Biking Cape Breton Highlands Nationwide Park
By Darcy Rhyno
Biking west from Cheticamp, the highway itself tells me the place Nova Scotia’s Route 30 ends and the freeway by means of Cape Breton Highlands Nationwide Park begins. Each are a part of the Cabot Path, however crossing the Cheticamp River into the park, the standard of the highway floor visibly improves. It widens and the blacktop is newer with out the patches, cracks and bumps typical of the provincial part.
And but, as I experience previous the admission kiosk and begin up the hill between the imposing face of Le Grande Fallaise to my proper and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to my left, I really feel uneasy. The paved shoulder is slender and a current rain has carved ruts into the gravel shoulder all the way in which as much as the park’s first lookoff. The view again in the direction of Petit Etang Seashore on the mouth of the Cheticamp River is definitely worth the work, however I can see that if I used to be biking within the different course, I might be on a blind crest squeezed between the only lane site visitors and the guardrail on a really slender shoulder. When an 18-wheeler rumbles by, I really feel much more uneasy.
Driving on, the grade continues to steepen because the highway undulates alongside probably the most photographed part of the park — the western, seaside fringe of the Cabot Path. Seven kilometres (4.4 miles) alongside, I attain the bottom of French Mountain. On the far facet of the steep valley, I could make out tiny figures silhouetted towards the clouds on the finish of the park’s finest identified path, Skyline. From the bottom of French Mountain, it’s a 5.5-kilometre (3.4-mile) climb at a 9 to 12 per cent incline. That is the place the highway is far improved after the foremost repairs of the previous few years. It’s a reduction to search out the paved shoulders considerably widened and new guardrails put in. Though the highway is steep switchbacks all the way in which up, I really feel a lot safer. These repairs are a welcomed step towards attaining the park’s administration plan goal of turning into a premier biking vacation spot. Lengthy-term objectives embody bike paths for sharing of the freeway and relaxation stops for cyclists together with bike stands and water stations.
Within the days that observe, I drive the remainder of the Cabot Path by automotive and discover widened paved shoulders and new asphalt contained in the park. The latest is on probably the most tough and harmful part at Cape Smokey the place cyclists face a 10-kilometre (six-mile) climb up a 12 to fifteen per cent incline. The exception is North Mountain the place the shoulder stays slender and is usually tight towards the guardrail or the uncovered rock of the mountain. Drainage channels are set into the shoulders, forcing cyclists into the single-lane site visitors. Within the enclave sections by means of small communities like Nice Bay, the shoulder typically disappears, and the paved floor is once more rutted, patched and bumpy. For a brief stretch by means of Ingonish Seashore, cyclists can chill out on the one designated bike lane by means of the park or its enclaves.
Earlier than reaching the highest of French Mountain, I flip round and head again. For the views and the challenges, it’s been an exhilarating experience. However I’m worn out, so I head again to the Cheticamp Campground — considered one of seven within the park — the place I pitched my tent subsequent to the river, seize a bathe and take the brief drive into city. Cheticamp is a French Acadian group with a wealthy historical past, a energetic cultural scene and loads of customer companies reminiscent of eating places, pubs, retailers and boat excursions.
At Les Trois Pignons Centre Culturel et Galerie, I discover reveals that inform the story of Cheticamp’s 240-year Acadian presence. Two characters in that story stand out. The primary is Marguerite Gallant who spent her life amassing a lot of the artifacts within the reveals, rescuing many from the weather. The opposite is Elizabeth LeFort thought of the best rug hooker in a group identified for the craft. She was the primary to create portraits of historic figures in her work. Likenesses of American presidents dangle within the Whitehouse, of the Queen in Buckingham Palace and of the Pope within the Vatican.
The mix of the nationwide park and adjoining communities like Cheticamp makes for a doubly rewarding biking expertise alongside the Cabot Path. However I’m additionally right here to discover the park’s a lot much less celebrated off-road mountain biking alternatives. The park itself barely acknowledges them. Seven trails are listed as open to off-road cyclists, however all seven are mountain climbing trails first. In response to the park’s administration plan, it’s wanting into creating extra mountain biking trails.
Again on the Cheticamp Campground, I hop on the bike and discover the doorway to one of many seven, Salmon Swimming pools. It follows the Cheticamp River about 5 kilometres (3.5 miles) upstream to the positioning of a rock fall the place it ends abruptly. The path is huge and, excluding a small hill at the start, fully flat. About midway up the path, the shallow, gravel-bottomed river out of the blue narrows, capturing by means of channels carved into the bedrock, then slows into deep swimming pools.
The experience is so intriguing, after I return, I join a guided stroll on the identical path with Interpretation Coordinator Miranda Dodd. A household of 5 joins us. Dodd wows the children with tales of the salmon lifecycle, the creation of the half billion 12 months previous volcanic basalt rock face and the wildlife that lives on this slender valley — black bears, eagles, salamanders and the Atlantic salmon themselves. Parks Canada is assessing the standing of this species, which could but be scheduled below the Species at Danger Act inside the present administration plan.
