. . . And then we took a hike of an entirely different stripe from the trails of Garrotxa. Maestras of untraveled and unknown Cape Breton highlands, Lynn and Louise led us on a route where the only discernible track is the occasional overgrown remnant of old pioneer roads abandoned since the national park was created in the 1930s. Never once in our recent Garrotxa tramp did we have to bushwhack; on Saturday with L & L at the head of the column we did nothing but.
In the early going we followed the Ruis des Plees Ferrees, crossing and recrossing it repeatedly wherever traversing seemed easiest. The forest cover here is almost entirely hardwood – yellow and white birch, red and sugar maple. In June these woods would be vibrant with birdsong; in mid-October, among the many-hued glories of autumn leaves, the forest was almost entirely silent. An occasional chickadee here, a hairy woodpecker there.
We came upon two waterfalls, a little one of just 5 feet in a short canyon, then a towering cataract of close to 50 feet, the second-highest I have seen in Nova Scotia. How many people know of it? The waterfall has no name on the large-scale map the twins use to discern new highland hiking possibilities. To get above the fall we scrambled up a steep, rocky embankment and were rewarded with a bird’s eye view through the Plees Ferrees valley all the way to Cheticamp and the Atlantic.
The mountain ridge we were targeting this day also goes nameless on the twins’ map but they call its western end ‘Teardrop Hill’ because of shape it is given by map contours. Where the river valley is deeply shaded by ancient hardwoods, the slopes above the big waterfall gradually open, until at the ridge top you find yourself in a wide open barren, most of the trees branchless and long dead but still standing. Here Louise spotted a moose; it fled as soon as it noticed us. The moose was no surprise: we saw moose sign everywhere, the occasional discarded rack and plenty – oh yes plenty – of moose-turd. Lots of bear-scat was available for inspection too. Judging from preliminary analysis beech nuts are currently a much preferred menu choice. We tried some ourselves – the nuts that is – and decided the bears show good taste.
What we didn’t see at any point on the twins’ away-from-it-all route was any other human or indeed any evidence that we weren’t the first people to have traveled here in a long, long time. Approaching the high plateau – 433 m above our start point according to the GPS – Louise mentioned that on high ground at this time of year they often see palm warbler, perhaps the most inappropriately named of all North American birds. Look for them not in palms but in scrub spruce of the boreal forest. Within moments we had two in a tree, flipping their tails as palm warblers are wont to do. Then after a pair of pine grosbeaks graced us with a close fly-past, a big bird flew low toward us until, spotting humans in this most anomalous context, veered off away from the ridge. A golden eagle.
Jan asserts that my HQ – happiness quotient to the uninformed – can always be measured in direct proportion to the number of pictures I take. The greater the number, the cheerier the old guy is almost certain to be. On Saturday there were plenty of reasons to count one’s blessings . The golden eagle was just the capper. The picture count? Oh, about 130, just a few of which in the Flickr photostream will paint you a picture.