On this page, I will discuss news items I’ve learned about this year and existing trails I’ve explored this year that are new to me. While some of the material here necessarily duplicates that which will eventually be found in the individual trail descriptions, my goal here is to recount the hikes and my reäctions to them, not to present the trails in detail.
Crowdis Mountain Airstrip
While working in Google Earth this past winter on the latest and still incomplete photo essay, I came across an airstrip just off Highlands Road,¹ which runs from the Cabot Trail to the Chéticamp Flowage, just south of the Cape Breton Highlands National Park boundary. It is mainly used by logging trucks carrying logs harvested from crown lands in the highlands south of the Park; the southern two-thirds is kept in tip-top shape, a wide gravel superhighway posted at 80 km/h (50 mph). But it is also a great way to explore the Cape Breton Highlands Plateau by car, providing views available in no other way, and one will come across other vehicles up there as well, e.g., the car I met towing a trailer loaded with canoes and camping equipment, perhaps belonging to a backcountry expedition guide. From the Cabot Trail, Highlands Road climbs steeply up Macmillan Mountain and then levels off crossing Crowdis Mountain, running roughly parallel to the Baddeck River Valley to the east; as one discovers, the plateau is crossed by streams which have carved deep valleys, so there is a considerable amount of significant up and down on the plateau.
Given that I had the GPS coördinates of the access road into the airstrip, viz., 46°13.348′N 60°48.860′W, I had no problem locating it, 7150 m (4.4 mi) north of Warehouse Road, the nearest signed intersection on Highlands Road. When I reached the access road into the airstrip, I encountered two guys having lunch beside a grader; one turned out to be a trainee learning to operate the grader and the other was his instructor. They assumed, given previous experience and the New Jersey license plate on my car, that I was lost and wanted directions back to civilization. Disabused of that notion, they knew that the road led to the airstrip but neither had been curious enough to investigate it, so could tell me nothing about it. I therefore started down the road and very shortly found myself at the south edge of the paved airstrip, which is 800 m (0.5 mi) in length, as measured by the Trails app I have on my iPhone, and certainly in good enough condition for a small plane to land and take off. The access road continues beyond the airstrip and I had noticed this winter that it loops around back to the north end of the airstrip, with some open spots along the way from which I hoped to get some shots of the Baddeck River Valley below (the airstrip is, by air, 2375 m (1½ mi) northwest of the Uisge Bahn Falls). The access road was driveable for my Prius only for a short distance past the airstrip, so I left the car by the airstrip and set off on foot.
I have no idea what these adjacent roads are for, but they have been maintained to some degree; a pick-up could drive most of the loop if the owner were willing to scratch its sides on the encroaching evergreens that now partially block the road, but someone is clearly keeping the brush in the road down to 30 cm (1 ft) in height, as there is nothing higher than that in the centre of the road. 1.4 km (0.9 mi) from the south end of the airstrip, a side road heads off briskly down the mountain, offering a distant view of the Baddeck River Valley; the views might get better (or might not) and the road dead-ends some 660 m (⅖ mi) by air from the falls. The views didn’t look promising in Google Earth and I didn’t want to take the time and effort to check it out, as just completing the loop, with its ups and downs would be enough exercise for the day.
At the 2 km (1¼ mi) mark, I reached the large open spot I’d seen in Google Earth; sandy and devoid of vegetation (again raising the questions of who keeps it in that state and why), looking for all the world like a parking lot; the only views on offer were of the adjacent trees. The loop road then changes character, becoming a forest path instead of a two-track-and-crown road, though showing tire track marks in wet spots. I came across a clucking bird who was unhappy I was by her nest and a huge hare who startled me, but naught else in the forest. The forest path dumps one out at the northern end of the airstrip, which I then walked back to the car, making a hike of 3.7 km (2.3 mi) all told, with some good cardiac exercise.
I later learned that the airstrip was built in World War II for training purposes and is now used only for emergencies; a second one was built at the same time further north, well off Highlands Road south of McMillan Flowage, which is now on my to-do list to check out (for anyone interested, both airstrips are clearly marked in the The Nova Scotia Atlas).
Heading west towards Louisbourg from Baleine, just beyond Little Lorraine one arrives at a set of guardrails a short distance southwest of town (at GPS 45°56.788′N 59°52.915′W); a pull-off at the north side of the road before the guardrails is across from a two-track-and-crown access road that leads off to the head of Gooseberry Cove, reached after an easy six-minute walk (I had been advised not to drive my Prius down it, but, other than a couple of dicey spots, I could easily have made it—since I needed the exercise anyway, I was glad I had walked it).
