Whycocomagh Bay at Little Narrows

Cleft between Lewis Mountain and Northside Mountain
[#1] Photo 18 of 132: Cleft between Lewis Mountain and Northside Mountain
Taken 2011 March 6 in Little Narrows from Highway 223
about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) south of the Little Narrows ferry ramp
GPS 45°58.733'N 60°59.188'W

The cleft seen in photo #1 separates two mountains that rise above the eastern edge of Whycocomagh Bay near exit 6 on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 105); the one on the left is Lewis Mountain and the one on the right is Northside Mountain. Beyond and between the two is another part of Lewis Mountain. Lewis Mountain is more than 240 m (785 ft) high; Northside Mountain, which extends well to the east behind Bucklaw, is more than 280 m (920 ft) high.

Photo #2 shows the bulk of Lewis Mountain rising above Whycocomagh Bay, with the cleft in the photo at the top of the page appearing at the right of the smaller one. The long white snowy strip across the photo on the flanks of the mountain marks the Trans-Canada Highway. Left of centre there is another patch of snow which might mark a road or might just be a field; the open snowy patch at the centre near the summit of Lewis Mountain would surely offer magnificent views like those seen from the summit of Salt Mountain, were there a way to hike up there. All of these details stand out in these photos; they are easy to miss once foliage covers the hills.

The cleft in photo #1 is caused by MacPhersons Brook, which runs down from the plateau to empty into the eastern end of Whycocomagh Bay after passing under a bridge just west of exit 6. This web page describes a trail from the Trans-Canada Highway up the cleft alongside MacPhersons Brook past the site of a former small settlement and to a four corner junction, of which more shortly; the site,¹ which describes it as “one of the prettiest hikes” it catalogues, makes me very interested in hiking it and I have consequently been looking for its start without success for some time (as my father often remarked, I am frequently blind to what is right there in front of my eyes). My guess is that it begins at or near the power station beside exit 6, but I have been unable to determine just where. I would very much appreciate hearing from anyone with precise GPS coördinates of its starting point.

Large parts of the unnamed plateau of which these two mountains are edges have apparently always been mostly uninhabited; unlike the plateau whose eastern end is Skye Mountain, no small communities dot the southern portion of this plateau. The single exception The Nova Scotia Atlas gives is the locality of Lewis Mountain, where a small settlement of this name apparently once existed well up MacPhersons Brook.

The plateau is criscrossed by a maze of roads, many of which are car-drivable and others of which are logging roads (New Page manages the forest resources on the plateau). My first time up was a very memorable drive on 2005 August 1 starting from the junction of Highway 395 and Egypt Road (46°⁠12.699'N 61°⁠08.521'W) north of Scotsville, thence across the plateau, and ending at the junction of Whycocomagh Mountain Road and the Trans-Canada Highway in Whycocomagh (46°⁠01.845'N 61°⁠04.375'W). When I started, I assumed that I would have to turn my Camry around sooner or later, but the road continued on in fine state until I started the descent into Whycocomagh, where I bottomed out a couple of times on the way down due to washouts from a recent rain. A goodly part of this trip, a distance my log book records as 41.2 km (25.6 mi) follows SANS 104, one of the main snowmobile routes in Cape Breton, running from Chéticamp to Port Hastings. If you ever attempt such a trip, make sure you have good maps and a GPS with you in the car, along with a copy of the Cape Breton Highlands Snowmobile Trail Guide, which covers a whole lot more than just the Cape Breton Highlands; it is very easy to get lost in the maze of roads on the plateau without these resources! Be forewarned: should you run into trouble up there, you are unlikely to encounter anyone else and there are no inhabitants, at least along the plateau roads I travelled, so let someone know where you are going. And be prepared to retrace your route, as you may well encounter very different road conditions from those I found: storms wreak damage that may not be repaired until someone discovers it.

