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.