A Solo Trip Remembered

Some of the best moments are earned.

Some of the best moments are earned.

 

Recently I’ve been posting a lot of my photos on Flickr and when I got to this one I got a little caught up in describing the photo. So I thought I’d share the story here as well. It’s a brief story explaining what’s going on in the photo, but putting it up there was inspired by another photographer talking about how he rushed to get into the frame within the 10 second timer and how frantic that experience can be. The point I was originally trying to explain was that the urgency of doing that – setting up the camera, running to get into position – can itself make for a great photo. 

A Long Day

This self shot was taken at the end of a really, really long day, but the good kind of long day.

I was on a solo trip up through the west entrance to Killarney Provincial Park. In the weeks leading up to the trip, each person in the group that was going to be joining me had dropped out one by one. The weather was bad when I started out, some kind of crazy cold streak had arrived, and I forgot some of my rain gear. In short, I had every excuse to skip this trip. When set out into the park, the outfitter gave me one of those maternal, supportive smiles, telling me that the weather report she heard called for nicer weather tomorrow.

I accepted the cold temperatures, keeping an eye on my slowly blue-turning feet, ignored the drizzling rain coming down in an awkward horizontal direction and concentrated on navigating through the high waves and indecisive but strong winds. My route would be much longer as instead of a straight line, I had to zig-zag along the coast or hide behind islands to get out of the wind. Of course there were some spots where you just had to muscle through.

When I finally made it to camp, an hour or so before sunset, I was exhausted (and even managed to dunk my sleeping bag in the lake, but that’s another story). I cooked up some dinner and went to bed. Cold, tired and a little wet, I went to sleep crossing my fingers for better weather the next day, with the last thought before drifting off was that this had been the short day of the trip (distance wise).

Crossing my fingers worked. I woke to a completely different world outside. It was warm, sunny, with a gentle breeze. But I couldn’t stand around. I had a big day ahead, including a challenging 1700m portage just before another long 2200m. The second wasn’t particularly tough, but had a fun surprise at the end: a beaver dam to walk over like a balance beam, with your legs all rubbery from the long trail.

Great New Day

Now don’t get me wrong, I had a great day. I mentioned the weather, but the scenery I was passing through was fantastic, and I took my time to enjoy it. That’s kind of the point of these things. In fact, at one point, with a pack on my back and canoe on my shoulders, I looked to my right and saw a fantastic site: the top of the white tipped quartzite hills. If trail brought me this close, I just had to drop my gear and climb to the top. The view was amazing from up there. You might call it unnecessary energy spent, but I say it was an opportunity taken.

When I finally got back on the water on the finally stretch, the winds had arrived, and were funneling through the narrow lake, of course, in the wrong direction. All the head down, muscle through paddling distracted me from hitting a sandbar, which was tough to get the canoe back on course. When I got to camp I was once again exhausted, done.

So I found a tree to sit and lean against and made myself a tasty dinner, eating it watching the sun slowly move across the gorgeous surrounding hills. It was the most beautiful spot. Even the winds settled down a bit.

The Best Place I Could Be

I couldn’t even imagine a better place on the planet to be sitting. I was completely at peace, not to mention pretty proud of myself. I had put a lot of effort to get here, but it was worth it. This is when I took this picture. I set the camera on a rock, put the timer on and ran into place, arms raised. I’m not sure whether I had planned to do that gesture (though I repeated it for a couple more just-in-case shots), but it turned out to be my best picture of pure, spontaneous emotion. Running to get into place before the timer when off probably help create that urgency, but maybe only I can tell looking at it.

As you can imagine, this photo has a lot of meaning to me. I wish I had taken it after I bought a better camera, or after I had learned all that I have about taking better pictures since, or even if I had brought a tripod. While all of that might have led to a technically better photograph, it was what I needed to do to be there at that moment that made this picture possible.

A more detailed description of the whole trip, maps and more photos can be found here

If you're not having fun, you're doing it wrong.

If you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.

