I have always wanted to do a winter backcountry trip in Killarney, but due to the tipi being so heavy and not having a clue where to go, I hadn’t made it there as of yet.
Over the summer, I had stopped in to visit the lovely staff at the office at George Lake. I was doing a 5 day, 4 night solo trip and I had a few questions. I got all the answers I needed and was told to message them or call if I needed any more help.
As Christmas approached, I knew I would be taking some time off between Christmas and New Years and it would be the perfect time to go to Killarney. It’s about a 2.5 hour drive from my place and something I’d prefer to do for more than a one night trip. I contacted the office and asked for help. I told them what I intended and for how long and how far I wanted to go and how difficult a trip I was interested in and they gave me some advice. It was wonderful ! I checked the map and settled on 2 options, just in case I got there and one was already taken and then continued to plan the trip. I would return back to Muskoka Christmas Day eve and when everyone else was rushing to the stores to get deals on boxing day, I’d be on my way to Killarney for a 2 night adventure with my new hot tent. It was finally time to take it out into the backcountry and I could not wait!
I had had a bit of a rough drive home from Niagara Christmas Day eve and wasn’t quite sure if I would get up the next day and head out, or wait a day. I was pretty frazzled, but when I woke up boxing day, I was ready to give it a go. No new snow in the forecast, but it was going to be pretty cold. The forecast had no idea how cold it would get, it seemed, but I would soon find out. I arrived at the office around noon to find the machine out of order. There were cards to fill out to register and pay, so I grabbed one and went to the car to fill it out, then put it in the slot in the door and made my way to the parking lot where I would be leaving my car.
The plan was to leave from The Crack parking lot and head into Sealey Lake and stay near the site there, but not on it as Killarneys winter rules are similar to Algonquins where you must be 30 metres from a summer site and the same distance from a trail. I got to the parking lot and packed up the sled and shortly after was ready to go.
It was very sunny and bright out but it was not warm at all. The temperature was at -25C with the wind chill. Cold but not super duper cold. I started off with my winter jacket on but quickly removed it a few minutes into the trail. Sweat is not my friend out here.
The trail started off great! There were ups and downs but they were mostly very gradual, but not too difficult. The first half of the way into Sealey Lake is the trail to The Crack, so it is wide and had been packed down quite nicely from people visiting the crack. I took my time stopping every few minutes to rest. The sled was heavy, but that was my choice. I opted to bring in a bag of wood and a 4L jug of water, but I wanted to be warm and a wood stove doesn’t get warm without wood. I am getting better at collecting wood in the winter, but still wanted to have one bag as a backup. It was worth it to me. It was also very time consuming to make water from snow, so the jug would help keep me hydrated with little effort. I found it difficult to drink a lot of water when it was cold out so any help would be an asset.
I continued along and was super excited when I reached the turn off to Freeland Lake which was the direction I was headed. It was about halfway to my destination! Turning onto the new trail, however, meant I was no longer walking on the wide. packed down route that I’d been on so far. There was a trail that I could see faintly in the snow and it looked like someone had been on it, but not very recently. There were also lots of trail markers so I didn’t even think about getting lost, which was a good thing!
The scenery was beautiful and the sun shone brightly, but unfortunately didn’t give off much heat. I continued on the trail noticing it was getting more and more difficult as I went along.
As no one had recently been on the trail with a sled that I could tell, I was making my own way. I came up to a creek with what I think had some boards over it but it was very narrow. I unhooked the sled and walked it in my snowshoes packing it down so that the sled didn’t have any questions about where to go. I envisioned it going off the plank into the creek, but thankfully it did not. From there I had a big hill to climb and I filmed the ascent, but the next one, was much much worse!
I literally crawled up that hill on my hands and knees while pulling the sled. I could barely get myself up the hill, it was so steep, and I honestly did not know how I got the sled up it as well, but I guess when there’s a will, there’s a way!
For a while after that, I just had some gradual elevation that seemed like it was never ending, but it was way better than the steep hills and I plugged along. I continued to get closer and closer and was feeling quite good when I came upon an obstacle on the trail. A tree had fallen over and was laying right in my path. I unclipped the sled from my waist and walked around the area to decide on my best plan of attack. I could unpack the entire sled and carry all the items over the log and then repack it, but that would take so long and I honestly didn’t want to do that. I ended up finding a route around the log that looked decent. I walked it 3 times with my snowshoes, packing the snow down and making a nice trail for the sled and happily it worked like a charm! Obstacle overcome!!!
I could now see Sealey Lake and was walking along next to it and around it. I just needed to find the area where the site was and get close enough to use the privy, but far enough to follow the winter park rules. I believe the site was right across from where I was standing above, just under the sun. I happily proceeded knowing I was almost at my destination, but that smile from my face quickly faded when my sled tipped over and almost slid down the embankment onto the lake.
I managed to push the sled rightside up with some grunting and groaning and got it back into the sled track and on my way. I was almost there! Thank goodness. I was getting really tired and even though I wasn’t cold body wise, my face was freezing. I still had lots to do before I would be able to get warm.
