The Sunday morning of thanksgiving long weekend my best friend Marshall and I loaded into a Volvo wagon with a well behaved dog named Billie Jean and all the necessary equipment for two guys to head deep into the Cape Breton wilderness without cell service or weather updates.
Driving through the highlands of Cape Breton we kept losing cell service and we wanted to Google if certain trees turn certain colours, like maples always change to red, or if they all change in a gradient of colours. This was the first thing on a list of google searches we'd have to wait to find out, but also prompted me to start an impromptu list of events/journal of a camping trip I will never forget!
The road turns to a dirt road and we kick up dust on our way to a dead end that doubles as a parking lot. There's a bunch of cars there but we assume that most belong to folks who are out on a day hike (we read that it's possible, 3 hours in and 3 hours out) but I personally feel like that would be sad to get there just to turn around and head out. I suggest staying two nights at least, to give a day to explore. When we go back we'll likely go for three nights.
The hike is no joke, it's full of ups and downs and runs nearly 10km along the coast. The trail itself is strenuous in places due to the climbing up hill, loose rocks, and some exposure along steep terracing, especially under a heavy pack. Saying that, it's a very well built trail that needs no markers. If you have a dog, there are several opportunities for it and you to get fresh water. And don't forget your camera.
The above photo is Pollett's Cove at sunset, shortly after we arrived. It took us 3 hour on the nose to reach Pollett's Cove. I feel like we did a good job! Logic defied us however because I swear if felt like we were just going uphill the entire way. The trail spat us out on this sweet little spot south of the river that flows through the belly of the cove and by looking around you could tell there were at least 5 other parties pitched, scattered around the cove. In the above image you can see a tent, this is where we moved to for our second night, but I'll get to that later.
For the first night we ended up choosing a location on the south side of the cove where Marshall had options to hang his hammock. Once my tent was up I moved to starting a fire. Marshall finished his set up and began gathering wood. I love how easy it is to fall into rolls or jobs when we're out camping. I was so sweaty from the hike I couldn't tolerate myself any longer, I washed in the river after dark in the rain - frigid cold but 100% worth it. Marshall made us each a bourbon press and we chased that with an early bedtime. The rain was off and on all night but the wind was vicious.
Morning fog cut the tops of the mountains off, some of our fellow campers had already packed out by the time we were up and on the go. One tent, where we entered the cove was flat with two people and a dog still inside. We met them later and they told us they dropped their poles in anticipation of wind breaking them. Not everyone in Pollett's Cove had that level of foresight, some tents didn't make it through the night.
As the morning moved to mid-day it became clear that everyone was leaving the cove except for us and the two new friends, Adrien and Hilary, who had made their tent into a burrito to survive the windstorm. We moved camp to the other side of the river to a semi-protected area up a small hill from the river and around a bend from most of the wind. The day was beautiful and we spent it exploring, snacking, bathing and even keeping time for a nap.
The black flies were horrendous. Like actually the worst I've ever experienced. I thought it was just on the first side of the river because we were near a still water but they're just as bad on the other side of the river .... I carry tiger balm with me almost everywhere I go and much to our relief it works as a bug deterrent (only slightly but anything helps). Mid afternoon we went for a stroll and not far from our new camp ran into Adrien (one of the other campers who survived the windstorm), she offered us bug dope back at her camp and we graciously accepted. On our way back to our camp after lathering ourselves with bug dope I said to Marshall "we'll have to come back if we don't see any ponies" - and just on cue they started crossing the river below our camp. Billie Jean, the dog, lost her shit - as expected - and ran at the herd. The horses were not even phased by Billie's barking and she was giving up on her chase as Marshall reached her with the leash.
I grabbed my camera when I realized Marshall had Billie handled. Once down there I thought there was 6 and started to frame up some shots from about 15-20 feet away, that's when 3 more trotted right towards me and scared the bejesus out of me. A few moments of calm passed and then they all decided to run up the hill that was behind me so I was in the middle of an oncoming herd of wild horses. I almost pooped but I skirted them and held my ground at the right moments to let them all pass. As the last of them passed I somehow managed to snap this photo of them making their way up the hill. It's one of my favourite photos from the entire trip.
I hesitantly followed them up the hill but once up there I quickly made note that they were much more calm. I moved around getting some photos, still scared, but not soiling my pants. One looked pregnant and there were at least three fowls. This herd is growing!
I left the horses grazing on top of the hill and kicked off a fire at camp. Marshall made us an amazing thanksgiving dinner by dehydrating all the fixings! Turkey, potatoes, turnip, gravy and cranberries - and a pumpkin dessert with biscuits, which was so good but we were so full we saved some for breakfast the next day.
The next morning I let Billie out of my tent to join Marshall and the horses, as if Billie's breakfast was their breakfast they all came down over the hill towards camp. We stuffed Billie back in the tent and I started getting dressed and grabbing my camera while my heart was racing. They were super curious and a little aggressive. We stayed away from them for the first while but the big aggressive leader came and checked us out. This photo was taken while I have one arm wrapped around Billie Jean and the other one holding the camera.
We had to literally chase it away three times but it kept coming back. Once the big one sufficiently checked us out and smelled Billie's scarf he determined we weren't a threat to the herd I guess, we got left alone. We had coffee and left over dessert for breakfast and before we finished packing up we went down to where the horses were hanging out below camp and fed the two tan coloured ones some dehydrated broccoli. The little foal ate the first few pieces but then decided it didn't want broccoli. They were affectionate and nibbled on your clothes a bit. The bigger one even nudged me when I stopped petting it.
After playing with the horses we finished packing up and left our camp - because of the rain that night the water was running higher in the river and I got both feet wet during our crossing - I anticipated blisters but am happy to report my feet are great! On our way out we stopped to see Adrien and Hilary our newest friends! They shared orange slices with us sent us off with hugs. That first hill out of the cove kicked our butts. We had to stop about 5 times before we hit the top. We stopped many times on the hike in and out, but one in particular is at the halfway point for tea break.
If you visit Pollett's Cove I recommend leaving yourself a nice snack in the car for when you emerge from the woods. I had gatorade and chips tucked away for us and they were so tasty! Also - on the drive out of Pollett's Cove there is a bridge that's on a 90 degree corner .... under that bridge is a terrific place to rinse the inevitable sweat off! I'll leave you with the view from under the bridge.