Hiking the Coast of a Giant: Thru-hiking the Kabeyun Trail

The highest cliffs in Ontario.
Sleeping Giant

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Sleeping Giant
48.316994, -88.921967

words and photographs by Curniss McGoldrick

The narrow trail, bordered by balsams and shrubs, wound its way towards some small bluffs on the edge of Lake Superior. I picked up my pace in anticipation of a lakeside view awaiting me around a bend, when suddenly, an imposing figure appeared in the centre of the rugged path. My heart stopped for a split second, only to resume at what seemed to be 200 beats per minute. Less than four metres in front of me, a fully grown, healthy grey wolf stood motionless with a fixed stare that pierced through me and brought me to a standstill. The pristine surroundings coupled with the rawness of this encounter focussed my thoughts and heightened my senses. In this moment, the remote wilderness of the Kabeyun Trail felt more tangible than ever.

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Fish & Trips: Sea Kayaking the Islands of Neys Provincial Park

Neys Provincial Park

by Julian Holenstein

When I received a call from Michael Meade asking if I might want to join a group of fellow sea kayakers for a weekend exploring the islands of Neys Provincial Park, I responded with a cautious, “Sounds interesting”.  When Michael then cautioned me not to forget my fishing gear, I was hooked (pun intended).  It had been exactly three years since the birth of my son; for obvious reasons the canoe had become my vessel of choice while my single seat kayak was collecting dust in the garage. I had never previously paddled with Michael but knew we shared a passion for sea kayaking among Lake Superior’s many islands. Now we finally we had a reason to connect: lake trout fishing!

Neys Provincial Park is a premier destination along Superior’s north shore and is located between the towns of Marathon and Terrace Bay. First established in 1965, the park is best known for its spectacular 1.5km sand beach, where the shallow waters are a main attraction for visiting families. While many people visit its tremendous beach front and stay in its mainland campgrounds, fewer people are aware that an additional 1,939 hectares of offshore islands near the Coldwell Peninsula were added to the park through Ontario’s “Living Legacy” conservation initiative. These Lake Superior island additions are a sea kayaker’s paradise and, as I soon found out, are home to bountiful natural strains of lake trout.

By the time I had attempted to find all of my buried and lost kayaking accessories it was time for a follow-up call to the trip leader: “I’m running a bit late… I’ll paddle out solo tomorrow and meet you there – I’m sure it won’t be a problem finding you”.   Early the next morning the sunrise found me hucking gear from the car to the unloaded sea kayak parked on the Neys beach front.  The lake was calm, free of fog, and the western most tip of Pic Island was prominent and beckoning on the horizon less than five kilometres away.

Smooth Precambrian rock.

Smooth Precambrian rock.

Pic Island is a wondrous sloped and shapely island that first caught the eye of “Group of Seven” painter Lawren Harris in 1924.  It is believed that Harris painted the now iconic and often-reproduced image of Pic Island from a nearby railway siding. As I rounded the dramatic, steep-sided shore of Guse Point on approach to Pic Island it was easy to see how the island’s wild character and distinct shape had captured the artist’s heart and imagination.

After about an hour’s paddle out into the open waters, the vastness of this great lake penetrated my being.  My 17-foot sea kayak had seemed large and unwieldy when I was attaching it to the car roof early that morning; it now felt quite dwarfed and insignificant. Paddling solo in this setting of huge cliffs, barren wave-washed shorelines and vast horizon lines, brings a sense of humility and humbleness to both paddler and vessel. Lake Superior’s impressive landscape had very quickly induced feelings of being a flea on the back of an elephant.

After a shore lunch on Pic Island, I started to entertain thoughts of uncertainty due to do the vast scale of this archipelago.  Perhaps it might not be so easy to find a group of six kayakers out here. Many orange-colored lichen rocks created the illusion of a shored kayak, only to disappoint on closer inspection.  Fortunately one of the group had the foresight to mark their site with a fluorescent orange life jacket hanging from a tree – easily discernible with pocket binoculars. I continued paddling and soon discovered that a comfortable camp had been made.  Connecting with the group provided a sense of security that I’d been missing during my solo paddle across the water.

