Planning & Itinerary
As the last adventure on our 18-day trip through Ontario in September 2015, we decided to hike the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. This is a magnificent 78 km round loop in the Killarney Provincial Park. To plan our trip, we used Jeff’s Killarney Map, which gave us a very clear overview of the timings we could expect for each part. Based on this map, we decided upon the following 5-day itinerary:
|Day||Distance [km]||Time [h]||Campsite|
To be perfectly honest, the original idea was to stay at H22, and we also booked this campsite in advance. Once on the trail however, we found out that this was not the best campsite (very difficult to access water, very close to the trail). We met a few people that told us we could stay at their campsite (H32), so we did that without any regrets!
It’s very important to book the campsites in advance. We booked our sites in May and they were all still available so I guess 3 to 4 months in advance is probably more than good enough. To book the campsites we used the information at https://reservations.ontarioparks.com/. At the time, we could only book the outback campsites by phone, so we had to call Canada from Belgium which was not cheap! If you need to do this as well, make sure you have all your information close to hand to minimise the phone costs (and make sure your battery doesn’t die or your phone credit runs out!!). Update: a reader suggested to use Skype as it is a lot cheaper to call internationally. A recent 20 minute call to the U.S. from Belgium cost me about €0.40. Nice.
The day before we stayed at the George Lake campsite (in the “Squirrel Lodge”) so that we could hit the trail early. Here we also enjoyed our last proper BBQ-ed meal. Ribs with Sweet Baby Ray’s! Awesome!
I made an overview of everything I took on the trip. It is probably not 100% accurate but I’m pretty sure that 90% is there and it gives a pretty good idea anyways.
Important to note is that we initially were thinking about bringing bear spray, but we did not! When we asked people, everyone told us we did not need it and we would be wasting our money on it. In the end I’m happy we listened to those people.
For those interested, here is a screenshot of the food we took with us on the trip. It is not very conventional backpacking food, but it might be interesting for those looking for some inspiration.
Day 1 – Wednesday 23/09/16
We got up early (awakened by the chipmunks, as usual), quickly stuffed down our breakfast, and drove our rental car up to the parking at the start of the trail. Here we filled our water bottles and double checked all our gear & food one last time. Too excited to get started we immediately got confused as to which direction to start in. We decided to ask some help from people that were enjoying the view, which was not too bad to be honest! Once we started walking in the right direction, we got hit with the perfect mixture of excitement and fear, as this was our longest backpacking hike yet! Are we going to be OK? Only time will tell …
In the first hour, we immediately came across another hiker who was doing some day hiking in the area. He told us he had been exploring the park for over 30 years, so we decided to ask him about bears. “You’ll have to be extremely lucky to see one”, he said, which was very reassuring for us as this was one of our biggest fears.
The first hours on the trail are not the most exciting ones. There is a lot of dense forest which is not the biggest help for the view. Once you get to Acid Lake and beyond, things are starting to improve. We hiked a little bit further until we reach camping spot H6, which is located alongside Cave Lake. Here we decided to take our first rest and resupply our water. When we put our water bottles in the lake (we do not filter our water here), we got an enormous attention from the many fish in the lake. The view is very beautiful here and it was also our first chance to inspect one of the campsites so we would know what to expect in the future. Campsite looks good, so things look very promising!
Hiking further along the trail resulted in more stunning views. We did not want to stop too much though, because it gets dark pretty early in Killarney at this time of year, and we did want to reach our camp site in time. Being hurried when setting up camp, gathering wood, making fire and cooking is not something we enjoy!
The guy we came across at the beginning of the trail also warned us about the part that was going to come next: “the pig” portage. This is a notorious 1280m portage which is apparently one of Ontario’s toughest. Even though we did not have a canoe on our back, we do carry relatively heavy backpacks, which made us quite worried! And indeed, this was the most challenging part of our day. The portage is pretty steep and goes one for quite a while. So focussed on getting to the end of it, we forgot to turn left and we got off the trail ending up at a lake (not sure what the name of this lake is). Once we realised our mistake, we decided to get lunch here as the view was quite nice and there was a good spot to sit. On the other side of the lake there was a cottage of which the owners were apparently home, which resulted in a lot of dog barking. While this was not as nice as the silence of the woods and the humming of birds, we were happy to have survived the first 7 km of the trail and to have food going in our mouths.
