In the spring of 2015 Mark Highfield and I completed the 77km La Cloche Trail in Killarney Provincial Park. We had such an enjoyable experience and we’re gluttons for punishment so we set out again in April of 2016 to complete this hike in the more difficult counterclockwise direction.
It’s been one year since we completed our trip and we thought that it was time to look back, tell our story and share our experience.
(If you are looking for some additional information on the La Cloche Trail we have a full breakdown on the trail and what it has to offer HERE and some tips on completing a successful hike in Killarney HERE).
Day 1 – April 25th, 2016:
My day started with a 2 hour drive to Toronto in morning rush hour traffic. The stop and go traffic of Hwy 401 was a stark reminder for me of why I needed to go on this trip. I picked Mark up and we set out north. We were forced to make a stop in Barrie at the local MEC because I was unable to find my rain jacket and I was forced to purchase a new one (MEC Hydrofoil 5).
$150 later and we were back in the car and heading north on Hwy 400. We made one last quick stop in Parry Sound for gas and lunch. We were racing the clock because we knew that the park office at George Lake closed at 3:30pm and it was going to be tight.
We pulled into the parking lot at 2:55pm.
So far everything had been going as planned but I’m sorry to say that that was all about to change.
You may recall that we have made the recommendation to book your sites in advance. Being that we were travelling in April and last year we didn’t see any other hikers on the trail, we thought that it would be fine to skip the reservation process and book upon arrival. We were wrong.
Our original plan was to camp at George Lake and then head out early, ending at site H47 for our first night. Well George Lake wasn’t open for car camping so we figured we would just go in a few kilometers. If we booked site H50 we could still make it to site H47 with only a modest 10km hike through some of the trail’s toughest terrain. It turns out that site H47 was booked. What about site H46? Booked. And so on and so on. The closest site we could book for our second night was H37. Mark and I looked at each other and said “what the hell”. This threw off our entire trip plan and we were forced to make changes on the fly.
As we stepped out of the Park Office we shared a glance that said more than any conversation; what have we just signed up for? With a shrug and a smile we made our way back to the car and began to unload our gear.
Within minutes we had our packs (weighing in between 45 and 50lbs) were comfortably secured and we made our way through the campground to the trailhead. Minutes before reaching the trailhead Mother Nature decided to tease us; it started to snow. It was all that we could to do suppress our laughter.
It was going to be an adventure and that is exactly what we were both looking for.
We covered the 5km to site H50 without incident and quickly set up camp. The snow had continued and by 6pm we were getting accumulation. Mark was in charge of dinner for that evening and treated us to a couple of stone fried steaks with some potatoes and onion. Consider that the rest of our meals for the trip would be of the dehydrated variety, it was perfect. After cleaning up, hanging our food and preparing for the next day, we lounged by the fire before turning in for the night.
Day 2 – April 26th:
We woke to several inches of snow on the ground. Neither of us were surprised, but considering the day ahead of us it was worrisome. Our original plan was to make our way up to site H47 which would have been about 10km. This modest hike was planned because of the aggressive nature of the trail. Unfortunately with that site booked we were forced to travel to H37 which we later realized would mean hiking nearly 18km through some of the most difficult terrain that the La Cloche Silhouette trail had to offer.
We gorged ourselves on breakfast burritos, broke camp and set out at 8am. The trails were snow covered but still easy to follow (the entire trail is well marked) and we didn’t run into any challenges until we hit The Crack. This famous section of the trail climbs steadily and then passes through a massive fissure; ending with an amazing view of Killarney Provincial Park. The challenging part for us that morning was that all of the rocks were covered with snow and ice making the ascent treacherous. It took some time, but we made it to the top and spent a few minutes admiring the view.
Our day continued and we made several stops to refuel and rest. We were making good time and happened upon a few other hikers completing the clockwise loop. Everyone was friendly and it is always nice to come across other hikers on the trail; it always seems to add a little pep to your step.
