Wandering Around Out There With A Canoe On My Head

Carmichael’s Rock Overnight

by Preston
October 24, 2010

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The Plan
As most of the regular readers know, I recently traveled to the west side of Killarney in search for Carmichael’s Rock – the same rock Franklin Carmichael sat on in 1934 (find details here). The problem was that I had planned to do this on the last day of my Labour Day trip, which turned into a solo trip by the time I left. Tired from the last two days of portaging, I woke on the third day to rain and miserable weather. Considering the winds that I had on the first day, I felt that  – especially paddling alone – I should really do the safe thing and head out early so as to only have to deal with the rain and not the winds that I would surely be facing head-on the whole way back to the take out.

Turns out, the rain stopped, and the winds didn’t materialize until well into the late afternoon/evening. Who knew? Although I was a little disappointed, I still had a fantastic trip, but I still couldn’t help thinking that I could have searched for the rock after all. I came home and told my wife all about the trip, showing her the pictures. I told her how unreal everything was, and the stories must have sparked something in her photographer’s eye, because the woman who wrote off sleeping on the ground years ago, decided she could do it again to get an opportunity to photograph the place herself. She also sensed how disappointed I was about not being able to go look for that rock, so she figured we could try again together.

We were set to go away for a weekend in October, so I playfully suggested that we could do this instead. She considered it. I told her that instead of the whole trip, we could just reverse my last day into Grace Lake, stay the night then go back the way we came. The one portage was a nice and easy trail that wasn’t much worse than any that we take on weekend strolls with the dogs. The only difference would be that it’s 1745m and we’d have carrying backpacks, and we’d be doing it after about 8km of paddling. She liked the idea, and I have to admit I was a little psyched.

My wife wasn’t thrilled about going in mid October, but I told her it would be fine – though I really had nothing to base that on. (October’s a weird month. It has both periods that are unseasonably warm and then cold.) I made all the arrangements before she could change her mind, but the deal was that if we got up and it was going to rain, we weren’t going through with it. It turned out to be cold, but nothing we couldn’t handle, and there was no rain.

Paddling With My Wife

We set out from Widgawa Lodge along the West River and into Charlton Lake, where we turned south then east into Frood Lake. We were travelling much faster than when I was here last, and it suddenly dawned on me how much I appreciated a paddling partner. I’ve mentioned often what a great a portaging partner Nancy is, but she doesn’t paddle or carry anything. On this trip, we also brought our other dog Norm. He’s not such a great portaging partner. He’s a great dog, a free spirit – a quality that sometimes gets him into a little trouble. And so as he does, he decided that he had had enough of being in the canoe. My wife would spend the rest of the way to the portage keeping him from jumping out of the canoe (he really likes swimming).

Killarney in the Fall

When we arrived at the portage, I started to really appreciate the difference a month and a half had made to the scenery. What was beautiful greens under the white caps of the surrounding La Cloche mountains, were now highlighted by gorgeous colours of fall in Killarney. Vibrant yellows, dark reds and bright orange accented everywhere you looked. The portage was leaf riddled and looked like a fall wonderland. The leaves can hide slippery rocks and mud so can be a bit of a pain, but it’s also a lot of fun swishing your feet through (It’s also a great way of keeping you from sneaking up on the local wildlife). When we reached the end of the portage, I dropped my gear, raised my hand towards the water and in dramatic fashion said “Heather, I give you… Grace Lake”.

The lake was just as I had left it: clear, gorgeous, and surrounded by some amazing scenery (oh, and also grey, but that wouldn’t last). We paddled our way to our campsite on the east side of the lake, and set up camp for the night. Heather spent the rest of the evening taking fancy pictures with her shmancy camera, while I stared off into the hills and Carmichael’s picture trying to figure out where it was taken.

The Spot

I was given a few hints as to the photo’s location, scouring over anything I could find on the subject, but some left me more confused. There sure were a bunch of photos taken there, but no one had mentioned an exact location. After wandering around to get a better view, I was confident I knew the best place to land and try and hike up. I could spot a location where there was a more gradual incline that wouldn’t require rock climbing. That must be the way up, because I was told that it took a bit of effort to get there, but it wasn’t unreasonable. I even thought that I may have spotted the rock itself with my binoculars (I was very wrong, more on that later). We went to bed with a plan for the next morning, and I was really getting excited to see the place for myself.

Sleeping in the Cold

The night turned out to be a cold one. If you don’t want to wander too far off from the fire pit, the campsite isn’t a great one for soft, flat ground (seemed like it was one or the other), so I’m not really sure how much we slept. To top it off, the dogs weren’t much help. Nancy has a reputation of not being too much of a cuddler, so you can’t expect her to help out with the body heat (I try not to take it too personally). Norm is even worse. He’s a Norwegian Buhund, bred for the colds of Norway winters. One particular camping trip where we expected cold I was comforted by the fact that with him and his fluffy fur sharing a tent with me I’d be perfectly comfortable. As it turns out it actually snowed at one point that night. I woke in the middle of the night absolutely freezing, trying my best to rework my sleeping bag to keep in more heat. Shivering, I looked for Norm. He was sitting in the corner – the furthest he could be from me – sprawled out, lying on his back. He does this when he’s too warm. And so it was again: two shivering humans, two comfortable dogs with no interest in helping out.

