Our Cape Chignecto Trek

We returned a few days ago from our 51 km, three-day trek around Cape Chignecto Provincial Park, and – spoiler alert – we survived!  There were moments when I wasn’t so sure, especially when the rain was coming down in sheets on Saturday, but we persevered.

Cape Chignecto Map
Cape Chignecto loop trail

We arrived at the park shortly after 8 am on Friday, full of energy, clean and fresh.  The parking lot is at Red Rocks, where the Visitor Centre is also located.  We decided to do the hike counter-clockwise, although a lot of the hikers we met were travelling in the opposite direction.  The reason we chose this direction is so that our longest day of hiking would be on the first day, and each day after that would require fewer kilometers.

Friday was a beautiful day for hiking.  A bit foggy in the morning, but the sun broke out pretty early on.  Luckily, it wasn’t too hot, as this leg of the hike would take us directly across the park, mostly through the forest, to Seal Cove.

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Amazing coastal views just a few minutes into the hike.
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Beef jerky break on the Eatonville trail.
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The first 6 km is frontcountry standard, with lots of stairs.

The first 3 km or so of Day 1 is a steady uphill climb but after you reach the Y where we turned right for Eatonville, the trail levels off for most of the rest of the way.  At the end of Day 1, we had hiked approximately 21 km, arriving at camp around 7 pm.

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Friendly hiker we chatted with on a break at the Eatonville bunkhouse.
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Red cliffs and the Three Sisters in the distance.
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So many cliffs, so little time.

The Seal Cove campsites are small, but flat.  Not all campsites have picnic tables, but the ones that are there seem to move around quite a bit.  We managed to set up camp and have some time on the beach before it started to rain.  It’s a short hike to the beach but well worth it.  One of the nicest thing about this hike was all the small, private beaches along the way.  They were so perfect, I wanted to climb down to each one, set up shop and live out my days there.

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I wanted to live on this beach.

When we woke up on Day 2, it was already raining.  Luckily, we had brought a tarp with us and set it up over the picnic table so we had somewhere to prepare and eat breakfast. On this day, we were planning to make it all the way to Refugee Cove, about 17 km along the coastal trail.  We got a short break in the rain in the morning and couldn’t believe our luck.  Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last as it started to rain lightly for a long time and then quite heavily as we were coming into the Big Bald Rock area.  This area is wide open and would be stunning on a nicer day, however, we had to boot it across the rock face to keep from drowning.  We took shelter on the porch of the Big Bald Rock cabin while we waited out the worst of the rain.  At this point in the hike we strongly considered getting the hell out of there but as we were halfway around the loop we figured any hike out would take just as long as the rest of the loop so after a short break, we headed back out.

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The rain held off for views of these stunning little coves.

We did eventually make it to the campsites at Refugee Cove, completely soaked through, tired and hungry.  We were lucky that we have a dry pitch tent so that we could set up our tent without getting everything wet.  We got into the driest clothes we had, ate some food and passed out pretty early.

The next morning, the rain had mostly stopped, thank goodness.  We packed up for the last time and headed out early for our last and most challenging 12 kms of the loop. There are two major hills to deal with on this leg of the loop, one to get out of Refugee Cove and one to get out of Mill Brook.

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Hiking out to Refugee Cove beach.
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A foggy day at Refugee Cove.
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Campsites are in behind the beach at Refugee Cove.

The park doesn’t make use of switchbacks nearly as much as we would have liked.  Most of its major hills are straight up.  In fact, Mill Brook hill is so long, there are two benches for resting along the way.  In between these two hills and after Mill Brook, you find yourself hiking through a beautiful old growth forest.  Lush with ferns and with a well groomed and easy-to-follow trail, this was one of my favourite parts of the hike.

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Hiking through the old growth forest, on our way back to Red Rocks.

When you get closer to Red Rocks (the finish line!), you have the choice of taking the main trail back or descending to the beach for the rest of the hike.  If you time it right with low tide and you take the beach, it knocks off about 1.5 km from the hike.  At this point, we were all for this so down to the beach we went.  It was actually the perfect way to end the hike, walking on the floor of the Bay of Fundy, with cliffs towering above us and waves crashing to our right.

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Last 1.5 km on the beach back to Red Rocks.

Even with the heavy rain, we still very much enjoyed this hike.  Even when we were soaked completely through, we could still appreciate the incredible beauty right in our back yards.