Once we got back on the track, the section awaiting us was the 3.5km loop around the dam. We read on the internet that we could skip this section by going directly over the dam, but that this was actually prohibited. As we do not like half-assing things, we decided upfront that we were only going to skip this if it was 100% necessary. As we already arrived at the dam just after lunch, we did not skip it.
This section was very easy-going and the views were definitely worth it! There were some swampy parts with a lot of fallen-over trees and we also crossed a beaver dam, which was my first time ever. Later on the trail, a guy would show us a picture of an otter he saw here, but we were not that lucky.
As we we already walked 14 km of our 16.6 km goal, the end was in sight! The last 2.6 km section to campsite H16 was not very interesting anymore as it was mostly a lot of dense woods. We did come across some kind of snake but were not able to make a picture or to identify it, doh!
Campsite H16 was not the most beautiful one we had visited today, but it was definitely good enough! The view was quite nice and there was easy access to water. It’s also a very open spot, which I like. Unfortunately, the people that took this site before us left a lot of crap behind. There were used bandages, orange peels and a lot of other garbage left in the fire pit. Luckily, all of it could be burned in our campfire, but it’s not a very pleasant way to discover your campsite.
Once we set up camp, we cooked a cheap freeze-dried meal we found at a Canadian grocery store. We do not like to spend a ton of money on the “professional” freeze-dried meals they sell at outdoor shops, so we usually buy the cheap ones at grocery stores and then pimp them a bit using fresh vegetables or dried meats, cheeses, etc. This time we added fresh paprika to this curry dish which made it taste very good actually. Of course this is a very light meal, but we have a lot of snacks during the day.
After our meal, we put all our food in waterproof bags and hung them up a tree about 100m away from our tent to make sure bears don’t steal it. As this is our first trip in bear country we are still quite scared of them so we want to do everything to keep them away from our tent! Doing a 4-day hike without food seems like a situation we do not want to find ourselves in!
We also got some visitors at our campsite. Three guys we met at the start of the hike knew that we were staying at this campsite and passed by to say hello. They could not stay very long because they still had to make it to campsite H18 which is still 5,7 km away, but it was nice to see some other people on the trail. Once it got dark we crawled inside our sleeping bags and went to sleep, hoping the bears would leave us alone tonight.
Day 2 – Thursday 24/09/16
After waking up we did not waste much time and broke up camp quite fast. The park ranger warned us that this would be our most challenging day so we did not waste time. Originally we were planning to stay at H22, so that was our goal for today. When passing H18 we also payed a visit to the three guys that were doing the trail together with us. At the moment we arrived at their camp they only just woke up so we just had some tea with them and left them alone so they could clean up and get ready.
In the beginning of the day there were some nice views but nothing too crazy. Also the hike itself was not very challenging. We were walking mostly through bushes on fairly flat terrain. We did get to see a snake again, and got to photograph it this time. It was a lot smaller than the one we saw yesterday though! We also came across some places that would have been ideally for moose, but did not see any. What a shame. But we did get lucky! In some way at least … When travelling between H20 and H21 we were pretty tired as we had been going pretty hard for the first part of the day, so we did not really speak a lot for an hour or so. At a certain point I decided to say something to Lise, after which we suddenly saw an enormous black mass rise up into the woods 5 meters or so from where we were walking. It was a bear! Before we realised what we just had seen, it started sprinting away from us at an unimaginable speed. Wobbling away, crushing every small tree or bush in its way. Wow!
Seeing the bear scared us. Everyone told us we had to be extremely lucky to see one, and here we were, just saw a bear 5 meters from where we were standing. This is where we decided that we would be cooking at lunchtime now to avoid having food smell around our campsite just before we went to sleep. It was probably a bit silly but as there was no real harm in doing it, we just went for it. So we hiked on to campsite H21 and cooked there, cleaning up very thoroughly after we were done. Campsite H21 is actually a really nice campsite and we were very happy to spend our lunch break there.