On 2009 August 3, I made a second trip onto the plateau, this time starting from Whycocomagh, in search of the community of Lewis Mountain. I recalled from the first trip up there a four corners crossroads (at 46°⁠01.845'N 61°⁠04.375'W) that was perhaps 1.6 km (1 mi) northwest of where The Nova Scotia Atlas shows the locality of Lewis Mountain, so I drove there, passing Snowmobile Junction 4M (45°⁠59.908'N 61°⁠05.719'W) and a commercial blueberry farm with the house number 1589 (46°⁠00.309'N 61°⁠05.908'W), making a sharp right turn onto Geldart Road (46°⁠00.657' 61°⁠06.140') and arriving at the crossroads, which I recorded in my log book as being labelled “SANS 104 / Trout Brook Road / Geldart Road” with no mention at all of the Lewis Mountain Road Google Maps shows at the same coördinates. I turned right at the crossroads and drove 3.2 km (2 mi) on the roads I found there before the road became undrivable by car, but didn’t locate anything that looked like a former settlement or even a hiking trail—just lots of logged and replanted areas. So, I turned around and returned as I came. Some one of these days, armed with a proper set of coördinates from Google Maps, I hope to discover both the trail and the site of the former community!

[2012] While I was in Cape Breton in the summer of 2011, after this essay had been written, I located the eastern end of Lewis Mountain Road exactly where it should have been, behind the electrical substation at Exit 6 on the Trans-Canada Highway. Given the atrocious weather of this spring and summer, it was easy to find, as the weather had severely limited the growth of the high grasses which had hidden it from my sight on the previous occasions when I had stopped there looking for it. On 2011 October 18, a friend and I hiked it from the substation to the aforementioned crossroads on top of Whycocomagh Mountain; a few photos from that hike are available here. Photos of MacPhersons Brook taken on another hike up the trail on 2012 July 3 are available here.

New Page is no longer managing the forests on Whycocomagh Mountain, as it is no longer in business. The signage I saw near the start of Geldart Road in the summer of 2012 still says that it is, but that signage has clearly not been updated. As of this writing, I am not sure whether the province or the successor company is managing it.

[continued below]

¹ Note that this web site contains an egregious error, claiming that the plateau is “more than 700 m (2300 ft)” above Whycocomagh Bay: this is impossible, as the highest point in Cape Breton (and the province of Nova Scotia) is White Hill in the Cape Breton Highlands, whose height The Nova Scotia Atlas gives as is 535 m (1755 ft) (this Wikipedia article stub gives its height as 532 m (1745 ft)). Someone must have interpreted the 700 figure as metres and then converted that into feet!

This web site also names the plateau, one of whose edges is Lewis Mountain, as the “Cape Breton Highlands Plateau”. The Cape Breton Highlands are usually taken to start north and east of the Cabot Trail between Buckwheat Corner (exit 7 on the Trans-Canada Highway) and Margaree Harbour and I use that definition on this web site.

Lewis Mountain
[#2] Photo 19 of 132: Lewis Mountain
Taken 2011 March 6 in Little Narrows from Highway 223
about 1.5 km (0.9 mi) south of the Little Narrows ferry ramp
GPS 45°58.733'N 60°59.188'W
Little Narrows Light
[#3] Photo 20 of 132: Little Narrows Light
Taken 2011 March 6 in Little Narrows from the ferry while crossing Little Narrows
GPS 45°59.531'N 60°59.023'W

Photo #3 concludes this essay’s coverage of Whycocomagh Bay and its environs. Looking northeast towards St Patricks Channel beyond the Little Narrows light on the shore of the Washabuck Peninsula, this photo shows the open waters at Little Narrows, kept that way by the strong currents and the constant ferry crossings. Other photos I took from the ferry during this crossing looking in the opposite direction show that the open waters started only in the narrows—the snow-capped ice over all of Whycocomagh Bay turned into open water only as it approached the church on the north side of the narrows.