the Genesse Valley Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club. Park rules imposed a 9 person limit on the group, and the trip was filled two months in advance, with two people on a waiting list. All trip participants were experienced backpackers and had at least intermediate canoeing skills.
Two cars left left Rochester in convoy at 8:30 AM May 26, taking the scenic route along the parkway and highway 18, and were on the Lewiston bridge at 10:30. A third car left separately at about the same time, intending to meet at the motel if not before. We stopped for currency exchange and coffee soon after getting on the QEW.
The first excitement of the trip came in the middle of the long Burlington bridge, when the right front extension on my Thule cartop racks fell off at 60 mph in bumper-to-bumper traffic and one of the canoes threatened to head over the railing and into the Bay. Stopping on the bridge with no shoulders seemed impractical, so we continued at low speed, ignoring blaring horns behind us, for a mile or so until we were off the bridge and onto a shoulder. The canoe stayed on, held precariously by other ropes. The rack extension was dangling beside the car, still attached to a rope, so I shoved it back in place and secured it with rope and duct tape. It is supposed to be held in place with a large adjusting screw, which has a good-sized plastic knob on the end, allowing it to be tightened securely by hand. Apparently, the screw rattled loose on the road. The same thing happened last summer on another trip. I now believe that the problem is inherent in the design and not just my failure to tighten the screws securely. Thule now sells an optional 78" bar, which I intend to order to replace the short bar and removable extensions for two-canoe trips.
We stopped at 1:00 p.m. for lunch at the first service center north of Toronto on highway 400. There is something very strange about Canadian hamburger meat.
At about 3:00, we stopped at Big Chute (described in detail in earlier trip reports). This is a fascinating marine railway, used instead of a lock on the Trent-Severn Canal to carry large boats over an approximatley 30 foot drop in the canal. We didn't get to see it in operation because the main drive motors had burned out the night before, leaving a 9-ton excursion boat and 40 passengers stranded halfway up. The passengers were bussed to their destination, and the boat was still sitting on the rail carriage. A much older and smaller version of the railway was still running, but could handle only small boats. This is a marvelous piece of engineering - anyone interested in such things should see it.
We left at 3:40 and took a detour to Port Carling to visit Muskoka Fine Watercraft - a famous builder and restorer of traditional canoes, guide boats, racing shells, etc. This should be a required stop for anyone interested in woodwork or traditional boats. The craftsmanship was impressive, and about a half-dozen boats of various kinds were on display, some custom built for specific customers but not yet delivered. Jim, traveling separately, arrived ahead of us and arranged a test paddle. A standard canoe is around $2500 and a presentation-quality custom-built version might run $6000. They make canoe paddles in a traditional beavertail design out of solid cherry, and had a line of paddles with the blades hand painted with wildlife scenes, for $600 to $1000 per paddle. The salesman told us that some people actually use them to paddle canoes. The shop floor was visible with several boats in various stages of construction.
After half an hour, we got underway again and arrived at the French River Trading Post and Motel at 6:12 p.m. This motel is clean and pleasant, and moderately priced. We had cold showers the next morning, but I think this was an unusual breakdown. The motel was filled by about 6:00 pm, although this is well ahead of the real tourist season. The restaurant is convenient, but is typical fast-food fare On the way back, we tried another restaurant which is 100 yards to the south. The menu was quite varied and the food was good.
The motel is about a half a mile north of the French River. We walked to the river in the evening. It winds through an attractive rock gorge, and has a very high volume and fast current. The water near our vantage point was wide and seemed deep, but was moving perhaps 5 mph and had a lot of large boiling areas of turbulance. We all agreed that a canoe trip down this famous route of the French Voyageurs would be an interesting future event. It is apparently about 2 1/2 days from where the river drains a large lake down to highway 69. It would be nice to continue another half day on down to Georgian Bay, but the map shows no roads and is is not clear how to get back.
On May 28, we were up at 6:30, but had to wait till 7:50 for the restaurant to open (they advertised 7:30). We gassed up and were on the road at 8:45, turned onto highway 637 at 9:03, and were in the park at 9:49. We bought maps at the park office, made some phone calls back to the motel about a lost billfold (false alarm - it was found in a pack), loaded the canoes, and left the Lake George campground at 11:20, with thunder rumbling in the distance and rain beginning. There were only a few cars in the parking lot - the park is nearly empty. The storm blew on by with only a light shower and the sun came out again. We portaged into Freeland Lake (100 yards), and then into Killarney Lake (475 yards) and arrived at campsite 24 at 2:15.
