When one goes to Killarney, one treks the famous hike that made this park so well known. Contrary to popular belief, The Crack in Killarney is ready to be tackled in all seasons – winter included. It’s tough at the best of times with its steep incline to the incredible views we all crave. Add a layer of ice and some snow along with frigid temperatures and you’ll get a recipe for one tough adventure! Luckily I’ve been there and done that – and I’m going to spill the beans to ensure you get to say hello to that beautiful white pine we all know and love.
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Surviving Killarney’s The Crack in Winter
If you’re not prepared, winter and The Crack can be a pretty gruesome combination. Even if you are prepared there will be some dicey moments as you trek up to that 355 metre lookout. Take it from a gal who just dominated this bad boy – if you get overconfident, you can get into trouble. If you’re someone who does multi-day hikes then this might be a breeze, but I’m more of the average joe kind of hiker… and I know I’ll always take help when it’s given. Here’s what you need to know to survive The Crack in the dead of winter.
As someone who sweats like a beast, I prefer to hike in tights. I set out for The Crack with a layer of thermal underwear and a pair of tights with a pair of snow pants in my backpack. Layering is important for keeping the cold temperatures and wind at bay. I recommend a thermal layer that allows you to breathe, a hoodie or some form of warming layer over top and then a winter jacket to fight the wind. My ski jacket from Mountain Warehouse kept me nice and toasty throughout the hike!
RELATED: Not sure what you need for a day of hiking in the ice and snow? Don’t miss my winter hiking gear guide!
While the beginning of The Crack is quite easy and flat, it quickly escalates as you begin to scale the La Cloche Mountains and you become a hot sweaty mess. Standing still for too long will almost ensure a chill so you’ll want to make sure you have proper winter gear and an extra you can put on later. The wind is much stronger at the top of Killarney Ridge so you’ll want something to keep the frigid air out. This is where I threw on my snow pants so I could have a quick bite to eat without turning into a Lindz-sicle.
Ensure You Have the Proper Equipment
Northern Ontario is known for being plentiful with snow and Killarney is no exception. I was caught in a whiteout while driving to the park! It’s important to have all the gear you need to ensure safe passage along the trail, especially with temperatures hanging out around -20C.
During my visit, there was about a foot of snow which meant I could easily tackle it in my winter boots. Mine are almost knee-high which have saved me from many snowdrifts over the years! However if there is a lot of snow, I’d recommend wearing a pair of snowshoes for the first half of the trail.
Once you start climbing in elevation, you’ll need a pair of ice cleats or crampons. As you make your way to the geological formation The Crack trail was named after, you’ll need to cross large sections of the Canadian Shield… covered in ice. I would not have made it to the top without my Hillsound crampons. Seriously, these things are a lifesaver and I don’t recommend hiking The Crack in winter without a pair at your disposal.
Lastly, you’ll want to ensure you have some sturdy, waterproof mittens. The last section of The Crack will require some handholds as you scale large boulders to get to the top. It’s also a good idea to bring a second pair in your pack just in case they get wet.
Be Prepared to Be Solo
I was the only hiker on the day that I decided to hike The Crack. This means if anything were to go wrong, I had nobody who would be following me or anyone to call to while in a no cell zone. While having nature all to yourself is extremely relaxing, it can also be unnerving. Be mentally prepared for a truly solo adventure. If you’d rather not chance it, I recommend you bring a buddy.
If you do hike The Crack all on your lonesome (good for you!), do your due diligence and be sure to let someone know where you are, when you’re leaving and when you plan to return by. That way if they don’t hear from you by a certain time, they can call for help in case you’re in need of medical assistance.
Another thing to have handy is Killarney Provincial Park’s phone number. As I mentioned, some areas along the trail are no cell zones but you will have service in others. If you need assistance of any sort, you can call the number and someone at the Park Office will be happy to help! Remember, if you’re injured or in an emergency situation – call 911.
Leave With Plenty of Daylight
At the start of The Crack by the parking lot off of Highway 637, you’ll see a sign with a quick overview of the trail. It suggests that it will take you approximately 4 hours to complete this 6 km hike. Now factor into all that fluffy white stuff that accumulates in the winter and you’ll need to add on some more time.
I have the gift of long giraffe legs and still, this trail took me approximately 5 hours to complete. That was also with very little breaks (minus the odd stop for a few photos) and not spending a whole lot of time at the top. I’m also a fairly fast walker. Don’t forget to take into account how early the sun sets in the winter months when starting your Killarney adventure. I would recommend not leaving any later than 11:00 am to ensure you have ample daylight to get back to The Crack Trail parking lot.
Bring Food – And Lots of It
Hiking in the winter takes a lot more effort than in the warmer months. You’re trudging through snow, sometimes a foot or more deep and possibly even breaking trail. Plus there’s the mental effort that comes with figuring out the best place to step if you have no trail to follow, fighting the elements, and more. All of this combined is going to make you damn hungry!
