By Athlete Ambassador, Brad Jennings of Explore the Backcountry
For years, I’ve set my sights on tackling one of the most difficult trails in Ontario; The La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial park. Clocking in at 80km, with 8000ft gain/loss of elevation, this challenging trail typically takes hikers 5-7 days to complete. However, I’ve always dreamt of running it – in 12hrs or less.
I’ve tried to get the ball rolling on a group run for years, but the pieces finally fell into place the Halloween weekend of October of 2016. Unfortunately, mid fall is one of the worst times to run the trail, as the combination of lack of daylight, freshly fallen leaves, persistent rains and high winds create less than ideal running conditions. The exposed quartzite ridges Killarney is so famous for are reminiscent of an ice rink under these conditions. With this in mind we assembled a group of four, eager to attempt a 12-16hrs run.
On a rainy Saturday morning, we set out under the cover of darkness, holding a moderate pace as we pushed towards our first real test, the Pig Portage. Missing the turnoff at Threenarrows, we ended up bushwhacking along the shore for a quick 500m before rejoining the trail.
By the time we neared the top of Threenarrows lake at approximately 22km, it was evident we were well off our initial target pace. One member was slowing significantly due to a developing leg injury. After much deliberation, the decision was made for the three to return while I continued on solo. The call was incredibly hard to make as I wanted to complete the run as a team but, a thru run had been a goal of mine for years and I didn’t want it to slip away when we were already a quarter of the way through. Ultimately, my injured buddy gave me his headlamp and just told me to “Go for it, I’ve made the decision for you and I won’t hold you back”.
An hour later I was making my way through the La Cloche Mountains. Steep vertical climbs and descents required careful attention to the trail. In many cases I was gingerly sliding down scree or climbing up waterfalls. Over the remainder of the trail, I would slip and fall countless times and resorted to cautiously making my way along the ridges, far from the target pace, but the only way to avoid an injury deep in the backcountry.
I encountered few hikers, two soloists and two guys who had hiked Silver Peak as a day trip from David Lake. For the most part I was met with bewilderment and awe. The brief conversations were uplifting as my only company was the bleak ridges and the occasional raven.
I reached the hardest section, the ‘Killarney Ridges’ as the sun was setting. My pace decreased as I struggled to find rock cairns marking the path and ascended the many slippery ridges. I began to bonk on a particularly grueling climb, and found myself yelling at the nearby trees in vain. A quick mental break and a bottle of Hammer Perpetuum had me back on track and pushing towards the Crack. Once I descended the Crack, I could finally open my stride and push a good pace for the final 6km. By the time I had reached the George Lake campground, my final run time clocked in at 16:35hrs. Well off the goal, but respectable given the deplorable trail conditions.
A quick celebratory beer and burger was all I needed before retiring to the tent. In the morning, we all debriefed over a well-deserved basket of Herbert’s fish and chips. The general consensus was to return the following spring/summer, hopefully under ideal conditions, and complete the trail as a team.