The day was grinding on and the trail was challenging. Not only were we completing the route in the most difficult direction (most of the toughest terrain is early when your packs are the heaviest) but we had spring runoff, flooding and deep sections of snow to contend with.
By 3pm we were low on energy and still had a long way to travel. Mentally we hit a wall once we got to the campsite that we originally wanted, site H47. Our poor planning meant that we needed to travel an extra 7.5km and that was a tough pill to swallow. Why hadn't we booked our sites in advance?
We trekked on and as our energy continued to drop we stopped talking to each other. It was awkward but after hiking for so long we both just needed to focus on our destination.
At 6pm that evening we stumbled onto our site and the mood immediately improved. After 10 hours on the trail we had both recorded our longest day hikes to date and we were exhausted. Along with this feeling of exhaustion we both felt a lot of pride. We split up the camp chores and hit the sleeping bags early that night.
Day 3 – April 27th:
We slept well that night and crawled out of our sleeping bags late. The extra rest was welcomed and because of our big day of hiking the day before, we actually had a shorter hike to our next site. In total we were planning about 11.5km over to site H33 on Little Mountain Lake. I was sore but after getting up and moving around I started to loosen up.
We broke camp at about 10am and set out. The weather had cleared and the hiking conditions were greatly improved. It also helped that a good portion of the terrain that we covered was rather tame in comparison to what we had done the previous day. Shortly into the hike we had the option of climbing Silver Peak. This particular side trail would add 3.8km up a very aggressive hill to the highest point in Killarney Provincial Park. We debated taking the trip but opted not to as we had completed it last year and we were both tired from our previous day’s hike.
By midday we had already covered the majority of distance and we again met a few others who were hiking in the other direction. We provided them with some trail updates and warned them of some slippery, snow and ice covered sections. Mark and I were both focused and we pushed hard so that we could get to camp early and enjoy the afternoon. We pulled into camp at about 3pm enjoyed an afternoon of sunshine by the lake. The wind added a chill to the air, but neither of us seemed to mind. Little Mountain Lake was still partially frozen and only 1 campsite on the lake, we had the entire place to ourselves.
Day 4 – April 28th:
Day 4 brought with it cold morning temperatures and I was not thrilled about climbing out of my warm sleeping bag at 6:30am. Today we would be travelling a demanding 12.5km to campsite H21.
This section of trail is some of the least travelled as it is the furthest point from either of the trailheads. Hikers are treated to some of the most spectacular, beautiful and isolated areas of Killarney.
The first challenge before us was climbing what can only be described as a cliff. In about 500m the elevation increases 143m. The going was slow and we were cautious; an injury at this point would be devastating.
From here we wandered into some heavily treed areas that rolled through the hills. Being that it was spring and the trees were bare, there was an eerie feel. There was a lot of run off and the small rivers and streams flooded over their banks.
We stopped for a snack just before making our descent through Moose Pass and enjoyed the view. The day was clear and the weather was warming up. It was an incredible feeling and I suddenly felt bad for all the people that would never get to enjoy it.
Moose Pass is a neat little area. It is a large crevice that you hike through to get down the mountain. In April there is still a considerable amount of snow in the pass and if there isn’t snow, there’s water. It was slow going and messy, but it was a much nicer experience going down instead of up.
That afternoon we had made it to The Waterfall (described on Jeff’s Map as: “when you get to the waterfall, you’ll have to climb up it’s face. The trail doesn’t go around”). Mark and I had been excited about this since our experience here last year. And this year we had an idea. We really wanted to get some unique video footage and I think that the custom video rig that we designed did the trick. You tell us! (Click for theVIDEO CLIP)
Shortly after The Waterfall there is a steep vertical ascent of about 30m. By this point in the day we were both tired, wet (thanks to The Waterfall) and I was experiencing a lot of knee pain. By 5pm we limped our way onto site H21. After completing our camp chores we enjoyed Pad Thai by the fire, chatted about the day's events and soon called it a night. With most of the trails toughest terrain beyond us it was going to be easy from here on out, or at least that’s what we thought at the time.