2010 Portageur Favourite People Award

Portageur AwardsIn today’s installment of the 2010 Portageur Awards, I’d like to look back at all the people I met this year and choose one to recognize as the most intriguing. Normally, I would never single out a particular person for fear of alienating all the great people I met this year, but I think everyone would agree that this person is deserving of some award, especially one as prestigious as the coveted 2010 Portageur Award. In November of this year, I was standing in a line at the front of the auditorium of the Dundas Valley School of Art waiting to talk to the speaker of an absolutely fantastic presentation. I had read everything I could find on him and his work, and even wrote a post about my attempts at following his accomplishments. I wasn’t really sure what I was going to ask him, and almost left because the longer I had to wait the more I realized that I had no idea what I’d say to him.

And The Winner Is…

I was waiting to speak with Jim Waddington. You’ll remember I wrote about Jim and his wife Sue’s adventures capturing the real locations of the Group of Seven paintings over the years, as well as my first attempt at finding a spot myself. I’ve been to their exhibit at the McMicheal Gallery, and read pretty much everything I could on the Waddingtons. After all that, you can imagine how excited I was when I found out they were giving a talk close by, but I wasn’t really sure how much more I’d get out of this presentation. If nothing else, I was pretty jazzed about seeing them in person.

Jim and Sue Waddington (center and right) searching Killarney Provincial ParkWhat we were treated to was a beautifully prepared presentation detailing not only his pictures, but the complete adventure this couple has been on for the last 30 plus years. Jim explained how it all started, showing pictures of their first trip. He told some very entertaining stories about how spots were located. My favourite was about searching the Northern Channel, looking everywhere only to come up short. As a last grasp while packing up they spotted some fishermen and Jim decided to see if some locals might be able to recognize the painting. They didn’t. Walking back to the car, accepting that they’d have to try again some other time, Sue looked out into the water and pointed, casually saying “Oh, there it is.”

The audience would agree

I was most impressed with how complete the presentation was. Jim took us through a discussion on the Group of Seven painters – stressing that while they appeared famously in photos wearing suits and ties, they were very rugged and adventurous. He then led us to the location of so many of the painting in Killarney Provincial Park, and the effort it takes to get out there. He would show us a painting, then the photo he took when they found its location. What hit it home was he would then use a transition effect to show the painting turning int the photo. That’s when we’d hear the whole audience “Ooh” and “Ah”. It was great.

When it ended, we all clapped in appreciation. I wondered if we clapped long enough there might be an encore. It was a great little talk, and Sue and Jim obviously had put a lot of work in their adventures, but also in the presentation itself. It was as entertaining as it was effective. I’m really hoping this wasn’t an isolated event, and I think they should take this show on the road. If they do, you have to make sure to check it out. You’ll want to get into the canoe and revisit Killarney with a new perspective.

I did finally get chance to speak with Jim, waiting because I had to take the opportunity to thank him for starting all this. I introduced myself and gave him a quick “Thank you”. He told me he had read the post about him, and that he was actually in Killarney at the same time I was, but further south.

A few notes on Jim and Sue:

Sue and Jim mentioned that they’re shopping around for a publisher, and are hoping to write a book documenting all that they’ve accomplished. I’ll let you know as soon as I know more.

Another great aspect of the presentation was that it included a lot of local paintings and sketches, in fact one that was done just down the street from where we sat. I have since found out that Jim and Sue customize their presentations for the local audience as they had also done for the Friends of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

Check out their Group Of Seven site with pictures, videos and commentary on their work.

What was also nice to hear that after all they’ve done, they’re still not slowing down. Sue and Jim have many more trips planned focusing on finding painting sites on Baffin Island and other arctic locations.

Carmichael’s Rock Overnight

Facebook Photos

The Plan

Franklin Carmichael painting over Grace Lake
As most of the regular readers know, I recently traveled to the west side of Killarney in search for Carmichael’s Rock – the same rock Franklin Carmichael sat on in 1934 (find details here). The problem was that I had planned to do this on the last day of my Labour Day trip, which turned into a solo trip by the time I left. Tired from the last two days of portaging, I woke on the third day to rain and miserable weather. Considering the winds that I had on the first day, I felt that  – especially paddling alone – I should really do the safe thing and head out early so as to only have to deal with the rain and not the winds that I would surely be facing head-on the whole way back to the take out.

