It’s always refreshing when you discover something amazing in your own backyard.
As a seasoned adventurer, I’d always thought of myself as being familiar with my home province. I loved it, and there are few places better for a canoe trip, but I never thought of it as a place that’s home to one of the most epic multi-day hikes on Earth.
After all, there are no mountains in Ontario… or so I thought. On a recommendation, I invited two friends and booked campsites on the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. Thinking it was the Ontario I knew (beautiful, but mostly flat), I thought it would be a fun challenge, but not particularly difficult. I even hesitated bringing hiking poles (glad I brought them!).
Killarney Provincial Park
Killarney Provincial Park is a relatively tiny section of wilderness located at the top of Georgian Bay (Lake Huron) that features some of the most beautiful scenery in Canada. With the La Cloche Mountains running through it, it stands out as having the most unique landscape in Ontario.
The La Cloche Silhouette Trail is a 78-km loop of Killarney Provincial Park. Even though its recommended travel time is 7 - 10 days, based on fitness level, I figured 4 days would be tough, but doable.
I was right about one thing. It’s tough.
Four days is an extremely ambitious goal. We learned that on day 1 when we were introduced to one of the world’s oldest mountain ranges (3.5 billion years old!), La Cloche Mountains. And although it’s not the Rockies, it’s the only place in Ontario where you can go uphill for hours.
Hiking almost nonstop for 12 hours hit us like a ton of bricks. We made it to our campsite that night and skipped dinner (and I never skip dinner). Not only were we exhausted, we couldn’t believe how hard that day was on us.
We had hiked 23-km and made little progress on the map. We questioned whether or not we could do this or if it would even be worthwhile.
Choosing to go on an adventure is an interesting concept, because it’s probably the only time in life where you can find yourself in a situation in which you have to do something you don’t want to do and you have no idea why you’re doing it.
We had chosen to do this hike because we thought it would be fun. But when you’re carrying a 40-lb backpack all day on treacherous terrain, it’s difficult to enjoy the moment and appreciate the nature. It’s easy to question why an experience filled with such pain and suffering is something worth choosing.
By day 3 though, I had an insight about human resilience. And it’s that, even though every step all day on this trail was brutal, the nights and early mornings were filled with moments of equally intense calmness that restored balance. It showed that a little bit of good is all that's needed to endure a lot of bad.
It wasn’t just the nights and early mornings that contributed to that feeling. All three of us shared the same suffering and saw the same breathtaking scenery, unlike anything any of us had seen before, along the way. As a hiker we crossed paths with put it, “it’s heaven, and it’s hell.” We found strength in difficulty and togetherness. It’s synergetic experiences like these that forge incredible friendships.
When day 5 finally rolled around (we ended up having to take an extra day), we looked at the map with amazement and pride at what we’d accomplished. The final climb of the Silhouette Trail is up to spot called The Crack that overlooks all of Killarney.
We’d been thinking about it for 5 days and arriving there was the culmination of our journey and a moment filled with relief and euphoria. We felt like we had joined a secret club that only those who have done this hike could understand. 3 days earlier, we wanted to quit and we were certain we'd never come back. Now, we were talking about when to come back. The circumstances didn’t change.
We were changed.
It was at that moment, finally able to relax and reflect, that I realized what I already knew about why we choose to go on seemingly crazy adventures. For most people, this type of trip is either of no interest or something to be avoided. But for some people, the fact that it’s brutally difficult is the exact reason for doing it. When you realize this about anything, you can begin to enjoy the suffering. You can own the journey. For those who get it, no explanation is required. For those who don’t, no explanation is sufficient.
Hike: La Cloche Silhouette Trail
Location: Killarney Provincial Park
Duration: 7 - 10 days (or less)
Oboz Used: Men’s Sawtooth Low
Matt Hoffman is a Canadian Adventurer and Content Creator. Always eager to take the harder route for the better view, he’s driven by the need to capture impactful moments in unique outdoor experiences. Find him on Instagram @matthffmn