Day 5 – April 29th:
Day 5 brought with it the regular routine that we had adhered to all week; wake up, make breakfast, break camp, hit the trail. We hoisted our packs, which were thankfully getting lighter each day, and set out at 9am.
Today we would be travelling 14km through the Threenarrows section of the trail and setting up camp for our final night at site H8. This section for the trail proved to be much easier than most of the terrain we saw the previous 4 days and for this we were thankful. My knee was still bothering me and I had this strange feeling that my big toenail was coming off.
We had perfect weather for hiking and the twisting, turning trail in this section follows the shorelines closely. It was exciting to revisit some of the locations from our trip the year prior and the mood was pretty positive. We didn’t push our pace and enjoyed a nice lunch on site H16 on Threenarrows Lake.
By 3pm that afternoon we had made it to site H8, our final site for the trip. Within an hour we had the site setup with enough firewood and water to last us the evening. We settled in enjoying the late April weather, relaxed, reminisced about the trip so far and lamented the fact that it was all over after tomorrow.
Day 6 – April 30th:
Although I slept alright that night I awoke on Day 6 and I knew that it would be a challenging day on the trail. We had 14km to get back to the trailhead and then a 4 hour drive home. I was also experiencing a lot of pain in my big toe. Every step that I took it seemed that the nail was going to pop off. It was unpleasant.
That evening the temperature dropped and there was a lot of moisture in the air. Everything was damp and you could feel the chill in your bones. We were further discouraged that morning because the high waters of the Kirk Creek forced us to use a bridge upstream which would add an additional 3km to our trip.
By this point in the trip we had our morning routine dialed and it seemed automatic. We split the chores and were packed up in no time. I taped up my toe which helped, but I knew that it was going to be a long day of hiking. I was reassured by the fact that we had some of the easier La Cloche terrain ahead of us. We broke camp at about 8am and we were hoping to be out by about 12pm.
With our pack loaded and slung we headed out.
In 45 minutes we had travelled along the river's edge, crossed the bridge and made to the other side of the river, just across from site H8. We just chuckled. It wasn't long after this and we ran into a couple of other hikers completing the loop clockwise. Whenever we meet people on the trail we like to stop and chat with them. It will be pretty obvious if they are interested in chatting themselves, but most people are happy to share trail details and offer up advice and suggestions. These gentlemen had never completed the La Cloche before and we were able to offer them, what we considered, helpful advice. I hope that they found it useful.
It wasn't long and we ran into another gentleman on the trail. Upon meeting up with this fellow Mark and I both glanced at each other and I hate to sound pompous but we both knew that he was not ready for what was to come. By his own admission he was inexperienced and looking at his footwear (running shoes) and his pack (overloaded and overstuffed) we could tell this was true. He even mentioned that he ate a lot of food the night before to lighten his pack. I have been that hiker before and everyone has to learn, but the La Cloche Silhouette trail is not the place to cut your teeth as a hiker. Mark and I did our best to do some realistic expectation setting of the difficult trail ahead, bid farewell and headed on. I often wonder how this gentleman made out.
Canoeist in Killarney Provincial Park will likely be familiar with The Pig. This is a particular challenging 1280m portage between The Pool and Threenarrows Lake with a steep incline and decline. It is a difficult section of trail, but it is almost laughable after some of the terrain that we have already covered. Mark and I joked that “it's cute", but I guess it's easy to do that without a canoe on your back.
We made great time and crossed the bridge into George Lake Campground just before 12pm. Our 73km journey had come to any end. Both Mark and I were tired and sore but happy to have experienced such an incredible 6 days. The 2 beer that we had packed on ice were still cold and they couldn't have been a better welcome back to civilization.