It being mid-afternoon, most of the group was napping while some explored flowering plant life along the shore.  Others had discovered that the smooth Precambrian rock formations offered just the right amount of support and curvature to make comfortable reading chairs.  Formed approximately 1.108 billion years ago; subjected 10,000 years later to glacial ice that carved its grooves and striations; and finally polished to its modern day smoothness by wave and water – these are reading chairs whose age and natural design process boggle the imagination.

Neys Provincial Park, the Port Coldwell Peninsula and the accompanying offshore islands are all defined and characterized by a rich geological history. Downfaulting during continental rifting resulted in the variable, high relief landscape that distinguishes the Superior shoreline and the rugged physiography of the park. It is a landscape that invites the sea kayaker to explore faulted valleys, natural harbours, and some of the highest hilltop elevations in Ontario.

From a distance these wave-washed shorelines appear stark, but on closer inspection they offer a wondrous explosion of color and plant life.

An explosion of colour.

An explosion of colour.

Surrounded by Superior’s ice-cold waters, the meager soils offer an extremely short growing season.  By the time limited warmth arrives in mid-July there is an unspoken urgency for plant life to flower, pollinate, and prepare to seed.  Bright purple flowers signal locations of Butterwort, a carnivorous plant that uses sticky leaves to capture small insects needed to supplement its nutritional diet.  Soft green mosses are covered with bright legions of red sporophytes, their capsules ready to launch spores into the wind.

At sunrise the next morning there came a flurry of activity as we packed lunches, checked fishing gear and prepared boats. It was becoming apparent that I had not just joined a friendly group of sea kayakers; I was part of a group with an ambitious goal. Our task that day was clear – catch lake trout for our evening meal.

Lake trout populations in Lake Superior suffered devastating collapses during the 1950’s from a combination of commercial over-fishing and the introduction of the sea lamprey. Eventually government reduction of commercial fishing quotas, increased stocking efforts, and the chemical control of lampreys led to a recovery for many management zones in the lake.  It is believed that surviving stocks of native lake trout persist and are naturally reproducing in this area and the nearby Slate Islands.  New fisheries knowledge has also forced a shift from fish stocking programs to the more successful focus on better management of existing wild lake trout stocks.  In this area of Lake Superior, lake trout populations now appear to be flourishing.

Fish on!

Fish on!

We departed from the safety of our natural harbour and I paddled alongside Michael, who has been guiding his friends and fellow paddlers on Lake Superior for over 15 years. I learned the fine art of fishing from a sea kayak as I watched Michael land fish after fish. Having a suitable fishing rod holder to keep both hands free for paddling is essential.  Our fellow paddlers had various adaptations of commercially sold rod holders mounted on their kayak decks but they employed the same method: cast the deep diving plug; close the bail; put the rod in the holder; and start paddling – simple. It’s once a fish is hooked that the real challenges take hold.

With a fish on the line, one has to at some point put down the paddle and pick up the reel.  This is where a paddle leash is a very nice accessory.  It tethers your paddle close-by while freeing both hands to reel in your fish. You should also position your boat prior to reeling in, so that you are pointing into the wind or downwind and waves are not hitting the boat broad side, which could cause you to be unstable.  Once the fish is alongside the boat, call to your fellow paddlers to “raft up” and create a more stable environment for the fish landing procedure.

I studied Michael’s method of handling fish and watched as he placed one hand over the fish’s head and put firm pressure on the gills – this seemed to put the fish into some type of “sleeper hold” which allowed time for the delicate job of removing hooks. Michael also carried a small net in case a lunker fish presented itself.  A “deck bag” mounted in front of the kayak hatch proved to be indispensable and provided a place to quickly access lures and pliers if needed. The final part of the process was dispatching the fish. For this messy job some people carried a small bat or a heavy stick on their deck.  Once the fish was knocked unconscious it was wrapped in a plastic bag, the spray skirt was popped, and fish placed onto the cockpit floor to stay cool until dinner preparations.

