Killarney’s world of wind and waves over rock.
Written & Photographed by: Cynthia Percival, Wilderness Traveler
Favourite summer memories are of swimming or venturing out on the water in my canoe or kayak. Over the years when cottage life became too busy, it became my quest to find places of solitude and tranquility, where I could authentically observe nature and be surrounded by its raw majesty. When I discovered the remote wilderness of Killarney it became my perfect solution for summer escapes.
Killarney is a 645 square km section of Canadian Shield laid out along the northern shoreline of Georgian Bay, just north east of Manitoulin Island. The only access over land is via two lane roadway 637, off Hwy. 69, just south of Sudbury. By water, people sensibly arrive by seaworthy vessel since Georgian Bay’s waters can be windy and treacherous with haphazardly submerged rock shoals. The south west of the park is edged by Georgian Bay, an archipelago of 30,000 undulating rock islands, that sprout out of the cold rough waters of unforgiving and uncertain depths. As this shoreline is dotted with thousands of pink rock islands, randomly situated, it becomes a ‘traveler beware journey’ even during the best of weather days.
Killarney’s diverse landscape of freshwater islands and lakes was officially deemed a Biosphere Reserve in 2004 as its Georgian Bay location has a distinctive landscape geography and geology. The granite outcroppings are comprised of intrusive igneous rock, formed from magma that cooled and solidified (crystalized at a depth) within the earth’s mantle more than 570 million years ago. The unique colour of granite found here, some of the rarest in the world, is pink / Salmon due to the high concentrations of potassium feldspar fused together with light quartz and sparkling micas. One can easily marvel at its age and be awestruck how it has evolved through time.
The rugged rocky interior of the park is woven together by a mosaic of sparkling clear lakes, fringed by pockets of forest and set with a backdrop of the spectacular white quartzite La Cloche. The La Cloche mountain range, once higher than the Canadian Rockies, is metamorphosed quartz sandstone, formed 2.5 billion years ago and its steep cliffs are interspersed with cracked monoliths of stone that will really test any hiker who challenges to conquer the view from atop.
Seasoned canoe trippers crave the authentic seclusion here as Killarney’s back country temperament is only tamed by strong and ardent multi-day enthusiasts. As Killarney is a wilderness haven that challenges outdoor enthusiasts like kayakers, canoeists and hikers, it also attracts and inspires artists and photographers. While this distinctly unusual region is worth exploring and experiencing, it will not be a predictable holiday. Championing its extraordinary landforms and landscapes will instill growth of character and foster one’s appreciation for the comforts of home.
The day we venture out onto Georgian Bay by kayak, thankfully the wind is untypically calm. This allows us safe passage across the open section of water to move with ease between the countless secluded chunks of pink granite islands beyond. It’s a delight navigating among these spectacular island masses, each with a distinct character of smooth rock gradually sloping into the water and sporadically topped with groupings of wind-shaped pine trees. Some tree roots hug the bare rock with no apparent dirt to hold onto, while others clump low in moist crevasses, fringed by erratic perennial undergrowth. Somehow, the pines withstand the force of relentless northwest winds, which both stunts their upward growth and influences the direction of their outreaching branches. It is this diversity of compilation; gently rounded rock configurations in all shapes and sizes and artistically shaped trees that will leave you spellbound with creative allure. Below the water’s surface it is another stirring adventure of ever-changing profiles and contours. Seeing clearly six meters or more below me, I am enthused to examine the varying rock depths below, within a world of evolving forms that sometimes suddenly appear or fade away out of sight. An afternoon swim before heading back to camp is refreshing and remains a special memory.
Satisfied with today’s epic discoveries and experiences, we assemble in the lee of an island, in its quiet windless waters, for a rest and an energy snack of berries, nuts and chocolate chips. We share memorable points of today’s excursion and we mentally prepare for a focused paddle, tackling the waters back to the distant shoreline several km away. Heading out, I direct my kayak just upwind of our destination and keep within calling distance in case of needed rescue. Crossing these turbulent waters is like performing an unchoreographed dance as I rise and roll back and forth on each wave, sometimes levering my paddle as a steadying prop up against the next swell. It really is an absolute rush of adrenaline frolicking in the rollers of this dynamic environment.
Canoeing from the George Lake campground is an easy paddle past massive sections of granite rock that cascade steeply into the lake. Every available space is covered with tall mature white pines, stumps in shallow waters and occasional patches of moss that flourish where water is seeping down the rock. Paddling our canoe, we float along the shoreline of this peaceful sanctuary, seeing few other canoeists, just soaking in the stillness of this immense grandeur. Portaging over land into Killarney Lake we pass through Freeland, known as a vanishing lake whose shallow depth, thick with Lily Pads, is a rich habitat for pond and birdlife. The pullout for our canoe here is a mire of slippery brown sludge and we end up covered in mud up to our knees. Happily, we rinse off in the stream mid portage. During lunch we swim in the clear sapphire coloured Killarney Lake and marvel at the white quartzite of the La Cloche range seen off in the distance above the forest’s crown.
Whether kayaking or canoeing in Killarney, experiencing the natural world existing here in symbiotic harmony, generates vivid memories. The isolated wilderness stirs imaginings and its seclusion, rest from routine distractions of life, embodies an intentional awareness, allowing freedom to review perspectives, contemplate possibilities and consider priorities. Recalling my intertwined recollections of Killarney, they incite an unquenchable longing for more, a yearn that will bring me back here again and again.