One could easily spend a day here, wandering the shores on both sides of the cove; Captains Cove on the west side of the cove and Herring Cove on the east side of Nichols Point would both be worth visiting. This afternoon, I explored only the eastern shore of Gooseberry Cove, first climbing the hill adjacent to the head of the cove, following a pretty clear path up the hillside; there was some tricky footing for a guy whose knees are no longer eager to step high, but my walking stick was a great help and I made ’er to the top slowly but surely. It is a wonderful vantage point, offering great views in every direction. The wind, alas, was at half gale force and felt doubly cold, so I took my photos and got down off the hill as quickly as was safe.
Nichols Point sits on the east side of the entrance to the cove and is the lower portion of a hill which rises inland of it. The path to that hill was easier, but longer, and skirted wet terrain I didn’t have to worry about in my woods boots, though, with some care, my usual hiking oxfords would have been just fine. The views were just as good as, if not better than, those from the first hill I climbed and the winds were just as strong. However, the sea-side of the hill was lower than the summit and broke the wind enough I was able to enjoy myself there. Besides the immediate views of the point and cove below, one could see to Baleine to the east and to the Gabarus Wilderness Area southeast of Gabarus—the Louisbourg Lighthouse was in the west-facing views. It filled in a lot of gaps in my photo library and hence my knowledge of this coast and I was delighted to have visited it at last. Two bars of LTE cell phone service allowed me to use Google Maps to identify points of interest (I had no cell service at all where I parked at the side of the Louisbourg Main-à-Dieu Road). I stayed hunkered down there for the better part of an hour and then reluctantly headed back to the car.
For another take on this hike, see the Moosebait description here.
I had seen the Horton Lake Road sign each time I drove south on the Trans-Canada Highway (Highway 105), but hadn’t explored it previously, though it’s been on my to-do list for a long time. Horton Lake is the source of the Mill Brook with the ruins of a mill beside Highway 19 where it crosses the road to empty into Long Pond (those ruins, by the way, are best seen by stopping at the bridge, as they are now partly hidden by brush), so that was added impetus for the exploration. Alas, the Horton Lake Road doesn’t lead to Horton Lake these days, if it ever did. The road, which Google Maps calls the Lake Horton Road, is a two-track-and-grass-crown with crushed stone in the tracks and, once away from the Trans-Canada Highway, heads smartly up a ridge; it is in fairly decent condition, but became so steep, my car balked and after spinning tires, I turned around and parked by the side of the road. Intrigued by the utility wires continuing up the road, I headed off on foot and hiked 355 m (⅕ mi) to the end of the road, ascending another 55 m (200 ft) in the process, where I found myself beside a communication tower I’d never noticed from the Trans-Canada Highway. I stopped multiple times on the way down for photos—the views are fine and not, so far as I know, available from elsewhere, but very narrow as trees bordered both sides of the road, and, given the curves in the road, reached various points from off Kingsville way around to Point Tupper and the tanks and windmill farm there. I checked Google Maps for another access to Horton Lake, but it looks like the best bet would be to hike under the power lines which pass directly by the eastern end of the lake and also cross Horton Lake Road —there’s one other circuitous route that gets fairly close, but it looks to be private roads at best.
I had intended to hike to the Glasgow Lakes Look-off, which has long been on my hiking to-do list, but apparently that hike no longer officially exists—mention of it has been expunged on the Parks Canada web site, though the signage at the Paquette Lake parking area has not been similarly updated. Instead, the trail now leads to Mica Hill and paper maps show it to be under construction.
Having photographed both the old and the new trail maps for subsequent reference, I set off from the parking area. I immediately encountered a short side trail to the lake, a lovely tarn beaming in the sun. I then set off up the main trail, a world-class hiking path 2m wide with a crushed stone/gravel surface in beautiful condition. It climbs very smartly over its first kilometre and left me winded at several points. The hardwood forest at Paquette Lake soon gives way to evergreens, initially full-grown, but soon becoming stunted and opening up wide views of South Mountain and the Cape North Massif across Aspy Bay. The first observation platform is 1 km (0.6 mi) along the trail, having gained 47 m (155 ft) in elevation from the lake, though it felt like much more. The fine views were well worth the effort, however, and the “stunted taiga”, as the park’s description has it, was everywhere at hand, not much more than knee-high, adding its greens to the scenery, with very occasional larger trees that stood out from the rest. White stones mark off sections of the older trail route, still visible, replaced by new rerouted sections; thinking I’d save myself a few steps on the return, I took one old section and found it rocky, wet, much harder walking, and no shorter.
Once past the first observation platform, the trail levels off considerably, continuing on a general southwest course inland and passing three more observation platforms, the last one 2.2 km (1.4 mi) from the lake and only 10 m (33 ft) higher than the first; it has the best views of any of the platforms as one can see all of the Massif from Wilkie Sugar Loaf to Money Point along with a piece of Aspy Bay.
