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!

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Tourist At Home: Nova Scotia Road Trip ’16

The Smith’s are back from a whirlwind 6-day road trip of the western half of Nova Scotia!

What I love about vacationing at home is that it usually costs significantly less due to the decreased travel costs and you get to discover some really cool places in your own backyard that you might not have known were even there.  In my case, I wanted to hit all the spots I’ve heard about and wanted to visit for years, but had just not gotten around to.

The first leg of our journey took us across the Bay of Fundy from Saint John, NB to Digby, NS.  It was fun as neither me or my husband had ever traveled to or from Saint John by boat, and this offered a cool perspective of the city and the harbour.

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Later, Saint John!
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Views of Partridge Island on the sail out of the harbour
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Leaving New Brunswick behind

The Fundy Rose is very well appointed and fast!  We arrived in Digby is just under 2 hours.

Observation deck
Nice lounge and cafe on the Fundy Rose
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Checking out the views on the approach to Digby
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We’re in Nova Scotia!

Our first adventure in Nova Scotia was an overnight backpacking trip to Cape Split, a provincial park reserve that juts into the Bay of Fundy and features dramatic cliffs and incredible scenery.  The drive was to the park was lovely and we stopped to take some photos at a lookout along the way.

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The Annapolis Valley

When we arrived at the parking lot of Cape Split, our spirits fell a little to see it packed with cars – there were so many people!  Undeterred, we set off with our backpacks, sure that many hikers would not be staying overnight and that we would soon have the place to ourselves. The hike is about 6km long and is easy to moderate with gentle uphill slopes.  The trail is well marked; it would be very difficult to get lost along the way.   It was extremely windy at the cliff edge when we arrived!  I was afraid to get too close in case I lost my balance.  It’s a long way down!

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Checking out the views
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The famous Cape Split rocks
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The gulls love this place!

After setting up camp, we hiked down to a rocky beach where we sat on the rocks and took in the beauty of the Bay of Fundy.  And our camping buddies got engaged!  Congrats, Mahshid and Jason!

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The happy couple
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A rock that rivals Cape Split itself!

After spending a lovely evening on the cape, we parted ways with our friends who were heading back to Saint John and set out for Yarmouth.  We were pretty tired after the backpacking trip and it was raining (a theme we would encounter for the rest of our trip) so we didn’t make many stops along the way.  Once reaching Yarmouth, we had much-needed showers, strolled through the lovely Frost Park, had dinner and went back to the hotel to crash early.

Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth
Frost Park in downtown Yarmouth

The next morning after a quick breakfast in Yarmouth, we headed out to discover the South Shore.  It’s a long but beautiful drive along this rugged coastline.  We made a stop in Cape Sable Island to see The Hawk Beach, the most southerly point of Nova Scotia.  The beach here is a stunning grey/white sand and is home to the tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia, at 101 feet.  The lighthouse is some distance from the beach so we couldn’t get up close but the stop was well worth it with the beautiful views it offers of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Cape Sable Island
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The tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia in the distance

By early afternoon we arrived at our next destination, Lunenburg, a picturesque port town and home to the Bluenose II.  We quickly discovered that Lunenburg is a major tourist destination; the place was swarming with visitors, just like us, gawking at the brilliantly coloured buildings and snapping photos along the way.  We were lucky that the sun decided to make a rare appearance, just as we were exploring the downtown area.

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Colourful shops in downtown Lunenburg
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Bluenose II
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Pretty waterfront
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More colourful buildings

We quickly discovered Ironworks Distillery, a local company that makes spirits inside an former blacksmith’s shop.  We sampled many of their delicious products and learned a little about the process, leaving with several bottles to take home.  I would definitely recommend a stop here if you are in town.

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The old blacksmith’s shop, now Ironworks Distillery
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Beautiful wood fired still

We stayed the night at the Rum Runner Inn, a lovely spot right in downtown Lunenburg, which serves a gluten free fish and chips, so I was in heaven!

The next morning was gloomy and after a quick and delicious breakfast at The Savvy Sailor, we headed out for the small community of Blue Rocks, just a few moments from Lunenburg.

This might be my favourite place we saw along the way.  It had true Maritime charm, even with the light drizzle and moody skies.  This community is famous for the slate rocks that give it its ‘blue’ name.

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The gloomy morning didn’t diminish the beauty of Blue Rocks, NS
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Fishing huts at The Point
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The famous blue rocks

After Blue Rocks, we headed for Halifax, where we visited with friends and did some shopping.  We had a fantastic meal at The Bicycle Thief and did as much sight seeing on the waterfront as the rain would allow (not much, as it turned out).

Red bicycles at The Bicycle Thief
Love this art installation on the Halifax wayerfront
Georges Island views


The next morning we set out for my home county of Cumberland, stopping in Truro to check out Victoria Park.  I had wanted to visit this park for some time, after seeing photos of the waterfalls and the daunting Jacob’s Ladder and it did not disappoint.  I wish we’d had more time to explore more trails but we had to get on the road and the weather was pretty chilly (we’ll have to come back!).

That’s a lot of steps!
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Joe Howe Falls
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Witches Cauldron
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Cool tree roots

The discoveries continued with my parents when we took a drive to the historic mining town of Londonderry.  Once a bustling community of almost 5000 people, it’s now a collection of just a few homes.  The town square is still well maintained though, where a few artifacts of the mine are preserved for visitors to see.  It’s a reminder of what once was, and what is not likely to be again.

Londonderry Memorial Square
Fly Wheel used from 1903-1910
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Boiler used from 1849-1908, and an abandoned bike
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Country bridge

And that pretty much wrapped up our tour of the western half of Nova Scotia.  We look forward to exploring the eastern half and Cape Breton later this year.

I would encourage everyone to be tourists at home, and to explore spaces in your own backyards.  You never know what you might find.