The “Great Central Interior Plateau” has long fascinated me, certainly from natural curiosity and also perhaps because of its general remoteness, although surrounded on all sides by populated communities, and its difficulty of access. It includes the roadless Trout Brook Wilderness Area as well as areas which have historically been logged for their wood, whether for paper or for other uses, a valuable and renewable resource when managed properly, though not much seems to be going on there in late years.
I have twice driven the main route across the plateau from Whycocomagh to Upper Margaree, as described here (2012) and here (2005). This route, a distance of 41.2 km (25.6 mi), follows a goodly part of the way SANS 104, one of the main snowmobile routes in Cape Breton, a portion of which is also known as Trout Brook Road. Studying my first trip there introduced me to two prominences that rise enough above the surrounding plateau to be seen from a considerable distance, for example, from Campbells Mountain, though not up on the plateau itself, where the forests almost always block the lines of sight: Gillanders Mountain and Gairloch Mountain, both with heights of (380 m (1246 ft)),¹ which had thereafter been on my to-do list.
Two days earlier, I had tried the Gillanders Mountain Road from further north in West Middle River, but had had to quickly abandon the attempt as the road, also part of SANS 104, was undriveable from that direction in my Prius; that same day, I saw Gairloch Mountain Road when I drove the Indian Brook Road for the first time and noted it looked to be in somewhat better shape than the Gillanders Mountain Road, though not as good as that of the Indian Brook Road itself, but I did not drive it then as it was threatening rain.
After my return trip to Indian Brook Road, I decided to head up the Gairloch Mountain Road and see how far I could go. I was also hoping to stumble onto the beautiful waterfall seen here, for which I have no other information, but that did not happen. The road itself far surpassed my expectations: it proved drivable, though with a few dicey spots, all the way up to the top of the plateau and across the plateau a third of the way towards Lake Ainslie. I passed a NewPage sign at the junction labelled as “Gairloch Mtn North” by a small sign there; that road Google Maps shows as dead-ending on the plateau. I continued on Gairloch Mountain Road South (per Google Maps) and, at another junction, which was only 580 m (⅜ mi) from the highest point on Gairloch Mountain, invisible of course from the road, I took the more travelled road, which headed east towards St Patricks Channel.² That road petered out ten minutes later, so I turned around at 46°06.800’N 61°00.116’W and, since I’d run out of time, retraced my steps back to the Middle River West Road, making much better time on the way down than on the way up and discovering some views of the Cape Breton Highlands in the distance at a few points during the descent (the photos I got show more haze than those from the Indian Brook Road, alas). The photos on this page come from this exploratory excursion on Gairloch Mountain Road.³
¹ I do not have exact heights for these two mountains; the figures given are from the contour lines on the topographical map, so the actual height is at least that and could be just less than 20 m (66 ft) higher. Google Earth is using somewhat different data apparently; it gives 383 m (1256 ft) for Gillanders Mountain and 378 m (1240 ft) for Gairloch Mountain.↩
² Had I not turned at that junction (GPS 46°07.257'N 61°00.455'W) and instead kept on straight ahead, Google Earth shows I’d have reached the Trout Brook Road, which ends on Egypt Road, in 2 km (1.2 mi), assuming that the continuation is drivable (somewhat dubious given the depiction of the road in Google Earth’s imagery). Moreover, when I drove on 2012 July 6 from Whycocomagh to Upper Margaree, a trip that includes all of the Trout Brook Road, my trip notes do not mention any junction where Google Earth shows the Gairloch Mountain Road crossing the Trout Brook Road (at GPS 46°06.762'N 61°01.574'W), though they do note junctions before and after that point. It is possible I was distracted and did not see it, but I think it more likely that it didn’t look much like a drivable road.↩
Photo #1 looks down at MacKenzie Brook from the bridge on the Gairloch Mountain Road just past the junction with the Indian Brook Road. This lovely stream was basking in the day’s sun and singing merrily as I photographed it from the bridge. The bank of the road is at the far left and blocks light from reaching the left side of the brook.
Photo #2 looks down at MacKenzie Brook from the other side of the bridge as it continues downstream to its mouth on Black Brook 500 m (0.3 mi) south of here. Here it is not the bank of the road that blocked the light, but the thick trees which conspire to hide its waters from the sun. The boards seen in the lower foreground are those of the bridge.
