Killarney Provincial Park, my favorite place to travel in Ontario. Written by photographer Stefan Hofer

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Killarney Provincial Park is my favorite place to visit in Ontario. The park has it all; many mountainous quartzite peaks above 400 meters, cobalt blue lakes, small rocky islands punctuated by swaying Eastern white pines – the list goes on and on, not to mention the abundant wildlife. I’ve been to a lot of places in Southern Ontario and unequivocally, if I had a couple days to gallivant in the wilderness I would always choose Killarney. The scenery is unlike anything you can find in Southern Ontario. Dipping a paddle into O.S.A. Lake while riding on a canoe feels like you have been transported out West – that’s how grand the rocky mountainous terrain is.

I’ve been to Killarney many times and in all seasons. Each experience is unique as the landscape changes – from visual differences to crowds, the seasons bring benefits and nuisances alike. But regardless of what potential problems exist, nothing can hinder the supreme satisfaction one gets by immersing yourself in Killarney’s beauty.

One of my favorite experiences in Killarney Provincial Park occurred in the Summer. It was Canada’s Independence Day which allowed my camping buddy and I an extra day to really explore the vast interior of Killarney. Although our original exploration plans were quite large, we narrowed our focus to O.S.A. Lake. I had been to O.S.A. Lake the year before and discovered it to be one of the finest lakes in Ontario, and I knew I had to return with a more extensive travel itinerary.

We were filled with happiness and excitement when we started paddling North on Lake George toward the portage that connects Lake George to O.S.A. Lake. A minor run in with a family of 20 biting flies couldn’t subdue our elation by being in the wilderness. After landing and disembarking, we prepared for what we were told was a steep portage. Loading our heavy bags and the canoe on our shoulders, we began the arduous process of walking the canoe through the woods. Hopping over fallen trees was the easy part! But then I was staring down the hillside at the top of a 40 degree slope with a distance of 200 meters – going back up that same slope on the way back was going to be hard. But our heads were so high in the clouds, we thought “who cares…no pain, no gain!”.

Dropping the canoe and our bags at the end of the portage was bliss. No more aching shoulders and backs – it was now time to hop aboard the canoe and begin the exploration proper. We paddled everywhere, around all the islands except a few, in search for the best possible photographic opportunity. We searched all day and found many gorgeous spots, but eventually decided on one island with a terrific view looking across the lake. In the camera’s viewfinder there were 5 islands perfectly positioned together with enough water to fully frame each without touching each other. A glorious view for the first night out.

Awakening to rays of sun piercing through the canopy of pine trees, I knew our second day out was going to be even better than the first. Eating an early morning breakfast of oatmeal by the fire while listening intently to wood borer beetles “crunch crunch” crunching away on their breakfast, I felt so connected to nature. After breaking down camp and researching our maps, I scanned the horizon with my binoculars in search of the best ridgeline that would enable us to climb to the top. We decided on venturing to the Southwest corner of O.S.A. Lake. We paddled out, met the sunshine head-on after moving from behind the shadows of the trees, and greeted the many pileated woodpeckers that flew back and forth. A veritable paradise!

We made it across the lake and found the most suitable spot to leave the canoe – lodged between the shore and a fallen pine – and took only our camera equipment. The idea was to investigate the high ridge first to determine if there were any photographic opportunities. If there was, then we would come back and grab all the other gear like tents, sleeping bags, food etc. We hiked up through a dense forest with both ears up and bear spray on the hip, just in case. We eventually made it to the ridgeline and looking through the thinning trees, we knew immediately that this location was special. Little did we know how grand it was!  We stepped out on a promontory that overlooked the entire lake – islands of green gleaming in the cool blue lake below stood out in stark contrast to the bone white quartzite rock all around us. There were other ridges spread out on each side of the lake that stretched as far as the eye could see. The distance from us to Silver Peak on the far horizon was many kilometres away in the distance.

This was the spot! This is where I was going to make an awesome image of my favorite park. But we still had a lot of time until sunset (being a photographer, I tend to take most of my images at sunrise and sunset…the lighting conditions are much more dramatic). Being that we were pretty high on the mountain and didn’t want to keep fetching water by going down and back up again, we decided to walk down the ridge to the canoe and hang out for the day on one of the many islands on the lake. We pulled out some food and coffee when we arrived and relaxed to loon calls and sunshine.

When the allotted time came to go back to the ridgeline, we packed up and looked worryingly at the impending clouds gathering ahead. I didn’t have connection to the internet to look up the weather forecast, so we made our decision like the pioneers before us were forced to make – we forged ahead. As we began walking up the slopes with a full pack, the rain started. There were small drops at first, but then it really started coming down. We made haste up the ridge, and that’s when calamity struck. Swinging my leg over a downed log, my right leg moved the bear spray holster upward, while my right elbow went down and activated the trigger. In hindsight I should have been using the locking mechanism to prevent myself from unintentionally pressing the trigger, but I had been using that same can of bear spray for months without problem. What a stupid mistake that was!

