Thursday, September 10, 2020

Great Wonders : Thunder Bay to Sleeping Giant Provincial Park



With the wonderful assistance of Donna and her husband we were able to get from Rock Rock to Thunder Bay without having to trek on the Trans Canada Highway!  We are so incredibly thankful for their kindness and the time they were willing to take to help us out in one of the final legs of our journey!

People continually ask us the question - Is your hike unsupported?  They ask as though that adds some measure of grandeur and importance to the trek.  While we know what the term means for hikers, I'm not sure that it would ever apply to any venture that we have undertaken or to anyone who strives to trek across Canada.  We certainly carry everything we need, and we don't necessarily rely on others to get us through this hike.  However, I think that this perspective also overshadows and ignores the fact that support comes from all sorts of places, whether it is my parents mailing forward resupply boxes, followers emailing their kind comments, friends writing their encouragement on challenging days, people waving from their front porches as we go past, and of course the aid we have received from countless people from Cape Spear Newfoundland through to Thunder Bay Ontario including individuals who have built and maintained these trails, brought us lunch, walked with us, let us stay in their homes, or helped us out.  In all sorts of fashions we have been supported and we certainly could not have undertaken even these first six provinces without the types of kindnesses that people give to one another on a daily basis.  In fact most of the best parts of this hike have been in meeting with people of all types of backgrounds, heritages and identities to chat, and hear their stories.  Thank you - to each and everyone of you!  It is because of your support that we have gotten this far!  As such our answer to the question - are you hiking unsupported, is no - we are resoundingly and wonderfully supported! 




We've spent the past two days in Thunder Bay, but sadly for almost all of it we've been holed up inside working hard. Two days ago we had a wonderful opportunity to do a presentation for the York-Simcoe Naturalists Club, and yesterday we had a chance to chat with Megan about our hike on the newly developed Shield and Summit podcast. In between we've been catching up on a huge backlog of blogs, and trying to sort out the logistics of what to do next and where to go. Fall is most definitely here, and the race with winter has now begun. The question of questions that we have sought to ignore and which we have debated almost daily for four months is now at hand - do we continue west or do we return to complete Quebec?  An answer is now required. Thankfully however we still have a few days of hiking in Ontario to make our final decision (ideal for someone who is perpetually indecisive like me).

As such, after a very late night, we got up early and walked to the post office to mail a package of resupplies ahead to Kenora (the final piece of the Great Trail in Ontario). When we got back to the motel Donna and Dave were there to pick us up yet again, and give us a drive to the Marie Louise Lake Campground in Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. We are blown away by the kindness of these two people who were complete strangers until only a few short days ago. We've said it many times before, but without the kindness of others, a hike like this wouldn't be possible at all. We'd like to send out a HUGE thank you to Donna and Dave!


Sleeping Giant Provincial Park is located on a 35 km long peninsula that extends into Lake Superior about 50 km east of Thunder Bay. This 244 square kilometer park was established in 1944 as Sibley Provincial Park. It offers over 200 campsites, 80 km of hiking and snowshoing trails, as well as swimming and kayaking opportunities.  Its steep and dramatic cliffs are the highest in Ontario, rising 250 m above Lake Superior. The primary feature of the park is the Sleeping Giant, which is a formation of mesas and sills which resembles a giant sleeping on its back.


According to an Ojibwa legend, the Sleeping Giant is Nanabijou, the Spirit of the Deep Sea Waters. One day this God called the Ojibwa Chief to him at his Thunder Temple on top of the Mountain. To reward the Ojibwa for their loyalty to the Gods, he offered to share a secret with them, but he warned that if they ever shared the secret with the white man, Nanabijou would be turned to stone and the Ojibwa tribe would die out. Nanabijou shared the location of the silver mine, which is located at present day Silver Islet. Although the Ojibwa never gave up the secret, through a series of different events the Sioux stole the location of the mine from them, and were then tricked into divulging the information to the white man. The giant's promise came true, and the next day, the Sleeping Giant appeared in the bay, a God turned to stone.