After H21 the terrain started getting more challenging and we were starting to do some proper climbing. We were talking heavily against each other, partly because we had been recovered in energy after eating, but mostly because we wanted the bears to hear us! The other guys gained in on us so we did part of the hike together. They thought we were crazy because we were not using our hiking poles, so we gave them another try. They mostly slowed us down as we were not used working with them so after a while we put them in our packs again. “We’ll learn it another time”, we thought.
The heavy uphill hiking did deliver on some nice views. We really got what we came for!
Once we left the nice views at Threenarrows Lake, there was a fairly steep vertical downhill descent after which we got back into the forest. The guys were walking much quicker than us so we decided to let them go on without us and continue the trail at our own pace. I was feeling a little bit of pain in my left knee, which was a pretty bad sign and I was afraid it would get worse. This happens to me frequently when doing multiple days of hiking, but I was hoping to avoid it on this trip.
The trail then follows a nice path next to the water until you reach the campsite H22. Along the way there are many incredible views, and we were just extremely happy to be where we were.
When we arrived at H22 the other guys were waiting for us there. As you can see in the picture below, the view is not really the problem. It is very difficult to get to the water because of a fairly steep descent (although the guys told us they did a little bit of swimming there) and the campsite itself is just not very nice. Another guy we met on the trail told us that the best use of H22 was to use its toilet when you pass by …
The guys told us we could stay at their campsite, H32, which was still a challenging 5 km walk away. At this point we had to make a difficult decision. Were we going to do the extra 5 km so we could stay at a nicer campsite and enjoy the company, or would we stay here and rest properly. Even though my knee was hurting a lot, we decided that we were going to go to H32. Because it was already getting late we decided we would leave immediately. The hike to H32 was much more challenging than we initially thought. There were some very steep climbs (much worse than “the pig”) and it was getting dark rather quickly. During the two extra hours of hiking, we regretted our decision, but it was too late to go back.
Eventually we did get to the campsite and all our regrets disappeared because it was just phenomenal! The water has a very deep blueish color and it was super relaxing to put our feet and legs to rest in it. We were extremely tired so we did not spend too much time making pictures here (which I regret now). But we ate, set up our tent, did our bear hang and started gathering firewood. While doing this I accidentally started breaking a branch which still had a bees nest hanging on it, and got stung in the head by a bee. By the time, I was not 100% sure whether I was allergic or not, but nothing happened and the day after the pain disappeared so luckily I survived that.
Once we got our fire going with a piece of birch bark (always works with a single try), we could really start to relax. Not too long after our fire, we saw a fire at campsite H31 as well, which gave us a feeling of comfort and camaraderie with the other hikers on the trail. We had a very nice evening chatting about our cultural differences like it is always the case when you meet people in a foreign country. After that we went to bed. Too tired to think about the bear we saw before lunch, we fell asleep like logs and did not open an eye until the next morning.
Day 3 – Friday 25/09/16
As we only had to do 7 km today, we could take it really easy. My knee was still hurting a lot as it did not get any better overnight, so this was a welcome gift. We decided that we would make a lot of stops, and fully enjoy nature, which we did not do enough in the previous days. The goal was to do the 1.8 km hike to get to H33 and do our cooking there.
We had another freeze dried supermarket meal today. It was some kind of pasta pesto which we pimped with wiener sausages and to which we added some parmesan cheese. We usually take these ingredients with us on longer hikes as they stay well unrefrigerated for a long time. The meal actually tasted better than it sounds and gave us an incredible energy boost! We cook on the DIY soda can alcohol stove which has served us for many meals over the past years.
The next 5.2 km of the trail were very challenging. This part actually has more 1000m of height difference spread out over three climbs of 320m, 406m and 341m.
For the first time since we were here, we got some clouds above our heads. Luckily it did not start raining. Climbing up and down those hills, however tiring that was, did give us a chance to see the park from a height. We got some nice views over Boundary Kirk Lake and David Lake.
