Killarney Park
Credit: Kevin Callan

The portage out of Nellie and into Murray is insane!

It’s one of the steepest in the park. Good thing we were travelling downhill. It would definitely be an intense cardio workout going uphill. The scenery, of course, is breathtaking, with ridgetops near the west side of the portage’s take-out providing views of where Group of Seven painter, A.Y. Jackson painted “Nellie Lake.” Group of Seven members Lismer and Carmichael introduced this area to Jackson, who later fought for the park’s development.

The portage out of Nellie also marked the exit from the La Cloche Mountains. Our route would now head across the very top end of Killarney Park for a couple days, portaging across slabs of pink granite rather than high mounds of white quartzite.

We camped on one of two island campsites on Van Winkle Lake. The other island was trashed; littered with leftovers from some angler’s fish fry. Pike guts, cooking oil and a spilled can of baked beans were spread around the fire pit. An absolute bear magnet. The culprits must have come over the short portage from one of the northern cottage lakes. Motorboats are allowed in this section, and at times it suffers from the same lack of protection as the main area of the park.

However, this happens to be one of my favourite areas to paddle in Killarney. In fact, I was the volunteer who re-discovered the newly established routes through Panache, Bear and Walter Lake region a few years back when they expanded the northern borders of the park. The main reason I prefer the area is simple — there are fewer people. Most paddlers choose to keep to the areas where white quartzite and crystal-clear lakes dominate. The northern range has a subtle charm of its own, however. There’s a large sense of history here, not to mention lots of fish to catch. The lakes amongst the La Cloche Mountains are beautiful to look at but they are also devoid of life. Quartzite isn’t a good buffer for acid rain, a pollutant created by the smokestacks in nearby Sudbury. That’s why the lakes surrounded by white quartz are always turquoise blue and have limited plant life. The pink granite, however, is able to defend the water quality and allows aquatic plants to thrive — and plenty of fish.

There’s another huge advantage of paddling Killarney’s northern lakes that not a lot of people realize. It’s much easier to access Great Mountain Lake from the north than to portage in from the south. You’ve got a few short carries compared to the three-kilometre trail from the south, which also happens to be uphill along its entire length.

On day five of our trip, we portaged into Great Mountain Lake from the north and stayed two nights on Gail Lake — a small pond just off Great Mountain. There’s one campsite on Gail Lake, which means we had the entire lake to ourselves. This has always been one of my favourite campsites in Killarney, and what a bonus to have it for two full days. Time to relax, swim, do laundry, bake blueberry pie…. be continued.

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