The Photo

We woke to a nice cool crisp autumn morning, ate breakfast in toques and sweaters, and waited for the morning frost to melt. The sun was out and as soon as it warmed it was actually a beautiful day. We packed up and paddled to the spot I had hoped would get us to Carmichael’s rock. The take out was a little rough, a steep landing without much room, so we took out what we could, pulled up the canoe as far as it could go and tied it down. We were able to zig zag up the hill without too much difficulty as we slowly made our way up the hill on a gradual incline. We would compare the picture with the view, and invariably the result was that we needed to be higher. This went on for a while, trying to find a suitable incline that would lead us back and forth, compare the view with the picture, and again we needed to get higher. Then suddenly, we ran out of gradual inclines.

The Climb

With a decision on whether or not to start actually climbing the white quartzite caps rocks, Heather had decided that she needed a rest. She handed me her fancy camera and told me good luck. There was one 3 foot section, then it flattened, then another. When I looked out to check the view I saw an owl flying below me (I always find that a freaky indication that you are, in fact, quite high up, seeing a bird fly below you). The view was close. I needed to be more to the left. When I got there, the view looked almost perfect. Was I there? Like in the picture, I was on an open section of flat white rocks, and I could see what appeared to be the exact perspective from the picture. This had to be it. Except… there was no rock.

No Rock

The rock Franklin Carmicheal sat was pretty distinct looking, and there was nothing like it around. I checked the view and decided that I absolutely must be in the right spot… probably. I remembered that Jim and Sue Waddington had also been up here to see the rock gone, and had planned a trip specifically to move it back up. Maybe that happened again? Heather yelled from about 50ft below asking about my progress, “Did you find it?”

“No,” I replied.

“Are you okay?”

“Yes, I think I’m on the spot but the rock’s not here,” I yelled back, but she couldn’t really hear me. There was a lot of “What?”s back and forth, and after a bit of looking around I yelled back that I was coming down. First I would take a few pictures of where I was, then started on my way back down. I went down one ledge and was about to take another picture because I could see a bit more of the view to the south. I checked the picture one more time while I was there. The perspective was better. Was I too high? From where I was the view was almost perfect, except I had to be a little more to my left. The problem was that there was a bunch of trees in my way. Wait… was that a small clearing?

“Are you okay?” my wife yelled.

“Yeah, hang on a sec, I’m just going to check this one spot first.”


A Different Perspective

When I got to the spot the perspective was right, but I was looking for the clearing from the picture. This was almost perfect except for the trees in the way. It even has a rock like the one in the picture… wait.

“I’m here!” I screamed.


“I found it. I found it!” It was the rock. The clearing wasn’t big, but from the perspective of the photo I realized that it was enough.

“Great,” Heather yelled back. “Do you know how to set up the camera’s timer?”


Heather talked me through setting up the camera, and I found a rock to lay it down to take my picture (Nancy was really supposed to be the subject, but she decided to stay with Heather). I took a couple more shots just to make sure and started to climb back down. I met Heather and we made our way slowly and carefully back down. I felt such a huge sense of self accomplishment I probably could have floated down. What we just did was something only a handful of people had done before – admittedly a large handful, but a handful nonetheless. It was also a fantastic connection with Canadian History. I had sat in the same spot that Franklin Carmichael had painted. The same spot he was photographed, the picture itself becoming part of our history.

With a new sense of enthusiasm, we set out across Grace Lake and over the portage on an absolutely fantastic day. The winds that met us on the other side dampened our enthusiasm a bit, as they were pretty heavy and in our faces the whole way back. Once at the outfitters and on the way home we couldn’t stop talking about what we had done – okay, maybe I did most of the talking.

The Exact Location

This is where I would normally add some details on the location of Carmicheal’s Rock – like the exact gps coordinates. You’ll notice that the route does not include it. I really had to think about whether or not to include them in this post. On the one hand, portageur.ca is supposed to be a place to get all the resources you’ll need for a trip like this, which by that logic means I should be including the location. On the other hand though, on doing the research to find the spot, I stumbled on a forum post by Jim Waddington, talking about his own trip to recover the rock. He too had apparently thought about including the location but decided he didn’t want the place to become too popular, to the point where someone might try and roll the rock down the cliff again. He also suggested that it takes away from the fun of it to not find it yourself. When I found the location myself, I really did feel a sense of accomplishment. I believe that this feeling should really be a part of the experience. On top of that, maybe we should leave the location to those that would appreciate the experience enough to seek it out themselves? So if you’re interested enough, grab a copy of the picture and earn your own way there. It will be worth it.

Oh, and no spoilers, please.

Nancy Postscript:

Nancy was, like always, a great help. She not only guaranteed we’d not be bothered by any Killarney squirrels, but it was a nice opportunity for Heather to see her in action. She often worries about Nancy out there with me (for some reason) but she was really impressed how well she lead our little pack up the trails, keeping close by. As for Norm, he might need some more seasoning before he becomes a regular on future trips. He does have a reputation for barking, and I definitely believe he enjoyed hearing himself echo through the La Cloche mountains. I’m very glad he had that opportunity to do so during one of the least popular camping weekends in Killarney. I can’t imagine how cute someone else would have found the non stop echoes had they been at the other side of the lake with us.


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