Here are a few of my take-aways of the hike:

  1.  This is a stunning hike.  With so much of the hike following the coast of the Bay of Fundy, with numerous little coves, red cliffs and 100 ft waterfalls, it’s well worth the sore feet and tight calves that it costs to do.
  2. If the forecast calls for 15 or more mm of rain, I would recommend renting a cabin or bunkhouse, if available.  They’re well built, with bunks for at least 8 people and a furnace or heater for those cool nights (or if you get soaked and need to dry out!).
  3. Take your time.  We only allotted two nights on the trails so each day was full of hiking and there wasn’t much time for checking out lookouts or stopping to admire the views. We plan to go back next summer and rent three bunkhouses/cabins and really take our time with the hike.
  4. While there are some tough hills along the trail, most of it is pretty moderate, making this loop a great introduction to backpacking, for those interested in testing the waters.  If it’s going to be your first outing though, I would recommend taking at least three nights on the trail, so you don’t overwhelm yourself the first time out.
  5. Hiking poles are highly recommended.  There were some pretty swampy areas of the trail between Big Bald Rock and Refugee Cove and many brook crossings along the way.  Poles really helped us getting around these areas and provided balance when crossing swollen brooks.
  6. Have fun!  The right attitude is key.  You are going to have ups and downs and times when you doubt whether you can keep going but it’s really important that you realize that nothing lasts forever, even Mill Brook hill.

And we highly recommend checking out the Wild Caraway Restaurant in Advocate Harbour, after your hike.  You’ll surely be hungry and this place has amazing eats that are going to satisfy that post-hike hunger.  They even have two rooms upstairs for rent, in case you want to get a shower ASAP.

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Finally get to take off those packs and boots!
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Preparing for Cape Chignecto: What’s in My Pack?

Joel and I are preparing for a challenging, 51 km, three-day hike of Cape Chignecto.  Cape Chignecto is a Provincial Park in Nova Scotia, with over 50 km of wilderness trails along the beautiful Bay of Fundy.

Cape Chignecto Map
Cape Chignecto loop trail

This will surely be the hardest hiking challenging I have faced yet.  I’ve done plenty of overnight hikes, but never more than two days.

What’s great about this hike is that it’s a full loop, meaning that you don’t have to worry about ferrying cars around.  It’s also nice because it’s a Provincial Park, with more facilities available than most wilderness hikes.  I’ve also heard it’s stunning, with amazing coastal views almost the whole way around.

When you’re on longer hikes like this, you really rely on your gear, so having the right stuff with you is important.  I thought I’d give you a preview of what we’ll be taking with us, in case you are curious what to take with you on a 3-day hike in the woods.

Tent

We use the MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person tent.  It’s ultralightweight, coming in at under 4 lbs.  It packs up pretty small, which is great when you have only so much room in your pack.  We like that it has two doors on either side, so you don’t have to climb over the other person if you have to get up in the night.  You’ll want to get the footprint also.  It adds minimal weight but is really important for keeping you cozy and dry inside the tent. We’ve been backpacking with this tent in the rain a couple times and have had no problems staying dry.  We love it.

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MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-person ultralight tent

Sleeping Pad and Bag

A sleeping pad is a must to create a barrier between you and the ground and keep you warm and dry.  We use Static V full-sized lightweight inflatable pads.  They weigh only 514 grams and because they are inflatable, pack down pretty well.  They blow-up pretty easy with just a few breaths (apparently 12, see below).  For a sleeping bag, I use The North Face Furnace 20/-7.  This bag is down filled and doesn’t pack up as tightly as some other sleeping bags but I tend to get pretty cold at night so I like the extra warmth this bag provides.  Make sure you have a compression sack for these bags, so that you can squish them down to their smallest size in your pack.

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Static V lightweight sleeping pad
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The North Face Furnace 20/-7

Camping Cookware

The only stove we use in the backcountry is the Jetboil MiniMo.  These things are awesome.  They boil water is a matter of seconds and they’re super compact and light. While you can cook food directly in the stove using the simmer option, we tend to use it just to boil water which we then add to dehydrated foods.  As for cookware, I use the Woods individual enamel set.  I don’t take the plate into the backcountry, just the cup (for morning tea) and the bowl (for morning oatmeal).  Evening meals we usually eat out of the bag (more on that later).  To eat with, you’re going to need a spork.  What’s a spork you ask?  It’s a utensil with a fork on one side and a spoon on the other.  Titanium sporks are amazing because they’re pretty much indestructible but they are very expensive.  The plastic ones work fine, just don’t put too much weight on them or they’ll snap.

