Killarney
Credit: Kevin Callan

Our time on Gail Lake was a highlight of the trip.

The lake had only one campsite, which meant we had the entire place to ourselves for the two nights we planned on staying. It was our own secret oasis, surrounded by the La Cloche Mountains and mature red pine forest. We spent the time baking blueberry turnovers, swimming, mending gear and taking naps — lots of naps.

The only downfall of our Gail Lake layover was dealing with a bunch of canned food some idiot canoeists had left behind. They had placed tins of spaghetti sauce, cream corn and Carnation milk under a moderate-sized boulder close to the campfire ring. I’m guessing they were novice paddlers who didn’t realize how silly (and illegal) it was to pack canned food into Killarney’s interior, and how placing what remained under a boulder would do little to persuade a bear from coming into camp for a free meal. Human feces was also found directly in the middle of one of the tent rings. Who would do such a thing?

Finding the canned food, and carrying it out, was infuriating to me. Finding the human waste made it even worse. It seems there’s so much self-interest going on out there in the woods. I see fewer people leaving behind a bit of firewood for the next person; trashed campsites and graffiti decorating rock cliffs seem to be commonplace; and a lot of paddlers don’t even bother to say hello while passing you on the portage.

It’s interesting, actually. A few years back I wrote an article on the "hermits of the north." I interviewed three individuals who decided to escape society and live alone in the wilderness. When I asked them all what would be the demise of the human species on this planet, they all answered the same: self-interest. It wasn’t pollution, nuclear holocaust or a zombie apocalypse. It was people not thinking of anyone except themselves.

Our way out of Great Mountain was nasty. A three-kilometre-plus portage. Thankfully, most of it was downhill. It still took us a good three-and-a-half hours to complete. We met other paddlers en route, making the time go by quicker. The first group was a youth camp. What a great group to meet on the trail! They were singing camp songs and generally having a good time while struggling along the steep portage. The mood of the second group we met had a somewhat different flavour. It was a bunch of young guys, dressed in army fatigues, with big knifes and overloaded packs. It seemed to be a trip of “survival” rather than a good time out enjoying the wilderness. They were only a quarter the way along and had started to curse and throw gear down on the portage in disgust. One of them asked my daughter how much further to the end. She looked at me and whispered, “Should I lie and say they’re almost there?”

A positive attitude can go a long way while on trip. My daughter has learned that over all the years. After the Great Mountain portage it began to rain, and we couldn’t find an unoccupied campsite on David Lake until we reached the opposite end of the lake. Camp was set up late, dinner was made in the dark, but Kyla was in good spirits the entire time. She was more worried about the group of guys we met on the portage and was hoping the youth camp had come across them to help out.

Two more nights were spent on David Lake, giving us a full-day of hiking up to Silver Peak. It’s a five-hour ramble up and back. But it’s worth it. The summit is the highest point in the park, providing a panoramic view of the surrounding mountain range. The top ridges are also carpeted with blueberry bushes, holding berries almost the size of bird’s eggs. It’s also a destination for many park users. We came across 30 people walking the ridgetop. There were times I wondered if the neighbouring, lesser-known mounds of quartzite could be just as good. It was my daughter’s first time to the Silver Peak summit, however, and she was ecstatic to reach the top of the La Cloche mountain range.

(...to be continued)

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