Wild Northerner Magazine Spring 2017 - Page 22

Background - Formation

The Sibley Peninsula, or the Sleeping Giant, as it's known in the northwest, is a natural rock peninsula in the shape of a giant sleeping person. The rock juts into Lake Superior and forms Thunder Bay.

It is a formation of mesas and sills which resembles a giant lying on its back when viewed from the West to North-Northwest section of Thunder Bay. When measured from the elevation at Lake Superior 182 m (600 feet) to the highest point 563 m (1847 feet), The Sleeping Giant has the highest vertical rise in Ontario 380 m (1247 feet). The most popular destination on the Sleeping Giant is the chimney lookout on the knees which overlooks Lake Superior and spectacular rock formations. The highest point is on the chest and it is 600 m away from the Chest Trail which leads to the Nanabosho (Nanabijou) Lookout.

A mesa is a flat-topped, steep side hill with a resistant rock layer top that protects softer, more easily eroded rock layers below. The cap rock on the Giant is made of Keweenawan diabase, intruded into sedimentary rocks more than one billion years ago. At that time, North America was being stretched almost to breaking point across a broad area called the Mid-continent Rift.

According to Native legend, the Sleeping Giant is said to be Nanabijou, the Ojibwa Spirit. Nanabijou found silver near the shore of Lake Superior and warned his people that if white men ever found it he would be turned to stone. A chieftain supposedly made silver weapons that were discovered by a Sioux scout who led white men to the area. Nanabijou disobeyed the Great Spirit and tried to protect the secret of the silver his people had hidden at Silver Islet by raising a large storm that sunk the white men’s boats. As punishment for his actions, Nanabijou was turned into stone where he still lies today.

One billion years of erosion it has resulted in a formation of five flat-topped mesas that, when viewed from across the waters of Thunder Bay, resemble the profile of a recumbent human form.

streams deep within the park’s wilderness areas. There are 20 different trails to choose from.

Depending on your destination on the Sleeping Giant, there are a few options for the trek. The most popular destination is the chimney lookout on the knees of the giant and can be reached by taking the Kabeyun Trail from the south trailhead on Highway 587 just a few km south of the Marie-Louise Lake Campground. Take the Kabeyun Trail west for 7.5 km to the junction with the Talus Lake Trail. Take the Talus Lake trail north for 0.8 km until its junction with the Top of the Giant Trail. This trail steeply ascends the Sleeping Giant and terminates in 2.7 km at the chimney lookout.

The Kabeyun is a 37 km scenic coastal trail which follows the shores of Lake Superior and rounds the famous Sleeping Giant. During the hike you can venture to the end of a cantilevered platform at Thunder Bay Lookout 100 metres above Lake Superior, relax at a secluded beach or join the Top of the Giant trail. The Kabeyun is ideal for overnight backpacking with interior campsites nestled beside Lake Superior’s ever deep-blue presence.

The Top of the Giant Trail is 22 km return and is considered the park`s “Signature Hike,” according to the Park Superintendent, Tyler Speck. It is a heart-pumping, zig-zig ascent. Once on top of the Giant, the trail takes you to scenic lookouts on both east and west sides of the peninsula with spectacular views 300 metres above Lake Superior. “Last year more than 20,000 day use visitors attended Sleeping Giant Provincial Park with the vast amount of these day users alone, using the park for hiking as a primary focus.”

The key is to take your bike for the first portion to the trail head along a flat trail that hugs the shoreline. This saves more than a third of your hiking time. (Or kayak to Tea Harbour and take a beach camp site, the ascent starts there. Get an early start and the trail guide says "strenuous." So the best trail greeting, as I was descending, meeting the ascending "buddy" hiker, "Well, my hang over is now gone!”

Thunder Bay Lookout

If time is really precious, drive the 30 km off of Highway 11/17 to the Thunder Bay Lookout; one of the first interior access roads within the park. It is 9 km in on a good gravel road from Highway 587. Some engineers were thinking, you step out a few metres on a platform suspended high over a cliff and it’s like the world is spread out at your feet as you peer downwards through the see-through metal grate. (This design was also implemented at the nearby Ouimet Canyon, just west of Nipigon. Panoramic views of a 150 metre wide gorge and sheer cliffs that drop 100 metres straight down to the canyon floor highlight this day use park only.)

Hundreds of metres below, the clear, cold waters of Lake Superior lap at a rocky shore lined with various shades of green. Off to the right (north) you can see the purplish outline of Caribou Island. To the left (west) you can spot Thunder Bay in the distance.

(The giant’s form looks better from a distance. One of the best views of the giant’s outline is from Hillcrest Park within central Thunder Bay, it provides one of the finest scenic outlooks over the city; the giant is also very discernible from the Terry Fox monument as you enter Thunder Bay from the east on Highways 11/17.) The platform at the Thunder Bay Lookout is not for the faint of heart but there are plenty of spots where you can see the view while standing on more solid ground.)

Sea Lion

If you take your canoe/kayak to the “great northwest,” stop at one of the most photographed landmarks in Ontario. There are a number of sea arches along the coast, but this is the most accessible. The water perspective is different and easily done.

The Sea Lion is a thin rib of diabase forming a natural wave-cut arch. It crystallized from hot melted magma that intruded into the shale while it was buried deep in the earth. It is about 8 m high, 1 m thick and projects about 15 m into Lake Superior. This feature once resembled a lion sitting on its haunches; prior to 1930, when its head broke off. However the name has persisted. A view of the sleeping giant is in the background and you can see the head, Adam’s apple, chest and knees high above the Sibley peninsula.

While in the kayak below, Back Roads Bill was taking photos, bouncing around in the back wash from the cliffs; best comment, from dialogue with “buddy” teenager, trying to climb on to the pinnacle of the arch above; then his mother came with the “get down from there” advice. And after she departed, he sheepishly said as he safely retreated, “I should have come here with you.”

Do the double header, try another perspective on land. The nearby trail is easily found from the Kabeyun Trail Head; it is then a short hike of about 0.5 km. Bonus, put your boat in the water at nearby Silver Islet and paddle south east and then around the point, north, across the bay; less than 30 minutes. You get a good look at the cliffs and the energy of the storm waves and the ongoing erosion of the shale.

And at the end of Highway 587 on the Sibley Peninsula, there is the old abandoned Silver Islet mine almost entirely submerged. More than $3,450,000 of silver was produced between 1868 and 1884. There is a historic cemetery there as well.

Viewed from afar this land formation looks for the entire world like a sleeping giant. As the second largest country in the world, Canada doesn't lack for natural assets. The “Giant” is one of those northern Ontario “must see” destinations; it’s so much closer than the Rockies and has amazing natural beauty and fascinating geology to explore; it is a Canadian icon. Contact the author, wilstonsteer@gmail.com; LIKE on Facebook – Steer to Northern Ontario and visit www.steerto.com.