“Wander where there is no path (Chuang Tzu)” and Lessons learned from a turtle.
Killarney Provincial Park in central Ontario, is located on the north shore of Georgian Bay nearly ninety minutes from the city of Sudbury. Driving east of Sudbury we turned south on a gravel road that gradually drifted into a mix boreal forests, azure blue lakes and quartzite mountains. Known for its paddling and fishing, Killarney is rich in wildlife and a great place to hike.
It took 9 hours to drive from Pictured Rock Lake Shore in Michigan to Killarney, and shortly after our arrival we set up camp and mapped a plan for day hikes during our stay. I wanted to take in the entire park and push myself a bit, so when inquiring about interesting hikes, I failed to mention that we would be trekking with dogs. Seeing my enthusiasm and willingness to endure a bit of pain, the ranger suggested that we begin our stay at Killarney by visiting “The Crack.”
It wasn’t until after we had completed the trek that I realized the challenges we would face. Rated as “difficult,” the hike is about 10 km total, and terminates at the top of Killarney Ridge where you are treated to a panoramic view of the La Cloche Mountains. We began early and were fooled by the ease of the first three kilometers. Following moose tracks that meandered through pines, spruce and wetland habitat, the four of us (2 people and 2 dogs) basked in the solitude enjoyed by those willing to start early and avoid the masses. Hoping to catch morning light, we ate a very small breakfast, skipped the coffee and carried only trail bars to feed hungry legs. Needless to say, we were ill prepared for the time and rigor required to complete the final ascent.
By the third kilometer, I became a bit concerned. We reached a mountain of quartz that needed to be traversed. Rather than a trail, a suggested pathway was marked by red arrows hammered to the occasional tree. The barely visible path quartz was interspersed by steep climbs which led to more of the same. Fearful for the dogs, I wondered aloud if we should turn back. Tamy has that “never say never attitude,” and while she always pays a price in the end, we forged ahead. This first ascent terminated in an amazing view of the valley we had climbed, and made for a great place to rehydrate, eat a bar and catch our breath. The dogs had a tough climb up, and I knew that they would be challenged by the trip down.
Shortly after a brief rest, I began to investigate the surroundings to record this experience. While we still had many kilometers to go, the current spot was quite photogenic. It was here that I found a snapping turtle. Sitting quietly on a boulder with no water in sight, I was astonished that the turtle was in this place. The statue-like posture made me question whether the life force in the animal was slowly withering away. To be clear, we were on a quartzite mountain with barely a puddle of water in view. I couldn’t help but think that the turtle was engaged in quest much like our own. Searching for a challenge or change, it wandered beyond its range seeking to experience a renewal of its life.
Ninety-minutes later, we made it to “The Crack.” To get there, we traversed two more quartzite mountains that required hands and feet to scramble about. Much like us, the dogs were beat but not down. In the end, Tamy and I took turns to make the final ascent, as the last mountainous path was not dog or tripod friendly. While the view beyond The Crack was spectacular, the sense of accomplishment was greater than any image I might have captured on that day. Interestingly, the descent felt as treacherous and exhausting as the climb, and the turtle we had encountered on the way up was now gone. Fooled by its wariness, the reptilian wanderer was not on its last leg, but was still filled with a life-force that was willing to forgo the path of least resistance in favor of an adventure that is only privy to the living.
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