Campsite H34 is located at David’s Lake, which is very popular for canoeist. As we were there quite early, we saw a lot of canoes pass by in the time we were there. We made sure we collected a big amount of wood so that we could keep our fire going until bedtime. Enjoying our meal of parovitta crackers with cream cheese, cucumber and cherry tomatoes left us a bit sad as well. Our last fresh ingredients were gone! The campsite is in the woods, which we usually do not really prefer, but with the weather getting worse we were quite happy to get a little bit of protection from the (very little) rain. There was also direct access to water, which we used to do a proper wash up of all our clothes.
The fire had a lot of different purposes that night. Aside from keeping us warm in this chilly weather, I also decided that I would burn one of my boxers as it was really worn-out and I liked the mental picture of my backpack getting lighter. We had a good laugh about that! Water was cooked using the fire and we enjoyed some of our minute soups. The joy of drinking something warm is so underestimated sometimes. While sipping our soup, we wondered if the other group of guys would have made it to their camping spot. As they were doing the trail in 4 days instead of 5, they had to cover a lot more ground than us.
Day 4 – Saturday 26/09/16
This would prove to be an exciting day. Today we would go up to silver peak, which is the highest point on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. A bit scared of the climb, we left our camp early and started walking as soon as the sun came up. The feeling of walking on the La Cloche mountains with the sun rising on your back was just magnificent. We really felt free and disconnected from our daily lives in a sense you only get from doing longer distance hikes.
We quickly made way to the start of the Silver Peak climb. Killarney is really becoming our favourite place in Ontario!
When we arrived at the start of the climb to silver peak, we were thinking about doing a bear hang with our backpacks and climbing up the peak without the extra weight. We did however only bring a very thin piece of rope. The first time we did our bear hang with the rope, we were 100% sure that it would break overnight. Luckily it didn’t, but hanging our whole backpack with it seemed like it would stretch our luck too far, so we decided we would take our pack with us.
It was very exhausting, but we got to the top in a record speed! It only took us 30 minutes, and it was the first time that we really beat the timing on Jeff’s map this hard. Probably because we were so terrified of it before. Even though we were here very early, there were already some day hikers which we passed. At the top, I realised that the pain in my knee was a lot less than the day before. It seemed that taking it easy yesterday was a really good idea.
The view at the top was magnificent and our camera is really not doing the view any justice. At this point, I really wished I took a better (heavier) camera with me.
At the top we also came across another couple and asked them if they would take a picture of us. They were probably just in their forties and told us they never used a camera before! What?! After talking to them it seemed like they had done canoe and mountainbike trips all over Canada and explored so much of this magnificent country, but never saw any need in documenting anything. That is so weird for me, but on the other hand I found it really magical and still think about them sometimes when I make pictures just to “not forget” a place.
Standing at silver peak, we really felt like we “made it”, even though we still had some km’s to go. It was really nice to be able to look over the entire park like a king looking over its territory. We tried to find recognition points to reconstruct the trail from there. It was a lot of fun! We also got a glimpse of the nice discoloration that was about to start. We were just a few weeks too early to see the park in its full color glory but nonetheless it was awesome. And what luck did we have with the weather. Amazing!
After Silver Peak we continued on to the trail and decided that we would have our cooked lunch at Silver Lake. The beginning of the trail was pretty boring and it was very obvious that the trail was modified for day-hikers hiking up to silver peak. A lot of very broad paths which we dislike a little bit. Fortunately things got better very fast. We stopped at H38 for lunch and man, what a view!
The water level in this place seemed to be lower than usual so there was a brown-orange border at the bottom of the rocks which was just beautiful. This time we decided to have our cooked lunch in the evening so we just ate our wraps with some tins of mackerel in tomato sauce and tuna.
Next followed a moderately challenging, but not too special 6.5 km hike to our campsite. The pain in my knee was fading away so I was very motivated to get this done. Up to our last campsite! Hopefully it’s a nice one. Along the way we came across another hiker. He was the first we had seen in 2 days so we wanted to have a little chat with him. He was doing the trail in the reverse order alone with his dog, and told us he wanted to be here with the lunar eclipse in 2 days. We did not know there was going to be an eclipse so we were kinda bummed to find out we would not be in the park anymore when this was going on.
