View topic - A Portage Too Far - George-Killarney-Threenarrows loop

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PostPosted: August 1st, 2019, 2:53 pm 
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Joined: March 18th, 2019, 7:54 pm
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Location: Brampton
George - Freeland - Killarney - Threenarrows - Artist - O.S.A. - Killarney - Freeland - George
Estimated distances - 45km flat water, 7,420m portages

Not everything went as expected. We set out for a five day trip, with a day of rest on day three. It was Sarah (the missus), John (my brother), Scott (an old friend of John's), and me. Sarah had recently recovered from a shoulder injury, I was still nursing what I now know to be a grade 1 ACL sprain and patellar tendon strain, and John is type 1 diabetic. Scott though, was a **** tank, (he went into what he calls "Tank Mode" several times on this trip) and we will be forever grateful for his efforts.

Day 1

We arrived at the campground at around 4PM, an hour behind schedule, after arranging the boat rentals from Killarney Outfitters, and checked in. George Lake fills up quickly, and we had to take the first site available, site #4. Having failed to scout the thunderbox, we realized after setting up camp that it was a 50 to 100 foot climb up the ridge. This site is quite steep, but flat tent pads are there, although one or two is some distance from the landing and fire pit, and not immediately obvious. Dinner was steak and potatoes that night, the only fresh meal of the trip, not counting scrambled eggs,

Day 2

We were on the water by around 9AM after a breakfast of protein bars and trail mix - this was going to be a gruelling day, the most difficult of the trip. Our plan for the day was to pass through Freeland Lake into Killarney Lake, turn east, and hike the 3K portage into Threenarrows Lake, making camp on Threenarrows that evening.

The portage into Freeland Lake is easy - the ends of this flat, short portage are literally a stone's throw from each other. Freeland Lake is a shallow lake, which proved mildly irritating with our ottertail paddles regularly hitting the bottom or getting dragged by various aquatic plant life. At the east end of Freeland Lake is the portage into Killarney Lake. This landing is best described as a swamp, at least when we got there. We could not land the canoes on dry land and were forced to pull them while wading through this swampy landing. It was a gorgeous day, and the portage was quite full with day paddlers going into/out of Killarney Lake. The portage itself is relatively easy, about 400m in length, ending at a shallow rocky outcrop where we stopped briefly for snacks and to filter water.

It's a relatively short paddle to the 3K into Threenarrows, and the portage is easily visible without binoculars if you head for the north shore and bear east. We stopped at this trailhead for a lunch of bagels and peanut butter, and worked on a plan to tackle this hike. The entrance to this trail is quite steep, and continues steep for roughly, I'd say, 200m or so. The trail begins to level off and passes through a rather picturesque forest.

Now, although every report we were able to find described this trail is "relatively flat and easy", notwithstanding the incline at the beginning, this was definitely not the case. Most of it is flat(ish), but there are sections that are quite steep, sections that depending on water levels can get quite swampy, and there are several obstacles along the way that make it extremely difficult to carry a canoe across solo without damaging it. The trail is reasonably well maintained though, with several boardwalks having been build along the way. There are several treacherous stream crossings rife with wet rocks you are forced to walk over, with steep inclines both on the approach and far side.

We were not prepared for a portage of this difficulty. We managed to get all of our gear to the end of the trail, where it opens into a small unnamed pond before another 400m portage. But the trail sapped us of all remaining energy. I ran into Scott near the end of the trail, who had just hauled the 90 pound SealLine pack to the end, and we resupplied water to bring back to John and Sarah, who were still hauling packs. After meeting them on the trail, Scott and I continued back to start bringing the canoes to the pond. Scott had hit the wall. I'm no medical expert, but it sure looked like his glucogen reserves were gone. He was visibly wobbling, unsteady, and far past the point of exhaustion as we were backtracking to retrieve the canoes. I had to force him to rest for fear he would lose his footing on the stream crossings. We managed to get the canoes at least halfway across the portage before, between his exhaustion and my sprained knee, we had to abandon the effort. We sat on the seats, bent over and broken, catching our breath, barely able to stand. Scott, long before that point, was too exhausted to even double carry, having carried the 90lb SealLine pack 3km and a canoe 1km. How I had just carried a canoe solo for over a kilometre at that level of exhaustion, with a sprained knee, was utterly beyond me. I set off a bear banger as a call for help from John and Sarah, who by now had finished hauling the packs to the pond and were restocking our water supplies again - we did not feel able to continue the rest of the way without at least moral support from someone in better condition. I can now confidently say, they are extremely effective as sound signals. They heard us from probably 1500M away, in mountainous terrain (which may have actually helped carry the sound further through the pass), in dense forest cover. When John arrived, full of stamina and vigour, we were able to muster enough strength to hike to the pond.

