Even though this was my second time at Cape Clear, the view one sees in photo #1 that first greets one’s eyes when one arrives on the cliffs on the promontory from the parking lot still took my breath away. What a vast and spectacular panorama! Although this panorama certainly has plenty of competitors on Cape Breton Island, it is among the very finest! While the clear blue skies of the morning had given way to the clouds one sees here, which were largely confined to the Margaree Valley, and even though far more haze was present blurring the views beyond Sugarloaf Mountain than I’d have thought (there was none at all in the earlier Fielding Road photo looking towards Marsh Brook), the views were still superior to those of my first visit in 2010.
In photo #1, the long ridge to the right in the close middle ground is on the other (south) side of First Fork Brook, which is far below at the base of the ravine between Cape Clear and the ridge. It protrudes far enough to the west that it hides the communities of Kingross and Big Intervale, which are on the north (near) side of Sugarloaf Mountain, in the centre of the photo, which sits in the middle of the Margaree Valley, dividing it into two parts. The community of Margaree Valley is south of (past) Sugarloaf on the East Big Intervale Road; those of Portree and Margaree Centre are south of Sugarloaf on the West Big Intervale Road. The East Big Intervale Road parallels the eastern (left) side of the mountain while the West Big Intervale Road parallels the northern (nearer) half of the western (right side) side of the mountain; it used to run along the southern (further) half of the mountain as well, but that part of the road has been abandoned and survives only as a trail from Portree to the Big Intervale Fishing Lodge; hence, to reach the latter by car, one now has to come around on the east side of the mountain and then double back along the west side. However, just to keep things confusing, the West Big Intervale Road picks up again at Portree and runs south from there all the way to Doyles Bridge east of Margaree Forks. The Northeast Margaree River flows along the Aspy Fault line on the western side of the Sugarloaf Mountain and roughly parallel to both the northern and southern sections of the West Big Intervale Road.
Photo #2 was taken from further along the cliffs and shows the Northeast Margaree River below the protruding point on the other side of First Fork Brook. First Fork Brook enters the Northeast Margaree River directly below Cape Clear; I didn’t venture to the very edge of the cliffs, not a very wise thing to do in my estimation, and I don’t know that I’d have been able to see it if I had, but Google Earth shows it entering the river just upstream of the pile of rocks in the lower centre right of the photo. As well, one can see more of the Highlands as they proceed to the northeast along the Aspy Fault. I didn’t realize it when I took the photo, but when looking at this photo while selecting the photos for this essay, I was beyond startled to realize that the shadow cast by the clouds above onto the side of the Highlands in this scene is a near perfect map of Cape Breton Island ! How many chances are there of that happening again?
Photo #3 was taken from the same spot as photo #1, but looking to the east. The valley First Fork Brook has carved is at the right of the photo below the cliffs; one can follow the brook as it winds back through the terrain where it flows past the ridge that crosses the photo in the middle ground and splits into two main branches. The junction of Highlands Road and Second Forks Brook Road is at the horizon about in the centre of the photo, just a bit south of due east.
From yet another spot along the cliffs, this view looks through the trees on the side of the cliffs towards the Northeast Margaree River below and the Highlands along the Aspy Fault to the west. Taken five minutes before photo #2, the clouds are further south and have not yet assembled themselves into a map of the island, but the discrete parts are already there ready to be properly put together. The cleft in the upper centre of the photo is made by Stewart Brook; the West Big Intervale Road passes by there on its way to Forest Glen, which is on the far side of the slope at the far right of the photo in the middle ground. Snowmobile Trail 905 connects Forest Glen to Chéticamp.
From photo #5, it is obvious that there is not a lot of water in the river. Looking at the photos taken 2010 August 8 on my first trip, the water levels were somewhat higher, but not by a lot—many of the same rocks visible in the river in this photo are seen there as well–so this may well be its normal state rather than being attributable to the dry year.
Photo #6 brings Sugarloaf Mountain into sharper focus, though, alas, the haze over the Margaree Valley seriously blurs the details of the terrain beyond Sugarloaf. This is the northern end of Sugarloaf that one sees here; directly below it are Kingross and Big Intervale. If you’ve driven out the East Big Intervale Road, you will recognize this view of Sugarloaf from below rising above those communities. A hiking trail leads from Portree on the southwest side of Sugarloaf up the mountain to a look-off on the southeast side from which one has fine views of the eastern highlands and of the eastern part of the Margaree Valley, though, unfortunately, not of the Northeast Margaree River, which is on the west side of the mountain.
Photo #7 is my best view of the area beyond the east side of Sugarloaf Mountain; alas, it’s not very good, being seriously obscured by haze (the photos I took in 2006 from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain were equally hazy). The long ridge in the far distance is the edge of the great central interior plateau that runs from Whycocomagh to Wagmatcook to Margaree Forks to Scotsville and back to Whycocomagh; at the far left and a bit out of the scope of the photo is Twelve O’Clock Mountain; the Big Brook valley south of Northeast Margaree is at the foot of the ridge.
Photo #8 looks along the Aspy Fault, the west side of Sugarloaf Mountain and the valley of the Northeast Margaree River from Big Intervale to Portree; like photo #7, it’s the best I have, but not very good. The col near the centre of the photo is beyond Marsh Brook; the end of the range on the right is MacKinnons Mountain and the mountain across the col from it is Phillips Mountain, well known for its look-off on the West Big Intervale Road overlooking the Margaree Valley and also the source of Marsh Brook. Mount Coady is south of Phillips Mountain beyond and above the Cabot Trail; too obscured by haze to make out any details is the large unnamed mountain that runs southwest between Margaree Brook at the end of Doyles Road and Southwest Margaree. The line of the great central interior plateau also seen in photo #7 is at the left of this photo and runs off towards Scotsville.
Photo #9 also looks along the Aspy Fault, but in the other direction; the Aspy Fault runs through the Cape Breton Highlands to North Mountain and out towards the Cabot Strait along the east side of the Cape North Massif. Unlike photo #8, much of the view is blocked. The trail along the cliffs at Cape Clear is in the lower far right corner of the photo; directly below the trail is the Northeast Margaree River, which flows at the foot of the nearer mountain in the middle ground, on the other side of which is the Alder Brook valley. The cleft in the further distance is made by Forest Glen Brook, which snowmobile trail 905 follows north towards Chéticamp. Nearly all of the area within this view is part of the Margaree River Wilderness Area.
Photo #10 is a close-up view of part of the First Fork Brook valley and the area beyond it to the southeast. Notice the harvested areas in the centre right and right of the photo; if you squint really carefully, you can make out a couple of logging roads in that direction.
On my 2010 visit, I got several very fine photos of the cliffs along the east face of the ravine above First Fork Brook; they were taken about three hours later in the day when the sun was shining directly down into the ravine. I took none this trip because they would have been too dark to show any detail, but, if you’re there at the right time of day, by all means have a look, staying well back from the cliff edge, of course.
With this photo, our visit to Cape Clear is finished. It’s a fantastic place with incredible views, though be prepared to be disappointed by distant haze even if you start on the clearest of days. Still, it is well worth the time and effort to get there and back. Highly recommended!