I just spent a beautiful long weekend with my friend Kerry Little up at Killarney for some winter photography. We first went up there 25 years ago and camped in a virtually empty park. It was cold (Kerry remembers it as -40C, I think it was -25C), but, despite the frozen boots each morning, it was magical. The low angle and warmth of winter light combined with later sunrises and earlier sunsets, makes winter landscape photography my favourite. And, it’s surprising how quickly your body adapts to the cold. Of course, we were 25 years younger, too, but even this year, after a day of -10C, having gloves off is bearable.
A few years later, we upgraded, staying in Kerry’s trailer on two separate occasions. Still, the park was empty. The park staff were kind enough to leave the washroom open at the park entrance for running water and a flush toilet.
Nowadays, Killarney is abuzz with people, some day users from Sudbury, a few campers and backcountry users, but most staying in the yurts. We trailered it again, staying up in the now greatly expanded car park.
Seeing the park well used in winter is encouraging, but having it all to ourselves back in the 1990s was certainly a treat. Now, there are snowmobile tracks all over George Lake, which is unfortunate from a photography perspective. The tracks did make for easier walking, though. In fact, we didn’t end up needing our snowshoes, although we used them once. As the snow had a glaze of ice on it from rain the previous week, we couldn’t use our Nordic skis either. Just as well; the winter sports weren’t our end game, but means to an end: photography.
If you’re not familiar with Killarney Provincial Park, it is considered Ontario’s crown jewel park. It is Canadian Shied at its most picturesque. Although the original forests dominated by huge coniferous white pine, hemlock and fir, mixed with some deciduous beech and a few oak are long gone, they were logged sufficiently long ago to allow for a semi-respectable mixed forest to have regrown creating a forest many would think is original.
But Killarney’s most significant features are its rock and its lakes. Stretching east-west across the park are the truly ancient ridges of the La Cloche Range. These very rugged 300m hills of white quartzite are the ancients roots of mountains that were once higher than today’s Himalayas! But that was about 3.5 billion years ago, when Earth was still in its infancy, long before life as we know it existed.
About 1.2 billion years ago, along what is now known as the Grenville Orogeny, two continents collided. Today, the pink granite along Killarney’s southern Georgian Bay shore stretches northwards past the park’s first line of lakes up to the base of the white quartzite La Cloche Range. The deep, almost tropical blue of the lakes along with the rocks and trees makes for a colourful and dynamic juxtaposition of space and time. The same scenery becomes magical in winter, with the blue water being replaced by white ice and snow. Hence, our delight at the co-operative weather providing the icing of blue skies at sunrise to this multi-layered cake.
For me, all of this comes together in two places: George Lake with its iconic and monolithic cliff of pink granite and at the appropriately-named A. Y. Jackson Lake just a kilometre east. On our second morning we made a point of being out on George Lake before sunrise.
The day dawned with a spectacularly blue sky. Frost quickly accumulated on our tripod heads as we worked through that first hour of the sun lighting the distance ridges to the north then progressively adding its golden glow to more and more of the scene before us.
After another hour or so of detail work along shorelines, it was time to head in for breakfast. A quick trip into the village of Killarney took us to the Sportsman’s Inn for hot coffee, a warm atmosphere and a delicious plate of eggs, peameal bacon, home fries and toast – and another two or three cups of coffee. The time also allowed me to upload the morning’s images to my laptop and begin working in them.
The next morning was a repeat, except we snowshoed down the lake to pick up the Silhouette Trail near Cranberry Bog. Part way up the significant granite headland, we ditched the shoes for scrambling and hiking. At the peak, the sun was just starting to cast its brilliant glow across the treetops of the park – a great view but one we would have to leave for another day as the scene I had envisioned was still waiting ahead. A quick trip down the other side of the headland brought us to the southern shore of A. Y. Jackson Lake. The morning sun was just kissing the La Cloche Range while the pink granite and tree-lined lake was still in shadow – perfect timing.
Each of us immediately set about negotiating strong foreground elements for this grand scene before us. What a fitting tribute to one of Canada’s pre-eminent landscape artists. As one of the Group of Seven, A. Y. Jackson painted frequently in the Killarney area some 80 years previously. Even without the semi-mature forest of today, Jackson’s paintings of Killarney are iconic with the white La Cloche Range, pink granite and blue lakes.
We worked for about an hour, but much of it was spent waiting and waiting. I was particularly interested in capturing the shadows of the coniferous trees projected on the white canvas foreground of the snow-covered lake with its rim of forest and granite in the mid-ground and the La Cloche tucked in behind. The wait was worth it, but cold.
…is not my passion in photography, but it’s something I do when circumstances arise. Given the gazillion stars above on a clear and cold winter night, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity. Bundled up, I walked down to George Lake. i knew exactly where I wanted to shoot this, but it was on the other side of the lake. Imagine my trepidation, walking on the lake at 10:30pm, (almost) no one around, and hearing the moaning of the ice as it adjusted to the dropping temperatures of the day. Creepy is really the only word that truly describes it. All I needed was a wolf howl, but none were about that night.
Despite the felt lining of my Sorels, alpaca boot liners and thick Icelandic wool socks, my feet were becoming blocks of ice, mostly due to inactivity. The rest of me was toasty. I wore a Merino wool base layer followed by a cotton turtleneck. Fleece pants and a fleece pullover were covered with Gore-Tex pants and anorak. (On the coldest days, I switch out the fleece pullover for an Icelandic wool sweater – nothing beats it for warmth while still being light in weight.) While travelling and standing around, my fleece gloves were covered with Gore-Tex over-mitts; on my head, I wore my favourite fleece-lined knitted hat and, when the wind blew, the hood of my anorak. While the layers may sound complicated and bulky, they are neither. Some of the gear, like my Sorels, fleece and Gore-Tex pants are over 20 years old.
The two keys to staying warm are insulation and blocking the wind; my preference has always been to make these separate layers rather than one thick parka-style coat, a combination that has worked for me for over three decades. In fact, the newest piece of my cold weather dress has been the Merino wool base-layer which replaced my favourite silk long underwear which has been in poor repair for a few years now. I tried polypropylene, but was never satisfied with its additional bulk and plasticky feel.
So here are the 15 photos I have selected from the trip. You will notice some repeats, as I have included photos from each of the three cameras I was using: Nikon D800E, Sony RX-10iii and iPhone 8 Plus (using raw capture from Lightroom Mobile). All were shot using raw capture and processed in Lightroom. I encourage you to flip through the gallery, ask questions, add comments and, by all means, share this post with others who might appreciate the winter beauty of Killarney.