By mid-afternoon we had captured enough fresh trout to prepare a wonderful evening feast. Heavy cast iron pans were pre-heated with oil and loaded with garlic, then the fish fillets were added – some a rich orange with others being more pallid and white in colour.  All fillets were from the same lake trout species, however different strains and perhaps a variety in diet are the reasons for this diversity in colour.

After a wonderful meal of lake trout, the red wine flowed freely and so did the claims as to who had caught the most fish that day.  We watched a magnificent sunset and I reflected on the joy of spending the day paddling and getting reacquainted with my sea kayak.   It was a great opportunity to participate in and witness how the sea kayak can be safely used for fishing on this big lake. The ancient shape and shallow draft of the sea kayak permits fishing over shallow shoals and narrow passages where prop boats could never travel.  Simple by design, no fussing with gas, no noise, no fumes, they silently pass through this island wilderness that remains much as it did when the voyageurs passed through during the fur-trading era.

While fishing the Neys Provincial Park archipelago became the motivation and focus of the group, it was clear that the wildness of this island wilderness was what everyone had come to experience.  We wanted to remind ourselves that we are part of this vast Lake Superior ecosystem; we had a desire to wash off the comforts of our daily urban lives, to live more deliberately, and to enjoy the gift of self-reliance in catching our own dinners.



Preserving Marine Heritage: The Quest to Save our Region’s Lighthouses

Inside the Patterson Island lighthouse
Inside the Patterson Island lighthouse

Inside the Patterson Island lighthouse

By Tiffany Jarva

The non-profit group Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse is still hoping to assume the operation and maintenance of ten lighthouses on Lake Superior, and provide opportunities like guided interpretative lighthouse tours, work parties for groups such as Boy Scouts, Girl Guides or other community organizations, week-long retreats for artists or conservationists, and other special events. Their mission is about preserving a huge part of Lake Superior’s history and providing access to the public. “Having the public be able to experience a part of our nautical history is our goal,” explains board member Paul Morralee.

Thunder Bay Main

In 1837, the steamer Erin exported the first load of 10,000 bushels of prairie wheat from Port Arthur. In 1882 the CPR built a simple lighthouse. In 1937, a new lighthouse was built at the end of the breakwater on the north side of the main entrance as part of harbour improvements. While leaving the harbour in May 1971, the fully-loaded Simcoe smashed into the lighthouse and pier causing significant damage to both, including snapping a submarine cable, which provided electricity and phone services in the area. As a result, the harbour entrance had to be closed temporarily.

Angus Island

Just east of Pie Island, the Angus light (established in 1927) is used to mark the shipping route into Thunder Bay’s harbour. From the 1930s through to the 50s, the tugboat James Whalen (which can be viewed at the Kaministiquia Riverfront Heritage Park) shuttled the keepers to and from the island.

Trowbridge Island

Trowbridge Island houses the only original Fresnel lens that is still in operation on Lake Superior. There is a helipad, and walkways and stairs join the residence and service buildings. Its location provides a great view of ships, including lakers and salties. A popular stop for kayakers, many have fond memories of the quirky Maureen Robertson, who leased the property from 1996-2010, and ornately decorated each room in a theme.

Porphyry Point

Established in 1873, this was the second Canadian light station on Lake Superior. Early light keeper Andrew Dick maintained a large vegetable garden, and dinners included stored smoked meat, rabbit, and caribou steak. Thordoc, a lake freighter carrying flour, grounded on Porphyry Point, and apparently the crew threw over bags and bags of flour to lighten the load—ten years worth according to keeper Edward McKay. McKay was awarded the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship and was presented to Queen Mother Elizabeth.