Turns out, the rain stopped, and the winds didn’t materialize until well into the late afternoon/evening. Who knew? Although I was a little disappointed, I still had a fantastic trip, but I still couldn’t help thinking that I could have searched for the rock after all. I came home and told my wife all about the trip, showing her the pictures. I told her how unreal everything was, and the stories must have sparked something in her photographer’s eye, because the woman who wrote off sleeping on the ground years ago, decided she could do it again to get an opportunity to photograph the place herself. She also sensed how disappointed I was about not being able to go look for that rock, so she figured we could try again together.

We were set to go away for a weekend in October, so I playfully suggested that we could do this instead. She considered it. I told her that instead of the whole trip, we could just reverse my last day into Grace Lake, stay the night then go back the way we came. The one portage was a nice and easy trail that wasn’t much worse than any that we take on weekend strolls with the dogs. The only difference would be that it’s 1745m and we’d have carrying backpacks, and we’d be doing it after about 8km of paddling. She liked the idea, and I have to admit I was a little psyched.

My wife wasn’t thrilled about going in mid October, but I told her it would be fine – though I really had nothing to base that on. (October’s a weird month. It has both periods that are unseasonably warm and then cold.) I made all the arrangements before she could change her mind, but the deal was that if we got up and it was going to rain, we weren’t going through with it. It turned out to be cold, but nothing we couldn’t handle, and there was no rain.

Paddling With My Wife

We set out from Widgawa Lodge along the West River and into Charlton Lake, where we turned south then east into Frood Lake. We were travelling much faster than when I was here last, and it suddenly dawned on me how much I appreciated a paddling partner. I’ve mentioned often what a great a portaging partner Nancy is, but she doesn’t paddle or carry anything. On this trip, we also brought our other dog Norm. He’s not such a great portaging partner. He’s a great dog, a free spirit – a quality that sometimes gets him into a little trouble. And so as he does, he decided that he had had enough of being in the canoe. My wife would spend the rest of the way to the portage keeping him from jumping out of the canoe (he really likes swimming).

Killarney in the FallCranberry Bay portage to Grace Lake

When we arrived at the portage, I started to really appreciate the difference a month and a half had made to the scenery. What was beautiful greens under the white caps of the surrounding La Cloche mountains, were now highlighted by gorgeous colours of fall in Killarney. Vibrant yellows, dark reds and bright orange accented everywhere you looked. The portage was leaf riddled and looked like a fall wonderland. The leaves can hide slippery rocks and mud so can be a bit of a pain, but it’s also a lot of fun swishing your feet through (It’s also a great way of keeping you from sneaking up on the local wildlife). When we reached the end of the portage, I dropped my gear, raised my hand towards the water and in dramatic fashion said “Heather, I give you… Grace Lake”.

The lake was just as I had left it: clear, gorgeous, and surrounded by some amazing scenery (oh, and also grey, but that wouldn’t last). We paddled our way to our campsite on the east side of the lake, and set up camp for the night. Heather spent the rest of the evening taking fancy pictures with her shmancy camera, while I stared off into the hills and Carmichael’s picture trying to figure out where it was taken.

The Spot

I was given a few hints as to the photo’s location, scouring over anything I could find on the subject, but some left me more confused. There sure were a bunch of photos taken there, but no one had mentioned an exact location. After wandering around to get a better view, I was confident I knew the best place to land and try and hike up. I could spot a location where there was a more gradual incline that wouldn’t require rock climbing. That must be the way up, because I was told that it took a bit of effort to get there, but it wasn’t unreasonable. I even thought that I may have spotted the rock itself with my binoculars (I was very wrong, more on that later). We went to bed with a plan for the next morning, and I was really getting excited to see the place for myself.

