TRAVEL

The Bay of Fundy is fa­mous for the world’s high­est tides, but the spec­tac­u­lar trail along its north shore is used only by a hand­ful of clued-up walk­ers. James Ste­wart joins them

Friday - - Editor’s Letter -

Ex­plore spec­tac­u­lar soli­tude, ex­treme treks and stun­ning panoramic views in Canada’s re­mote Fundy Trail.

The thing about dis­tance, says Mike Car­pen­ter, is that, like time, it’s rel­a­tive. We are in his pickup truck, swoop­ing up the coast north of St Martins in Canada’s New Brunswick. ‘Sure, the Fundy Foot­path is short,’ he con­cedes, ‘but it’s punchy. It feels a lot longer.’

We’re en route to the trail­head at Big Salmon river with Nick Bren­nan, the other half of ac­tiv­ity com­pany Red Rock Ad­ven­tures. Ev­ery so of­ten we round a bend to see the rust-red cliffs along which we will walk roller coaster into the dis­tance. Un­bro­ken for­est fuzzes their sum­mits – this is the largest stand of Acadian old-growth for­est in Canada’s maritime states.

‘There are a lot of roots and rocks,’ Mike con­tin­ues, ‘and a lot of hills. There’s barely a flat sec­tion. You’re pretty iso­lated, too.’ Launched in 1998, the 41km Fundy Foot­path al­ready

fol­lows the long­est stretch of wild At­lantic coast­line be­tween Florida and Labrador. From next year, a new sec­tion will ex­tend the trail to 50km, after a Dh 1.3mil­lion trail up­grade last year.

Just 50km may seem no big deal, how­ever hilly, but this is a trail with a twist – the Bay of Fundy.

Be­cause of a fun­nel shape that am­pli­fies the ti­dal range, the bay be­tween New Brunswick and Nova Sco­tia is rinsed by the world’s largest tides. Imag­ine the com­bined vol­ume of all the fresh­wa­ter rivers in the world. Now swirl it into and out of the Bay of Fundy ev­ery six hours.

So pow­er­ful is the tide’s 10-knot surge that the very seabed flexes in the ebb and flow. So great is its 16-me­tre range, that it con­jures up vast ochre bays for short cuts and makes once-tra­vers­a­ble es­tu­ar­ies van­ish. Walk­ers on the Fundy Foot­path have to ford streams that turn into rivers. The Goose river cross­ing can be at­tempted only at low tide; the rec­om­mended trail kit list in­cludes tide ta­bles.

‘People can and do get into trou­ble,’ Mike says.

So, while Canada’s West Coast Trail is so pop­u­lar you need to book a hik­ing per­mit months in ad­vance then pay ex­tra for camp­ing and fer­ries, its east-coast equiv­a­lent is hiked by only around 600 people a year.

‘It’s a lit­tle un­der­used,’ Mike says dryly. ‘We’re this Unesco re­serve no one knows.

‘It only gets busy on sum­mer week­ends. You might see three people,’ says Mike.

This is New Brunswick in a nut­shell. The maritime prov­ince is the for­got­ten twin of Nova Sco­tia, across the bay. It has the same dumpy light­houses on ochre cliffs, the same tidy clap­board vil­lages and down-home charm, and the same ‘flow­er­pot’ islets – pho­to­genic pine-scrubbed pin­na­cles such as Hopewell Rocks in the north-west of the bay.

What New Brunswick lacks is mass tourism. Amer­i­cans used to de­ride it as the ‘drive-through state’. The few I met who had stopped were pinch­ing them­selves at their luck.

I wanted a taste of the longer Fundy foot­path. I planned to travel light and tick it off at a brisk pace on my own. How long could 41km take? Three days? Trail bores on the bl­o­go­sphere sucked their teeth and shook their heads. So I did what any pru­dent

Imag­ine the com­bined VOL­UME of all the fresh­wa­ter rivers in the world. Now SWIRL it into and out of the bay ev­ery six hours. So POW­ER­FUL is the tide’s 10-knot surge that the very seabed FLEXES

hiker would do – I wimped out. Red Rock Ad­ven­tures is the only com­pany to run sup­ported treks on the foot­path. You carry noth­ing more than clothes and a tent while a sup­port team totes food to a camp­site each night via ac­cess trails.

