Thump thump thump, my heart pounds in my throat as I take three leaps up the scree slope and brace into a tree. Wiping sweat from my eyes I look for cliffs through the lush jungle. After I left the car this morning, the sun came out to cook the week's rain turning the valley into a muggy greenhouse. The climbing is slow but at least the elevation provides a benchmark for my progress. I'm drawn up this hill to a silent cliff that flanks the ridge.
I spied the cliff last winter while driving back to Sussex after hiking with my dad near St. Martin's. Driving home through the Hammond River Valley my face was glued to the window staring up at the big swollen mountains covered in snow and hardwoods. These are the remains of old Appalachian Mountains. Smoothed over millions of years into high whale-like ridges and giant building waves ready to crash into the valleys below. In this High Roller Country, the names of the communities speak the narrative of the land; Hillsdale, Upham, Upperton, and Mount Prospect.
I jog up the last of the scree slope and reach the base of the brown cliff. Whoa. What I saw from the road was just the forehead of the cliff face. Below the canopy the cliff runs along for a couple hundred meters. In most places it rises over 50 feet to break through the canopy. I explore the base, skirting around fern covered boulders, and admiring the rock formations. I startle a turkey vulture which explodes over my head and breaks into flight over the valley, joining its partner in arching turns.
I scramble around to reach the top, finding a perch overlooking the valley. In front of me the Hammond River snakes below a wide green mountain. To the East I can just see the back of Saddleback Mountain, and to the Southwest I can see the wedge of Mt. Prospect steeply rising above Upperton. Pristine White clouds pile up into the blue sky and sun is catching mist rising out of the forest. I sit there imagining hiking and skiing trails coursing through these hills. Hardwood forests, steep climbs, ridge and gaps. The raw ingredients are here among the High Rollers of Kings County.
Growing up in New Brunswick, I didn't imagine places like this existing around here. I thought they were only found in far away exotic destinations. This little cliff may be no comparison to soaring cliffs of the Rockies but remember that this is not the Rockies. This is here. We are here. You might just find that the surprise in your backyard holds more significance than a tourist destination half a world away. Since coming back to New Brunswick I have been finding more and more wild areas just like this. The unexpected discoveries suddenly fill spaces in my mind the size of Mountains. And I've realized that I can have my life here and adventure too!
Unfortunately I forgot my camera that day :(
I encourage you to explore the High Rollers of Kings County. If you spend a bit of time driving (or biking) around the hills south of Hampton ( Titusville-Upham-Upperton-Hillsdale) you'll soon find a ridge or mountain that catches your eye. Pack some food and safety gear (compass, whistle, map, etc.) and go exploring. Remember that this area is almost entirely private land, so be respectful of that. I'll also warn you that bushwhacking is hard work, progress may be slow. It's also easy to get disorientated and loose your bearings. You're blind exploring now could someday help the development of trails in this area. The country roads in this area would also make for an excellent day of cycling.
June 25, 2009
June 9, 2009
Over the long weekend in May my friends Ross and Paul and I backpacked into Turtle Mountain. That's the mystical turtle shell that you can see from the highway just north of Saint John. Like I said in an earlier post we saw some of New Brunswick's best and worst characteristics.
Paul prepared a great write up about our Turtle Mountain backpacking trip on his blog. Thanks Paul!
You can check out Paul's detailed write up and extensive photos by following this link.
BEWARE! If you like surprises and the thrill of discovering places on your own, you should seriously reconsider reading his post until you've done the hike yourself.
Last weekend everything lined up for a perfect canoe trip along the South West Miramichi. The SW Miramichi is just one many branches of the Greater Miramichi System. We settled on a two day trip between Boiestown and Upper Blacksville. Friends and a local outfitter O'Donnells, tolds us that it was sure to have lots of water, no serious rapids, and enjoyable scenery.
All 14 paddlers, across two generations, met Friday night at a friend's cottage on the river near Boiestown. We enjoyed a relaxing evening on the shore watching the sunset around a bonfire. The sun was cooking in the morning as we loaded the canoes and pushed off into the first shallow rapids.
The river carried us along, passing beaches, hardwood stands, and camps. We dodged a handful of fly fishers and zipped through some mellow rapids. We stopped for a picnic lunch on cobble beach under the shade of maples. Later on we stopped for a swim at a narrow spot where we had fun floating with the fast current. I think we were all surprised how warm the water was.
After a full day of paddling ( and floating!) we passed Doaktown and began our search for a campsite. We had heard you could camp on the islands but weren't sure which one to pick. Of course flowing downstream doesn't give you much chance to compare islands. Once you're past an island it's gone. We landed on a cobble beach that looked suitable but found uneven cobble. There was head scratching, speculating, pacing, and canoes began searching the nearby shores. We heard of a better site downstream so a gang went investigate. We found a cathedral growth maple forest with ferns up to our waists. Nearby was a better cobble beach which held some hope for camping. We signalled for the other boats. I was determined to make this site work but luckily others were less into it since further exploring discovered a beautiful sandy site nearby.
I think everyone was pretty relieved at that point to have reached a consensus. It was a wonderful spot to pitch tents and have a bonfire. We felt quite remote despite catching glimpses of a cottage on a the far bank. It was amazing arriving at this perfect camping site without seeing any trace of human's having been here. I think part of the wilderness feeling is the sensation that you are the first person to have touched a place in a long time.
We had a gourmet supper, including salmon (from home! not fresh!) and salads, thanks to many great cooks. We sat around the fire on logs we plucked from the river, laughing, and watching nighthawks swoop for insects in the darkening sky. The wind carried a hint of rain and brought dark clouds overhead. But even the rumbling thunder didn't prepare us for the explosion of wind and rain that ensued. I think some sleep was lost while the sky danced but we stayed dry in our tents. I woke up in the morning to a oppressive heat. Ross later described the feeling in our tent well. "I felt like I was in a muggy greenhouse, I couldn't get a breath of air." For the second day in a row the pressure was high and the sun was hot.
The group on the second morning. Look at that Sand! What a Campsite!
Leaving our campsite for day two on the river.
The second day on the river took as through steep valleys again, past cottages, down mellow rapids, and a into widening river. We sped down the Miramichi with the wind at our backs. For lunch we stopped on an another island, nestled down behind a knoll and picnic'd in the sun. We enjoyed pickles, peanut butter, cheese, and hot pepper on pitas. Which as you can probably tell signified the end of our food reserves.
We pulled out at the Upper Blacksville bridge after traveling around 50 km in our day and a half on the river. O'Donnell's, a local outfitter, shuttled our drivers back to Boiestown where the cars had been left. It was impressive to drive back to Boiestown and see how far we had travelled.
I think the consensus was great company, perfect weather, good food, and next year we're going to go bigger!
Thank you Joe, Gudi, Lee, Ruel, Mike, Laura, Linda, Dave, Cathy, Lenny, Mom, Dad, and Ross for all the laughs. I look forward to next year!