Lamb Island

A tiny island off of Black Bay Peninsula, a lighthouse was built on Lamb in 1877. When the water pump on the tug Radville failed, keeper Charles Gibson was able to rig up a temporary fix using a washing machine motor, which ended up lasting for the next six months.

Battle Island

In 1991 Battle Island became the first automated and unmanned lighthouse on the Great Lakes. Charles McKay was the first light keeper and stayed for 36 years, receiving a medal from King George V for his years of service. In 1971, assistant keeper Willard Hubelit lost his finger when fierce waves slammed a lighthouse door on his hand.

Slate Islands (Patterson Island)

The Slate Islands lighthouse stands at 224 feet above sea level, making it the tallest on the Great Lakes. Keeper Charlie Lockwood died at the lighthouse and his wife kept his body on ice in the back shed until it could be properly buried on the mainland. Stories from light keeper Jack Bryson’s family indicate that Jacques Cousteau visited the lighthouse, as well as an albino caribou, and the ghost of Charlie Lockwood.

Number 10 Light (Shaganash)

West of Shaganash Island is a smaller island known as No.10, where a light was placed to help guide vessels through the narrow eastern passage into Thunder Bay. In 1921 fire destroyed the station.

Otter Island

Due to its wild shoreline appeal, Otter Island is popular with canoeists and kayakers. Rumour has it that the keeper at this remote station may have been the last to see the Edmund Fitzgerald before it sunk during that fateful storm in November, 1975. The entire crew of 29 men perished, and no bodies were recovered.

Caribou Island

Considered one of the most beautiful lighthouses in Canada, a new state-of-the-art flying buttress form was used when re-building in 1912, creating a very slender and stable 100-foot tower. One of the most isolated islands in the Great Lakes, dangerous uncharted shoals stretch out in the surrounding waters. In 1922, the CGS Lambton (a government issued boat for light keepers) sank 24 km east of the island.

Reference: Great Lakes Lighthouses Encyclopedia by Larry and Patricia Wright (Boston Mills Press, 2006).

Vol.7 No.1


In this issue:

Superior Views: The 12 Best Views on Lake Superior’s Canadian Shore
Small Boats and Heavy Weather: A Sailing Voyage to the Remote Northern Shores of Lake Superior
Yo-Yo Madness: A 35-Hour Day Hike at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Reflections: Eight pages of the best in summer photography


Weather: Year of the Flood
The Beaver: Eco-heros?
Artist Profile: Luke Nicol
Kayak the Sixth Great Lake
and much more….

Back Issues


View back issues of Superior Outdoors by clicking on the link above. Viewable on smartphones, tablets and home computers. Look for the iPhone and iPad apps coming this Summer 2013!

Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse

lighthouseThe Quest to Save Our Region’s Lighthouses

By Tiffany Jarva

It’s hard to imagine ever looking out at our main harbour and not seeing the whitewashed walls and the red roof of the Thunder Bay Main Lighthouse standing erect against the backdrop of the Sleeping Giant—a significant symbol of light, hope, and safety. Some very dedicated and passionate community members are striving to make sure this lighthouse remains protected, along with nine other stations in the North Shore region. “The quest to save these lights began on Trowbridge Island,” says Diane Berube, former lighthouse keeper and founder of Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse. “Trowbridge houses the last of the 200-year old Fresnel lens—all of the others on the Canadian side of the lake have been sent to museums.” Thus the inspiration for the group’s name, even though there are 10 lighthouses in total that the group hopes to protect.

Worried about potential teardowns due to improper maintenance over the years, the Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse hope to develop a plan in consultation with community members and organizations, with the goal of raising enough money and awareness to convince the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to release the properties to them, in order to ensure they are protected and the connection between the lights and Lake Superior preserved and celebrated. “There is so much more behind the glowing light: a rich history, and a sense of discovery,” explains board member Paul Morralee. “Our town wouldn’t be here if there wasn’t this lake. And lighthouses have been beacons of light for so many navigating this lake for so many years.”

