Killarney, canoe and me: Another birthday, another incredible solo trip

I lower my canoe into the water at the end of a short portage from Ruth-Roy Lake into Johnnie, and it takes me a few minutes to register how smooth the water is. Every time I paddled Johnnie Lake in the last couple of days, it was choppy with a generous helping of a strong side wind. This unexpected calmness looks like a minor miracle; I do a quick happy dance. The night before I passed beautiful cliffs but couldn’t pause for photos for fear of being turned back or, worse, flipped over. With waters finally calm, I decide to take a quick detour from my trip back to the parking lot and make a stop by those cliffs for a few shots. The sky doesn’t look particularly supportive of this endeavour. Dark and heavy with copious amount of tears, it is threatening to unleash its pent-up sadness at any moment. I know rain is inevitable; I just hope it will hold off for another 30 minutes or so.

paddling solo canoe with dark clouds in the background

My attempt to ‘outpaddle’ rain to get a few photos of the cliffs on Johnnie Lake fails spectacularly.

The moment I get around the bend and reach for my camera, the sky opens up in all its spectacular fury. The drum roll of raindrops echoes across the lake. I find temporary refuge under a pine tree, fully aware that it’s only a matter of time before its spindly needles give in under the weight of heavenly water. After a few minutes of enjoying the spectacle, I decide that there are worse things than a summer shower (wind and thunderstorms come to mind) and leave the green canopy for a thoroughly refreshing and extremely wet paddle back to the access point.

canoe under a pine tree during rain

Enjoying the weather spectacle under the cover of a pine tree

rain on Johnnie Lake in Killarney

Eventually I paddle into the rain – at least the day is warm and calm.

The rain takes an occasional pause just to come back with a renewed force. By the time I reach the put-in, at least an inch of water is sploshing around my feet and there is not a single dry thread on me. But my spirits aren’t dampened. On the contrary, with another solo canoe trip now complete, I am on cloud nine, so to speak.

cloudy and rainy day on Johnnie Lake in Killarney

A quick photo while the rain takes a break

standing by the canoe at a put-in on Johnnie Lake in Killarney

And another solo is done; a few inches of water at the back of the canoe – that’s all from the rain.

This is my fourth solo trip. A tradition started on my fortieth birthday, it has undergone a few iterations. One year, I went backpacking in Algonquin; then skipped a trip entirely in favour of a day hike. Eventually, I accepted that the only way I wanted to celebrate my birthday was canoeing in Killarney. So here I was again preparing to mark the beginning of another year with Kilalrney’s hills, lakes and loons. This time, I was able to snatch a site on Ruth-Roy. It checked off a few important requirements: not too far, not too many portages, close to Silver Peak, reportedly magnificent views, and with only two sites far apart and not connected to any other lakes except Johnnie, it offered a lot of privacy. A family I met on my first day, who’d come to swim in Ruth-Roy because they hadn’t been able to book a site here, eyed me with a bit of suspicion when I said I’d got it only two months before. That was, of course, pure luck and a bit of birthday magic, I believe: someone must have cancelled their trip and I just happened to be checking the reservation site at the right time. (Plus, incredible as it is, this feat of campsite booking is nothing compared to getting a site on Killarney Lake two weeks before the trip). The swimming family helped me load my canoe – very fortunate considering the put-in is pretty steep and the water gets deep rather quickly – and sent me away with loads of information about the sites.

canoe in the water at the put-in at Ruth_Roy Lake in Killarney

Put-in at the end of a portage into Ruth-Roy Lake is a bit tricky.

As I already mentioned, there are only two campsites on the lake, and they are far apart. The only times I saw my neighbours were on the first night when I decided to check whether the other site was already occupied and then again on their way out. Other than that, I felt like I had the lake all to myself. Not entirely, of course. A couple of loons visited me regularly. During one of my paddles, I came across a family of ducks and a very chill turtle. And from time to time, I could hear a pair of cranes screeching in the distance, their cries amplified by the hills.

loon on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

loons on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney   loons on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

My neighbours on Ruth-Roy Lake

loon    loon

painted turtle

painted turtle   painted turtle

I met this friendly fellow during my morning paddle.

People sometimes ask me if I am scared to go into the backcountry by myself. Some assume that overcoming fear is part of the attraction. Throughout the trip I kept checking myself for any signs of distress; no matter how deep I dug, there were no traces of it. There were other emotions: guilt over leaving my family behind, discomfort of being left alone with my thoughts, but fear wasn’t among them. I guess we are afraid of things we don’t know, and the more time I spend in nature, near and far, the more connected and intimate it feels. I don’t want to discount possible dangers: wildlife encounters, sprained ankles, extreme weather. So I prepare for those and have a plan for dealing with them.

standing by Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Being alone in the backcountry brings up a lot of emotions – fear is definitely not one of them.

What I can never prepare for, no matter how many times I go, is the shock of having no one but myself for company, even though as an introvert I am a big fan of solitude. I still haven’t figured out if it is external conditioning that brings on this mix of discomfort and guilt over craving some time away from fellow humans or an ingrained fear of delving deeper into my own thoughts and emotions without the usual distractions in the form of other people and easily available entertainment.

As I drove down a bumpy and unexpectedly long Johnnie Lake Road, I started to feel this discomfort slowly creep in, mixed with faint doubts whispering: “It’s not too late to turn back.” As I loaded the canoe, I kept reminding myself that those feelings were temporary. That in a couple of hours I’d be wondering: “Where did that come from?”