We made emergency camp at the trail's end, at the pond. The frogs kept trying to eat any ropes were were working with that snaked along the ground. That was cute. Dinner was freeze dried, which required no dishwashing and little fuel. We were already losing the light. Although we so wanted a fire, to make this spot our home for the night, the ground was covered, everywhere in at least an inch duff, most of it dead pine needles. A fire would have been too risky.

Day 3

The next morning's breakfast was instant packaged oatmeal and tea. As I was pulling the boiled water off the stove for tea, I had forgotten to lock the pot lifter. It folded over, and knocked over the stove, setting the duff on fire. I was lucky all the water did not spill, for I would have been unable on my knee to stomp that fire out. Turns out, we were quite correct about the fire risk. John and Scott set out down the trail to retrieve the canoes, as my knee had taken too much abuse the day before to risk further injury, while Sarah and I broke camp and repacked the gear, which was now lying in an unorganised heap under a tarp. By the time both canoes had made it the trail's end, it was 3PM. We were not quick in the morning, and were now a full day behind schedule.

Our other issue at this point was our water filter. It had by now completely plugged and stopped producing water. A Katadyn, too, no less. We had brought water purification tablets as a backup, but it was our only backup, as we did not have sufficient fuel to boil water in large enough quantities, and the Bugaboo mess kit we brought really can't be used over an open fire. I carry a steel army canteen for this purpose, but that was effectively our only method of boiling water while not exhausting our fuel reserves.

The final portage into Threenarrows Lake is pretty easy. Nice landings on both sides, not too steep, and well maintained, and although not marked from the southern side, is relatively easy to find. We briefly rested at the put-in to Threenarrows and stocked up on water, and now realized that we had lost a Nalgene bottle on that 3K portage, further dwindling our capacity to produce enough water.

We made camp on Threenarrows at the first site we found, site #51. It's quite a nice site, with clear water available, camp furniture on three sides of the fire, and plenty of space for tents. The thunderbox is a bit of a hike, but it's an easy hike. The site and surroundings were awash with ripe blueberries, a welcome treasure to find. Dinner was delicious, dehydrated pasta that John had prepared before the trip.

Day 4

With this being our first chance to lay out and dry our gear, after a breakfast of scrambled eggs on pita bread, we took more time in the morning than we perhaps should have, setting out much more refreshed and in far better spirits now, but at 12PM. The paddle through Threenarrows Lake was relatively uneventful, just a couple of motorboats along the way who kindly slowed as they passed and exchanged pleasantries.

This brought us to The Pig. The entrance to this portage from Threenarrows Lake is imposing enough on its own, even before you set down the trail. We didn't stop for long, aware of how tough this one would be. The plan was to get the top with our gear, return for the canoes, and then head down with the same plan. Going at The Pig from its north side is, for lack of a better word, soul-crushing. The littered remains of long dead vehicles that never made the return trip sit, rusting, for eternity. I would estimate it's a 500 to 700 metre climb up a 30 to 45 degree incline, over bare rock - quite often, loose or slippery rocks. Upon reaching the top, it was decided that John and Scott would double the canoes up this mountain, while Sarah and I would head to the end with packs. Sarah and I reached the end at Artist Lake and she remained there while I went back to assist with canoes, as her hips were now becoming quite painful from the hike and likely a pack that was not quite adjusted properly. When I reached the top again, John and Scott had brought one canoe to it, and were almost to the top with the second. We caught our breath, and realized John's blood sugar was dangerously low and all the standby carbohydrates were at the far end of the trail. Pulling some M&M's and raisins out of some trail mix, he was able to get himself back up and running.

Scott now carried the SealLine, now weighing in at only 70lbs, while John and I doubled a canoe down the mountain. Upon reaching Artist Lake, the time was now 6:30PM, with one pack and one canoe still at the summit. Again we left Sarah at Artist Lake, this time with a can of bear spray. It was quite stupid, in retrospect, to leave her with no defence from wildlife, alone, at a trailhead. John now carried his pack down the ridge, while Scott and I doubled the remaining canoe. We reached Artist Lake with all boats and gear at around 8PM. It was another emergency camp. I realized after the trip, this was actually quite a bad spot to camp (not that we had much choice though). Artist Lake at this end is chock full of beaver and otter lodges, which although I can't confirm this, would I think be very inviting to hungry bears, not to mention camping on a portage is a bad idea to begin with for the same reason. Dinner that night was the remaining eggs, scrambled, on pita bread. Not one egg had broken on the entire trip, and that was a really nice sign that some things were going as planned.