The organization is currently looking for more volunteers willing to work-to-stay (working vacations to paint and do other repairs) or donate materials and supplies like paint, lumber, tools, and concrete mix. And of course, cash donations are always welcome. “We need to do what we can to make damn sure not another light goes out,” says Berube.

The Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse will be hosting a community consultation at the Prince Arthur Hotel May 4 at 1:30 pm following the first Lake Superior Symposium. All welcome. You can also follow the Friends of Trowbridge Lighthouse on Facebook.

Lake Superior Symposium

Terrace Bay, Lake Superior
Terrace Bay, Lake Superior

Terrace Bay, Lake Superior

With its unparalleled natural beauty and sweeping vistas, the north shore of Lake Superior is a world class destination waiting to be discovered. The Lake Superior Symposium will explore the tourism and economic potential of the region and look at success stories from other parts of Canada.

A trade show, which starts at 9 am at the Prince Arthur Hotel, will welcome “Heart of the Continent Partnership” —  a Canadian/American coalition that promotes cultural and natural health to lakes, forests and communities. At 1:30 pm, the Friends of Trowbridge Island Lighthouse group is hosting a public consultation session.

The symposium will also feature two guest speakers: Dr. Harvey Lemelin, Lakehead University Research Chair in Parks and Protected Areas, and Outdoor Recreation, Parks and Tourism, and Greg Stroud, Visitor Experience Manager for the Proposed Lake Superior National Marine Conservation Area. Dr. Lemelin will speak on how the regional perspectives of our area will affect the economic development potential and tourism research that he has conducted on the proposed Marine Conservation Area. Mr. Stroud will speak on the tourism potential in our region.

Tickets are $20, which includes lunch, and are available at EcoSuperior, FORM Architecture Engineering, and the Prince Arthur Hotel.

Hold on to your Long Johns!


Fresh snow arrives in time for Cook County’s Winter Tracks Festival

Cook County, Minnesota hosts family-friendly festival, February 1-10, 2013

Grand Marais, MN – January 25, 2013 – Hold onto your long johns! Recent weather systems dumped nearly a foot of snow on Cook County, Minnesota, refreshing its hundreds of miles of ski, snowshoe and snowmobile trails and creating picture-perfect conditions for the annual Winter Tracks Festival.

From February 1-10, families and snow-lovers are invited to seize the season with Winter Tracks, an annual celebration of winter that spans Lutsen-Tofte, Grand Marais, the Gunflint Trail, and Grand Portage.

“We have some of the best trails in the Upper Midwest,” says Sally Nankivell, Executive Director of the Cook County Visitors Bureau, which hosts Winter Tracks. “This festival is our way of showcasing all the different ways to enjoy them.”

Visitors are encouraged to explore the county’s more than 400 km of groomed cross-country ski trails—the largest such system in North America—and log their progress at www.VolksSki.com. (The name Volks Ski comes from the European tradition of Volksmarching.) Every ski day logged wins you an entry in a drawing to win a Cook County adventure vacation.

Winter Tracks kicks off on Friday, February 1 with Lutsen Mountains Family Fun Fest, a chance for families to experience downhill skiing in a fun and affordable way. On Saturday, February 2, snowmobilers can tour some of the area’s 450 miles of groomed trails with the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Fun Run or the Easter Seals Snowarama.

Throughout the 10-day festival, visitors can enjoy snow sculptures, luminary-lit ski trails, guided snowshoe tours, live music, winter plein air art exhibits,  and dogsled or horse-drawn sleigh rides.

More information about Winter Tracks and a full schedule of events can be found at: www.VisitCookCounty.com/WinterTracks.