After pitching tents and eating lunch, we headed off at 4:00 for a bushwhack up the mountain behind the campsite. Sherry and Sandy stayed in camp to relax, Helen and Anne went part way up, to the first good view, then turned back, and the other five went on up, searching out several good overlooks on the quartzite cliffs, with views of the surrounding lakes and Georgian Bay to the west and south. We returned to camp at 6:00. The steaks were ready by 7:30, and by 10:30 most of us were in bed.
On the morning of the 29th, we had leisurely individual breakfasts, broke camp and packed up, and were on the water at 10 a.m. We portaged into OSA lake (200 yards plus a beaver dam) and were at campsite 28 by lunchtime. At 2:00 p.m., Helen, Dave, Joan and Scott left to canoe down to Baie Fine, a long narrow extension of Georgian Bay. On the way through a swampy bay full of dead trees we disturbed a large nesting hawk. Mother hawk circled over our heads screaming, while the youngster occasionally peered over the side at us. At the bottom of a small waterfall we saw a swarm of 4" bullheads, clustered tightly against the waterfall. Why were they there? There are several short portages and numerous beaver dams along this route through Artist and Muriel lakes. In the creek near the bay we talked briefly to a pair of local fishermen, who didn't seem to be catching anything. A turtle sat on a rock watching us go by. The transition from the crystal clear water of the upland lakes to the murk of Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) was striking. After reaching the Bay, we paddled along shore for a ways, looking at a couple of private cabins, and stopping briefly at the dock at the foot of the access trail to Three Narrows Lake. We retraced our route back to camp. Part way back, we discovered a two foot snake (variety unknown, not a rattlesmake) swimming up the creek.
After arriving back on OSA Lake, we spent half an hour collecting two canoe loads of firewood, and arrived back at camp at 6:00 pm. We found a delicious dinner of chicken-flavored sausage and noodles with peas ready to eat, prepared by the group who had stayed near camp. The campsite was on an island of perhaps 20 acres, which had almost no usable firewood. Killarney and OSA Lakes are heavily used during July and August. Those who like to gather lots of wood and build big fires should avoid the island sites. While we were gone, Jim went for a swim. He claimed to have been in the water for four minutes. Those of us who had had our hands and feet in the water cast some doubt on the claim, and since he was skinny dipping shyly on the other side of the island, there were no witnesses. Helen and I will probably add a small thermometer to our standard gear, since questions of water and air temperature frequently arise during campfire discussions.
After watching the sun set over the lake and enjoying a lingering twilight (not fully dark till 10 p.m.) most of us turned in for the night at about 10:15. There was a full moon, creating beautiful nighttime scenery on the lake. The loons seemed to have their evening convocation each night just after sunset, about 9:30, when several pairs up and down the lake would have a yodeling contest. Also just before dark, a bat began silently zooming in and out of the campsite. As the sun started to set, we were puzzled by a roaring noise building up in the distance. We speculated on distant airplanes, a sawmill, etc, and then finally realized it was the bugs, back in the trees. We camped in a grove of pine and hemlock, and there were almost no bugs in the site. The birch/maple forest away from the water was full of mosquitos and black flies. It is not clear to what extent the relative scarcity of bugs on the site was due to an on-shore wind and how much to the natural repellant of the fragrant conifers.
The morning of the 29th was devoted to a leisurely communal pancake and sausage breakfast. Sherry brought her percolator, and this was my first wilderness trip with real fresh-brewed coffee. A large bag of unshelled peanuts was overlooked when we went to bed, and an enterprising squirrel apparently spent most of the night carryng them away. Jim reported hearing scampering sounds back and forth past his tent most off the night. The squirrel came back for the remainder while we were eating breakfast, and seemed rather annoyed to find people in the way. On this morning, and for all of the evening meals, all the cooking was done over the campfire. Several people brought stoves, but they weren't used much, other than for the coffeepot, which was too urgent to wait for the fire, and on the last morning, when we didn't build a fire.
