Mid-Atlantic Misfit

Mid-Atlantic Misfit

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Canada day 11- More adventure than I’d bargained for

21 October 2013 , , , , ,

Yes I’m still playing catch up in terms of blog entries.  I guess I’ve been busier doing than I have been writing about it, which I take as a good thing or have I just been lazy or lacking in writing inspiration…  not sure.

Well as I’ve mentioned a number of times, the weather in the first 10 days of the trip has been absolutely glorious.  You just don’t expect sunshine and temperatures in the low 20s in Northern Ontario in early October.  I’ve been very, very fortunate indeed.  Well looking ahead at the forecast, that was all about to change, with temperatures dropping by over 10 degrees and those brilliant blue skies suddenly turning leaden and wet.  With this in mind, I decided I better lift my turkey stuffed carcass off the sofa and get out and explore the Canadian wilderness as I’d planned to do.

So I decided to drive about 2 and a half hours, west-southwest down highways 17, 537, 69 and 637 to Killarney Provincial Park.  It sits on the northeastern shore of Lake Huron’s Georgian Bay and is one of larger and more remote parks in this part of Ontario.  It’s features are the white and pink quartzite, La Cloche Mountains, clear blue lakes and jack pine trees.   When they say mountains, they are really hills, but some of the terrain is quite rugged, as I was soon to discover.

The drive there is fairly unremarkable, though I’m always conscious of when I enter the Sudbury basin.  It’s an ancient (nearly 2 billion year old) meteorite impact crater in the pre-Cambrian shield of Northern Ontario.  It’s also noteworthy as one of the geologically richest areas in the world, especially for copper and nickel, but also for many other minerals.  Sadly, that was also it’s undoing in the 19th and 20th centuries.  Mining boomed in the area, but to extract the ore it has to be smelted, which involves using chemicals and heat to separate the valuable minerals from the surrounding rock or ‘slag’.  A lot of quite acidic, toxic smoke is produced in the process and this was carried downwind from the mines, resulting in devastation to the surrounding landscapes.  The emissions caused acid rain, which killed most of the native trees and the fish in the lakes, leaving a barren wasteland.  In fact it was so barren, that the Apollo astronauts actually trained in the area in the 60s, simulating the surface of the moon.  A lot of effort has been made to recover the situation, principally by building ever-taller smoke stacks, some of the tallest in the world, to carry and diffuse the smoke over greater distances.  They’re visible from a long, long distance away.  Efforts at replanting trees and time are slowly healing the blackened terrain, but it remains quite a barren and ugly landscape.

The Ontario government has for years been making investment in Northern Ontario’s roads, as evidenced by being swept past Garden River to the Sault.  4-laning of highways has become a big priority and it’s happening south of Sudbury on highway 69 as well.  It reduces journey times somewhat, but I can’t see any evidence it’s really helped the economy in my old hometown as it’s quite remote.

I first drove to the small town of Killarney right on Georgian Bay, by which time it was approaching noon.  By this time, I was looking forward to a nice lunch, but I was to be disappointed.  It was a bit of a ghost town, save a couple big rigs turning around in front of the marina.  There were two ramshackle restaurants, both of which were closed.  I’d passed an outfitters coming into town, which advertised food, but on reaching it, it was very poorly stocked, with half-empty shelves and no one around to serve me.  After a few minutes of wandering around lost, a guy came out and I asked if there was at least a corner shop somewhere and he told me to drive back into town, turn left and that there was a general store.  It too was poorly stocked.  I did wonder where locals get their food, short of going out with a gun into the forest.  Looking at some of them, this became my conclusion.  It’s pretty red neck.  I ended up with junk food and then headed to the park.

I first went to the park ranger station, carefully disposed of my food waste in the bear-proof bins.  This will be a revelation to my European readers, but bears will rip open ordinary rubbish bins and can smell food for miles and miles around.  I went into the office to pay the day entry fee and get some guidance on hikes.  The advice I got was to do the 4-hour, ‘Crack’ hike.  At 1,165 feet (355m), The Crack is one of the highest points in the Lacloche Mountains and this part of Ontario.  The parking area for the trail head was a few kilometres back up the road.

I set off on the hike at about 1 p.m.  Initially the trail follows an old logging road through the birch forest and it’s quite level and easy walking, save a few muddy puddles.

Early trail in Killarney Provincial Park, following the old logging road

Early trail in Killarney Provincial Park, following the old logging road

The hike is about 4 km one way and just before the halfway point, they’ve built some raised sections on wooden planks and then you arrive at the Kakakise Creek and cross a short wooden footbridge, after which the trail follows the short of Kakakise Lake before abruptly turning away and then the real fun begins!


The elevation quickly starts building and you climb ever-upward, clambering over tree roots, clinging to poorer and poorer soil. Then you start to reach some of the quartzite rock outcrops, where you have to start using some handholds on tree limbs, trunks or rock to pull yourself up.  This is no mean feat with a 40 lb. camera bag strapped to your back and a tripod in your free hand.