Campsite H47 was really nice. We both agreed that this was the best campsite we had had on this trip.
We really had a good time here. After cooking our last meal, which was some kind of meat pasta, we prepped a lot of wood to make a long slow fire. We washed ourselves in the lake, did our last bear hang (yes!!) and enjoyed the beautiful sunset. Afterwards we went to sleep with a mixture of relief and regret. It was the last night in the small tent, which we did not mind at all, but it was also our last day in the park tomorrow, which made us a little bit sad!
Day 5 – Sunday 27/09/16
The last day! Today we had to walk about 15.8 km to get back to our car. One of the most exciting things was going to be “the crack”. From what we read on the internet this seemed like it would be a fun section to hike through. When we woke up, the weather was very nice just as the day before and we started hiking in the beautiful sunrise. We could definitely get used to this! During the first section we had some very nice lookout points as pictured below.
When we got closer to the crack, the weather was getting worse and there was a light amount of rain. Also because of the dawn, the grass was wet and did not dry very soon which made our shoes wet. Because of this we had to be very careful not to slide on the very slippery rocks. Being spoiled with the good weather the previous days, we both got a bit careless, resulting in the both of us hitting the ground at some point. Luckily no harm was done, but we had been warned! As we did not really know what to expect, we got a little bit anxious about “the crack”. If it was really as challenging as people had described, the wetness would definitely make things worse. We did not take any more breaks and tried to reach it as soon as possible in order to arrive before the real rain would start. When we got closer, we started seeing and hearing more and more day hikers. A whole bunch of them was enjoying the brilliant view from the top of the hike if you do it in the reverse order.
Things got a bit confusing here as there were two types of direction indicators: blue (the ones we normally follow), and orange which indicated the crack trail. Once we realised we had to follow the orange indicators we finally reached our goal. Luckily it did not rain yet and even though the boulders here were a little bit bigger than usually on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail, it was really not nearly as challenging as we expected. Nonetheless the view was very nice and it was fun to be able to talk to some of the day hikers who were clearly interested in people doing the entire thru-hike.
Afterwards the trail did a serious descent, which was extremely painful for our knees, legs and feet who clearly sensed that it was their last day of work. It’s funny how your body always seems to “know” when it can start complaining. As we made terrain quite fast in the first part of the hike, we decided that we would have lunch in our car, which would only take about 1 extra hour, we thought. On the way to the car we came across the last nice views and another beaver dam crossing! Cool!
The last part of the trail was not that interesting anymore and we clearly felt like we had enough as it seemed like it took forever to get to the car! The last 1 km was indicated with countdown signs. This really brought our spirits back up! We almost got confused and took one of the side trails: the Cranberry Bog Trail. Luckily we realised this in time. Our feet would fall off if we did any more legwork, we thought. Eventually we reached the end of the trail at about 13.30. Nice! 15.8km on half a day was quite an achievement for us. Standing at the sign we did not have a clue where to find our car so we started orienting ourselves based on the camping spots around us. Oh no! Our car was parked super far! We had to walk the entire stone road to the other side of the campground. We passed by the “squirrel lodge”, which was the camping spot where we stayed the first night. Once we reached our car we could not be happier. Food! Finally!
Unfortunately it seemed like our struggle was not over yet. The battery of our rental car died. Crap! This was really the worst time this could happen. After stuffing myself with some food and trading in my hiking boots for sandals, I decided to do the walk all the way up to the ranger station to get some help. The guy was extremely friendly and had a starter pack in his pick-up truck which luckily did the trick in a few seconds. He was not surprised at all that we had this issue as it seemed very common. We then took our car and drove to Huntsville, where we found a brilliant BnB. Because the host saw we were completely hammered, she offered us a free bubble bath. Epic! We did nothing that night except for getting some food and lie on the bed. Rest, finally!