North Killarney Loop
Total Distance: 65 km
Duration: 6 days (it can be done in 4)
No. of Portages: 15
Total Port. Distance: 9800 m
Level of Difficulty: Experienced Novice (two long portages with challenging elevation changes, wind on Lake Panache)
Map is courtesy of Jeff's Map -- my route is marked in blue.
Having had such a great time the previous year on the Big Trout Lake Loop in Algonquin, my Dad and I thought we'd tackle Killarney. After reading all of the fanfare about George, Killarney and O.S.A. Lakes, we'd thought we'd give it a try and do the famous hike up to The Crack. Thinking if I'd log onto the booking website at midnight, exactly 5 months prior to the date we were planning to go on, I'd be able to make the reservation. Wrong! I still didn't get in.
So, we went to Plan B and decided to get into Killarney from the north and get down into David Lake to view those wonderful white LaCloche Mountains.
Day 1 - Lake Panache to Bassoon Lake
After spending a night at my aunt's camp (they don't call them cottages in that neck of the woods) on Long Lake just outside of Sudbury, we rocked up to Panache Bay Marina on the north shore of Lake Panache on a mid-August morning at around 8 am. We couldn't have asked for better weather.
The paddle across the northern and usually gusty expanse of the lake was relatively calm. We quickly made it to the 280m portage into Newton's Bay and were through the flat walk in no time. It was a weekday and there were very few boats moving about the lake or people at their camps.
Moving around Potato Point and into Sawmill Bay, we enjoyed the quiet of the atmosphere, the stunning shoreline and were greatly anticipating the trip that we had just begun.
We had gotten an early start because we knew we were starting with a hefty portage of 2195 meters. Though it took a couple of hours to complete, because we were double tripping, it wasn't too bad. It was relatively flat, dry and well worn.
Toward the Bassoon end of it, we passed through a grove of massive hemlocks and we each gave them a hug to show how large these trees were. One of the benefits of double carrying on a portage is that you notice things like this on the walk back for the second load that you might miss carrying a canoe on your head.
At the put-in at the east end of Bassoon Lake, we whipped up a quick lunch of summer sausage and cheese in a pita wrap. While munching on our mid-day feed, we noticed fish jumping out in the bay. Good Omen!
Once we got out there, we realized how shallow this entire back bay was. We quickly made a plan to get to our site, set up camp and get back out on the water with our rods. Heading around the point, we investigated the first site on the island in this bay. It wasn't anything to write home about, so we decided to continue to the next island site on the west part of the lake, close to the High Lake portage. We were glad we did. The site was a good one-- high on a rock in a grove of pines with views of the lake all around.
Once we set up our camp, we headed back toward the portage to do some fishing where we saw them jumping earlier in the day. The afternoon began to cloud up and the fish were not in the same mood. We didn't have any luck and went back to camp for a dinner of steak and caesar salad.
The skies remained overcast and we thought we weren't going to get much of a sunset, but as the sun dipped below the cloud ceiling, we were treated to some nice westward views over the western bay of Bassoon Lake through the trees on our site. I love that effect when the lake looks like it's on fire.
Day 2 - Bassoon Lake to Bear Lake
I woke up earlier than Dad and was happy to see the sun shining. When I looked northward over the bay, fish were jumping everywhere. I got excited!
I hopped in the canoe with my rod and tackle box and almost immediately caught a smallmouth bass of considerable size. Getting it on the stringer and thinking of having a fish fry for breakfast, I continued fishing and caught a few more. While trying to add one to the stringer, the fish that was already on it gave a splash of his tail and darted away, stringer and all, just as I had untied it. When I jerked to try to retrieve it, the fish that I had just taken off my line flopped hard in the boat, out and over the gunwale and back into the lake. In one impressive boneheaded move, I lost two good fish -- and my stringer. I had a good laugh over that one.
Hearing my dad up and about now, I headed back to camp and made breakfast, after which he joined me and we eventually caught a couple more to eat.
We had booked to stay that night on Bear Lake, which was only a couple of hours of paddling and portaging away, so it was nice to spend the morning fishing on Bassoon.
It seems to see little canoe tripping traffic and it was great having the lake all to ourselves. A man did appear out of nowhere mid-morning in a motorized fishing boat and was fishing up and down the north shore, however. Not seeing any structures at all on the lake, I guessed that he had come up from the fishing camp on Bear Lake. He was respectful in not fishing or putt-putting around our site, even though fish were jumping all around it.
