It was a steep climb up out of Quiddy River, some of which had to be done on hands and knees due to the extreme slope. As with many of the ascents/descents on this trek, the path wasted no time in taking us straight up to the highest peak around, even though this had to be followed by a steep descent to get back to the plateau. I guess that is what earns this trail a designation of "challenging."
Happily, once the trail levelled off we annoyed a relatively flat few kilometers through an absolutely magical coniferous forest. The winding path of soft red needles led through tall spruce trees dripping with light green moss. Mounds of emerald green moss on the forest floor seemed to muffle the sounds of the wind and the ocean, and even the squirrels were silent.
Before descending to Telegraph Brook the trail took us through a stand of tall, thin, straight, bamboo-like alders, which was very different feeling than the rest of the trail. After that we briefly entered a stand of colourful yellow hardwoods. One of the nice things about the Fundy Footpath is that although it is almost all forested, there are distinctly different forest types, which keep it interesting and give a sense of progress.
The descent at Telegraph Brook was a pretty typical affair, involving narrow, steep, switchbacks, but relatively speaking it wasn't too tough. When we emerged onto the beach we were delighted to find a magnificent waterfall cascading down into a little pool on the inland side of the beach.
The cliffs and rocks along the shoreline were absolutely amazing, and made me wish I knew anything at all about geology. There were green and purple rocks metamorphosed in intricate waves and lines. The beach was filled with lots of grey pebbles with snow white lines running through them, and there were large silvery slabs with a texture like polished tree bark. The beach pebbles were bright pink, purple, green, yellow, and orange, as well as the dominant grey. We could easily have spent the entire day happily exploring and discovering new rock patterns.
After we reluctantly pulled ourselves away from Telegraph Brook we had a steep climb up to a plateau. There we enjoyed a pleasant walk through a coniferous stand where Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches, and squirrels were loudly and vigorously chattering away.
On this trail the ground has been thick with fallen pine cones, making me wonder if this is a bumper crop year. Many of these cones are absolutely plastered with a thick layer of pine pitch. It made me wonder how squirrels avoid getting their paws and faces covered in sap? Maybe they select the less sticky cones.
A few kilometers in we made a shallow descent to Hunter Brook. This was another magical feeling, mossy brook cascading down the hill among the lichen-covered trees and lush ferns. The water in these brooks is always crystal clear and icy cold. We crossed the small creek without getting wet, and made the gentle ascent back up to the plateau.
When we began the approach to Wolfe Brook we had another treat. Trail maintenance had just been done in the area, and we got to enjoy a lovely set of newly constructed switchbacks that were wide, flat, not washed out, and provided a gentle descent into Wolfe Brook. Oh, if all the ascents/descents could be like that!
The beach at Wolfe Brook was beautiful, so we selected a nice piece of driftwood from which to to enjoy it for a few minutes. The sand formed a natural ridge in front of us, and the river wound its way out to sea in a series of picturesque bends.
When it was time to continue on, we headed up stream. The trail began with a scramble over a series of large boulders, with an overhanging rock ledge. We then hugged the shore for a few meters until the trail reached a very nice campsite, tucked up into the trees.
At the campsite the path swung out across the river, which we were able to ford without getting out feet wet. When we arrived on the western shore we found ourselves at the base of a tall, delicate, veil-like, cascading waterfall. It was a beautiful sight, and one of the last enjoyable moments we'd have for a while.
The ascent out of Wolfe Brook began well enough. About halfway up our second set of very steep switchbacks we found ourselves stepping out onto a new reroute. This route took us way out, right along a ledge on the edge of the cliff face. We did enjoy some panoramic views out over the slate grey Atlantic, as well as up the coast and back down toward Martin Head. However, as someone who isn't wild about heights, threading along on a 6 inch wide footpath at the extreme edge of the cliffs, which could be seen eroding underneath us in a few places, wasn't the adrenaline rush I was looking for.
I don't know much about the science of trail design and building, but one thing we've noticed while spending time on this footpath is that every time the trail is put on an extreme slope there is erosion. Trees are removed to make a gap for the trail, and roots are cut so people don't trip and the trail bed is slightly cleared. When this occurs right on the edge of the cliffs, large blowdowns occur, where remaining trees fall over the loose edge, and the trail sags. From an outsider's perspective it seems that situating the trail on the extreme edge, and removing the components that keep the edge in place, isn't particularly sustainable for the environment.
A highlight of this section was a descent into a magical, mossy, nameless brook. We took a few moments to relax and enjoy the green and golden sunlit glade before continuing on.
Shortly after leaving that lovely spot we met another hiker, travelling in the opposite direction. He said he camped in Cradle Brook last night, but hadn't gotten too far on account of the long, steep ascent out of Little Salmon River. That didn't sound too encouraging. He also said he had hiked the trail last year, and the new reroutes were much more navigable than the old trail. I think this comment might have been a message sent from Saint Roch, because it was hard to imagine anything less navigable than what came later on. We bid him farewell and continued on.
We had been hoping there would be a place to camp at Rapidy Brook, but when we got there we found a deep, steep-sided gorge, with no place to pitch a tent. There was however a wooden footbridge over the river - the first of the Fundy Footpath so far! It may still have been a bit of a work in progress, since it ended about 4 ft from the ground, with a large boulder.
After Rapidy Brook there was a short section of reroute which was probably the hardest section of the trail so far for me. It followed along a crumbly rock ledge a few hundred feet up the side of a cliff. Because it was brand new, the path was a bit soft still, and rife with roots and stumps. The worst bits involved crossing a stone that was laid over the top of a waterfall. On the waterfall side of the 8 inch wide rock was a 5 ft drop into a pool of water, and on the other was shear cliff.
After rejoining the ledge along the cliff face and rounding a bend, we then came to a spot where the cliff overhung the tiny little ledge we were perching on. We had to duck and simultaneously lean sideways with our 40 lbs packs on, all while not having a fit or plummeting over the edge. Feeling several years older I continued to inch along the cliff face. At one point I reached for a rock handhold, and the chunk of cliff came away in my hand. Enough said, we survived.
After the mercifully short reroute we rejoined the original trail, which took us through coniferous forest, for a relatively pleasant walk. At one point we thought we'd found two dead bodies wrapped in tarps, but it turned out to be equipment left by the trail maintenance crews (we're pretty sure, anyway).
The descent into Little Salmon River was incredibly long - as far as we know it was the longest on the Fundy Footpath. It was very steep, but the switchbacks were long and gradual. A lot of maintenance work had been done on them, but we still seemed to alternate between stretches of newly fixed up path, and sections that were sagging, washed out, and difficult to navigate. It took us a very, very long time to pick our way down that descent on legs that had become rubbery and tired.
Suddenly we emerged into a very large campsite with multiple fire pits and places to pitch a whole forest of tents. We set up camp quickly and made dinner in the fading light. It has been a very long day indeed, and we are very thankful to have survived it intact!