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Slight senior overcomes hurdles, completes 8-day backpacking trek

Nearly eaten alive by blackflies and with both his hiking partners dropping out along the way, Murray Skan thrilled to complete Killarney’s 78-km trail
Sporting a bug net, Murray Skan takes a selfie on the 78-kilometre La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park, which the nearly 72-year-old backpacked mostly solo in late May.

Murray Skan jokes that his wife has threatened to lock him in the basement if he ever tries to do the La Cloche Silhouette Trail in Killarney Provincial Park again.

In late May, the nearly 72-year-old from Port Perry, Ont. completed the 78-kilometre trail for what he says is his fifth and final time.

Why the final time? Skan, an avid hiker and canoeist, said he’s getting older, and doesn’t want to push his luck.

“It’s funny, the way you remember the trail is always different than when you actually go,” said Skan.

“I remembered sections of this trail as being quite easy until I went to do them again, and they're not so easy. My goal was to do it five times. I've done it five times. I don't want to push my luck. I've never been hurt, and I don't want to get in a position where I'm too tired and make a wrong step.”

Sing it with me: I’ll die with the black fly a-pickin’ my bones, in north On-tar-i-o-i-o, in north On-tar-i-o. Murray Skan inside his tent, riddled with blackfly bites. Image: Murray Skan

According to the Killarney Outfitters’ website, the Silhouette trail, Killarney Provincial Park’s only multi-day backpacking route, passes over ridges, through valley bottoms and alongside picturesque crystal clear lakes. Portions of the trail are considered difficult.

The Crack, a popular day hiking trail in Killarney park, is part of the Silhouette trail.

Skan ran into his share of challenges on this trip, including unexpectedly having to do the majority of it solo.

He completed the eight-day loop, but his two backpacking partners, people he connected with through an internet hikers’ page, did not.

One of the hikers turned back after the first day, finding the bugs and the weight he was carrying too much.

His remaining hiking partner had to be airlifted out on the second day due to a severe allergic reaction. They were out of cell range, but fortunately she was carrying a GPS locator device that allowed them to contact emergency services.

The first responders gave Skan the option to be airlifted out, too, but he’d have been dropped off in Sudbury, while his car was still at the park office in Killarney. It would have also meant an end to his dream of completing the trail one last time.

Murray Skan's hiking partner was airlifted out of Killarney Provincial Park due to a severe allergic reaction. Image: Murray Skan

Skan said he would have preferred to do the loop in late summer, but it’s becoming harder and harder to get bookings on the Silhouette trail, so that’s how he ended up doing it in bug season this time.

The bugs were “worse than horrendous,” he said, even though he was wearing a bug net and bug spray. “I've been to the Arctic, and bugs are bad in the Arctic. These were worse. When you sat down, you were immediately covered in black flies head to toe. I had so many bugs inside my tent, I'd spend two hours killing them.”

The rocks were also sweating, and one night it rained, making the rocks slippery. It was imperative that Skan watch where he stepped to make sure he didn’t fall.

Skan, a diminutive senior who’s only 5-4 tall, carries about 30 pounds of gear. He works hard on maintaining his fitness level, exercising five days a week, and carrying a 25-pound backpack during his workouts prior to trips such as these.

He said he doesn’t need to eat too much, so on backpacking trips he brings mostly things like soup, energy bars, peanuts, raisins and M&Ms, eschewing dehydrated meals, which is what most backpackers carry.

What makes Killarney Provincial Park’s La Cloche Silhouette Trail all worth it - the beautiful views. Image: Murray Skan

While physically tough, Skan said the beauty of Killarney Provincial Park makes it all worth it to him.

“It’s an incredible trail,” he said. “That’s the good part of the trail, are the views. And it's a physical challenge. There's a lot of satisfaction, just getting to an end of a day, and not being totally tired, and laying down and falling asleep.”

Skan said he got into hiking and canoeing when he was 40 years old, following the death of his mother. Before that, he said he was something of a couch potato.

He signed himself up for a canoe trip on the South Nahanni River in the Northwest Territories, and spent nine months training in the gym in preparation.

Since then, Skan has had many adventures over the years, including backpacking the West Coast Trail on Vancouver Island, the Lake Superior Coastal Trail north of Sault Ste. Marie and all of the trails in Algonquin Provincial Park.

Other adventures include canoeing the Horton River to the Arctic Ocean in Canada’s north and whitewater rafting through the St. Elias Mountains in Alaska.

In terms of the Silhouette trail, Skan said he’d definitely recommend doing it if you’re physically able, “but don't make it your first trail,” and make sure you pack light.

Do you have an adventure you’d like to tell us about for our Bold series? Email us at [email protected].

Heidi Ulrichsen is’s assistant editor. She also covers education and the arts scene. Bold is made possible by our Community Leaders Program.


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