Sure enough by the time I arrived at the campsite, set up my tent, took a swim and settled by the lake waiting for my Pad Thai to get ready for consumption, I already felt at home. And what a magnificent home it was! The site had beautiful rounded rocks, deep blue waters right off the shore, lots of open space, a cliff at the back. It would be a little tight for a larger group, but for me alone it was perfect.

site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

My beautiful campsite on Ruth-Roy Lake

site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Not too big, not too small – just a perfect size for one person

close-up of rocks and water on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Like many lakes in Killarney, Ruth-Roy boasts beautiful blue waters.

And I couldn’t get enough of the views, constantly changing throughout the day, revealing new colours as the sun made its way across the sky and clouds shifted along the horizon.

view from site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Views from my campsite were spectacular.

view from site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

More beautiful views

view from site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Same view, different light

view from site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

I never get tired of watching the lake change throughout the day.

campfire on site 72 on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

A perfect ending to the day

The next morning, when my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m., I kept looking for excuses to dig in deeper into my cocoon of a sleeping bag and go back to dreaming. After some back and forth, I negotiated a quick bathroom break and a few pictures of the sunrise, after which I’d be allowed to return to my slumber. I knew, of course, that once I left the tent, chances of going back were slim. Twenty minutes later I was in my canoe gliding happily across the polished service. Ruth-Roy isn’t a large lake, but between watching loons and turtles and listening to the hills and forests shake off the remnants of their sleep, my morning paddle took two hours.

morning paddle on Ruth-Roy Lake in KiIllarney

Morning paddles are often the best part of the trip.

morning on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Perfect reflections of the early hours

morning paddle on Ruth-Roy Lake in KiIllarney

Watching the hills slowly wake up and shed the remnants of sleep into the lake

reflections on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

Hard to tell which which world is real

morning paddle on Ruth-Roy Lake in KiIllarney

A perfect balance of the morning hours

reflections on Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

The weather forecast called for showers that day. Fortunately, while cloudy, the skies didn’t look particularly menacing. So after breakfast, I packed and set out on my day trip to Silver Peak.

coffee by the lake

After a two-hour paddle, coffee tastes even more delicious.

coffee and donut by the campfire

And something extra to go with coffee

Silver Peak is the highest point in the park. Unlike the Crack, another great lookout in Killarney, it’s not as easily accessible so we only hiked it once. This time, getting there required an hour or so paddling through a windy and choppy Johnnie Lake, a 900-metre portage, more paddling through a smaller and, thankfully, significantly calmer Clearsilver Lake, followed by a 90-minute hike. So all in all, at least a seven-hour round trip, with a chance of showers.

portaging a canoe

A 900-metre from Johnnie into Clearsilver Lake on my way to Silver Peak

paddling on Clearsilver Laake in Killarney

Clearsilver Lake doesn’t take long to cover.

La Cloche Silhoutte trail     trail to Silver Peak in Killarney

And now I walk.

trail to Silver Peak in Killarney

Beautiful hike to Silver Peak

Well, it takes much more than that to scare me off. I was determined to reach Sliver Peak’s shining rocks and boy, was I glad I did. Yes, the views were magnificent but it wasn’t the main thing that kept me up there for more than an hour. I was lured by endless islands of scrubby bushes set among white rocks, dotted with deep-purple drops of pure bliss. I kept moving from one blueberry patch to another, and even the voice inside my head reminding I still had a long trip back or the rain were unable to drive me away. Sure, you can buy them in a store but they will never taste as delicious as blueberries right off the bush on top of Silver Peak, drenched in sun and Killarney’s ancient stories.

view from Silver Peak in Killarney

Silver Peak is the highest point in Killarney.

view from Silver Peak in Killarney

La Cloche Mountains in all their spectacular glory

view from Silver Peak in Killarney

Beautiful views all around


And yes, the views were magnificent but I was more interested in this delicious bounty under my feet.

By the time I reached the campsite – tired, sweaty and ready for a swim and dinner by the lake, it was already after six. It was a beautiful evening. As I watched time slow down and splash around like the cool waters of Ruth-Roy Lake, my thoughts eventually matched its pace and  stopped darting in my head like startled fish. As always on my solo trips, I could feel the edges of my being gradually expand and merge with the hills.

sitting in a camping chair by Ruth-Roy Lake in Killarney

As I tune out external noise, I can feel the edges of my being gradually expand and merge with the hills.

The rain came back at night and lasted way into the morning, giving me a solid excuse to sleep in. And then it graciously paused long enough for me to  have breakfast, pack my gear and take a couple of dips in the lake. A faithful companion, the rain returned once I hit Johnnie Lake to follow me all the way back home.

4 thoughts on “Killarney, canoe and me: Another birthday, another incredible solo trip

  1. I love your tradition of solo journeying on your birthday but what I really enjoyed reading were your thoughts on traveling/being in the wilderness alone and the feelings of discomfort and fear that can arise. I too am an introvert but solo journeys usually bring up a mix of feelings for me — and I know I’ve felt them sometimes because at the moment I wanted to avoid delving into some deeper thoughts and issues. I find it strange that I often have to re-learn to be comfortable with myself, particularly because I like you enjoy being by myself!

    But anyways, I loved your photos and stories as always. Thank you for sharing the beauty of another bit of Killarney!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It always comes as a surprise: I crave alone time and the moment I am left with myself I often feel like I need to readjust and get used to it again. This time I even considered listening to a podcast just to distract myself but decided against it because I knew that discomfort disappears eventually and I always wish I could stay longer.
      Thank you as always for reading and commenting. Hope you are doing well during these weird times.


  2. Pingback: A look back: 2020 in pictures and words | Gone Camping

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