Sleeping in the Cold

The night turned out to be a cold one. If you don’t want to wander too far off from the fire pit, the campsite isn’t a great one for soft, flat ground (seemed like it was one or the other), so I’m not really sure how much we slept. To top it off, the dogs weren’t much help. Nancy has a reputation of not being too much of a cuddler, so you can’t expect her to help out with the body heat (I try not to take it too personally). Norm is even worse. He’s a Norwegian Buhund, bred for the colds of Norway winters. One particular camping trip where we expected cold I was comforted by the fact that with him and his fluffy fur sharing a tent with me I’d be perfectly comfortable. As it turns out it actually snowed at one point that night. I woke in the middle of the night absolutely freezing, trying my best to rework my sleeping bag to keep in more heat. Shivering, I looked for Norm. He was sitting in the corner – the furthest he could be from me – sprawled out, lying on his back. He does this when he’s too warm. And so it was again: two shivering humans, two comfortable dogs with no interest in helping out.

The PhotoSun rising over Grace Lake

We woke to a nice cool crisp autumn morning, ate breakfast in toques and sweaters, and waited for the morning frost to melt. The sun was out and as soon as it warmed it was actually a beautiful day. We packed up and paddled to the spot I had hoped would get us to Carmichael’s rock. The take out was a little rough, a steep landing without much room, so we took out what we could, pulled up the canoe as far as it could go and tied it down. We were able to zig zag up the hill without too much difficulty as we slowly made our way up the hill on a gradual incline. We would compare the picture with the view, and invariably the result was that we needed to be higher. This went on for a while, trying to find a suitable incline that would lead us back and forth, compare the view with the picture, and again we needed to get higher. Then suddenly, we ran out of gradual inclines.

The Climb

With a decision on whether or not to start actually climbing the white quartzite caps rocks, Heather had decided that she needed a rest. She handed me her fancy camera and told me good luck. There was one 3 foot section, then it flattened, then another. When I looked out to check the view I saw an owl flying below me (I always find that a freaky indication that you are, in fact, quite high up, seeing a bird fly below you). The view was close. I needed to be more to the left. When I got there, the view looked almost perfect. Was I there? Like in the picture, I was on an open section of flat white rocks, and I could see what appeared to be the exact perspective from the picture. This had to be it. Except… there was no rock.

No RockThe view from the La Cloche Mountains over Grace Lake

The rock Franklin Carmicheal sat was pretty distinct looking, and there was nothing like it around. I checked the view and decided that I absolutely must be in the right spot… probably. I remembered that Jim and Sue Waddington had also been up here to see the rock gone, and had planned a trip specifically to move it back up. Maybe that happened again? Heather yelled from about 50ft below asking about my progress, “Did you find it?”

“No,” I replied.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, I think I’m on the spot but the rock’s not here,” I yelled back, but she couldn’t really hear me. There was a lot of “What?”s back and forth, and after a bit of looking around I yelled back that I was coming down. First I would take a few pictures of where I was, then started on my way back down. I went down one ledge and was about to take another picture because I could see a bit more of the view to the south. I checked the picture one more time while I was there. The perspective was better. Was I too high? From where I was the view was almost perfect, except I had to be a little more to my left. The problem was that there was a bunch of trees in my way. Wait… was that a small clearing?

“Are you okay?” my wife yelled.

“Yeah, hang on a sec, I’m just going to check this one spot first.”

“What?”

A Different Perspective

When I got to the spot the perspective was right, but I was looking for the clearing from the picture. This was almost perfect except for the trees in the way. It even has a rock like the one in the picture… wait.

“I’m here!” I screamed.

“What?”

“I found it. I found it!” It was the rock. The clearing wasn’t big, but from the perspective of the photo I realized that it was enough.

“Great,” Heather yelled back. “Do you know how to set up the camera’s timer?”

“No.”

Heather talked me through setting up the camera, and I found a rock to lay it down to take my picture (Nancy was really supposed to be the subject, but she decided to stay with Heather). I took a couple more shots just to make sure and started to climb back down. I met Heather and we made our way slowly and carefully back down. I felt such a huge sense of self accomplishment I probably could have floated down. What we just did was something only a handful of people had done before – admittedly a large handful, but a handful nonetheless. It was also a fantastic connection with Canadian History. I had sat in the same spot that Franklin Carmichael had painted. The same spot he was photographed, the picture itself becoming part of our history.

