Tuesday 7 August 2018

Hike to Cape Split

Cape Split is a narrow little jutting peninsula of land which is part of the larger Cape Blomidon. Together they jut out into the Bay of Fundy between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, and divide the Bay of Fundy from the Minas Basin. It is often said that the Bay of Fundy has the highest tides in the world - though I believe more correctly the Minas Basin does. The numbers you find online are that the tidal range in this area is about 16 meters or about 53 feet. When you experience this with your own eyes it is really quite spectacular! The hike to Cape Split gives you a perfect opportunity to experience these tides first hand. It is a relatively easy hike if you stick to the main trail, and one that 5 and 6 year olds regularly accomplish with their families. If you hike at a fast pace you can make it to the split in just over an hour, but more realistically most people probably want to allot 4 to 5 hours for the return trip. It is about 6.5 km each way if you stay on the main trail.

My apologies if I misrepresent this piece since I've never heard it told directly by a member of the local Mi'kmaw First Nation, but Blomidon is supposed to be the home of the Mi'kmaw god Glooscap, and the tall pieces of Cape Split broken off the end of where you hike are referred to in local lore as "Glooscap's fingers".  I would love to hear more about this from someone knowledgable.

I was first exposed to tides in this area in University - at Acadia University in Wolfville NS a standard part of the "frosh" program for initiating freshmen was to take them out onto the mud flats of the Wolfville Harbour during low tide and have them slide down the 30 and 40 foot natural mud slides. Of course everyone got completely covered head-to-toe in mud, which is why arrangements were always made with the local fire hall to pay a visit there afterwards to get hosed down.

Cape Split was originally private land which from 2002 through 2007 got acquired by the Province of Nova Scotia and turned into a Provincial Park. In 2009 the province released a 20 year management plan with details on where they wanted the park to go.

Going There

Do not get caught on the other side of Little Split Rock
It used to be the case that just hiking to Cape Split put you in an elite group, but nowadays literally everyone and their dog hikes it, and in general that is a good thing in my opinion.  Since the Province took over a little over a decade ago it has become far more accessible.  One downside I will point out of the provincial takeover is that there is officially no camping on Cape Split.  It is my hope that the Province will eventually designate this as a back-country camping destination, and allow some camping on the split only for advanced experienced back-woods campers.  It used to be the case that some people would camp there and there was nothing wrong with that as long as they were being responsible.  In fact I knew a guy who used to winter camp there every year - I don't recall whether it was Christmas Day or New Years Day but it was one of the two.  You could still stealth camp there - and I don't recommend nor even condone that.  But I did note on my recent visit that there are lots of good potential camping spots.  I will say though that if you are considering it please read up on Leave No Trace Camping and do the responsible thing and adhere strictly to it.  And for goodness sakes don't be like the arsehole who left a blanket out there - which you can see in the video linked below.   Unfortunately I did not have the means to take the blanket with me but hopefully someone soon will.

It is people like that who ruin it for everyone.

When we were there last week there was a steady stream of hikers unlike any I'd ever seen before, but it was still far from what I would consider crowded like some of the Adirondacks hikes I've been on.  But there is still an "elite" option that not many people do, and that involves taking a 'rogue' trail which leads you down onto the beach, and then hiking out to the end of the split once again but this time at the bottom of the 200 foot cliffs instead of the top.

The tides are an extremely important factor to take into consideration if you want to do the 'elite' hike to Cape Split, because if you do not time it properly with the tides you will find yourself with a shortage of beach and a whole lot of water.  It does not take long on google to find stories of people who suffered serious injuries or even died at Cape Split - even doing the regular "non elite" hike.

The danger when doing the regular hike is that you are hiking out to the top of 200 foot cliffs, and the edges are unstable and can collapse at any time.  The most recent horror story I recall is from 2016 when a woman's dog went over the edge and she went over too trying to rescue it.  For this reason alone you are very strongly advised to keep your dog on a leash if you take it on the hike.  And you should also give serious consideration to not getting too close to the edge  yourself.

Another danger with the regular hike is the optical illusion that is formed by the crevices.  It is difficult to explain without a drawing, but I'll try with a picture posted here.   When you look down one of the crevices you can see the beach below at low tide, and it sort of looks like you could climb down the crevice onto the beach.  Unfortunately the other end of the crevice is still a good 100 feet or more above the beach, and the rocks inside it are so loose and unstable that once you get in there you can't really get back out again.  There are stories of people who have tried that and slid down the crevice and then gotten jettisoned out onto the beach where they met their demise.  In short - don't try that!

