Pollett’s Cove, Nova Scotia – The stuff that dreams are made of.
It couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes into the hike when we were forced to make our first break.
“I have to stop and adjust this stupid bag, it’s killing me”
My friend Timo and I begin laughing at my cousin Mike, who rounded out the trio who would make this epic adventure.
We were now on the 18km trail to Pollett’s Cove, which sits on the north western outskirts of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. We had been planning this trip for weeks prior and made much effort to nail down the logistics of the overnight excursion before departure. Mike however left his packing to the last minute.
Arriving at Mike’s place just after 7am we open the door hoping to grab and go, only to see him run past, coffee in hand and half dressed.
“I’m ready, don’t worry about it bud”
Throwing a shirt on and stuffing his last belongings into a 60L backpack, I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head.
“You know your gonna have to pack that again”
“I’ll get to it later, let’s just get on the road”
The 5 hour drive it took to get to the trail head went by in the blink of an eye, and we were determined to make good time getting to the cove.
The unpacking and repacking of the bag only lasted a few minutes but these were valuable minutes to us all – for we would only be camping in the cove for one night, and we were looking to maximize our short time there, exploring the area and searching for the wild horses that graze the open fields at the base the mountains.
Our steps were being carefully placed as we made our trek along the steep trail, which runs through the coastal mountains along side the Gulf of St Lawrence. The only land that lie between here and the Gaspe Peninsula, 300km to the west is the Magdalen Islands, Quebec (French, Iles de la Madeleine).
Right from the get go the trail climbed steep into the hills and through a mixed forest of coniferous and deciduous trees, known as a Boreal Forest in this region of Cape Breton. We would pass many streams along the way, where the upper slopes of the highlands began their journey to drain themselves in the Gulf, far far below. A number of breaks in the trees provided us with a view that would remind us how high we had climbed – our legs could have easily told us the same story.
Breaking from the trees and high up in the hills we had reached Otter Brook Cove. This would roughly mark the halfway point of our journey and the scenery here was astonishing. The Otter Brook came winding through the highlands, tumbling over a number of cascades before dropping abruptly over the edge to the water below where seals played joyfully among the surf.
Crossing the brook created some midway excitement as we were forced to take our hiking boots off in order to keep from getting them wet. Off came the boots and we crossed carefully with the aid of our trusty hiking sticks and one another if needed.
The later portion of the hike proved to be a challenge – at times the climb was steep and carrying 50+ lbs of gear on our backs wasn’t helping the cause. Descending down through the forest we came to an exposed cliff that dropped endlessly to the sea below. Cautiously walking across this narrow footpath to the grassy patch on the other side was heart-pounding and extremely stimulating at the same time. At this point a small stand of Spruce trees surrounded the grassy patch and created a small tunnel like path- at the end of this path would reveal scenery of epic proportions.
We stepped out from the dark passage and there we stood, completely awestruck at the panorama before us. The cove sits beneath Bald Mountain, which was rightfully named for it’s lack of vegetation near the round barren summit. To our right was the canyon that branches off in either direction. This is where the Pollett’s Cove River and Blair River join forces to then flow into the cove and cutting the beach in half before meeting with the incoming waves.
The deep cut valleys and highland ridges here are the result of being located on a fault line. The cove itself is positioned on the edge of the Aspy Fault Wilderness Area in the far back country of Cape Breton Island. A true wilderness that would please any nature or outdoor enthusiast, if your willing to put in a little work to get there.
We made our way down into the cove, unpacked our gear and set up camp on a long grassy stretch that reached out into the middle of the river – we gave it the name “The Horsetail” which it ironically resembled. We had the best seat in the house and spent the better part of the late afternoon chopping firewood, washing up in the river and exploring the valley for the wild horses.
After following the river upstream for some time we eventually located some hoof prints of these majestic animals. We followed their tracks for a good distance but were unsuccessful in spotting them. They had moved on up the valley to seek shelter this far in the season. We did however find ourselves in the middle of a large open field, surrounded by towering cliffs on the back side of Bald Mountain. The sheer rock face adjacent from the mountain on the other side of the valley rises 1100ft from the valley floor, making it one of the tallest vertical rock slabs in the province.
Running short on daylight we returned to our site, grabbed some refreshments and hiked up the hill to watch the sunset over the cove. As the sun cast a hue of yellows, orange and reds across the land an Eagle soared in the sky above the valley. Sipping 12 year Scotch we discussed the incredible mysteries of nature and the resemblance of this place and the far away Scottish Highlands, and how the Scots came to feel at home here in Cape Breton.
Stars filled the sky that night, casting the Milky Way directly above our campsite. The moon was present and provided the only natural light in the cove – beams of light bouncing off the seas and illuminating the beach in a surreal fashion.
As we lay on the beach staring out in to the universe only a few words were said:
“man this place is incredible” or
“sucks that we only have one night here”
The weather took a turn in the midst of the night. Winds began blowing off the the valleys and sent howling into the cove, causing the tent to band and slap both Mike and Timo in the face.
‘Whack” “Whack” “Whack”
I roll over to see Mike wide eyed and sporting a disgusted look on his face as we held the tent off with one hand trying to prevent any more punishment.
In the morning we rose to another fine day, the sun just cresting the mountains – a pair of Eagles gliding gracefully over the river and showing off their fine toned aerobatic maneuvers. A great breakfast and many coffees later we packed up our gear and started our ascent from the cove and into the woods. Having not had a great nights sleep our pace on the way back was a more leisurely one than was the previous day – that is until we spotted fresh, and I mean fresh, bear scat.
Well, that brought the group back to life in a hurry. I made sure from that point on we keep a close eye out for our furry friend, who we estimated was there with in the last hour or so. His droppings we literally still warm.
Funny isn’t it how a little touch of the unexpected will provide all the energy and awareness one needs. Who needed those coffees anyhow?