With a new sense of enthusiasm, we set out across Grace Lake and over the portage on an absolutely fantastic day. The winds that met us on the other side dampened our enthusiasm a bit, as they were pretty heavy and in our faces the whole way back. Once at the outfitters and on the way home we couldn’t stop talking about what we had done – okay, maybe I did most of the talking.

The Exact LocationRecreating Franklin Carmicheal's 1934 Photo over Grace Lake

This is where I would normally add some details on the location of Carmicheal’s Rock – like the exact gps coordinates. You’ll notice that the route does not include it. I really had to think about whether or not to include them in this post. On the one hand, portageur.ca is supposed to be a place to get all the resources you’ll need for a trip like this, which by that logic means I should be including the location. On the other hand though, on doing the research to find the spot, I stumbled on a forum post by Jim Waddington, talking about his own trip to recover the rock. He too had apparently thought about including the location but decided he didn’t want the place to become too popular, to the point where someone might try and roll the rock down the cliff again. He also suggested that it takes away from the fun of it to not find it yourself. When I found the location myself, I really did feel a sense of accomplishment. I believe that this feeling should really be a part of the experience. On top of that, maybe we should leave the location to those that would appreciate the experience enough to seek it out themselves? So if you’re interested enough, grab a copy of the picture and earn your own way there. It will be worth it.

Oh, and no spoilers, please.

Nancy Postscript:

Nancy was, like always, a great help. She not only guaranteed we’d not be bothered by any Killarney squirrels, but it was a nice opportunity for Heather to see her in action. She often worries about Nancy out there with me (for some reason) but she was really impressed how well she lead our little pack up the trails, keeping close by. As for Norm, he might need some more seasoning before he becomes a regular on future trips. He does have a reputation for barking, and I definitely believe he enjoyed hearing himself echo through the La Cloche mountains. I’m very glad he had that opportunity to do so during one of the least popular camping weekends in Killarney. I can’t imagine how cute someone else would have found the non stop echoes had they been at the other side of the lake with us.

Technology Postscript:

Both my wife and I checked into the campsite on Grace lake on foursquare. Still the mayor, thank you.

Murray Grace Loop

Facebook Photos

The PlanGrace Lake campsite in Killarney Provincial Park

Eager to visit the beautiful west side of Killarney, and after doing research on the Group of Seven paintings that were done in the area, I started to plan the perfect route that would cover the area as best I could. I decided on a route that would go through both Grace and Nellie lake because they seemed to be the most painted of all the areas of Killarney. It was on this route that Franklin Carmichael had a family cottage, and A.Y. Jackson took well documented trips. In fact, a secondary purpose of this trip was to find the iconic spot where Franklin Carmichael famous photo from 1936.

There are much less options for outfitters on the west side of Killarney, but I was very happy with Widgawa Lodge. They issue permits on site and offer a parking, “facilities” and a dock on the West River to put in. A short paddle (less than 1km) and you’re out on Carleton Lake and on your way.

To get there, you’ll have to get to highway 6 north of Manitoulan Island. Coming from down south, you have two options: One is to get to highway 17 west of Sudbury, then head south down highway 6 towards Espanola about 19km and turn left on Widgawa road, which will take you right to the outfitters. The other is to take the Chi-Cheemaun ferry from Tobermory to  South Baymouth on Manitoulan Island then north on highway 6 about 100km where Widgawa road will obviously be on your right.

I really liked the ferry idea, but I felt that keeping on it’s schedule might make getting to the put in a little awkward knowing I had a a long first day ahead of me, so I decided I would stay another night close by and take the ferry home. They strongly advise making a reservation for the ferry (done here) and you absolutely have to be there at least an hour before departure. Don’t worry, they let you park the car in line and get out and wander around while you wait.

So the plan was to drive up 69 to Grundy Lake Provincial Park, stay the night, then travel the next morning up to highway 17 then down 6 and to the outfitters.