About 25 feet south of our island site, I cast out my lure and noticed something huge going after it. My first immediate thought was that I was about to hook into a 25 lb Guinness World Record smallmouth when I realized it was a turtle of considerable size. I quickly reeled in my line not wanting to hook it. As it got closer to the boat, I noticed the underside of it was very yellow, unlike any other snapper that I had seen. Later, after some googling, I think it might have been a Blanding's Turtle. I am still not sure though, because it seemed large and had the shape of a snapper. It disappeared into the depths of the lake before I could snap a pic.
Before noon we were packed up, loaded and heading for the portage into High Lake. Dad wanted to try one last cast before leaving Bassoon and in doing so hooked into a real fighter. It turned out to be the largest catch of the trip and probably was upwards of 4 lbs. It took him a good 10 minutes or so to get that fellow in. Exciting!
The portage into High Lake was easy and flat. There were fishing boats on both ends of these portages bearing the name of Bear Lake Camp. Others were from a camp on Lang Lake, which is quite a distance from Bassoon. This made me think the fishing on Bassoon must be special. It was for us at least.
High Lake was not much bigger than a pond and nothing to write home about. We didn't fish at all there. The portage into Bear was a steep descent, but well-used and sat adjacent to a small waterfall. We paddled the length of Bear, grateful for only a light headwind, and knew we found our spot for the night on site 219 on the south shore -- two-for-two in finding amazing sites so far. On a point, but nestled in a fantastic pine grove, we had wind and sun protection. The view of the entire expanse of the lake was incredible, and because there are very few sites on the lake, we felt we had this amazing place to ourselves, despite the odd fishing boat that went by now and again.
Getting to the site early in the afternoon allowed us to cook a nice lunch, set up the hammock and relax for the day. Glorious.
Swimming off the deep rocks, reading in the hammock and tents, and exploring the site was how we spent the rest of our day. The wind had picked up somewhat by late afternoon, so we avoided heading out in the canoe; from our site, we were happy just to enjoy this magnificent lake that was ours for the day.
After a meal and a short paddle after the wind died down in the early evening, I fished a bit in the back bay near us but didn't have much luck. Soon, we retired to the firepit and enjoyed some whiskey and the beautiful sunset. Nestled in our tall grove of pines, we felt at home on this cozy northern Ontario August evening, devoid of biting critters.
Day 3 - Bear Lake to Fish Lake
On the morning of Day 3, again I was up and casting away from the canoe early. At first, I began skirting the shore just up from our site but soon noticed to the north that fish were jumping -- and when I say jumping, I mean constantly and all over in the main expanse of the lake.
There was a little rock island nearby and as I paddled closer through the clear water, I noticed that the lake was only about 10-15 feet deep in the middle of this huge bay. I had never seen so many bass jumping all over the place at the same time.
I was anxious to get at them, but as luck would have it, on my second cast, my line got into a formidable tangle. It took a good 15 to 20 minutes to untangle it, all the while fish were jumping around me. Finally untangled, I started to get into them.
I then heard Dad calling from the site. I paddled over and he was also ready to go with his rod. We fished for the next hour or so and caught several good-sized bass. Wanting to get moving soon, we practiced catch and release but had a whole lot of fun doing it.
We had a quick oatmeal breakfast, broke camp and were travelling south on Bear Lake by 10 am. Rounding the bend, passing the fishing camp and into the bay at the south-eastern tip of the lake, we soon made it to the 285 m portage into Goose Lake.
There was a sign there notifying us that we were entering into Killarney Park proper. Bear and Bassoon are in a separate, but subsequently added section of the park with slightly different park restrictions.
Goose Lake was a shallow and weedy lake that looked like it might be a haven for pike, but we were anxious to press ahead to get to our site on Fish Lake. There was supposed to be a lodge on the lake, but I never noticed it.
The 585m portage into Round Otter Lake was a little confusing and a hot slog. It followed a shallow and muddy creek and went through tall reeds. We thought we lost the trail once but were able to pick it back up. We eventually crossed a large beaver dam and the creek looked deep enough for us to get back in and paddle. Five minutes later we came to a T-junction and made a hard right into Round Otter Lake. Just before entering the lake, we came within a paddle's length of a hiding otter that darted into the water under our canoe with a splash. It scared the living bejesus out of me! Maybe he's the fellow that the lake is named after!
Another 100m portage on the far side of this lake took us to a shallow and weedy pond that looked like it might be a shallow and daunting slog at first but was relatively easy to get through. By the look on my Dad's face, he wasn't looking forward to it.
After the pond was another 285 m portage on which we surprised a family of grouse. When they flutter away, they never fail to make me jump! It was an easy one and opened up to a rocky point on the west end of Fish Lake. It was long, narrow and seemed to be a wind tunnel for the air coming in off of Georgian Bay to the southwest. Luckily for us, the wind was at our backs as we needed to head east at that point.