The sky was clear that night, and the stars were spectacular; alone, they were worth the all brutality of the preceding days. There was a half waning moon, so it didn't come out until well into the night. Venus, in its solitude as the brightest star in the sky, cast a reflecting sliver of light along the lake. The moon was equally breathtaking; upon rising at 4AM or so to nature's call, the half moon alone lit up the landscape enough to navigate by.

Day 5

Sarah arose that morning at the crack of dawn and began performing the domestics, stopping to watch a family of baby otters frolicking in the cool morning sun. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and tea again, which was becoming by this point an emergency camp staple. We had to filter water through a t-shirt before treating it with water tablets, as were were drawing it from a marsh now.

This was the last day, and were were supposed to have been two portages further, camping on Muriel Lake, at this point. We could see we were gaining a lot of our lost time back by this point. The next portage is only marked as 140m, but it's a doozy. The landing you spot is not the landing you want necessarily. It leads to a very unstable path across a stream controlled by a beaver dam, and then up a steep incline at the end, where your path is blocked by trees if you're carrying a canoe. There is another trail across, on river left, that ascends a hill 50' or so above the stream. But getting the boats up to it would be difficult. It's a landing with what is easily a 45 degree slope up nothing but bare rock. You'd likely have to pull the boats to the top with rope, with your feet firmly on level ground, from the top. We chose to get the boats past this incline on river right, and pass them over the stream with a team of three, and then continue to the landing. We marked the proper trail with flagging tape, hopefully saving some future fellow travellers some time. Kevin Callan's account this trip makes this portage, the next pond/lake, and the portage after that, as a single, 900m portage from Artist to Muriel lake, which I believe he travelled sometime around 1985. Since then, a beaver dam has been built that raised Artist Creek into a pond, and split the portage in two.

It was now a short paddle through another unnamed pond, to the portage to Muriel Lake, which was one of the easiest portages of the trip. Muriel Lake is quite lovely, and it sure would have been nice to spend the night there. We paddled far enough to find a odd pair of canoes on the shore, at a trailhead that was not marked on the map. I believe the trail goes to Gulch Hill, which may be the second highest point in the park, but I'd need to ask people more familiar with the park to confirm that.

The port to O.S.A. Lake is marked as double-exclamation-pointy on the Unlostify maps. It's really not that tough, just one steep incline and a bit of a trek through some possibly marshy/swampy areas. At the put-in to O.S.A. Lake, we unfortunately lost all of Sarah's trail mix after it tipped over with the lid not fully secured. O.S.A. lake is gorgeous - the water is still clear enough to see the bottom 30' down. We passed quite a few groups that appeared to be base camping on this lake. There are then two portages to Killarney Lake - affectionately called "the long one" and "the short one". We were directed to the short one by a fellow group. It was passable for us, but would likely not be in lower water conditions. There's a very small beaver dam controlling the water level where you put in, almost creating a separate lake, that we had to lift over. O.S.A. Lake was uneventful with a good tailwind, and we had some time to stop and appreciate the view, and Sarah even went for a short swim, unable to resist the water.

Now it was back to Freeland Lake. When we reached the portage to Freeland, there was a storm brewing, and we could hear thunder in the far distance. A north wind was building. We were mentally preparing ourselves to be windbound for a night on George Lake, as wind would not likely stop us on Freeland Lake, but it damn sure could on George Lake. We were fortunate, and the storm passed north and east of us. We finished the remaining portion of the trip through George Lake and reached the campground by 8PM, 5 hours behind schedule, and with enough time for me to get my Friends Of Killarney hat pin to commemorate the trip.

Lessons learned:

If you're using gravity filters, use one with a backflush capability, and use ceramic filters. And bring a spare filter. We did not.

Do long portages, especially the ones less travelled, at the beginning of the day. One of our biggest mistakes was doing it at the end of the day.

If you have a diabetic in your group, keep spare sugar everywhere. Packs get left on long portages, and you may lack time to go get sugar, especially when the physical activity can lower blood sugar by five points in an hour.

Bring at least one container that can be used to boil large quantities of water over a fire, unless you are carrying sufficient fuel to boil water for the entire trip. Because shit happens.

Bring instant soup mix - Sarah's pain and exhaustion on day 4 left her almost unable to digest solid food.

But most of all - unless you have experience tripping with an injury, it will slow you down more than you think. A lot more.