Reservation Issues

While I managed to make all the reservations without issue, I had a slight problem reserving the interior campsites necessary for the route. I have read in several places that the Grace-Murray loop should be done counter clockwise, but I couldn’t get a site on Grace the first night. I was particularly upset because of the reservation system issues at Ontario Parks for 2010. I had called precisely 5 months before, but was put on a call back list – that of course they didn’t call back. When I finally called back,  the two sites were occupied. Luckily, it worked out to reverse the route (hence the name change to Murray Grace). Couldn’t be that different, right?

The second problem I encountered was that the group that was originally going with me all dropped out one by one, so what seemed like a tough trip became a little tougher. I wasn’t alone as long as Nancy was with me, and while she supplies some needed assistance, she din’t paddle or carry anything. The third problem was that we had a unusual cold spell during the time of my trip, with a lot of rain scheduled. I made a pit-stop along hwy 17 and got blasted with the cold fast winds. Wow. This was going to be something.

Windy Wet Ride (Day 1)

Flooded portage to Murray Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

The last thing the outfitter said to me was to give me reassurance that today was going to be the worst of the weekend. I hoped he was right while the rain sprinkled down on me paddling through the West River into Carleton Lake. Once out of the protection of the river the northwestern winds blew strongly behind us. I had 15km to get to Murray Lake, so this seemed like a little bit of help, that is until it picked up a bit. I didn’t even notice the wet and cold when I got my first glimpse of the quartzite cliffs that surround the shore. I’m still amazed to see trees growing out of it.

I rode the winds and waves past the big islands on the lake, then paddled behind their protection for the 8km until I reached the calm waters of Howry Creek. Twisting and turning, the river runs 3.4km through a swampy protected area that I imagine would be beautiful on a nice day, but either way is a birders dream. Even with the weather we saw lots of different birds, specifically 5 blue herons. I don’t remember seeing that many in as many days.

Altered Portage

Once you reach the 2.6km mark on the river you come to the marked lift-over, a beaver dam with an clear worn take out. Then suddenly, about 100m later you reach the unmarked lift-over. It’s clearly a new beaver dam with an small, awkward area to get around. The real surprise was 350m later where I floated up to the portage marker in the middle of the water. I thought it was a joke. This part of the river was clearly once above the water considering all the now submerged trees and bushes – some still with green leaves. I thought maybe the marker was meant to direct me to the portage, but the route was impassable from over-turned trees. I moved along further thinking maybe the raised water made the portage unnecessary. No luck, unless we were going to climb the waterfall. I found a clearing to the right of the falls that had obviously been used as a take out. I carried a few meters to find the portage trail. Turns out the marker was directing me to the start of the portage, which has been reduced from a 210m to a 108m portage (141m if I started where I was supposed to).

Portage to Nellie Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

The portage took us to Murray Lake, our destination for Day 1, with a 2.4km paddle to our campsite. The outfitter had suggested that the sites on the south side were the better ones, but a guide we met along the portage asked me if I wouldn’t mind leaving the northern site for her group – apparently it’s bigger. So Nancy and I made our way to the site just past the portage on the south side of the lake. From here we got our first glimpse of the white capped La Cloche mountains to our south. The next day’s portage was located in between two very large mountains peaking at around 600-700ft. “At least we won’t have to carry over that,” I said to Nancy.

Murray Lake

It was a pretty good site, but the flat area was a little small – more than enough for just my tent of course. Of course I had to have one last adventure for the day. The site’s take out was on a steep incline, where I found it easier to hold on to the canoe and toss up my gear. Seemed like a good idea until my sleeping bag started rolling back down and into the water. I thought I was going in after it – which the temperature made it a horrible thought – but I managed to pull it back with a paddle. It wasn’t too wet, but it reminded me to invest in a water proof sack at some point.

“Tomorrow is going to be warmer,” I told Nancy, “don’t worry”. She still had no interested in snuggling though.

Sure enough, Day 2 was going to be much warmer. It took me a little while to get out of bed because I was warm there, but when I saw the sunlight I was motivated enough to get out there. I ate breakfast to a slowly rising sun and warmer day. Today was going to be the tough day, so dealing with cold and rain would make it tougher.

