Solo La Cloche Silhouette Trail – Trip Report

Where: Killarney Provincial Park

When: June 9th – 12th, 2020

Who: Just me

Type of Trip: Solo, Multi-Night, Gear Testing, Possibly Type 2 Fun (Spoiler! There was only about an hour of that)

By the Numbers:

  • Nights: 3
  • Campsites: 46, 33, 19
  • Kilometres Walked: ~80km
  • Total Pack Weight: 23.5 lbs
  • Base Weight: 12.8 lbs

Trip Report

This was a rather impromptu trip! I had been planning a Superior Coastal Trail trip for June, but when I discovered the permits for La Cloche Silhouette trail were available I decided to shuffle things around to make it work. The Coastal Trail doesn’t need advanced reservations, so has a lot more flexibility whereas La Cloche Silhouette seems to book up quickly.

I decided on the fastest itinerary the online system would let me book, 4 days and 3 nights. That put the days long enough to avoid sitting bored in camp at the height of bug season, but left some flexibility with rain in the forecast. I had heard reports that the iconic Killarney quartzite is very slippery when it is wet, which can make for slow travel (boy does it ever! More on that later…). This turned out to be perfect pacing for me in my ‘off the couch’ state.

So on less than 24 hours notice, I slapped everything together and hit the road!

4 days worth of hiking food, see that post for more info

*I used a copy of Jeff’s Killarney Map which has estimated hiking times for each section. These are the ‘map times’ I refer to throughout the report.

Day 1

Animals Seen:

  • 1 raccoon
  • 1 mink/fisher/martin (Didn’t get a good look, definitely weaselly)
  • Innumerable squirrels and chipmunks 
  • Many kinds of Toads and frogs 
  • Many people (mostly Crack day hikers) 

Actual Time: 9 hours from start of trail to 46, 8 of them moving (took a nice nap at the Crack).

Map Time*: 7.5 hours

Distance: 19.7 map kilometers. More when adding back tracking and searching for blazes. 

Campsite: Bunny Rabbit Lake, Site 46

After grabbing my permits as soon as the office opened at 8am, I drove to the parking lot over by the beach. This way, I would do walk across the campground on on the beginning of Day 1, and then finish right at my car. I have heard people complaining about the walk across the campground after thinking they were done. It didn’t seem very far at the beginning of the trip, but those sorts of things tend to change when you are tired!

Time to get started!

The first few kilometers from the campground to where the trail joins up with the Crack route were mostly rolling forest.

A little froggie friend!

Soon enough the quartzite started and the ‘Crack’ part of the Crack trail arrived and with it the first scrambling of the trip. The views at the top were great though! I spent some time to eat lunch, and had an impromptu nap which gave me a late start to my afternoon.

The view from the top of the Crack trail.

The afternoon proved to be VERY hot and sunny. Way too hot and (more importantly) humid while wearing long sleeves and pants to avoid bugs. I really struggled with the heat. I’m glad I was hiking alone when my pace turned glacial for the last 3 hours. I ended up in my old pattern of: don’t feel great so I don’t want to eat, which makes me feel worse. I did choke down more food than I normally do when this happens (I’ve been bitten by this before!) but not enough.

My poor attempt to capture how blue the water of Little Superior is.

I can see why the preferred method of exploring Killarney is by canoe. It seems that is where you would get the best views, and without all of the mind numbing forest walking (I’m a biased mountain girl. Forests are boring!) It is truly amazing how blue the water is at some of the lakes! Which of course my crappy phone camera doesn’t capture. I need to figure out my hiking camera situation, my phone camera sucks! 

For the section between the creek before the Crack trail starts going up and Little Superior, stock up on water where you can. The map shows water all around, but if you look at the topo lines, most of them are a long or impossible descent from the trail. Luckily, having been burned by this in the past, it wasn’t one of the (many) mistakes I made. 

The mosquitos were bad in places, but were overall much less of an issue than I expected. Between my long pants and shirt, I only needed to put bug spray on my hands and face once while moving. It was too hot to use my head net. Unfortunately my campsite for the night (46- Bunny Rabbit Lake) was on less of a lake and more of a beaver pond. In fact, I had to walk across a beaver dam to get to it. The bugs were moderately bad there, but 2″ of mosquito coil made camp chores bearable. Other than the bugs, it was a nice site with lots of sheltered, flat places.

I have learned enough from past mistakes to work to remedy my nutrition failings from the day by forcing myself to eat dinner and drank 2L of water/tea/nuun, even though the thought of eating was very unappealing. Sure enough I felt much better quite quickly. 