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Last edited by PacketFiend on August 14th, 2019, 12:47 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: August 2nd, 2019, 5:53 am 
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Joined: December 21st, 2016, 2:10 pm
Posts: 89
Location: Courtice Ont
Sounds like a trip full memories (some better then others) lol. I chimed in on your original post and feel bad that i didn't go into more specifics with that 3km port. Sometimes people take for granted that everyone knows areas, lakes, ports etc etc. Personally, I hate the port from Killarney into Kakakise the most. Not to mention your gear, a 90lb pack???? OMG. I went through my notes and saw when my daughter & I did the last trip thru there my pack was 27lbs, hers was 20lbs and my canoe is 42lbs. So all of our gear is less then your one pack lol. Safely say I don't think i'd carry a 90lb pack from my house to my car let alone on a 3km port.
Hopefully your next trip is full of lollipops and unicorns, even though they can be boring lol.

Cheers


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PostPosted: August 2nd, 2019, 1:17 pm 
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Joined: March 18th, 2019, 7:54 pm
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Location: Brampton
90 pounds is of course an estimate, and may be a fish story. Certainly no lighter then 70lbs though when we set out. And yeah, we're working on lighter gear slowly but surely, but it ain't cheap. Much of my gear is army surplus, and while extremely durable and cost-effective, army gear ain't light. I took the inner bag from my extreme cold weather sleeping bag to see how well it performed. Extremely comfortable, and packed down to nearly nothing in size, but not light by any stretch (100% down fill).

As for the 3K, I'm not holding the reports against anyone. I really should have taken reports of it with a grain of salt, as it is not frequently travelled. The two most reliable reports I could find, from Killarney Outfitters and Kevin Callan's account of the same trip, both described it similarly, as did all the other firsthand reports I could muster.

But wow, a 27 and a 20 pound pack? Our food alone weighed at least 50 pounds (we took a bit too much perhaps).

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PostPosted: August 8th, 2019, 12:22 pm 
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What site would have been your first pick on George Lake?


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PostPosted: August 13th, 2019, 8:40 am 
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Location: Lakefield, ON
Killarney absolutely spellbinds me. Yeah, there are other parks which are really great too, but Killarney wins the prize based on what I've experienced thus far in life.

On day four you were describing the stars and this is one of a few different reasons as to why Killarney really scratches an itch for me.

I've spent weeks out in the woods at this point in my life and Killarney is the only place I've been to that has consistently delivered those mesmerizing night time skies! Even though my trips there have been mostly rainy or overcast, Killarney has always offered up at least one night of absolutely breath taking night time skies.

As for the rest of the report, it seems like you're going to have to do some number crunching in the future to pair back your overall kit weight. It's a constantly evolving process that I don't think anyone claims to have completely nailed down.

I think the rest of your issues probably stem from being a little over-ambitious in your planning given the group you had. These things happen, and I think anyone who takes this stuff seriously has done it.

All in all, it sounds like everyone got out no worse for the wear, so that sounds like a win to me.

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PostPosted: August 13th, 2019, 11:19 am 
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We need “Light Jay” to come to the rescue!

Really enjoyed your report. In a twisted sort of way it’s fun to read of others tales of misfortune.

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PostPosted: August 13th, 2019, 3:21 pm 
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I remember reading Kevin Callan's Killarney guide book and being a bit perplexed at how he seemed to knock off a couple more mile long portages to just round out a day in some of his routes. I can't help wondering if he's slowed down at all over the years.

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PostPosted: August 13th, 2019, 10:52 pm 
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Location: Brampton
@campingoverglamping - if I knew then what I know now, I would have picked site #6 on George Lake (it was in fact our hopeful backup if we got stormbound on the last day), it's on a point close to the port to Freeland Lake, just to the north. I've never seen it, but it's been described to me as the best site on the lake. The others are rather steep.

I suppose that's something else I'll need to take in now - many of the trip reports I read are written by folks younger than me, and while I still imagine myself a 20-something, I'm no longer a 20-something. Take into account the physical condition and age of whomever wrote the report before I take it at face value. Kevin Callan was barely out of highschool when he did that trip, and I'm 40 now. Not that I'm old, but that does make a difference.

As for being over ambitious, I make no apologies. It's Killarney, and I took what I could get, and I was lucky to book what I did. I knew it would be tough. I just didn't know it would be that tough.

But as for the spellbindiness... I went there once with my mother (may she rest in peace) and brother, I'd say about 25 years ago. I was 12 or 13 years old, maybe fifteen. I never forgot it. Ever since then, I've wanted to return. I even remembered specific landscapes, specific peaks, from one three-nighter, that long ago, in the early 90s. It truly is that beautiful. The waters aren't as clear any longer (and that's a good thing), but it is no less spellbinding. If anyone reads this, go to Killarney if you ever get the chance. It will take your breath away, and you will forever yearn to take it back.

Ten thousand poets with all their words could not describe the beauty of Killarney.

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