In 2007, the Sleeping Giant was voted number one on CBC's 'The National' competition to decide the Seven Wonders of Canada. The other wonders are Niagara Falls, the Bay of Fundy, Nahanni National Park Reserve, the Northern Lights, the Rockies, and the Cabot Trail. As a side note, at least six of these wonders are located along the Great Trail!

Anyway, today was a gorgeous, sunny day, and a good temperature for walking. However, the temperature last night dipped below freezing, and as we drove into the park we could see signs of the leaves beginning to turn colour. The drive in to the campground seemed really long, and it was difficult to imagine that we will be able to walk back to the Trans Canada Highway in just 2-3 days. We've had this feeling before, when we did end-to-end hikes on the Bruce Trail, and the bus would pick us up at the parking lot and then drive and drive until we thought there was no way we'd be able to make it back to the car that same day. I guess we will see.

 

After checking in at the Marie Louise Campground office we walked down the road to the campsite. There were migratory birds everywhere, including a very large number of Swainson's Thrush.


After setting up our tent at a beautiful treed campsite in the Marie Louise Campground, we began exploring.


 

We started with the Sibley Creek Nature Trail, which is an easy 2.3 km loop trail. The trail started with a short boardwalk through a marshy area. Sunlight streamed through the canopy, and we found ourselves surrounded by birds. Flocks of Cedar Waxwings were giving their soft, high-pitched calls in the berry bushes. White-throated, Chipping, and Song Sparrows were foraging in the undergrowth. Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Juncos moved ceaselessly among the canopy. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker made it's way up a white birch trunk.

 
 

After the boardwalk we entered a stretch if trail with lots of eastern white cedars. This brought us out to a small footbridge over the clear, fast-flowing Sibley Creek, which was babbling happily along in its shallow, rocky bed. We then made our way along an open, marshy, flood plain for the creek.

 
 

Overall the nature trail was a beautiful, forested footpath that provided views of a variety of different habitats. There were lots of interesting and brightly coloured mushrooms along the way, and a surprising number of butterflies as well. Somehow I always find it unlikely that something as delicate as a butterfly can thrive in such a rugged and wild landscape as the shores of Lake Superior.

 

After completing the nature trail loop we headed out to the road, with the intention of walking to Silver Islet. This seasonal community is located at the tip of the Sibley Peninsula. In 1868 a rich vein of silver was discovered on the small island, which was only 2.5 m above the waters of Lake Superior. A silver mine was started on the island, and the land was expanded in size to accommodate a small mining community. By early 1883 most of the silver had been removed, and at the end of the season a shipment of coal failed to arrive, causing the pumps that held back the lake water to fail. The shaft, which was 384 m deep, was flooded and never reopened. Apparently if you kayak out to the island today you can see the opening to the old mine shaft under the crystal clear waters of the bay.  While dark and small spaces do not personally both either of us, I cannot fathom entering a mine under Lake Superior and which could, at any time, be flooded in by Lake Superior!


As we walked the road we passed a small pull-out with an 'Area Closed' sign and a barrier. Just behind the barrier was a tall, curious, healthy looking White-tailed Deer! After enjoying this impromptu encounter we headed off again, only to hear the distinctive calls of a Pileated Woodpecker. Sure enough, a male flew down the road towards us, swerved and did a u-turn in front of us, and then landed on a trembling aspen. He proceeded to peek out from one side of the tree and then the other, calling in between. It looked like he was playing hide-and-seek with something in the forest.

When we reached the Kabeyun Trailhead the parking lot was full of cars. We decided to take a look to see if there was a map, since this is the trail we will be walking for the next few days and we haven't found much information on it yet. There was no detailed map, but we discovered we could walk down and see the famous Sea Lion.

 
 

The Sea Lion is a rock arch that sticks out into the lake which used to resemble a lion. In the early 1900's the lion's head fell off due to erosion, but the name stuck, and it is still a very impressive geological feature. The shoreline around the Sea Lion is primarily composed of sedimentary rock, formed around 1.7 billion years ago. Around 1.1 billion years ago magma was created through melting of earth's crust. It pushed up between the layers of sedimentary rock, cooling and crystallizing to form sills and dykes. The softer sedimentary rock has eroded away, leaving the harder magma behind in interesting shapes, like the Sea Lion.