The Sleeping Giant Loppet: One Step, Slip and Stride at a Time

Skate skiers at the start of the Sleeping Giant Loppet
Skate skiers at the start of the Sleeping Giant Loppet

Skate skiers at the start of the Sleeping Giant Loppet

By Bobbi Henderson

I recall my very first pair of skis…jet black plastic. I probably didn’t accumulate many kilometers per season back then, slowly shuffling along and typically singing at a barely audible screech. Failing to summon deer and rabbits, dad always assured me I sounded great, which may have been a brilliant way to boost my endurance. It became a tradition Christmas Eve morning to have a delicious plate of Hoito pancakes, followed by an afternoon ski from Trowbridge Falls to Centennial Park and back along the Current River.

Fast forward years later, and here I am today attempting to rekindle my joy for cross country skiing and share it with my own children. We are now in our fourth season of classic, ending last year with our first family race in the Sleeping Giant Loppet. I remember feeling a little anxious as we approached the race area, however I quickly relaxed with the realization that yes, for some this is a serious competition, but most are out to enjoy a laid back, fun, and healthy family event that includes all skiing abilities. This year, I am enrolled in the Big Thunder Nordic Ski Club’s “Steps and Strides to the Sleeping Giant Loppet” to learn techniques and, hopefully, make skiing easier and more enjoyable. For the next eight weeks, I will be learning how to skate ski.

From the beginning of the first lesson, I had to swiftly come to terms with the fact that I am the slowest and least skilled of the entire group. I’m hopeful that, by the end of the clinic, I will have gained enough experience for this initial humiliation to be worth it. I came to see my position of being dead last as a benefit—after all, I had the best view of everyone’s behinds on the trail while I tried my best to mimic their technique. My husband, also a first time skater, seemed to easily get the hang of it, and was soon skiing circles around me until finally leaving me in his…flakes.

By the end of my first night, tired and bruised from falling uphill twice, and somewhat annoyed by my hubby’s excitement about finally enjoying cross country skiing, I was reminiscing about all the skis when I had to wait for him on the good ol’ classic trails. The thought ignites me—all I require now is practice, practice, and more practice! However, despite all efforts of wishing, singing, praying, and even plain stomping in frustration, we still need more snow if I am going skate the Loppet. So Ullr, hear my plea! Put in a good word for your fellow ski lovers of Northwestern Ontario…convince mother nature to send snow our way.

“Ullr” is considered the Guardian Patron Saint of Skiers. An Ullr medallion or Ullr ski medal, depicting the Scandinavian god Ullr on skis holding a bow and arrow, is widely worn as a talisman by skiers in Europe and elsewhere.”-wikipedia

Hiking to the Top of the Sleeping Giant

sleeping giant provincial park

The Sleeping Giant is one of Canada’s most iconic landforms—one that you cannot miss if you drive through  Thunder Bay . The “Top of the Giant” trail at  Sleeping Giant Provincial Park  is a challenging hike with a 290-metre climb to some of the tallest cliffs in Ontario. It is a hike that will bring you to your knees, or at least to the knees of the Giant.


The Sleeping Giant is located at the end of the 52-kilomtre long Sibley Peninsula which juts out from the north shore of Lake Superior, just east of Thunder Bay. The Giant is formed by a series of flat-topped mesas that resemble a recumbent human—the legendary Nanobosho.

The hike begins at the south Kabeyun Trailhead with an easy 6.5 kilometre trail that leads just past Tee Harbour to the base of the Giant. This section of the trail is an easy hike or a fun mountain bike ride because it is wide, relatively smooth and has rolling hills. Plus, taking your bike will enable you to spend more time enjoying the view.

The Top of the Giant trail is impeccably designed with switchbacks and stairs for the steep sections. This makes for a hike that is physically demanding without being overly technical. The trail winds its way to the top of the Giant and then continues another two kilometres to a scenic lookout atop the knees of the Sleeping Giant.

The trees and shrubs on the Giant are noticeably stunted and some species of plants are typically found in the Arctic—indicators of the cold and windswept growing conditions.

The panoramic view of Lake Superior’s crystal clear water and Thunder Bay to the west is awesome—it might just bring you to your knees!

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