This day was admittedly harder than I was expecting given that it’s only ~20km. The terrain is quite technical after the Crack trail starts going gaining elevation. The Crack is the only part that required sort of scrambling, but the rest of the day required thoughtful foot placement, looking for cairns when up high, continuously rolling terrain, and tricky descents. The rock was very slippery dry, it must be like ice when wet. The mental load rarely eased up. All that paired with my heat struggles meant humble pie for me! I was much slower than I thought I would be.

On the bright side, my legs were feeling really quite good! My quads/hamstrings/calves were totally fine, however I had some minor soreness in my feet and ankles. Nothing like I’ve had in the past though, and no knee or hip pain at all! I was worried about the Altras, as I have never worn them other than city walking/running and never on technical terrain. But things looked promising! I had one blister coming up, but it was very minor for the type of day I did and I will pre tape it tomorrow. Overall, I had far fewer issues there than I have had with boots in the past. The shoes are definitely a bit soft/not stiff enough for some of the scramble stuff, but they are a step in the right direction! (Puns always intended)

There was the coolest song bird at the campsite. I wish I knew what it was! The frogs put up an excellent chorus as well. 

Day 2

Animals Seen:

  • 1 Deer
  • Innumerable chipmunks (no squirrels interestingly)
  • Many toads
  • Saw 1 person on trail, 2 across the lake

Actual Time: 8 hours hiking, 9 hours on trail

Map Time*: 6.5 hours

Distance: 18.8 map kilometres

Campsite: Little Mountain Lake, Site 33

Day 2 ended as it began: 3km of slippery technical hiking in a thunder storm, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

The Starry Night tent got its first rain test overnight. I’m happy to report that it passed! No issues with water leaking through seams, splash back, sagging (not expected since it is silpoly not silnylon), or condensation. I was surprised with the lack of condensation, even with all the doors shut. There was water flowing under the tent floor, but the waterproofing on that fabric handled that fine.

It rained heavily overnight and into the morning. Upon waking to thunder booming overhead, I decided to sleep in and see if that changed. Luckily by the time I was ready to venture forth from my dry cozy cave, it had reduced itself to a drizzle although there was still thunder rolling in the distance. I managed to leave camp dry, but that was a hollow victory as it started raining soon after leaving.

The first terrain of the morning was back up onto the quartzite ‘ridges’, which were very very slippery in the rain. Between the technical footing and avoiding a nasty slip, it took me over twice as long as I expected to do the first 6km of the day. It wasn’t a very scenic morning, with any views I might have had obscured by very low hanging clouds.

Sections like this were typical of the morning. Very hard to get down safely while wet!
No great views today

On that logic, I decided to pass on Silver Peak this time, no point if I wasn’t going to get the views! The occasional peal of thunder didn’t inspire confidence either.

By the time lunch rolled around it had stopped raining, and I was able to dry some of my things out while scarfing down some food. Then it was back up onto what I thought was the coolest ridge section yet. The wind was crazy strong, and I was glad to be back down in the trees by the time the thunder started again.

So windy!
Route finding here was cairn to cairn
This deer was not worried about my existence at all! Must have been some tasty food there.
Some cairns were big…
…others were just little!

The middle of the day was more rolling with flow-y treed sections, followed by getting baked in the sun on the open rocky sections. The trail got technical again before camp, which was when the rain started again, naturally. The last 3km of the day were spent navigating slippery slopes in the pouring rain and thunder. And setting up camp was done in the rain. And dinner was made in the rain. And I went to bed in the rain.

The bugs at this site were horrendous! I was not upset to be spending most of the evening inside my tent!

Not sure whether this is a win for me or the mosquitos…

Most of my body was hanging in, but my feet were killing me! I was once again surprised at my lack of knee/ankle/hip issues and my muscles feel pretty good. I didn’t develop any more blisters and my feet visually look fine. They were just very tender to the touch with the balls and outside edges being the worst. It seemed too widespread to be stone bruising, so I figured it was just the fact I’m not used to being on my feet all day.

As the night wound down, I found my mood at the lowest point of the trip. My stomach decided to act up, which sent me out into the rain and the bugs again, hobbling along barefoot on my tender feet. After an unfortunate incident that had me taking down my bear bag once again to acquire some soap to clean off my sleeve, then rehanging the bag (in the pouring rain and horrendous bugs), I returned to my tent to find that in my haste to leave my tent, I left the zipper open a few inches. The inside was now teeming with mosquitoes and black flies. I found myself spending the next hour killing bugs while sliding down to the bottom of my tent and needing to move everything back up every 15 minutes (I was hasty on my site selection in the rain, it was too sloped!) while ruminating on my bad mood. It was supposed to rain all night and into the next day. My clothes would still be wet because nothing dries inside a tent with 95% humidity. My feet were throbbing and firey hot. And my stomach was still unhappy. Definitely a type 2 sort of moment. But I figured things would be better in the morning. In hindsight, this turned out to be the only low-mood point of the trip.