As we started down the 500 m forested footpath to the Sea Lion the wind was really beginning to pick up. We ducked out onto a small beach and watched as small waves broke against the steep, rocky shore farther around the bay.

 
 

The geology looks different out on the Sibley Peninsula than it did around Nipigon and Red Rock. Here the beach was composed of small, thin, flat, grey pebbles, almost like polished pieces of slate. At the end of the beach people have created a wall of rocks where they scratched their names into the soft stone. We left one of our own as we passed by.  I guess we all want to leave our mark.

 

As we looked out over the bay the water was a strong turquoise, similar to what it looks like in the Caribbean. The bright sun caused the water to sparkle, and the white spray from the waves made a beautiful contrast with the blue of the sky and the lake. Behind this colourful, moving, noisy, waterscape rose the steep, forested hills and cliffs of the peninsula. It was amazingly beautiful.

 
 

When we reached the end of the Sea Lion trail we came to a fenced off area, and beyond that was the famous rock formation. It was oddly mesmerizing to watch the waves break and play in the arch at the bottom, and we spent some time there, just enjoying the view. As we stood there, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed up to check us out!

 

After seeing the Sea Lion we backtracked a little to pick up the Sawyer Bay Trail, and then we turned onto the West Sawbill Lake Trail, which took us back to the campground. Both of these trails were old roads, consisting of two mossy, gravel tire tracks. They were easy, pleasant going, and although there was a bit of climbing, the ascents were gentle.

 
 

By this point in the afternoon the wind had really picked up. We could hear it roaring through the trees above us, but we were sheltered by the spruce forest, and didn't feel it much at all. This type of forest is always so reassuring. Even when there is a lot of wind coming in off an ocean or large lake, even a small band of spruce will protect you.


As we hiked several red squirrels scolded us as we went past, but others seemed almost completely absorbed in foraging. One of them was consuming spruce cones with complete concentration until it suddenly realized Sean was photographing it. The expression of shocked disbelief and outrage on its face was priceless.

 

We also came across a flock of Black-throated Green Warblers, who were also foraging like crazy. There was a particularly chubby one that seemed completely unconcerned with us, refusing to move off the path and interrupt its foraging as we passed by.

Overall we hiked just over 14 km in our exploring. When we returned to our campsite we tried a Morrocan Feast from Happy Yak, and found it to be delicious! It was couscous with lentils, slivered almonds, raisins, apricots, and lots of spices. It even had a bay leaf! It was such a welcome change from our usual meals. We followed it up with a hot apple cobbler, and felt extremely spoiled.


By this point the wind was really fierce, and several tents from sites right on the lake were blown down the road. Quite a few people packed up and left, presumably for more sheltered sites. We'd had the experience  of these types of winds in Bauline Newfoundland on the second day of our trek and when given the option we have always since pitched our tent behind a small clump of trees.  Thankfully this afternoon we were in such a protected campsite, so nothing has blown away ... yet. However, as we made dinner the temperature fell to -2°C. It is definitely fall!

 
 

We sat on the shore and watched the sun set across the lake, right beside the Sleeping Giant. It was freezing in the strong wind, but as the light shifted and changed it was easy to imagine the Giant waking up and beginning to move. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, but there was moisture over the water, giving the golden and yellow sunset a very soft feel.

These types of moments always amaze me.  How the light shifts and the colours dance over the waters.  How the world seems to transform moment to moment with the gust of the wind, or the tone of the sky while the sun sets.  These are magical and peaceful moments which, as we grow up, we so rarely get a chance to enjoy. Tonight we were given a real gift of being able to sit on the shores of Lake Superior in the shadow of the Sleeping Giant and watch the day pass into night amid the constantly shifting hues which painted an expansive seascape and skyscape.


Darkness has fallen, and the wind continues to blow with quite some force. The waves are still crashing into the shore. Only the stars are still and silent above us. It makes us wonder what hiking the exposed outer edge of the peninsula will be like tomorrow.

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