We ar­rive at Big Salmon river to reg­is­ter at the visi­tor cen­tre. Then it’s packs shoul­dered (un­usu­ally light for this taster – al­low five days to com­plete the ex­tended route, a week with side­tracks), and off we head over a sus­pen­sion foot­bridge and up the op­po­site bank, climb­ing steadily to­wards a head­land. Ahead, a pale aqua sea shim­mers by a shore dark with pine trees. Above, a turkey vul­ture cir­cles in a cobalt sky. For all the talk of wilder­ness, it’s ma­chin­ery I re­call ini­tially. An ex­ten­sion to the Fundy Park­way Trail, a scenic coast drive and cy­cle route, is un­der con­struc­tion just above the trail. (Plan­ners prom­ise it will be in­vis­i­ble from the foot­path when it opens in au­tumn 2018.)

Then we swerve away into a for­est of pines, skele­tal spruce and birch. It’s silent and sud­denly in­ti­mate after the sea views ear­lier. When we drop down to Long Beach after a few hours, the world ex­pands again.

We camp on neigh­bour­ing Seely Beach that night. At one point I leave Nick fry­ing scal­lops over a camp­fire to walk into the dark­ness. I love that po­lar­ity of wild camp­ing, of civil­i­sa­tion jux­ta­posed with na­ture. Away from our pool of light, the pines are sil­hou­et­ted be­neath a sky boil­ing with stars (this coast is a dark sky re­serve). The sea whis­pers. Five hours in and we’re al­ready at the edge of the world.

The sense of cut­ting-off in­creases over the next day. Yes, there are some thigh­burn­ing as­cents but the for­est is shady and cool. The air is sweet with pine resin and the only sounds are of wind in the canopy and creak­ing tree trunks.

Some­where out there are black bears and moose. Both ap­pear shy. Not even when Nick cups his hands over his mouth to pro­duce a creaky grunt – ir­re­sistible to any pass­ing bull moose, ap­par­ently – does any­thing come crash­ing out of the for­est.

We don’t see any people ei­ther. In­stead, we lunch on an empty beach at Cra­dle Brook. And, ab­surdly, I feel like a pi­o­neer when we de­scend to Lit­tle Salmon river at the end of the day. There’s no path, no ev­i­dence of hu­man­ity. Just a broad wooded val­ley and, at low tide, a shal­low river that un­coils like a braid of rope.

So it’s a sur­prise when we ford the river to find a mem­ber of the sup­port team wait­ing with fresh salmon for din­ner. Tough gig, this wilder­ness hik­ing.

With due at­ten­tion to the tides, I re­alise, I prob­a­bly could have tack­led the Fundy Foot­path alone. Most people do – the path is gen­er­ally clear and, while hilly and re­mote, it’s doable if treated with re­spect. Yet my food would have come from pack­ets and it’s un­likely I would have dis­cov­ered a side trip like the one we make next day.

For sev­eral hours, we walk in­land up a steep river canyon in the com­pany of noth­ing but vul­tures and an osprey. We track up a side canyon that nar­rows al­most to touch­ing dis­tance un­til the way ahead is blocked by a pool. That’s it, then. But this is hik­ing Cana­dian-style. In we go, wad­ing through cool ch­est-deep wa­ter, to emerge into an al­fresco cathe­dral but­tressed by cliffs and vaulted by leaves. This is the Eye of the Nee­dle. And it’s beau­ti­ful.

On the last night I sleep out­side. How can I not? Fire­flies are draw­ing flu­o­res­cent doo­dles in the canopy, and the si­lence is in­tense. I ex­pected fan­tas­tic scenery. What came as a sur­prise was such es­capism after just three days’ walk­ing. Maybe Mike was right – dis­tance is rel­a­tive after all.

58

Fundy Trail prom­ises spec­tac­u­lar soli­tude and it all starts at this sus­pen­sion foot­bridge across Big Salmon river; For an over­dose of adrenaline, go kayak­ing with Red Rock Ad­ven­tures’ boys (right)

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