I was just about at the site when I started going down a very big hill. The sled pushed me from behind and when I got to the bottom, I was at a creek crossing. I unhooked the sled and walked over the creek making sure it was frozen solid, which it was. I found a path over it and took the sled over but then stopped as I had the biggest hill in the world in front of me! It was steeper than the hill I’d had to crawl up on my hands and knees, but about 5 times the height! I once again unclipped the sled from my waist and walked up the hill, barely making it up with just me and my snowshoes and no gear. How the hell would I get up this hill?
I continued up the hill and followed the trail to the site. Well, at least I’d found it! LOL. I walked a bit farther past the site and found a nice area far enough away and flat enough to camp on that would work great for me. Unfortunately walking in the other direction, before the massive hill from hell was nothing and had no where for me to camp. I would have to go up the hill somehow. I tried and tried but there was no way me and the sled were going up the hill together as it was. I tried to stop and think but standing still for more than a few minutes, made you instantly cold inside due to the sweat from the pull in so I had to think fast. I would have to unpack the sled where it was at the bottom of the hill and carry each item up individually. There was no other way about it. What a pain, but there wasn’t much I could do. I definitely wasn’t walking the 2 hours back to the car now!
I didn’t take many photos because my phone kept shutting off from the cold and I had to keep moving. I didn’t have time to get my charger out and get the phone back up and running and I didn’t want to at that point. I was kind of frustrated about the massive hill and I just wanted to get my stuff up it and get to where I could start setting up. I cursed and swore and struggled but after about a half hour, I got all my stuff up the hill and over to the other side of the campsite where I would set up.
I got the tent set up fairly quickly after that. Thankfully, there was no rock to deal with and the ground was surprisingly not frozen so the stakes went in without issue. I was elated about that! I got the entire tent set up, put the stove in and got my bed etc all set up and then decided to head out and get some firewood. I didn’t have a huge amount of daylight left and I needed to gather as much wood as possible to get me through the cold night.
I grabbed the sled and brought it along to put the wood in. I walked quite a ways from the site in order to keep that wood for the summer campers and searched for wood a good distance from the area I was camping in. I located a few dead trees and got my saw out and started processing the wood. It was dry and would burn nicely alongside the wood I’d brought in. I was so tired and cold but I continued to work until the sun went down and the sky threatened darkness.
I went back to my tent and piled all the wood into the corner so I could access it easily. I then finally allowed myself to start my fire and get warm. I needed to conserve wood as much as possible and that is why I’d waited and stayed out until dark. But now, darkness was here and it was time to be warm and I honestly could not wait. My hair was frozen in big hard chunks and defrosting it was first on my list of to do’s.
Once I got nice and warm I made myself a snack. I had brought some leftover kielbasa with cheese and munched on that while I heated up some water for a hot chocolate with baileys. I definitely felt I deserved one of those!
I had not had lunch and it was too late now so the snack would help. Once I felt a bit better having eaten something and letting my hot chocolate warm me up, I started making dinner. Tonight I would be having Oktoberfest Sausages and pan fried potatoes. I brought 2 potatoes, some olive oil, some peppers and some seasoning. I will be posting a video on this meal in my Camper Christina Cooks series on youtube if you are interested.
Dinner took a bit to cook but after my snack I wasn’t starving and in no rush. I sat in front of the stove and enjoyed the heat, so grateful I had it and was not cold camping. Eventually dinner was ready and it was quite good. I only ended up cooking one potato, but as I had brought 2, I wrapped the 2nd one in foil and put it on the side table off the stove. By morning it would be tender and perfect to have with my breakfast!
After I cleaned up from dinner I got out a book that I’d brought with me that was given to me by my friend Mike Burns on Killarney Canoeing. I put on some music, sat back in my chair and just sat and enjoyed the warmth and read my book. It was pure heaven!
Oh yeah, and a few cups of wine I’d brought with me. It was still the holidays after all! LOL
The temperature in the tent was just perfect and I was a happy girl. I took my time burning the wood I had so I wouldn’t run out, but had a nice fire going. I was curious about the variance of the temperature in the tent, so I ran a little experiment. First, I put the thermometer sensor halfway up the tent and checked the temperature. I was a lovely 29 degrees. The thing is, I didn’t feel like it was 29 degrees in there and down near the ground, it was quite a bit colder. I put the sensor on my pillow to see what the temperature was where I would be laying my head soon. Two point eight degrees!!! WHAT? Wow! That was a huge difference. No wonder I was still cold at night when I was sleeping! Three degrees is not warm in any way and I was amazed how different the temperature could be in such a small area. Maybe I needed a small fan to spread the heat out?
Around 9:30-10 my eyes got really sleepy and I decided it was time for bed. I got into my sleeping clothes and then got into my sleeping bag after putting some wood on the fire that I would hope would last a while. I closed my eyes and went to sleep but I didn’t really feel like I was sleeping fully and would wake the second the temperature went down a smidge. I also began feeling ill a few hours into the night and hoped it was just due to lack of sleep or smoke inhalation or something like that.