Day 3

Animals Seen:

  • Nothing remarkable, the standard chipmunks and squirrels and toads
  • Saw 2 people on trail

Actual Time: 7.5 hours hiking, 8.5 hours on trail

Map Time*: 7 hours

Distance: 17.5 map kilometres

Campsite: Three Narrows Lake, Site 19

Happily, I woke up to a dry morning! As I suspected the night before, my mood was much better come morning. It took a little longer to get out of camp this day as I tried to work out my clothing situation while trying to avoid the very thick bugs. All of my hiking clothes were dripping wet still, but with rain possible I didn’t really want to get my dry stuff wet. Complicating matters, the chafing my underwear was causing made the idea of putting my hiking pants back on extremely unappealing. In the end, I braced myself and put on my soaking wet top layers, and wore my baselayer bottoms as pants to avoid making the chafing worse. It was luckily nice and cool, so I could keep my rain gear on to avoid the worst of the bugs in the morning. They let up quickly once out of camp however.

A vain attempt to dry out my clothes in the morning
Little Mountain Lake. The bugs were quite bad at this site, but it was nice otherwise

The day began going up, Up, UP! Mostly on very vertical, very smooth rock that was still wet from the storm the previous night. This made for some slow going!

It’s hard to tell in the photo, but the ‘UP’ direction of that blaze is very literal!
Little Mountain Lake down below

The morning was spent on the last quartzite ridges of the trip, before the trail descended into the woods that it would remain in for the rest of the trip.

At the top of the last of the quartzite ridges, Three Narrows Lake in the background

After lunch, the infamous water fall decent was encountered. Luckily for me, the map notes seemed to have been written at higher water levels . To paraphrase the map: ‘the trail does NOT go around the waterfall, but straight down its face’. The trail actually did go around to the left (to the right if you are going up). That said, it was very steep! It just didn’t have flowing water running over it, thank goodness. That rock was so slippery where it was wet, I’m not sure how I would have gotten down safely. On the most vertical part, I ended up dropping my pack down ahead of me, and then down-climbing a 8 foot section rock climbing style. It was quite easy, but did require care.

The waterfall descent, from about half way down

Shortly after the waterfall, there was a steep climb up a pile of loose rock. I was glad to be going up it, as I felt more stable/in control that way.

Photos really don’t do justice to how steep this is!

The hard parts of the day over, I cruised down the rooty-but-mostly-flat trail into camp. I got all my stuff all set up, dinner cooking, and started doing some organizing when the weather decided to have one last laugh: it started raining. I scrambled to get my rain gear on and put everything away. I managed to get my things safe, just in time for the rain to stop. Ha. Ha.

This campsite didn’t have much in the way of good tent spots, so anyone with several, or large tents beware! The flattest places were right on the lake, with no trees for shelter. Lovely if the weather is nice, but with a storm threatening, I squeezed my tent farther back in behind some trees. Luckily, the weather stayed lovely (if a bit windy) for the rest of the night, so I got to enjoy the views.

Camp site at #19

My feet were still bothering me, but my body was holding up really well otherwise and my mood was really quite good. One more day!

Day 4

Animals Seen:

  • 1 Deer (much more shy than the last one)
  • Innumerable chipmunks and squirrels
  • Many toads
  • Saw many people headed in for the weekend, since it was a Friday

Actual Time: 8 hours hiking, 9.5 hours on trail

Map Time*: 8.5 hours

Distance: 23.4 map kilometres

The last day already! The lake was lovely with the early morning sun and I enjoyed drinking my morning iced coffee while watching it rise over the lake. I call it ‘iced coffee’ because it sounds better than ‘instant whole milk powder and instant coffee shaken up in a water bottle’. But it is very tasty and way better than going through the trouble of getting my stove out. Camp packed up quickly and I was on the trail by 7:30.

This part of the trail was much flatter and easier than the rest of the trail, and I’m glad I went counter clockwise and did it last. That said, it is still a bit more technical than trails I’ve done in similar terrain in Ontario (Algonquin, Frontenac) and my time was accordingly slower. There were numerous blowdowns that required climbing over or crawling under in the first few hours. I had to be very careful not to rip my baselayers-being-worn-as-pants in those obstacle courses, they were not made for that! The terrain really smoothed out after ‘The Pig’.

To go over, or under? That is the question!
A terrible photo of a very shy deer
A lovely lunch spot, just before ‘The Pig’

I passed many hikers on their way in, which was unsurprising given it was a Friday. Most asked me if I had done the whole trail and how long I was out, then seemed surprised when I answered that I had and done it in 4 days. I suppose a solo, short, fat young women didn’t fit their expectations. I was wryly amused.

The sketchiest dam crossing of the whole trip. The right side is a 5ft drop into a mess of strainers
I found wild roses!