And at this point the world-class trail ends abruptly. A trail scratched in the terrain continues off towards one of the adjacent hills and soon brings one to one of the old trail sections; it presumably leads to the Glasgow Lakes Look-off, but is clearly marked as no longer maintained (no reason is given) and a small blue sign with a hiker symbol points along the scratched trail.
A wet spot occurs soon after leaving the fourth observation platform where a rill runs down to a small pond below. The scratched trail continues for another 2 km (1.25 mi), climbing another 80 m (260 ft) as it ascends Mica Hill; two sets of stairs, two boardwalks, and a bridge assist crossing what would otherwise be very troublesome spots (impossible for me)—as it was, it was a very tiring hike for me with much rougher going, requiring some high stepping, than I expected from a park trail, though, to be fair, it is under construction and its state will presumably be eventually brought up to the standard of the first part of the trail. But the views from the summit of Mica Hill, obviously named for the outcrops of mica and quartz lying all around, are fantastic: a 360° panorama across the barrens on South Mountain from Cape Smokey around to Money Point, with views of Mica Hill Lake lying below. When you ascend the last bit of Mica Hill, look carefully at your path both ahead and behind, as I and two other hikers who arrived while I was there had some difficulty in locating the path back down: the sparse signage was not clear, pointing in two directions.
The total distance was 8.3 km (5.1 mi). I saw several moose droppings on the trail but the only animal I encountered was a rabbit who ran across the trail ahead of me near the lake; I saw several birds of various kinds, including a pigeon-sized bird who ran off the trail into the brush. This is a fine hike with amazing views along most of its course; highly recommended.
The last edition of the Hike the Highlands Festival that included the Money Point Gulch Trail started the hike from the gap below the quarry on the “6014 Road”, also known as Tower Road (from the communication towers near its end on the Massif), a K-class road that starts south of Bay St Lawrence in Bay Road Valley beside an old MT&T building (the description of that hike is here, though for some reason it is not accessible if the web site thinks you are using a mobile device, so use a regular browser); earlier versions of the hike started it from the southern end of the road, thereby incorporating the ascent of the whole Cape North Massif (Money Point Mountain) as well, one really stiff hike! Of late, the Money Point Gulch Trail has become known as the Kauzmann Trail, for reasons I am unable to ascertain; popularized by this rather breathless article, it has become more widely known, but it is precisely the same thing as the Money Point Gulch Trail that has been around at least ten years, if not longer, and has never been a secret. It had been on my to-do list a long time and I decided to hike it on this trip to the top of the Island so I could speak about it from first-hand knowledge.
However, I chose to drive to the point where the trail leaves the “6014 Road” (at GPS 46°59.969'N 60°25.968'W), making a much easier and almost entirely level hike. Getting there, in the current state of the road in my Prius, however, was a very tiresome exercise! I had driven the “6014 Road” on various occasions in the past, but this year it was in the worst shape I’d ever seen it, having suffered serious water erosion damage especially on the initial ascent of the Massif, making it a very tortuous drive. Once on top of the Massif, one passes a gravel quarry and starts a descent to a gap between two prominences; it was as dicey going down as up and for the same reason, but I slowly made it to the parking area at the gap, which shows off the coast to Black Point, St Margaret Village, Bay St Lawrence, Deadmans Pond, and the Harbour below. A jeep (a much more practical vehicle for this road than a Prius) with a party of four from New Brunswick was busy taking photos and I joined them too. Another 25-minute process of dodging potholes, small and medium sized rocks in the road, and carefully plotting my course through the eroded areas and giant puddles brought me to the trail head. The last time I was there, it was marked only by a small piece of red-orange flagging tape affixed to a branch of an evergreen tree; what I found today was a much larger opening with a small rock cairn roadside and a red-orange styrofoam tag affixed to a tree—unmistakably marking the trail head.
When I set off along the path, I found a well-engineered forest trail in excellent condition, the tread primarily of dirt and roots with some well-placed stones and occasional small logs. The trail traverses some forest, but much of the trail is bordered by waist-high brush, stunted trees, and ferns; it is a nice walk, with a little up and down following the terrain, but pretty much level, as it circles the lip of the canyon through which Gulch Brook flows. 600 m (⅜ mi) down the trail, one gets a distant view of the cliffs above Gulch Brook and, at the 1 km (⅝ mi) mark, a fine view of the 500 m (⅓ mi) long ridge that is the destination of this trail. A short side trail here leads to the edge of the canyon with excellent views of the ridge; while there, I heard, but didn’t see, an eagle. 500 m (⅓ mi) further and one is at the start of the ridge, with fine views of the canyon through which Gulch Brook flows and of the cliffs rising above it on its far side. A geocache is located beneath a small evergreen tree near the north end of the ridge, at a point where the trail has already started down and becomes very narrow, not very palatable for an acrophobe like myself, but I nevertheless found the cache (a green waterproof army box), signed the register inside, and left a calling card there (others had left various trinkets and key fobs). A very narrow trail, suitable for mountain goats and fearless humans, continues past the geocache for perhaps another 100 m (325 ft), but I elected to stop there, 2 km (1¼ mi) from the trail head.