A Tall PortageRough portage to Nellie Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

It was a short paddle to the  first of two portages of the day (Murray, in the light of a nice day, was actually a very pretty lake), I organized my gear and got ready to begin the 1470m march to Nellie Lake. Portaging solo has some challenges, one of them being that you have no help carrying anything, the other is that you have to be careful – specifically because they’ll be no one to help carrying anything if you get hurt, including you. So my strategy was the same as always, I would go until I was tired, then take a break going back to get the canoe, then repeat. Except this time I needed to be ultra strict.

The portage starts with a very steep hill that goes up around 50ft over a short period. I knew it wouldn’t be easy because it had a name: “The Notch”. In fact, the portage itself rises around 300ft at it’s peak, and has a 200ft overall difference between lakes. I understand now why it seems better to go in the opposite direction. I remember what I mentioned to Nancy the day before, and as it turns out we practically did have to carry over the mountain. There were steep spots and narrow sections, and areas where you were balancing over a pile of broken rocks, but every corner you turned you saw yet another great view. On either side were the white quartzite hills. I couldn’t stop enough to take pictures. At some point I had looked to my right and saw one of the white caps of the hill to the west. I dropped my gear on the spot and started to climb up and see how far up I could get. I mean, I was here, and pretty exhausted by this point, but when would I get the chance again? We made it up to about 1050ft (above sea level, or 500ft above where we had started on Murray) and the view was spectacular. We climbed down when something spooked Nancy. I figure if she spooked by something, it’s probably a good idea to leave.

Hills above Nellie Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

We climbed down and continued the portage, which wasn’t very difficult from this point, and happened upon that group of ladies we met on Day 1. They asked me whether I had climbed up the mountain, then asked what was the view like. I told them that it was funny, but not much as it turns out. I had climbed this great big hill and looked to the east and there was another taller mountain there. Unreal. But to the south I got my first view of one of the prettiest lakes in, well, probably the world: Nellie. It’s reputation is well known. Apparently it is so clear that you can see down 28m, and some people suggest the only reason you can’t see further is because that’s the bottom you’re seeing.

The Beauty of Nellie

After a short chat with the ladies, we were off on Nellie. I wanted to take it in, so we slowly floated towards the other shore (okay, I was pretty tired too). It was magnificent. Everywhere you looked was a perfect picture. The lake was clear, surely, but to water colour was unreal. It all depended on the angle, the sunlight and what was underneath, but as you looked around there were a multitude of colours beneath you. I saw it as crystal clear straight down, aqua marine in one direction, bright blue in another, and even purple. Under a shadow close to sure it was a bright amber colour. I didn’t want it to end, but we did eventually float to the take out at the next portage. We sat and ate our lunch starring back at the lake. This view made the last portage totally worth it.

Nellie Lake Killarney Provincial Park

After lunch we set out on the 2085m trail to Grace lake. It was a took some effort but it didn’t seem too rough, which I attributed only to the effort we had already made getting over the last portage. Besides, I was distracted by my fresh memory of the view of Nellie to really think about the current effort. Measurements when I got home suggested this portage has another 50ft difference between lakes, and actually goes up 200ft, but the distance is much more spread out. The only tough spot was about 150m from the end, where you had to cross a narrow, wobbly beaver dam. I had to be very careful because at this point I was pretty done. On my way back for the canoe I carried a few more logs I found lying around and placed them on some of the tougher spots. I figured the beavers wouldn’t mind.

Wow

The end of the portage offers one of those truly great moments of the portaging experience. After a long, tough, exhausting portage that questions whether the effort’s worth it, you round the corner as the forest opens to show you a truly remarkable view. Yeah, it was worth it. There is a huge mountain right there welcoming you there. That’s why you do it: for moments like this. Once in the boat we turned the corner to an even better view: another mountain over the lake. Everywhere you looked there was a mountain. The evening winds kept our progress slow for an exhausted paddler, which wasn’t nice.

We got to our campsite and sat down to take it all in. We had a view to the west, with a sun falling slowly between two huge mountains, sparkling the clear waters. (I’m trying my best not to over use the term “crystal”). I just sat there and watched the sunset. I didn’t want to miss a moment.

