Killarney Provincial Park
(This column was first published in the May 30, 2004 issue of The Buffalo Sunday News.)
I had never heard of this park when Dave Chaves invited me to join a four day canoe trip there in mid-May. Too long away from voyaging, I jumped at the chance.
And what a delightful chance it was. Dave, his brother Marc and their colleagues, Dick Conklin, Wayne Gall, Larry Gosse, Tom Koch and Peter Palumbo are experienced campers whose equipment and cuisine far outstripped anything I had experienced in over thirty years of canoe tripping. And, as the old man on the trip, I was assigned the lightest loads on portages, the fewest jobs in camp. Age, I am learning, does have its benefits. I still, however, thank these outdoorsmen for their forbearance.
Much smaller than Algonquin Provincial Park, Killarney is still almost twice the size of our Allegany State Park. It is easily distinguished from Algonquin and the Minnesota Boundary Waters where I had camped for many years. The gray granite of those parks is displaced here by beautiful white quartzite. Viewed from a distance the towering rock cliffs appear to be snow covered; instead what you see are outcroppings of base rock. And up close the stone is even more attractive: much of it is as smooth and lustrous as fine marble. In some areas we also found pink granite and even a section of black volcanic rock. Needless to say, the geology of this park is spectacular.
Our route took us through Carlyle, Kakakise, Norway, Killarney, O.S.A, Freeland and George Lakes, each seeming more beautiful than its predecessors. O.S.A., I learned, represents the Ontario Society of Artists, a group that was instrumental in founding the park.
Canadian portage distances are now given in meters rather than the rods I was used to. Rods are certainly obsolete, but it was always easy to relate posted carry lengths to 320 rods per mile. I had trouble thinking in terms of 1609 meters in a mile. Still there were only two long carries on this trip, each just under a mile, and happily those were completed on the first two days.
The timing of the trip was perfect. There is a brief window between the date when the ice melts to thunder out through streams and the beginning of the intensely punishing black fly season. Some snow and ice remained on sheltered north slopes but most had gone and, although we were warned that we would have trouble with insects, they proved not yet to be a problem. Most bugs we encountered were non-biting midges.
The wildflower season was far behind that of Buffalo, but wintergreen berries were ripe and we could crush the winter catkins of sweet gale to emit their lovely fragrance. And the warblers were evidently just arriving. Wayne found eight species in one tree.
The weather was far better than I had expected. Two days were sunny, one so foggy we could not see more than fifty yards and the other cloudy with light showers. We did have hard rains but they came on two nights while we were in camp. And the temperatures dropped into the 30s on only one night. My usual luck prevailed with wind, however; it was always against us even when we reversed direction.
Our major undertaking was climbing the spectacular Killarney Ridge. To do so we had to bushwhack around cliffs and deep cuts in the rocks, but the resulting views were well worth it. We could see our whole route and all the way to Georgian Bay as well. This is where I wimped out. I only made it to the top of the first ridge where I chose photography to accomplishment. As if that were not embarrassing enough, we met a group of junior high school girls the next day. Their leader told us they had climbed the same ridge by 7:00 a.m. to have breakfast at the top.
I cannot resist adding a plug here for the Champlain Restaurant near French River. We stopped there for lunch on the way back to Buffalo and found the proprietor hilarious. An authority on cowboys and Indians; foreign frogs and dead fish; guns, knives and kick boxing; he is a fount of country wisdom. To meet him, you'll have to hurry though: the extended Route 400 will take out his tavern this autumn.