The views from the ridge are fantastic: the views of the canyon and the area above it to the west, with Gulch Brook descending its side in a long arc, are only available from ridge; the cliffs across Gulch Brook and much of the area to the north are better seen from here than from any other vantage point I've been at. The views to the east are of the base of the ridge and the cliffs which line the mouth of Gulch Brook far below on Aspy Bay. As well, much of Aspy Bay with South Mountain as a backdrop, from Burnt Head and White Point to Smelt Brook to South Harbour to North Harbour, is visible from the ridge. Alas, by the time I got out there, the skies to the east were lead-covered and the views in that direction were hazy and indistinct; on a better day, they would have been five-star views (on a really clear day, I’m told one can see the coast of Newfoundland from the ridge), so I will try to return to capture them.
Google Maps shows a “Rasmussen/McLaughlin Trailhead” about 50 m (160 ft) north of the Money Point Gulch Trail Head, but I suspect that it is a location error (David Rasmussen is a well-known naturalist and avid hiker living in the area, and might well have had something to do with the construction of the Money Point Gulch Trail; alas, I did not meet any of my contacts on this trip, so can not confirm his involvement with this trail, nor did I learn who McLaughlin or Kauzmann are).
Strange as it may seem, I had never before hiked this fine trail along St Peters Bay, although it has been on my to-do list for a long time. I parked above the canal at the trail sign, and set off to the west along the trail, where I immediately encountered a large stand of what the wildflowers guide identifies as purple-stemmed angelica, “found primarily on Cape Breton Island and rarely in Antigonish and Guysborough counties”; initially, I thought it was Queen Anne’s lace, but a closer look and its height—it can grow to 3 m (10 ft) high—quickly disabused me of that idea. The first 1.5 km (0.9 mi) of the trail follow the edge of cliffs that vary in height from roughly 1-5 m (3-16 ft) and rise above the shore of St Peters Bay in an arc around it; the narrow and rock-strewn beach can be accessed from the trail at a couple of points. The views of the Bay and the adjacent terrain at Battery Park (including the Jerome Point Lighthouse) and Grande-Grève to the east and the area at the mouth of the River Tillard out to Isle Madame to the west are superb, largely unimpeded by the trees along the cliffs. Views to the north are of the buildings and homes in the village, which sit along a ridge well above the trail; more land lies between Highway 4 and the Bay than I had realized. The tread is mostly grass and was recently mown, giving the impression of a walk in a park, as do the benches placed at intervals along the trail, maintained in top condition. I made numerous stops along the way to photograph the grand views, though the lighting on this sunny day wasn’t the best—a layer of white clouds lay over the waters to the south making them white rather than blue. The next 2.2 km (1⅓ mi) leave the coast of the Bay as it turns south and pass through forest on a two-track-and-grass-crown tread, crossing the base of a point of land on the far side of which the River Tillard enters St Peters Bay (the park’s trail map identifies it as Lindloffs Island, but shows it as an isthmus, not an island). Two more park benches are found in this section of the trail, once the base of the point has been traversed, offering views of the River Tillard as the trail approaches its end near the junction of Highways 104 and 4; this final part of the trail runs close to Highway 4 with the road noise that entails. Past the trail map sign and a roped off highway 4 access road, the trail becomes a narrow path leading down to the banks of the River Tillard with views of the abutments of the old railroad bridge that once spanned the river high above. The river was flowing smartly after the previous day’s rains and I enjoyed the lovely spot as I had a snack and quenched my thirst. The skies began looking like rain, so I did not tarry there too long. It became more humid on the way back, but no rain fell. Once back along the coastal cliffs, always go right when you reach a fork to stay on the trail; I didn’t and had to backtrack when I discovered my error—I failed to even notice these side trails on the way west, but they force one to choose on the way back east. Where I started the hike is not the actual start of the trail, which begins across the road from a cairn whose upper part is covered in colourful lichens, beside the canal on a crushed stone path marked by two stones each accompanied by a vertical metal post with an upper red metal rectangle, as I discovered when I continued past where I had parked the car. In the future, I will park beside the canal and start the hike there. The trail was not a busy one this day: a jogger passed me going in the opposite direction, two young cyclists passed me going in my direction, and two gentleman cutting brush beside a highways department truck were the only other people I met on the trail. The total distance of today’s hike, as computed by the Trails app, was 7.7 km (4.8 mi); it’s a fine level hike with great views that I should be able to do in future years.