Dave, Scott, and Joan left at 11:30 to explore the ridge north of OSA lake. We hiked a mile or so west along the ridge and found several scenic outlooks. Then we headed inland to a small unnamed high-elevation lake, where we stopped for lunch. The sun was hot, the air temperature was probably in the 80s, and the water temperature in this small lake was much warmer than the very deep OSA and Killarney Lakes, so we all went for a long swim. Joan coached Scott on his breaststroke and then beat him convincingly in a race. Scott demonstrated his rock climbing skills on a cliff overlooking the lake. We bushwhacked a different route back to camp, arriving about 5:00 p.m. Scott then paddled over to the south shore and scaled a prominent cliff, while we watched his progress with Joan's binoculars.
Meanwhile, everyone else left left camp about noon to canoe down to Baie Fine and hike the trail across to Three Narrows Lake. A wrong turn on the trail caused a short detour to a lookout over Topaz Lake, and then a decision not to go on to Three Narrows. Jim saw a porcupine, ambling along slowly unafraid of anything. They retraced the same route back to camp, arriving about 5:30.
Monday morning, May 30, we had quick individual breakfasts, and were loading canoes by 8:45. We retraced our route back to the cars, were loading the cars by 12:15 p.m. and arrived back in Rochester about 10 p.m.
General notes: The weather was spectacular - sunny and almost too warm for the entire trip, except for a brief shower Friday morning. We went prepared for hordes of black flies, with headnets and lots of DEET. But the bugs never really became a problem. The headnets were used very little, and those of us who used DEET on exposed skin and wrist and ankle openings had only a few bites. The OSA campsite had almost no bugs in the site itself. Both campsites (24 and 28) had plenty of room for the group. With five tents, this had been a concern, but everyone got good tent sites. There were few people in the park, even on the weekend. We saw one occupied site on each lake, saw two other groups go by in canoes, and met two groups on portages.
Anne and John brought L. L. Bean wheels for their canoe. They didn't work very well. The canoe had to be partially unloaded to get the wheels attached. It was very hard to push uphill when loaded, and even in this well traveled area, some trails were too rough or too narrow for easy passage. We had three light, fairly high performance, Kevlar tandem canoes ranging from 16.5 to 18.5 feet long. Jim brought his 16' Curtis solo canoe. Joan took a test paddle in it, and after only a few minutes of instruction, was consistently making it go where she intended. Soon after returning to Rochester, she headed for Curtis and bought a similar but slightly smaller solo canoe.
Detailed Ininerary: date location time miles
5-26: left home 7:40 AM 0
picked up Scott 7:55 16
left Sherry's (Greece) 8:30
at Lewistown bridge, via highway 18 10:30
stop at visitor center, exchange money, 15 min.
and nearby restaurant to pick up coffee 15 min.
repair roof rack Burlington
(five minutes) turn onto 400 in Toronto 12:30 182
lunch, & gas first service center on 400 1:00 196
on road again 1:25
turn off to Big Chute 2:30 273
at Big Chute 2:55 278
Back at 69 3:50 283
turn off 69 to Port Carling 4:10 304
at Muskoka Fine Boat Wroks 4:18 313
back at 69 4:48 318
pass Sherwood Motel and Marks Restaurant near 141 334
arrive French River Trading Post 6:12 407
5-27 leave French River Trading Post 8:45
turn onto 637 9:03
at Park office 9:49 461
leave shore 11:20
across portage on Freeland Lake (100 yards) 12:15
at portage to Killarney (475yds) 12:45
Helen and Dave ready to paddle on Killarney 12:55
everyone ready to paddle 1:15
everyone unloading at site 24 2:15
lunch eaten, tents up 3:15
road miles (one way) without the side trips: 437
Driving time, excluding side trips and stops: 9 hours (49 mph avg)
5-30 leave park 1:16
lunch stop 2:20
underway again 3:09
home (after dropping Joan at Sherry's and
Scott at his house 10:20
total return mileage (including stopping at Scott's house) 440 total
time, excluding lunch: 8 hours 15 minutes (55 mph average)
Interesting food and equipment:
English muffins, split and heated in a small pan, for breakfast. (Bring
a little marmelade?)
My new Peak I multi-fuel stove worked well, at least with Coleman fuel.
It has a single knob rather than the traditional two-control
Coleman system, and seems to warm up quicker. It is also considerably
lighter, and seems to simmer more stably. It has a more effective
built-in windscreen than the old design. Incidentally, I left it out
in below-freezing weather at home this spring, and it lighted easily
without any priming.