The Joy of Cape Breton
Adventure Canada’s Ocean Endeavour dropped anchor off Chéticamp, Cape Breton just before 0700 this morning on one of the most promising morning’s we’ve seen this trip: no rain, reasonable temperatures, and partly cloudy skies.
I was last on Cape Breton Island – actually part of the province of Nova Scotia – back in September of 2013, when I “land cruised” my way up to the other side of the island for a stay at the cozy Keltic Lodge near the town of Ingonish. That’s known as the “Scottish side” of the island, whereas the western reaches of the island are predominantly Acadian French.
With the mercury climbing, guests were offered a multitude of options, from hikes of varying difficulty to staying on the ship to exploring our small but hospitable host town of Chéticamp. I chose to do the hardest and most active hike through Cape Breton Highlands National Park: an 8.4 kilometre roundtrip loop on the Acadia Trail.
After a short bus ride to the parking lot of the national park, myself and 21 other guests set out on our adventure, accompanied by a Parks Canada ranger and two Adventure Canada staff members – one to lecture on the flora and fauna found in the area; the other to bring up the rear.
Mindful of the average age of most of its guests, Adventure Canada did an accurate job of describing this hike along the Acadia Trail to us. They didn’t downplay it, but they didn’t use over-hyped scare tactics, either. Let’s face it – hikes make corporate lawyers nervous. In an age where spilling coffee on your lap is a multi-million-dollar lawsuit, tumbling down a cliff into the waiting arms of a bear is a PR nightmare.
There are bears in these woods, along with coyotes and moose. Of the three, moose are the ones you least want to encounter. Not that I had much time to really think about it, as the mosquitoes (and, eventually, the black flies) were biting. I doused myself in insect repellant and citronella bracelets while silently wishing that I’d had one of those full-body suits Dustin Hoffmann wore in the move Outbreak.
This is a good time to mention that I’m a reluctant explorer. As a kid, I hated the outdoors. As a 33-year-old, I love it. I love getting out into the wild. I love exploring. I love challenging myself. And this hike gave me all of that and more. However, nature zeroes in on my dollar-store skin and seems to bite, sting and burn the heck out of it until I’m swatting furiously and cursing a blue streak.
The hike was absolutely fantastic – just the kind of exercise I needed after enjoying the admittedly amazing food aboard the Ocean Endeavour. Pacing was good, if a little slow in certain parts. The last twenty minutes to the summit were the most exhausting, with steep inclines and uneven ground littered with easy-to-trip-over roots.
The reward for making it to the top, however, was spectacular. We sat in a small clearing, took selfies, and ate our provided packed sandwich lunch. Adventure Canada contracted the local caterer in town to make sandwiches for everyone, and I completely approve of that method of giving back to the community.
The walk down the Acadia Trail was substantially easier – as is usually the case. This trail starts at an elevation of 65 feet, with steady climb to a maximum height of 1200 feet. Going up is a real workout in spots, while coming down took us only an hour compared with 2.5 hours to ascend the trail.