There were only two sites on Fish Lake and we were aiming for the eastern island site at the far end of the lake. We passed the first site which was vacant. It was perched high on a rocky cliff on the north shore of the lake. We didn't stop and get out, but I'm guessing the views from the site would be good, though I wouldn't want to walk down those rocks regularly to gain access to the lake.
We happily found that the island site was vacant and a nice one. Three-for-three for amazing sites thus far! It was mid-afternoon and we were hungry, so we jumped into lunch and then set up camp.
By early evening, the wind died and the lake was like glass, making it ideal conditions as we enjoyed an hour of fishing the southeastern shore.
The island that we were staying on was actually two islands separated by a narrow little marshy bit. Our site was on the east side of the island.
In the afternoon we explored the island and right next to the beach on the west side, we found the skeletal remains of an animal. There was also some light-coloured fur near it. Looking at the size and the skull, it looked to be a rather large mammal of some sort, most likely a deer.
Maybe a high-speed chase through the forest, and the deer swam to the island in the hopes of escaping a predator, but was unlucky to discover that the hunter was a faster swimmer?
That night we made bush pizza with summer sausage on naan bread - yum, except that I burnt it a bit. We had another great night by the campfire and enjoyed a tipple of whiskey by the fire!
Day 4 - Fish Lake to David Lake
The next morning it began to drizzle. Knowing we had a monster portage ahead of us that day, we got up and at it early.
We quickly made it to the portage into Great Mountain Lake. Just left of the take-out at the portage was an abandoned cabin that had seen better days. I peeked inside but dared not enter.
The rain kicked it up a notch just as we started the portage. Though it is listed as a 440m portage, it travelled up a steep incline of about 60 feet and felt longer.
About halfway up, some teenagers from a camp out on a week-long trip passed us going the other direction and began warning us of low water levels in the weedy bay where our put-in was. One young lad exclaimed that it took over 30 minutes to get through only a couple of hundred meters of muck. Worried, we continued up to the put-in and had a look for ourselves. It did indeed look ugly, but in reality, wasn't too bad once we got into the canoe from a very precarious log we had thrown down. With a little elbow grease, we half-paddled, half-poled our way through in about 10 minutes.
Great Mountain Lake gets a lot of fanfare in trip reports and I could see why. The rain had stopped by the time we got into the main section of the lake and the lake was like glass. It was a pretty spot with the Lacloche Mountains dominating its southern shore, albeit a bit gloomy on this particularly cloudy day. I tried to reserve this lake, but no such luck. I vowed to come back and spend some more time at this lovely spot.
Not too far from the muddy take-out and into the main part of the lake, we spotted another abandoned old cabin on the northeastern shore. We contemplated stopping in and poking around but the 3km portage was looming and tempting our mettle. We pressed on.
The 2780m portage out of Great Mountain did its impression of the Macho Man Randy Savage by picking us up and slamming us from the outset. The portage immediately began with a mountain to climb. Right out of the gate from the take-out was an upward vertical assault for the first 150 meters or so. The steepness tapered off, but it still inclined until you were standing on a giant mound of white quartzite after about 1000 meters in. One is traversing the La Cloche mountains on this carry.
The forest was spectacularly beautiful though with more giant hemlocks along the way. We made a leapfrog stop at the summit and went back for our second trip of gear.
After descending the mountain to the south, the trail turned east and followed a weedy creek, parts of which can be paddled in high water. The path became quite rocky and we had to watch our footing carefully to avoid a twisted ankle or worse. It then started elevating again up a very steep rise only to come back down as it neared David Lake.
It wasn't the worst portage I have been on, but it is known to be one of the more difficult ones in the park. We passed a family coming the other way. They looked like they might have been on the trail since the late 90s. One of the daughters had a murderous look in her eyes, so I avoided eye contact and quickly moved on.
At the put-in on the west end of David, a large group of people in their 20s was starting the portage from that side. I laughed under my breath when one young man asked me if they could do the portage in a half-hour or so. I told him he could try!
David Lake was pretty and we were worried about finding a site. We could immediately see why it was one of the more popular lakes in the park. It was still raining on and off and we could see plumes of campfire smoke emanating from various shore locations.
It was mid-afternoon and we were hoping to stay in this west bay so that we could easily access the Silhouette Trail later that day. We were very thankful to find that site 104 was vacant. It was nestled in a lovely protected shade of pine and birch on the southern shore. We didn't have any views of the La Cloche mountains but it was super close to the take-out for the Silhouette Trail and was spacious on a lovely bed of pine needles.
