Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Sleeping Giant

I’d been reading about Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, and it was number one on my list of places to visit during my stay in Canada. They call it Sleeping Giant because from Thunder Bay, it forms the outline of a giant in repose—which is as good a reason as any. The park is at the bottom of a huge peninsula jutting down from the north shore of Lake Superior—a 20-minute drive from top to bottom. My goal was to hike the Top of the Giant Trail, which takes you to the very tip of the giant’s toes, where, they say, the view in every direction is spectacular.

That was my goal. With a backpack loaded with water bottles, nuts, beef jerky, and the high-pitched bear repellent, I set off with my bear bell hanging from a belt loop. Step away from the hiker, Yogi.

To get to the Top of the Giant Trail, I had to hike 6.5 km on the Kabeyun Trail, which was mostly flat and composed alternately of rocks and grass and the occasional mud. It’s a beautiful, peaceful little walk, with the quiet interrupted only the jingle bell at my side and an occasional bird call. If I were a naturalist, I could estimate for you the number of tree and plant species I saw on that walk, but that’s not the case. There were quite a lot, put it that way—and I didn’t peer too deeply into the woods for fear of making eye contact with hairy predators.

One of the first things I did was take off my hooded sweatshirt. People who know me know I like my weather cool, which was one of the main reasons I picked Canada as a vacation spot. But leave it to me to visit Canada, in October, on a day in the mid-70s.

At the end of the Kabeyun Trail was Tee Harbor, a nice, mostly sandy beach that provided a good place to sit and rest and snack. Plus, there were lots of big wet rocks, so that was good.

From there it was another kilometer to the Talus Run Trail, which led to the new start of the Top of the Giant Trail. The original start was closed because of big sections of falling rock, which, again, is as good a reason as any. Another kilometer in, and there was the sign for the Top of the Giant—three kilometers away, all uphill.

This was what I’d come for. I imagined getting to the top and taking pictures so unimaginably beautiful they’d make you cry.

At the beginning of the trail I met a couple from Thunder Bay, both in their 50s, and walked with them for a while. The man—a tall slim fellow with a silver mustache—pointed out places where moose had rubbed their antlers against trees and scraped the bark off. The woman noted that all those piles of black crap with berries in it on the Kabeyun Trail were in fact bear poop.

You don’t have to be a brilliant logician to figure out that the bears weren’t taking a shit in the woods and then throwing it onto the trail. No, they had to be on the trail at some point.

The Top of the Giant Trail winds its way up the mountain with lots of switchbacks and turns, but even so I could tell I was exerting myself considerably more than usual. (Usual in this case meaning not exerting myself.) About halfway up, I had to start sitting on rocks and resting frequently. The Thunder Bay man passed me, followed by a younger couple who were practically running. As the woman passed, she said “Gorgeous day, eh?”

I kept going up a few meters at a time, then sitting and resting. About two-thirds of the way up, sitting there alone, looking through the trees at Lake Superior, breathing rapidly and wishing I’d worn shorts, I knew I’d reached my limit. There was just no sense pushing on, not when I’m prone to heat exhaustion anyway. Two-thirds of the way was going to have to be it.

I headed back down the trail and ran into the Thunder Bay woman, who had stopped for a long rest because she had high blood pressure. We stood and talked for a while, and after a few minutes her husband came back down the trail and said I was probably only fifteen minutes from the top—but they were the steepest fifteen minutes of the trail. I knew I’d made the right decision.

They shared some cheese and a hunk of moose meat with me (delicious, by the way), and then we all headed down the mountain. On the Talus Run trail I ran across several high school kids who were apparently on a field trip; their teachers were bringing up the rear, and one nodded to me and said “Great idea, the bell. Chase the bears away.”

At the time I thought “Yeah, I invented it.” But then later on down the trail when I stopped to rest at an inlet, a couple from Maryland said that some park rangers had once told them that bears consider those dinner bells. So maybe the teacher was being sarcastic.

Honestly, I wasn’t entirely sold on the bell idea. I pictured myself walking down the trail and finding a bear on his hind legs, leaning against a tree and saying “Nice bell. Whatever you paid for it, it was too much.”

The 6.5 km of the Kabeyun Trail couldn’t go by quickly enough. My feet were killing me, I was entirely too warm, and the natural beauty surrounding me didn’t seem to register. I was like Chevy Chase at the Grand Canyon in National Lampoon’s Vacation: Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.

So, in six and a half hours I’d hiked about 20 kilometers—a good year’s work for me. I plan to come here again—possibly next summer—and go for the top of the giant again. Or maybe I’ll just go play on some big wet rocks.

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