If you do try the elite hike the danger is getting caught past Little Split Rock as the tide is coming in.  Once the tide cuts you off on the wrong side of Little Split Rock you are in big trouble and better hope that cell service is working and that the rescuers on the other end of 911 can get to you before the tide comes in and the beach disappears.  Realistically if you did get caught in that situation probably your best bet would be go back out to the end and climb as high up onto Glooscaps Fingers as you can, and wait for help.  It is a relatively easy climb or at least it was 25 years ago the last time I did it, and the bigger fingers do stay above the high tide mark.   But really your best bet of all is to plan properly and not be stupid and get yourself caught in that situation.

To do the elite hike my advice has always been to start your hike at the trailhead at or shortly after high tide.  This gets you out to the split on top in 90 minutes tops, and then from there it is an easy 30 minutes down onto the beach at Little Split Rock Cove.   Now you are only 2 to 3 hours past high tide, with plenty of time to hike back out to the split and back again.  It is only about 30 minutes both ways.  Add 30 minutes for messing around and climbing Glooscap's Fingers and you still have lots of time.  Just pay attention to your watch and the tides, and make sure you know when high tide is.  I've never seen other hikers along the extra portion which encompasses the elite hike.  It is far less traveled.

On our trip last week high tide was at about 7am and since I wanted to take my teenage boys I knew there was no way I was going to get them out of bed in time to be able to do the elite hike on bottom.  But we did still manage to get underway before 11am which gave us plenty of time to get out onto the beach before high tide, and do a bit of exploring just within Little Split Rock Cove.

Giant Birch with Carved Names
Where the "elite" path joins the main path
The main trail is extremely well maintained now that this is a Provincial Park, and there are even nice outhouses at the trailhead and at the 2km mark.  Though even in the middle of a local drought the trail was still fairly wet in places - I think because the vegetation siphons moisture out of the air.  The extra piece which you can see on my maps as the lower part of the loop which takes you down onto the beach is still a very well marked trail that is almost impossible to lose it is so well traveled.  The last time I was on it about 25 years ago it was much easier to lose.  To find the trail just hike to the end along the main trail, and then look back to your left and walk down the hill and you'll see the path going into the woods.  Be careful because in a couple of spots the path is directly on the edge of the cliff for a short 4 or 5 foot jaunt.  If you want to do the loop the other way around the GPS coordinates of the junction point are shown on my google map below.  Or if you do not have GPS look for the massive birch tree bent over the path with hundreds of people's names carved into it - that is around the 5km mark.  Keep going and just past the 5.5 km mark you'll clearly see the other part of the loop joining the path on the left.   The main path is a bit wider at that spot.

The View

This view would normally be down the barrel of the Bay of Fundy

Unfortunately on our trip last week it was extremely foggy, so we could not see much when we were out there.  We got a pretty good view north towards Parrsboro where we could see the fog rolling up over the land and disappearing behind the hill - that was a pretty cool site that did not really capture well in my pictures.  I've seen a similar site in the past from Lower Blomidon where you watch the fog roll over the top of Blomidon towards you.  That is equally impressive.

Every other time I've been to Cape Split it has been a crystal clear day, and from the end you can look down the barrel of the Bay of Fundy into nothingness, as you watch the mainland on both sides slowly disappear into the ocean.  It is a truly spectacular view that is second to none I've ever experienced in my journeys.  I hope to get back out there again sometime soon with the kids so that they can get another chance at experiencing it.

The Lookoff

While you can get to Cape Split without going past the Lookoff, most people take the route that goes past it.  I recommend you stop and have a look down the Annapolis Valley, and also stop into the Lookoff store for a massive ice cream cone that will cost you half what a cone half that size costs in the city.

Tidal Swimming

If you want to experience tidal swimming while in the area the two best places I know of are Houston's Beach and Blomidon Beach which is part of Blomidon Provincial Park.  Both are easy to find with google.  I recommend you go there an hour before high tide, and stay until the tide turns.  But come back at low tide to see the difference.

Other Local Destinations

The Canning Meat Market is a great local butcher shop that makes some spectacular products including some incredible beef jerky

Wolfville is a very nice small university town, and the Wolfville Farmer's Market on Wednesday evening and Saturday morning is worth a stop.

Hall's Harbour is a great place to buy lobster fresh off the boats, cooked for you right on the wharf.

The fairy cottages at Huntington Point are kind of a neat tourist attraction that have a cool back story.

Within the last 20 to 30 years a vibrant wine industry has sprung up in the area with lots of old apple orachards having been replaced by vineyards.

The eagles at Sheffield Mills are a popular attraction.  The local chicken slaughter plants have attracted huge numbers of birds of prey, and there is a whole tourist industry that has evolved around watching them.

Delhaven Wharf - on the way to Blomidon.  Go there at low and high tide to see the difference.


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