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JetBoil MiniMo System

 

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Light My Fire plastic sporks

Water Management

Water is life, on the trail.  I use a Platypus Hoser 2.0 L hydration system.  These are great because they slide right into a slot designed in your backpack, with an attached hose that threads up through so that you can have hands-free access to water at all times.  Now, obviously on a 3-day hike, 2 L of water isn’t going to be enough.  For that, we use a Sawyer Water Filtration System, with water we collect on the trail.  It weighs next to nothing but is one of the most vital pieces of gear we carry in the backcountry.

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Platypus Hoser 2.0 L Hydration System
Sawyer System
Sawyer Water Filtration System

Food

Ah, food.  Food is tricky on the trail.  You want enough food to keep you moving, but not too much that it will weigh you down.  It’s a little extra tough for me because I can’t eat gluten so I have to come up with easy-to-prepare, gluten free options.  As I said before, we use a JetBoil stove, so we usually eat food on the trail that we can just add hot water to, like dehydrated camp meals, or noodles.  For my money, I really like the AlpineAire camp meals, especially the rice-based ones.  They are pretty delicious and the gluten free ones are well marked, which takes the danger and guesswork out for me.  These meals act as their own bowl also, minimizing clean-up.  They are expensive but oh, so worth it. For breakfast, we eat quick-and-easy oatmeal.  We snack a lot along the way on trail mix, dried fruit, KIND Bars, beef jerky, etc.  We’re also going to take along a couple bagels prepared with peanut butter and Nutella – drool – for quick lunches.  What we don’t want to take is anything in heavy cans or that requires a lot of preparation.  For us, at the end of a long day of hiking, you want something good, quick and easy.

 

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AlpineAire Dehydrated Food Packs

Clothing

Clothing is another tricky one.  It’s sometimes hard to know exactly what you’ll need. Even if the weather doesn’t call for it, we always bring a lightweight rain jacket.  You want clothes that are light and dry quickly, so synthetic materials and wicking layers are great.  I’m bringing along two pairs of light cushion hiking socks (I like Darn Tough), underwear (obvi), light hiking pants and a sweater for cooler nights, two light t-shirts and a long sleeve wicking layer.  That’s it.  I’ll strap a hat to the back of my backpack but I don’t usually wear it hiking.  We’ll surely be ripe when we get out of the woods three days later but when every gram you’re carrying counts, you have to take only what’s necessary.  Keep in mind that you always want to hang your food in a bear hang away from camp at night.  You don’t want visitors in the backcountry.

Other Necessary Items

There are numerous other small items we take with us that are pretty important to a successful trip.  A small First Aid kit, paracord rope, fire starter (cotton ball slathered in petroleum jelly), a hatchet and knife, a tarp, bug spray, sunscreen, antibacterial wipes for cleaning, a garbage bag, toilet paper (obvi), head lamp and hiking poles.  We also take waterproof pack covers for when it rains, because your pack may be water-resistant but everything inside it will eventually get soaked and putting on wet clothes sucks.

Luxury Items

Luxury items are those things you don’t need to survive, but you really want to bring.  I bring a Eureka! inflatable pillow, for instance.  It’s really light and doesn’t take up much space in my pack but really increases my ability to sleep comfortably.  I also take along a tripod and my DSLR, huge luxury items but I can’t help it, I’m a photographer at heart and I don’t want to miss a shot.  We also take a Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern, which is a bit of a luxury item but more a necessity.  It’s super light, doesn’t need batteries, packs down really small and is great to have around the campsite at night.  We think every camper needs one.

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Luci Inflatable Solar Lantern

Backpack

All these items will go in my Osprey Ariel 55.  It is by no means the biggest pack available in women’s sizes but it works well for two or three day trips.  A good fitting pack is absolutely essential on backpacking trips.  A good fitting pack can make 30 lbs feel like nothing.  What I like about my Osprey pack is that the torso is adjustable, making for a better fit, it has spacer mesh at your back to promote air flow, a separate compartment for your sleeping bag (for easy access) and lots of other pockets and compartments for all your little stuff.  Lots of other companies make great packs, though.  Joel really like Gregory packs, and has a Zulu 65.  I would just encourage you to try a lot on before you buy, it’s really important to get that good fit.

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So, there you have it.  Most of what we’re taking with us on our hiking trek of Cape Chignecto.  Most of these items are available at MEC, or your local Scout and/or trail shop.  If you follow me on Instagram (link on sidebar), I’ll be adding stories of our adventure for as long as I have cell phone service.  Wish us luck!