Suddenly my bare arm and pant leg turned bright orange. Washing it off immediately with water, I felt like I was in the clear, but then came the pain 10 minutes later. It felt like my skin had suffered 3rd degree burns and there was almost nothing I could do to soothe the pain. I used wet wipes which helped slightly, and copious amounts of water to help wash it away. I took off all my clothes that had pepper spray on it and my friend and I decided that we better abort our ridgeline plans for a different time. Eventually floating in the canoe again with my arm and leg stinging, I looked up regrettably at the ridgeline we should have been camping on and couldn’t believe my misfortune. And to add salt to the wound, the sun poked its head out from the clouds illuminating the shrouds of water vapor and turned the mountains into a bath of orange and red. Fortunately we had landed on an island at that point and I was able to get a nice image, but I really wish I could have been on that ridge.

Nevertheless, the pain soon dissipated and we ended up having a fabulous time that night under the stars. Watching the stars move above and feeling like the only person in the World is a tremendous experience that is hard to achieve in a society where people seem to be everywhere. I would highly recommend you visit Killarney and especially O.S.A. Lake at any time of the year. Even during our visit on Independence Day weekend, we saw maybe 15 people over 2 full days. The views and scenery, wildlife and geology of Killarney are well worth the pain and effort of long portages and accidental bear sprays to experience the solitude and absolute wildness that makes Killarney Provincial Park unlike any other place in Ontario.

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About Stefan:

Photography is about the exploration of the unknown, to go further and to trek to rare places never before photographed. Photography is about an individual’s unique vision, something they comprehend to create original artwork. Photography is about experiencing nature at its grandest and becoming one with the environment. I was lucky enough to have an interest in photography when I began travelling internationally. Ever since I picked up my first camera, it has pushed me to go beyond my boundaries, to experience this life with more fervor, to discover places with unspeakable beauty. Photography has changed me profusely and I’m very excited for the adventures ahead!

Stefan Hofer is a landscape photographer who specializes in image blending to achieve his artistic vision. His work is both literal and expressionist, as blended images are added together to create the final representation of how the actual setting and place really felt. Accomplishing this task is very daunting, as conscious awareness and meticulous attention to detail are needed to fully understand and comprehend the setting as it unfolds in front of his eyes. Further acquaintance with Stefan’s unique biography and the sources/inspirations behind his oeuvre, reveal an artist who has deftly marshaled passion, intellectual rigor, and solid technique to create a genuinely original body of work.

Stefan is originally from Chicago, Illinois, and was educated in finance and banking. After saving some earnings, he bought 2 things – his first camera, a small point and shoot, and a round trip flight to Europe. He explored the European countryside and took many adventures, all while capturing the moments. All of this became very addicting and Stefan knew his artistic journey was just beginning.

Delving into the art world, he read copious amounts of books about the masters who went before him. He self-taught subjects like composition, form, line, color – all the essential basics. He learned the hard way when many setbacks occurred after realizing the final image didn’t live up to what he was truly seeking. The failures resulted in self-reflection, which created further artistic refinement that led to more successful photo opportunities in the field. The hard work paid off, and now Stefan uses his collective wisdom to create masterful images that truly express his emotional feeling when representing a particular place.

Stefan uses a complicated form of image blending that requires patience and a keen eye to successfully convert the setting of a place into one final image. “Scouting the location is the fun part! However, finding a setting that conveys the magical nature of a place is extremely challenging. To organize the chaos of nature into something simple that tells a story and has emotion can be nearly impossible,” says Stefan. With his Nikon D800e held firmly in place by a tripod, the shutter begins clicking. Hundreds of images are captured with the session lasting up to 4 hours. Standing still is not an option, as Stefan meticulously applies various camera methods to pull out the detail, like selective focusing, depth of field, and long exposure. These methods help to emphasize the importance of elements in the final image which give it an ethereal and three dimensional feel.

The unique combination of elements Stefan Hofer brings to his work—artistic, personal, and professional—gives him the credibility of an original. While each individual piece certainly “speaks for itself,” when seen in the context of the artist’s background, ideas, and singular technique, it clearly gains a degree of vitality and significance that indicates the true measure of the work.


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1 Comment

  1. Sandra Marie H

    I climbed THE CRACK two years ago …. you have INSPIRED me to go back this summer !!! Thx Stefan – great article and fabulous pictures !!!

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