When I woke up in at 5:30 in the morning to go to the privy, I almost froze my butt cheeks off. OMG it was sooo cold. I didn’t have a signal where I was, but found out after my trip that the temperature had gone down to “feels like” -44 and I was feeling it alright! I also awoke to a very sore throat and my sinus’ in my face hurt like, errr, a lot. I could not do this sick, there was no way.
I went back to bed for a few hours and when i got up, I didn’t feel much better at all. My throat hurt, my head hurt, my face hurt and I had been sneezing and had had a runny nose most of the night, the one I didn’t barely sleep during either. I was in rough shape!
I sat and thought about my options and even though I didn’t want to, I knew the best decision would be to head home a day early. I burned the wood that I had and made breakfast while I enjoyed being warm in the hot tent.
I grabbed the potato that was on the stove all night and found it sufficiently cooked. I sliced it up and put it on the cookie sheet I’d brought and crisped the potato slices up by frying them in butter with some garlic powder and salt. They looked delicious. I also had brought an omelette and some precooked bacon which were heated up alongside the potatoes on a cookie sheet. It smelled good in the tent but I didn’t have much of an appetite. I forced myself to eat knowing i would need the strenght for my trip out.
Due to the very big super steep hill from hell, I stepped outside for a stroll to see if I could find an easier route out of the site. Going down a hill wasn’t nearly as difficult as going up, but it still held its challenges and I also noticed there was now water on top of the creek that wasn’t there yesterday even though it was colder out today than yesterday. Wierd!
Even though I greatly detest walking on water in the winter, I walked along the shoreline of the lake and to my campsite. I would go around the steep neverending hill by dong this and even though I was still a bit nervous, I was pretty sure the lake, this area at least, was solid as a rock. I went back to my site and began packing up so I could get on my way.
It didn’t take too long to take down the tent, disassemble the stove and get it all on the sled. Once I finished my tasks, I stopped briefly to take a video and a few photos and then headed on my way. It was about quarter past ten when I left the site, walking along the shore of Sealey Lake for a very short distance until I could get back up onto the trail and finish my journey as it had started.
It was nice having the sled tracks to follow back to the car and help me know where to go. When looking at the tracks on the way out from yesterday, I noticed I had been on a slant many times and was surprised my sled had only tipped once on the way in. It didn’t tip at all on the way out which I was grateful for. I felt pretty crappy and had very little energy and it was a real push for me to make my way out of the park.
I took my time and enjoyed the scenery and stopped every few minutes to rest. I took photos when the phone would turn on and a few videos and just paced myself the best that I could.
I was really thirsty and was grateful I still had water to drink that hadn’t turned to ice, although the further I walked, the crunchier it got and by the time I was about a half hour from the parking lot, I could no longer get the top of my water bottle off, even though it was inside my new cozy I’d made. I knew it worked but maybe not in ‘feels like’ -44?
I struggled on and was so happy when I finally saw the parking lot ahead of me. I had made plans to visit with Mike Ranta since I was in Killarney and messaged him to see if we could reschedule for today as I was leaving a day early. He responded with an enthusiastic yes and I was happy to just have a short drive to some warmth and food before making the trek all the way back to Port Carling.
An hour and forty five minutes after leaving my site, I arrived back at my car. It had taken me forty five minutes less to get back not feeling well than it had the day before when I’d been feeling better. Walking on the ice instead of attempting that huge hill saved me a tonne of time and not having any big hills to ascend on the way back also made a huge difference. Even though it was much faster, it felt like forever and when I finally got into my car to start it, I was so grateful to have made it out, I didn’t even think there could be any more issues.
I was lucky there wasn’t, but it was a close call. My car gave me a lot of grief and did not want to start. I was freaking out for a few minutes, but it ended up starting and I was so happy it did. I did have a cell signal but it would’ve been a long wait for a boost out in the middle of nowhere. I decided I would make arrangements to get a new battery as soon as the holidays were over and I was able to do so.
I packed up my car as quickly as I could and made my way to the Sportsman Inn for some yummy warm food, some room temperature tap water and a visit with my friend Mike Ranta before heading home. I was sad I had left early, but happy I had as well. I was also pretty proud of myself. Backcountry camping in the winter is a pretty tough gig, especially when it’s extremely cold. I would rate this trip as one of the most difficult ones I’ve done in 2017. It took me about 2 hours to pull the sled in approximately 2 km’s and a bit less on the way out (less uphills). I’m sure I could’ve done it a bit faster without all the time I spent making videos and taking photos, but not much faster. It was definitely a challenge, but one I enjoyed! I am looking forward to doing it again in a new destination in the upcoming weeks. Stay tuned to see where I head next!
I hope you enjoyed my adventure and come back to check out more soon. The videos that go with this post will be published on my youtube channel Thursday and Friday. Please leave a message if you have any questions, comments or just want to say hi! I’d love to hear from you!