I highly recommend fattier, protein-heavy snacks. Not only will they keep you full and fueled, but they also won’t be as likely to freeze. Yes that’s right, I had my food freeze on me while on my way to the top of The Crack. I’ll never forget the feeling of biting into a frozen cucumber on my sandwich!
Hiking The Crack in Killarney
Now that you’ve prepared yourself for the adventure, let’s get to the actual hiking! The Crack Trail is actually a section of the much larger La Cloche Silhouette Trail. The Crack section is marked with red blazes while the La Cloche Silhouette is marked with blue. It is a multi-day hike, meaning you won’t want to accidentally follow the blue blazes instead of red once you get to the end. The Crack is an out and back trail so you’ll be retracing your steps once you reach the Killarney Ridge.
Once you’ve got all your gear ready, your bag packed, your loved ones informed of where you are and your day pass ($12.25 as of January 2020)/park pass displayed, it’s time to hit the trail!
The Crack trail begins on what used to be a logging road which has since been converted to a trail. You’ll meander through beautiful forests with trees that seem to touch the sky. Keep an eye out as it’s likely you’ll see some tracks and possibly even a critter or two! After a little more than a kilometre, you’ll meet up with the La Cloche Silhouette Trail. Shortly afterwards you’ll hit a beautiful boardwalk that crosses Kakakise Creek which then follows the shore of Kakakise Lake. Fun fact: Kakakise means ‘mischievous old crow’ in Ojibwe.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: If you follow the La Cloche Silhouette west from here away from The Crack Trail, it will take you back to the campground – but it adds 7 km to your hike. If you’re looking for a real challenge, start your hike from Lake George! Though I wouldn’t recommend doing this in the winter with the short days.
Once you follow the trail past Kakakise Lake, it begins to get steeper. You’ll enter the forest as you come upon a detour set up by the staff of Killarney Provincial Park. A large section of the trail has become severely eroded and the old trail is currently being rehabilitated with the use of ‘check dams’ and erosion control mats made of jute and coconut fibre. It’s actually quite fascinating! There’s a sign that explains more about this initiative. Oh and in case you’re wondering, the blazes mark the detour so just keep following them!
You’ll climb through more forest for about half a kilometre. Afterwards, you’ll come upon what would normally be beautiful slabs of quartzite but it’ll be more hills of snow. This is where you have to be really careful. Also if you were wearing snowshoes up until this point, this is when you’ll want to take them off and opt for crampons instead. The snow will look innocent enough but hidden underneath is a layer of sheer ice!
If you’ve been breaking trail on your trek, this is also when you’ll need to put your observation skills into high gear. The blazes are quite far apart and with nothing but white ahead of you, it can be tricky to know where to step. This section is what took me the longest by far, but the views made it worthwhile. Eventually you’ll get to the base of the iconic Crack formation. Get ready to use all your limbs to climb over the massive boulders that await you!
INSIDER TIP: If there are animal prints that follow the trail – use them as a guide. Animals always take the easiest route and they help guide me up the rocks. I’m forever thankful for the little bunny or fox that trudged up the trail before me!
By this point I guarantee you’ll be huffing, puffing and wondering when it’ll be over. Then you’ll reach the crest and your eyes will be treated to incredible views of Killarney Lake, the La Cloche Mountains and that gorgeous white pine Killarney is known for. It’s all downhill from here so take a break and enjoy the sights before you retrace your steps back to the parking lot. You definitely earned it!
Summary: The Crack in Killarney
The Crack is one of the most iconic hikes in Northern Ontario and is not to be missed during a visit to Killarney Provincial Park. Here are the Cole’s Notes for tackling The Crack in the winter months:
- The Crack is 355m high or 1165 feet tall so you’ll be tackling some serious elevation gain as you get towards the end of the trail.
- The parking lot for The Crack is 7 km east from the George Lake Campground. You’ll pass it on your way into the park and it’s always plowed.
- Hiking The Crack will take you approximately 5 hours so be sure to leave with plenty of daylight. I’d suggest no later than 11:00 am.
- To get to The Crack, follow the red and blue blazes. The red signifies The Crack Trail while the blue signifies the much longer La Cloche Silhouette Trail. The Crack is an out and back trail so you’ll retrace your steps once you make it to the iconic white pine at the top of the Killarney Ridge.
- Before you leave, make sure someone knows where you are and that you have all the gear you need to tackle this hike safely. If you feel uncertain, save it for another day or bring a friend along so you’re not alone.
- Prepare for a serious workout… but I promise you’ll be rewarded with some stellar views that make the adventure 100% worth it!
Ready to take on The Crack in winter? Why stop there and spend the night winter camping at Killarney’s George Lake campground? Whether you spend a few hours or a few days, you’re going to love your winter adventure in this beautiful Northern Ontario destination.
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