Michael Haynes, author of our 2nd edition, Hiking Trails of Cape Breton, describes the Roberts ascent as ‘a leg-burning trudge’ and cites a German mountain-climber as saying Roberts was the first place in Nova Scotia where he felt he was walking a real mountain. Whew. Was this a fit and proper destination for an octogenarian, even one as remarkable as the King of MacKenzie Hill? You be the judge.
Bob climbed the mountain and showed off while he was at it, singing most of the way to the summit. He even managed to deliver a selection of show tunes appropriate to the oxygen-depleted occasion: Did You Evah (‘Have you heard about Dear Blanche? Got run down by an avalanche’), High Hopes, Good Old Mountain Dew and, of course, Climb Every Mountain. How many 84-year-olds do you know who could serenade the troops whilst slogging his way up one of the steepest climbs Nova Scotia has to offer? My answer to the question is none. How many of us will, should we live to such a hoary old age, manage anything like the feat? I quake at the prospect.
The big hill provided rewards other than Bob’s inspiring performance. The peak is treeless and commands 360-degree views over some of Cape Breton’s finest vistas. Blueberries were at their tasty peak at this higher elevation; foxberries were on offer too. On this last day of August a hawk migration was under way: several kestrels – the continent’s smallest falcon – demonstrated their aeronautical skill at the summit while sharp-shinned hawks, up to a dozen of the little accipiters, did likewise.
Two moose spotted us at about the same time we saw them on the slope opposite the Roberts peak. They skedaddled. All in all, it was a good day for wildlife appreciators. Apart from the moose, we saw black bear and three white-tailed deer; we heard coyote too and had an eyeful of good birds: goshawk, pine grosbeak, gray jay.
After vanquishing the hill we paused at the Cabot Trail’s MacKenzie Mountain lookout to get some better perspective on the lay of the land. At this point Bob mentions to Ontario tourists that he’s just climbed the hill they are photographing. Before you know it they’re asking him to pose for pictures: another conquest for Herr Nagel.
Remember when Muhammad Ali shouted I am the Greatest? Ali offended many folks in the process but I was never one of them: to my mind he had earned the right to boast. Though he’s not nearly as pretty as Ali was at 22 I figure Bob has earned further bragging rights. After the weekend performance if he wants to crow about his latest achievement, hell, I’ll lead the cheering. Let the old coot fill his boots.