I rested on one of the large outcrops before making the final assent of The Crack and took some photos looking south.  It was breathtaking and there was surprisingly still quite a bit of colour.  I had this vast view and space completely to myself.  This is one of the things I really miss being in the UK.  Even when you go on a hike there, you are bound to run into plenty of other people, whereas here you get complete solitude.

Rested, I pressed on to the final and most difficult part of the trail.  Essentially, you have to climb over 2 to 8 foot boulders, which sit in a huge crevasse blocking the path to the summit.  Making it worse, they’re not all fixed in place, some of them rock and wobble as you climb over them.  Keeping my footing and balance, especially with a shifting lead weight strapped to my back, was extremely tough.  I made it thought and the effort was so worth it as the views from the top are nothing short of spectacular…

I spent quite a while here, taking many photos and then putting the camera down, just looking out and being at one with yet another special place.  I was so blessed to be here and have this amazing view to myself.  From here you look out over crystal clear lakes to the north and to the northwest I could just make out the glistening waters of Georgian Bay.

After 20 minutes or so, I started my descent, which if anything was even more perilous than the climb.  Your weight when headed downhill is thrown forward, making it even more difficult to keep your balance and footing.  A couple of times rocks moved and I slightly sprained my ankles.  It was so exhausting.

The trail where it’s steep isn’t so well marked, as there aren’t as many trees or places to put the markers.  This was a slight problem at a couple points on the ascent, but I quickly found the trail again.  The same, sadly, cannot be said for the descent.  I missed a trail marker, but thought I was on the right path only for it to become narrower and less easy to follow.   I walked on thinking I knew where I’d gone wrong.  I got more and more tired and had to climb down some very steep rock formations, to reach the forest canopy of pines, maples and birch and at this time of years the floor is covered with a lot of fallen leaves, making it both slippery under foot and hard to trudge through.   The more tired I got, the more confused I became and although I didn’t realise it at the time, the more lost.


I headed down and down and down, thinking mistakenly, that if I did so, I’d end up at Lake Kakakise and pick up the trail again. Oh how wrong I was! I came to a lake, but it was Kidney Lake, which is higher up, quite boggy and lined with dead trees.  The shore is very steep sided, so essentially it’s just a depression and not where I wanted to be,  nor anywhere near the path.

Time was steadily marching on and I was getting more and more tired and slowly panic was beginning to set in.  By this time, it was late afternoon and I was very conscious there was probably only a couple hours of usable light left.  Then what?  It was overcast, so there’d be no moonlight, so it’d be pitch black.  I’d have to break camp for the night.  I’ve not done this since childhood and then it was with other scouts and scout leaders and full camping gear.  I had nothing but a tripod, jacket and camera gear!  I’d also exhausted the bottle of water I’d taken too, so was getting more and more thirsty.

I had a map with me, but I wasn’t sure where I was in the park, so that wasn’t much use.  It was remote enough, there was no cell phone service.  Then I remembered, that my iPhone has a compass app.   I headed close to Kidney Lake again, got out the map and the iPhone and was able to figure out where I was and what direction I needed to head to pick up the trail, but I estimated, I was a good couple kilometres off track.

I pressed on, plodding through the slippery, leaf-strewn terrain, through thickets of branches, over unstable rocks, occasionally straining my ankles a bit further.  I continued on the heading my compass and map indicated would eventually lead me to the trail.  By this time, there was about an hour of daylight left.  I was getting quite desperate.  In all my time in Canada, I’ve never felt fearful being outdoors, but now I was.  Miles from anyone, no food, no water, no shelter… but I did remember some basic navigation skills.

Imagine my relief, when I climbed over a ridge and saw a trail marker!   However, I was a long way from the Explorer and the light was fading.  I was so exhausted.  Each step was laboured.  Many were unsteady.  I pressed on.  My ankles hurt, I was thirsty and my entire body ached.   I pressed on and on and eventually came to the foot bridge, then the halfway marker (2 km to go).  That last 2 km seemed endless.  I had another bottle of water in the car and I craved it so much!

Finally, at just after 6 p.m. I emerged in the trail head car park, relieved but totally drained.  I unlocked the car, got the unbearable weight of the camera gear off my back and slung the tripod in, before flopping into the driver’s seat and pouring the water down my parched throat.

I got a signal on my phone and immediately logged on to let my friends in North Bay know I was ok and that I was about to depart for the nearly 3-hour drive back.

The Canadian wilderness taught me a big lesson on this day and while I still find it beautiful, I have a new-found respect for it.

What do you think?

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Nothing worse than the sun setting and you’re still on the trail unplanned without any gear. That picture though – wow, incredible. I’d like to do this hike – maybe this summer.


21 November 2016

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