As we stroll, Dodd solves the thriller of the uprooted bushes piled right here and there alongside the riverbank. On August 22, 2015, a strong flash flood rampaged down the valley. Dodd factors out one a part of the river the place rocks are stacked into arms that finish on the water’s edge. These have been positioned right here strategically throughout a undertaking in partnership with the Cheticamp River Salmon Affiliation to encourage the river to dig deeper channels, thus offering higher habitat for salmon.
“The pressure dug out some channels by itself and rearranged a few of the rocks we put in.” However, Dodd provides, “in different places it deposited sediment, filling in some areas that we didn’t need crammed in.”
The identical flood explains an oddity concerning the Cheticamp Campground, which comes into sight instantly upon getting into the park. An interpretive centre sits beside the highway, however to get to the campground behind it, I’ve to drive up the freeway a number of hundred metres, flip onto a wooded highway and observe it again below the freeway and into the campground on the opposite facet.
Earlier than the flood, a lot of the campground was positioned right here on this wooded space. Dodd was working late that afternoon when the rain began. “It was a gentle downpour,” she says. “Guests instructed us their campsite was two inches below water. Certainly one of my colleagues went out to examine and instantly began evacuating the campground. It poured for 4 or 5 hours.”
Bushes snapped, roads washed out and vehicles have been carried into the woods. Campers spent the night time within the native firehall. By the point it was over, the campground, together with the playground, was fully below water. Park administration determined it was too harmful to maintain the campground the place it was, so that they moved it to the opposite facet of the freeway. At present, 122 websites, together with 10 oTENTiks, can be found right here.
The following day, I head to the opposite two trails designated for biking which might be accessible from the Cheticamp Campground. A brief experience up the freeway is the doorway to the five-kilometre (three-mile) Le Chemin du Buttereau. After a steep climb that swings 180 levels to the north, the path flattens atop an extended hill for a pleasing experience by means of a mossy forest. On the finish of what was a cart path in use from the late 1700s to the Nineteen Thirties, I discover the stays of an Acadian settlement — three stone foundations and a communal nicely.
Close to the top of the path, a roadblock stands the place a bridge as soon as linked this promontory to the barrier seaside throughout the mouth of the Cheticamp River. The rest of the experience again to the freeway is alongside Le Buttereau, which quantities to the opposite finish of Le Chemin du Buttereau. I observe it to the freeway the place I decide up Le Vieux Chemin du Cap-Rouge. It rises steeply from the freeway till it reaches a lookoff. From right here, I’ve a grand view of the ocean and the outcrop rising from it referred to as Le Bloc.
The grassy path continues above and parallel to the Cabot Path for one more 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) to the Trout Brook picnic space. This can be a part of the previous Cabot Path. Alongside it I discover extra indicators of former Acadian settlement. The Cabot Path opened in 1932 adopted 4 years later by the park itself. As a result of this part was so harmful, it was quickly closed and changed with the present route. Most households relocated to Cheticamp, many taking their houses with them.
I return to the campground to pack up and discover the opposite trails, all on the opposite facet of the park. The Clyburn Valley and Freshwater Lake trails close to Ingonish are designated as open to off-road biking, however the latter is just too brief to be of curiosity. Like Salmon Swimming pools, Clyburn follows a river valley. The primary part skirts the historic Highland Hyperlinks golf course inbuilt 1939 by a small military of handbook labourers with picks, shovels and horses. At present, it’s typically rated among the many prime programs on the earth. The remainder of the path reaches 4 kilometres right into a combined forest with ponds, meadows and large boulders.
Moreover the seven trails designated for biking, most of the gravel roads within the park are appropriate for mountain biking. Maybe probably the most rewarding is the Department Pond Lookoff highway, which ends up in Mary Anne Falls. I park my automobile close to the Broad Cove Campground, cycle a couple of hundred metres alongside the Cabot Path to the highway, experience the six kilometre gravel highway, anticipating vehicles on the numerous tight turns, then stroll with my bike the final 200 metres (655 toes) from the car parking zone to the falls. It is nicely definitely worth the dusty experience. I modify into my swimsuit and go for a very refreshing swim within the pool beneath the roaring falls.
This 12 months when organized park experiences are on maintain, it’s a great time to take a special strategy to exploring Cape Breton Highlands. Even on a brief go to, I’ve travelled extra trails than I might have on foot. Driving off-road biking trails and roads in a park that’s simply discovering its potential as a mountain biking vacation spot proves rewarding. I float on my again and watch children braver than I leap from the rock ledges above, the cool present washing away my fatigue.
Nova Scotia-based journey author/photographer Darcy Rhyno is the creator of six books, together with two brief story collections and two novels.
This text was made doable partly by means of the assist of www.novascotia.com.