Photo #3 is a look at the bridge over MacKenzie Brook itself. Although it is missing part of its guardrail on the right, it is nevertheless sturdily built, as it has to be to accommodate the logging trucks which traversed it in the recent past.
From the bridge over MacKenzie Brook, the Gairloch Mountain Road climbs steadily up the plateau, following the terrain and avoiding insomuch as possible prominences such as the one seen here. Photo #4 was taken from part way up to the top of the plateau from one of the more level portions of the route. The summit of Gairloch Mountain is due west of this point, but hidden by the smaller prominence dead ahead. The road winds to the left around it and then comes back up between it and another prominence before another good climb to the top of the plateau.
Photo #5 looks to the east along the Gairloch Mountain Road from a junction with a logging road. As can be seen, the road is in excellent condition here and decorated with Queen Anne’s lace. The height of the trees along this stretch of the road is typical throughout the roads on the plateau I have driven and is the main reason one cannot see any distance away, even though one is higher here than most places in Cape Breton (Google Earth gives the elevation as 304 m (997 ft).
Queen Anne’s lace was not the only embellishment along the road: photo #6 shows a few clumps of pearly everlasting which also caught my eye. No signs of goldenrod here, though!
Photo #7 looks along the logging road that branches off the Gairloch Mountain Road at this point. It is clearly not in as good shape as the Gairloch Mountain Road, with a grass crown in the middle of the road. Google Earth shows it running straight for 545 m (⅓ mi) before dead-ending at the top of a prominence similar to the one seen in photo #4. Clearly, this area has not been logged in a considerable amount of time.
Photo #8 looks across the road from the junction with the logging road in the general direction of Gillanders Mountain along the eastern flanks of Gairloch Mountain. This area looks to have been more recently logged, though apparently mature trees can be seen as well.
Photo #9 shows the scene 200 m (⅛ mi) further along, just past the junction with the Gairloch Mountain Road North and a huge NewPage sign advising that this is a private road with logging operations in progress and danger from heavy trucks hauling that you use at your own risk. I certainly saw none of that this day and no evidence that any logging operations had been occurring in the past few years. Indeed, the road here is beginning to get a grass crown in the middle, a good sign of very infrequent use. But isn’t this a pretty spot? Especially the first time one drives it, one never knows what one is going to find around the next corner!
Photo #10 was taken from the west side of the Gairloch Mountain Road at the same spot as photo #9 and just a bit past the junction with another logging road and looking down it; the Gairloch Mountain Road runs across the lower width of the photo. A rare line of sight allows one to see a portion of the prominence around which the Gairloch Mountain Road climbed up to this point on the plateau. Such moments are fleeting and all too infrequent!
650 m (⅖ mi) southwest of the junction with the Gairloch Mountain Road North, I reached another junction, unsigned this time. One fork continued west, but was in less good condition than the fork that went to the southeast, so I followed the better road surface. That proved to be somewhat of a mistake, for, 960 m (⅗ mi) later, I reached the end of the road, but with a rare good line of sight, seen in photo #11. The far mountain is Northside Mountain, which rises above St Patricks Channel; the tree line in the middle ground is a hillside above and on the far side of Black Brook, whose course can be made out through the trees about half way to the tree line. If one were to continue in a straight line in the same direction as the road, one would end up on the Washabuck Peninsula near the gypsum mines at Jubilee.
I should have gone straight at the junction, which would have taken me to the Black Brook crossing and out onto the Trout Brook Road according to Google Earth, though its imagery makes me extremely dubious that I’d have been able to drive the whole of the 2 km (1.2 mi) distance. But, it would certainly make for an interesting hike!
In any case, I was out of time and had to head back to make it to St Anns for the festivities there. I did stop a few times on the return trip when lines of sight opened up descending the plateau. Photo #12 was taken at one of these stops, where a view of the Middle River Valley and the Cape Breton Highlands above can be made out above the trees. Alas, it had clouded up and gotten considerably more humid while I was on the plateau, bringing haze into the air, so the details on the Highlands are pretty soft. But it was a lovely trip and one I hope to make again in the future.