Thursday, September 29, 2016

Reconnecting with an Old Friend: FFP 2016

In the beginning there were 8, then it fell to 6.  Shortly it was down to five.  Before we actually started it was down to 4.  In the end there were only two people left.  This might be a strong indicator of how difficult the Fundy Footpath truly is.  Of the 8 that expressed interest in completing a thru-hike on the rugged 50+/-km trail, 6 had been across it before.  The two others had only done sections.  Now to be fair I have to explain how people dropped off the list.  One ended up with a fractured heal before we started while one had a family commitment come up.  Another candidate fell very sick the week of the hike and decided it would not be wise, while another got called into work during our expected time frame.  That left four to start the hike.

My brother and I have each hiked the FFP multiple times end to end.  At one point in our lives we were hiking it annually but as we tried to remember the last time we hiked it, we were surprised to realize it had been 4 years since we had completed a thru-hike.  This prolonged absence would soon show itself.  Starting the hike with us would be my brother's two boys who had hiked the trail with us the last time we completed it.

Martin Head appears just as you prepare to cross Goose Creek.
We got away on a Friday morning, as planned, and arrived at Pointe Wolfe in Fundy National Park at around 9:30am.  Our goal for that day was to hike to Goose Creek and tent near the beach overlooking Martin Head.  Our long absence from the trail showed itself several times.   Personally I struggled more than I ever have and I even stumbled 4 times through the day.  I had scrapes and bruises like never before but I still felt like I was having a conversation with an old friend; maybe an old friend I had neglected for too long but a friend nonetheless.

Like me, my old friend had changed as well.  We were pleasantly surprised to see the newly routed high tide trail at Goose River.  This new side trail allowed us to avoid the mud flats and having to rush to beat the rising tides at Goose River.  We came down into the valley at a small tributary and the new perspective was a great addition to the trail system within Fundy National Park.

A moment for reflection on the FFP.
I wasn't the only one struggling, the boys were struggling too and one was suffering some severe blisters.  A discussion that night in camp led to a decision the next morning that the two boys would pull out at Martin Head.  We hiked the beach from Goose Creek to Martin Head as the tide was making the turn.  While we hiked we were able to reach a ride home for the boys, 16 and 20 years old, and my brother opted to stick it out and continue to hike with me.  The need to re-organize packs and contact rides meant once we crossed Quiddy River, we were going to have to hike back to the trail and not navigate the beach to Telegraph Brook as hoped.

We had made this bushwhack through the birch and spruce stands before and despite the steep uphill climb we made our way back to the white blazed trail.  Before long we were headed downward toward the mouth of Telegraph Brook.  We paused leisurely there and enjoyed a good snack and the waves, glad we had made the choice to hike the trail as the beach was pretty much impassable now.  In my brother's words "Let's not be the idiots in the paper who have to be rescued from the cliffs", and we were satisfied with our decision.

A smoother part of the FFP.
The rest of the day would be a tough slog as we still had Hunter, Wolfe, and Rapidy Brooks to go in and out of before we reached Little Salmon River.  We buried our heads and climbed out of Telegraph Brook saying very little until we reached the plateau.  We were finding our hiking legs now and so conversation started to pick up.  When we dropped into Wolfe Brook we shed our packs for another rest.  We explored a campsite which was new to us and we thought maybe in future trips it would be a good place to stop.  It was surprising to both of us how many changes had occurred in the last four years.  Many new campsites were visible and we wondered how the ecosystem and trail were with the more intense use.

A new bridge greeted us at Rapidy Brook, although we knew it was there as we had seen photos through social media.  It was here that we caught up with some fellow hikers we had met the night before.  As they moved on, Luke and I sat and filtered some water and explored the falls and rapids in this torrent of a stream.  We then buried our heads once again and made our way out of this steep valley.

When we reached the valley bottom of the Little Salmon River, I felt a wave of complete exhaustion come over me. I took a few minutes and sat in the shade and snacked on some bars and before long I was well enough to start setting up camp.  The cool waters of the Little Salmon River ran clear and I sat and watched for some trout while I filtered water for my supper.  I had a goulash on my menu and ate well as the sun started to drop below the steep valley wall.  Luke was in his element as we made a bonfire and hosted a cool couple from northern NB.  He made hot chocolate and a hot juice drink which went over real well and he made sure the fire stayed stoked.  We could have sat at the fire well past midnight but we all knew we had some tough climbs ahead the next day.

Our streak of good weather continued on day three and we enjoyed the estuary of the Little Salmon before we started the long, burning climb up the west side of the valley. I have always loved the plateaus along this stretch of the trail and the big birch trees that provided much needed shade on this day.  Before we knew it we were sitting on the shore again at Cradle Brook and we each decided not to sit too long in the sun.  That was a hard task because we really wanted to explore the rocks and the beach.  However we donned our packs and started, what I consider the toughest climb on the trail.  It is also one of the most rewarding as you can sit and the top and look out over the ground you just covered.
Our tent site at Seeley Beach.

The trek down into Seeley Beach seemed to fly by and felt easy.  My hiking legs were back under me and at that point I felt whole again and my "old friend" and I were getting along great.  As I stepped out of the woods onto Seeley Beach the sun shone incredibly warm and it reflected off the Bay.  I instantly took a few minutes to sit on the beach and take it all in.  We made our way down to where the brook runs into the Bay and made camp up on a shelf in the woods.  This location also had changed since my last visit as there were many more places to set up my tent.  We sat once again on the beach but this time we sat up quite late as we knew our next day would be a short one.  Conversation with two couples who were on the beach that night was enjoyable and the aura of trail magic was wrapped thickly in the moment as I made connections with everyone.

On day four we woke up and dallied around as the sun rose higher.  We stepped off the beach at around 9:30 and headed towards what I call football rock.  The stretch between Seeley Beach and Long Beach is a more leisurely hike but at Long Beach reality starts heavily creeping in.  Hiking can have that effect.  Our moods were lifted as we approached Big Salmon River and discovered our Dad coming in to meet us.  He had been sick most of the week leading up to the hike and had to back out.  The fact that he came in to meet us meant a great deal to both my brother and I, even though we're both 40+ year old men.

The trail is like that.  It will make grown adults appreciate all that is around them from both a social and ecological perspective.  As I walked across the suspension bridge over the Big Salmon River I looked down on the river and simply noted, I don't want to wait another four years to get out and hike a trail again. Check out the video for some more on our hike.