After taking many photos in the hopes that at least some would turn out, I hiked slowly back to where my host and his party was working, enjoying the occasional views that popped up after descending from the ridge. The skies worsened from what they had been, threatening a rain that had the decency to hold off until the evening. This hike allowed me to learn first hand about the terrain and the vegetation of this portion of the Cape Breton Highlands plateau.¹ As you have seen on the previous page and will see on this page, this is elevated terrain with a very short growing season where vegetation has a hard time surviving and prospering (many of the trees are stunted and leafless branches on barely living trees are seen everywhere, though ferns and grasses and some wildflowers do fairly well), so I was surprised to learn that fairly well-defined trails from the years before this was a protected wilderness area can still be readily made out, even though stretches along them are often grass- and fern-covered. Like everywhere else in Cape Breton in the summer of 2013, the land was parched dry—boggy spots were hard earth. I learned a lot and am greatly indebted to my host for allowing me to tag along. It is an experience I’ll not soon forget! I hope the photos of this area that I present here will give you as much pleasure as the afternoon I spent hiking there.
Photo #1 shows the remains of trees that now are surely dead, at least above ground, for they bear no leaves nor signs of any recent foliage. Those in the foreground appear to have been birches; there are also signs further back of dead evergreens. Yet, still they stand, bearing witness to the hard life on the plateau. A few relatively solitary evergreens are of normal height, but they are greatly outnumbered by the low brush, not much taller than the hay, that covers the ground of this area. The grasses look like they would made good hay were they mown; they appear to be thriving.
Photo #2 looks to the left of photo #1 at a field which seems to consist mostly of hay; it is surrounded with mixed evergreens and birches, most of which still have some leaves, though they do not look especially healthy.
Photo #3 looks at another stand of birches, this one in somewhat better shape, though still not particularly healthy looking. The yellow flowers in the foreground left of centre and elsewhere are not goldenrod, but golden ragwort, which seems to do fairly well on the plateau.
The previous photo, this photo, and the next three photos were all taken from the relatively narrow strip of the plateau which joins North Mountain to Theodore Fricker Mountain. On either side of this strip, the terrain descends sharply to valleys: on the north, that of Willkie Brook and on the south that of North Branch Brook, a tributary of Grays Hollow Brook, which reaches it at the foot of the mountain slope seen in photo #4. The trail I was following was closer to the North Branch Brook valley than to the Willkie Brook valley. The elevation where I was standing is between 380 m (1247 ft) and 400 m (1312 ft), according to the topographical map, while that of the highest point on the mountain is over 400 m (Google Earth says 418 m (1371 ft)). Had the air been clearer, you would have seen a small piece of South Mountain beyond the 45° slope.
Taken from 125 m (410 ft) further down the trail, photo #5 shows a dense growth of golden ragwort at the side of the trail. These beautiful flowers have golden centres and yellow petals, rather more separated than the petals of a daisy. A few white flowers that, even under magnification, I cannot identify, are at the far right of the photo in the foreground.
Photo #6 looks at a tree stand that someone built at the head of the North Branch Brook valley (which is at the left and outside the scope of this photo) that has clearly gone unused for quite some time. I judged it not worth the effort to bushwhack through the thick undergrowth to reach it, though, at that time, I did not know much about the layout of this terrain. (Once I got home, Google Earth and the topographical maps helped tremendously in making sense of the photos I took and of what I saw.) The birch near the centre of the photo seems to be doing fairly well, though the one at the right is struggling. The clump of flowers in the lower foreground is an aster-like plant with a yellow/grey/brown-coloured centre and a definite lavender tinge to its distinctly separated petals.
Photo #7, taken from still further down the trail at a rare spot through the trees that allows one to see both the mountain and North Branch Brook valley, again shows Theodore Fricker Mountain. By this point (16h30), wispy clouds were at and below the summit. The grey-blue area above the trees at the right of the photo is South Mountain, indistinct through the haze.
Photo #8 was taken from east of the North Branch Brook valley, but still on the narrow connecting strip of plateau; a couple of shallow ravines, both leading down into the valley, are to the south of this point. My tree-knowledgeable friend identifies this stand as birch (lighter trunks) with several mountain ash (darker trunks) included in the mix.
Just a short distance away from the previous photo, I came upon the stalwart, if somewhat bent and broken, mountain ash specimen seen in photo #9, a good distance away from the grove behind it. What a tangled mess the grove is, with fallen trees and dead branches every which way near the ground! A solitary stalk of what appears to be goldenrod is left of centre; I saw very little of it on the plateau.
Photo #10, taken at the same place as photo #9, shows a grand spruce in very good health, if a bit unbalanced on the right, rising behind a small grove of trees. The evergreens looked generally more healthy than the deciduous trees on the plateau, perhaps because they can process the sunlight all year round as opposed to the deciduous trees which have at best a five-month season in leaf. My friend notes that, in the Highlands, most hardwoods are misshapen or stunted, if not killed outright, by the depth of the winter snow and ice melt, which often breaks or snaps off their rigid branches, whereas evergreens survive better because their branches can bend under the weight of the snow and ice and then spring back when it melts.
At the point where the connecting strip reaches Theodore Fricker Mountain, east of the last ravine leading to the North Branch Brook valley, one incongruously finds a park bench at the side of the trail! It is easy to overlook, though its ends are painted turquoise, as it sits amid some exuberant ferns. But I was happy to avail myself of its services and enjoyed sitting there, resting from the short uphill climb out of the last ravine and from the rest of the hike. I’m out of room here for a photo of it, but have instead included photo #11, showing the trail as it heads south back along Theodore Fricker Mountain.
Photo #12, taken after I rejoined my host and the working party just before we started down the mountain, shows the upper and inland portion of what the Parks Canada topographical map now labels as Tenerife Mountain, across the valley carved by Johns Brook. The lower portion of this mountain is easily seen from the Bay St Lawrence Road or the Cabot Trail at Sunrise and is locally known as The Peak for its identifying rocky triangular face, seen here.