After Acid Lake, the kilometres just flew by and I made fantastic time. The end of the trail popped up on me unexpectedly!

At the end already!

Overall, a great trip! I’m happy I jumped on the opportunity to get out when I had the chance.

Conclusion

  • Given the weather I had and my lack of fitness, the 4 day itinerary worked out perfectly for me. It was the perfect distance each day at my current fitness level for ‘challenging but fun’. If I were in better shape, or was up for more of a sufferfest, I could definitely do it in 2 nights (weather cooperating). With proper training I bet I could do it in 1 night, but that would require a ton of fitness work.
  • Gear notes from this trip can be found here. Overall, I am very happy with the gear I took on this one. The changes I would make moving forward are minor.
  • Food notes can be found here. I’m finally getting this dialled in too, both in terms of amount and type. I ate everything I brought, enjoyed everything, and everything agreed with me. In the future, I will likely swing back to no-cook for solo summer trips, but not by a huge margin.
  • The bugs were not nearly as bad as I expected them to be. Most of the time, as long as I was moving, I was fine. There were a few places on days 1 and 2 where I used bug spray on my hands and face while hiking and my long (tightly woven) pants and shirt took care of the rest. On days 3 and 4 I never used my bug spray during the day. In camp, I used about 2″ of mosquito coil to get my dinner made in peace, and on night 2 (Little Mountain Lake) and 3 (Three Narrows Lake) I wore my rain gear in camp to avoid getting bitten as it was cool enough to do so.
  • My body held up remarkably well. My joints and muscles weren’t sore at all and I only had 1 minor blister, which was shocking. Usually I have at least one of hip, knee, and/or ankle issues AND massive blisters requiring a lot of preventive care on a trip like this. I suspect it is a combination of the training I did in the fall toughing up my tendons/ligaments, and switching from boots to trail runners (also my fairly light pack, but thats typical for me).
  • While my feet were wet for most of each day due to the rain, I didn’t have any issues in relation to that and my shoes dried out pretty quickly (unlike my socks).
  • I really struggle with the heat, and I need to work on managing this. It has been a problem in the past and this trip was no different on the hottest day. While I am getting better about eating and drinking properly when it is hot, I still have some work to do there.
  • The rain can really slow this trip down! The quartzite is very very slippery when wet! EXTREMELY SLIPPERY! The trail takes steep lines over very smooth expanses of quartzite for the first/last (depending on direction) three quarters of the trip. There were a few places where falling would have meant a nasty bounce down quite a hill. In some places, the wet rock dropped my speed to a glacial 2 km/h. BUT, I never fell. Not once the whole trip, which is unusual for me under the best of circumstances, so I would say my turtle’s pace paid off.
  • I had a love-hate relationship with my poles on this trip. They are annoying on the flat, and get in the way when I need to scramble, but they were a life saver on the terrain in between. Also they are my tent poles, which is the deciding factor. Ultimately they were more of a help than a hindrance, but I would prefer to only carry one if my tent didn’t need both.
  • On days 1 through 3, grabbing water where it was clearly available worked out well. Any time the trail was up on quartzite it was a long, long way down to water and it is hot up there!

5 thoughts on “Solo La Cloche Silhouette Trail – Trip Report

  1. You’re awesome! I loved this trip report, as well as your more recent report on Lake Superior Coastal Trail. I’ve hiked the latter, but not Killarney yet (… thanks, pandemic). My question: If weather conditions on the 2 trails were equalized, would you say that La Cloche Silhouette is harder or easier than the Coastal Trail?
    I hiked the Gargantua-to-Agawa stretch in 3 nights/4 days (in good weather) and I was at my limit. How many days/nights sould I book for Killarney?

    Like

    1. I personally thought that the Coastal Trail is the harder of the two, but I also thought it was more enjoyable. I suspect it depends on what types of terrain one finds hard. I’ve seen a lot of variation on what sections of the Coastal Trail people find the hardest and I suspect the same applies to La Cloche vs the Coastal Trail.

      Hard to put a number of days on it, especially given the different terrains of the two trails, but I can throw some of my own numbers out there and see if they are useful to you. If you happen to know how many hours you hiked per day on the Coastal Trail, that may help your comparison. Our total camp-to-camp times between Gargantua and Agawa on this trip was 30 hours for the ~53kms, in largely wet conditions. My total camp-to-camp times at Killarney was 36 hours for the ~80km, also in wet conditions.

      If you can find a digital copy of the old Jeff’s Maps for Killarney (if you are a member of the Ontario Backcountry Campers FB group, I think its in the files), it has approximate hiking times for La Cloche that I found accurate for me in dry conditions.

      Like

      1. Thanks for responding:) If you were going solo again and you had a 10lb fit dog, would you bring him? I’m wondering about the risk of wild animals (porcupine, bear, coyotes mostly)

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