As it was raining, I quickly set up the tarp next to the fire pit to dry some firewood and as soon as I finished, the clouds broke and the sun came out. Go figure. My tarp efforts were not in vain though. They did elicit a comment from a couple of elderly passers-by, who upon seeing my tarp work, exclaimed appreciatively from their canoe, "Nice installation!" This became our catchphrase for the remainder of the trip.
We made an early supper and were back on the lake and at the portage to Boundary Lake, which led up to the Silhouette Trail, by 6 pm. Upon spotting the take-out, we were aghast. There had to have been 20 canoes ashore on the rocky beach. There was no room to land our canoe! Eventually, a group who was returning from the Silver Peak hike got into their boats and left us some room to beach our canoe.
The Silhouette Trail leads to Silver Peak which is the highest point in the park. It is the highest point in the entire Lacloche Range -- one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world at a ripe age of 3.5 billion years old. We had originally intended to fit the entire hike into our trip, but we were only able to book one night on David Lake. This did not afford us enough time to do the entire 10km round trip to the summit and back. Desperately wanting to get a peek at those gleaming white Lacloche mountains, we compromised and hiked up to the first lookout over Boundary Lake. We were not disappointed. The view over Boundary Lake was stunning.
So was the view of Silver Peak in the distance.
Reluctantly leaving that view, we made our way back down to the canoe and paddled back to camp. Seeing only a tiny part of the Silhouette Trail was one of the highlights of the trip and I knew I would be back to see more of it in the future.
We had another great night by the firepit and enjoyed campfire popcorn with our beverages. It was mid-August, and occasionally at night, the temperature tends to drop in northern Ontario as a harbinger of what's to come in the near future. This was one of those nights. This made for some fantastic mist coming off the lake in the morning.
Day 5 - David Lake to Harry Lake
Soon after the mist cleared, we paddled out to the northeast end of David Lake through some very pretty channels dotted with white quartz, glancing back at Silver Peak from time to time to remember the view. It was now enshrouded in mystery...or maybe just clouds.
The portage into Balsam Lake descended through...well...a forest of balsam trees. It found it to be an easy and well-trodden path.
Once on Balsam, we continued in a northeastern direction to find the portage to Pike Lake in a weedy back bay. There, the forest changed somewhat and many more birch trees appeared. The put-in to Pike was at a very weedy creek. We tried our hand at fishing, but it was tough going without getting snagged in the gazillion lily pads all over the place.
Moving northwest, we got out into the more open part of the lake. I got a couple of smallies and my father hooked into a tiny pike. Seeing a group of canoes coming up the creek behind us, we pressed on, wanting to get through the portage and not clog up the take-out. We ran into the group on the portage when we came back for our second trip of gear and discovered it was two families with very young children. It's great to see families introducing their kids to the wilderness at such a young age.
Harry Lake was a pretty lake and was divided into two sections by an island that has a campsite. There was a plaque on the channel just west of the island, right across from our campsite, dedicating the spot to a fellow who fished there often.
The site was nice, sitting upon a rock high off the north side of the island, so we decided to make camp there. On this particular afternoon, however, the wind was howling and we were quite exposed, especially on the two tiny tent pads on the southwestern side of the island. I tried fishing a bit around the island and had no luck. It was difficult to get anywhere else around the lake with the wind up. In case the wind was bringing clouds, we strung up the tarp near the fire pit. Another nice installation!
Day 6 - Harry Lake to Lake Panache
The wind howled through the night and did not appear to want to let up in the morning. On the plus side, it was sunny.
After a quick oatmeal breakfast, we packed up and began our long paddle to our vehicle. The portage into Frank Lake was easy but a bit buggy, even in mid-August. A quick paddle across the tiny Frank Lake took us to the 500m portage into Brown's Bay at the south end of Panache Lake. There, we seemed to take a wrong trail and ended up heading down an ATV trail that might have been on private property. It emerged at a dock in Brown's Bay.
From there, we started the 3-hour paddle across the entire expanse of Panache Lake. In the southern bays, we managed to evade most of the wind, but once we passed Pine Island in the north and got that West Wind coming in from the massive western arm of the lake, the wind was pretty much a gale force. Since it was only shortly after noon, we didn't want to be windbound all day and decided to chance the crossing. We made it across with only a couple of close calls, and I knew what it felt like to be a yo-yo by the end of it.
Grabbing a couple of well-deserved snacks for the car, we made our way back out to highway 17, south on 69 and enjoyed a tasty plate of burger and fries at the French River Trading Post on the way home.
The north end of Killarney was amazing and we were satisfied with the fantastic trip we had experienced; I can't wait to get back there again.