More Wow

Grace Lake Campsite in Killarney Provincial Park

The campsite was, obviously because of the view, was great. It had a large flat area for sitting around the campfire with red strips of rock stretching into the water. There was even a beach area with very clear water to our north, but it was still a bit cold for swimming. The only problem was the wind making starting a fire and cooking a bit of a task, but there were plenty of flat rocks lying around that I used to shield the flames. We finally had our dinner when the sun was down, went not much later went to bed for a well deserved sleep.

And More Wow

We woke around 3am because both Nancy and I had to go. It was cold, and I didn’t want to go out there, but I knew if I got it over with I’d have a much more comfortable sleep. We got outside and looked up to the stars. I had gone to bed thinking that the view of Grace Lake was over for the day. Up above us was a brilliant colourful sky with the bright strip of the milky way. As cold as it was out there, I had to stay and watch for a bit. I mean, you just have to.

Rainy Day 3

Day 3 wouldn’t be a repeat of Day 2, rather more like Day 1. It was pouring out when I woke (good thing I went last night). I turned over and hoped that the rain would stop soon, or that I could sleep through it, but I couldn’t sleep worrying about my plan for the day. Today I was going to find Carmichael’s Rock. Today would be shorter than the last two, so I had the time. The problem was that if it kept raining we would be soaked all day. I was also worried about the winds we were in on Day 1, except this time they’d be on our backs. In a full blown storm getting home would at least take all day. I decided today wasn’t the day. The smart decision was to get to the outfitters before the afternoon winds came.

Sun setting over Grace Lake in Killarney Provincial Park

We packed up our wet gear and paddled the 1.3km across Grace to our last portage of the trip keeping our eyes on everything around us. Even with the rain and the dark grey skies, the view was still something else. The 1745m trail to Cranberry Bay is a very easy light trail. The rain didn’t ruin the views here either, with a large escarpment on either side of you as you make your way down the portage. At the end, just when you think you’ve seen all that the area has to offer, there’s another mountain waiting for you.

On the 10km paddle back to the outfitters, the clouds whitened, but weren’t prepared to go away yet. On either side we were guided by more of the La Cloche mountain range, but the further you go, the more cottages start to pop up. I can’t remember whether I was upset by cluttering up of such a pretty place, or jealous I didn’t own one of them. When we reached the narrows crossing into Frood Lake, we were met by several motor boats. I thought Nancy hanging out on the side of the canoe was the cutest thing I’ve seen, but we passed a Jack Russel on the bow of a motorboat that certainly compared. No cute life jacket though.

When we got to the turn north, the coast was covered completely by cottages, docks and motorboats. From there it was a slow 3km paddle back up to the West River and to the outfitter. I was tired, sore, cold, and still pretty wet, but I took my time getting back, not really wanting the experience to end, but as with all good things, truly my favourite trip did end.

The Trip Home

The trip home was a fun one. We drove south down highway 6 to just before the town of South Baymouth. We stayed at the Buckhorn Motel, a simple but nice place to stay at a very favourable price. It was run by a really nice couple from my hometown, Hamilton. Neither Nancy nor I stayed up very late, and both were very happy to have a soft bed. In a blink the morning came and we were on the road to take the ferry home. It was a beautiful ride, starring out into Lake Huron, reflecting on what a great trip we had completed. Well, I did anyway. Nancy didn’t really like the ferry at all.Misty mountains over Cranberry Bay in Killarney Provincial Park

When I got home I couldn’t stop talking about this trip. Which convinced my friends that we should do it again next year. Even better, when I showed my wife the pictures, my normally camp-phobic wife decided she had to go too. Next time, with the extra help, I’m going to try again at getting to Carmichael’s Rock, but even if I don’t it will be worth it to try.

Technology Postscript:

Amazingly, I had cellphone reception, though limited, throughout the trip. Foursquare users have a few venues to check out. I’ll be thinking about a prize of some kind for people who take over my mayorships. Check back for more info.

Grace LakeMurray Lake