We've been to Chignecto before, so any return trip would have to be different in some way to keep things exciting. That's how we originally came up with The Chignecto Challenge. Our goal: walk the entire Cape Chignecto Coastal Trail loop in less than 24 hours. The 60 kilometre (official number) circuit is usually done in 3 or 4 days, and even then it's not for the fairweather hiker.
We were anticipating a bitter-sweet world of hurt on this hiking trip. We arrived at the Park Saturday afternoon to make base camp in the new camping area they've set up near New Yarmouth. After pitching tents we quickly went to sleep. The plan was to wake up and start the hike around 3:00 am. Even the most familiar trail looks completely different in the dark so we wanted to travel the most worn section of trail in the dark and use the most daylight on the second leg of the trail, which meanders along coastal cliff edges.
It was strange and a little difficult to go to sleep in the afternoon, but after a bit of restlessness I fell asleep. Next thing I know it's 2:30 am and the recently-full moon is overhead. We quickly threw together eveything we'd need for the day. Sheena was to stay behind and look after things until we returned (and us when we finally did!). Matt M. was planning on going only as far as Cape Chignecto, where he would turn around and go back. I wouldn't choose such a fate for myself, as those hills at Refugee Cove and Mill Brook are murder. At 3:00 am Kris, Dave, Matt M., Matt S. and I set off down the trail.
It was very quiet and the moon was lighting up the Bay of Fundy, as well as the sweat on our foreheads. In the beginning I didn't feel too gung ho about doing The Challenge. It might have been the unusual sleeping pattern beforehand, but for the first little while I felt wrecked. At one point I stopped for a break and felt dizzy, my stomach was in a vicious knot. I calmly drank some water and made peace with my body.
After descending and then climbing out of Mill Brook I think I got my second wind, which was to last me the rest of the day. My mood changed pretty quickly and I had no complaints for the rest of the trip. Matt M. on the other hand, had the energy sucked out of him by the time we crested the hill. We moved on and he started to lag behind until we could no longer see him. At Arch Gulch, I stopped and waited for him to catch up. He admitted he wasn't as fit as he would've liked to be, and was considering stopping at Refugee Cove before returning. I followed him until we rejoined the group just before descending into Refugee Cove. The sun had just come up and the sky was brightening.
It was about 6:30 am when we reached the shore at Refugee Cove. The sun was rising and filling the sky with color. The moon was still in the sky and the water was calm. I think it was at this moment when it hit me for certain that we were going to finish The Challenge, and better than we could predict. We tiptoed softly and whispered as there were a great deal of tents in the Cove, with campers still sleeping. After Matt M. wished us well and retreated to the comfort of a cup of coffee, we sat on a wooden bridge to treat our feet. Dave's ankle was causing him some discomfort, but he determined there wasn't much more he could do about it. I covered a few blisters and changed my socks. We encountered a few other hikers just getting ready for their day. The look on their faces were priceless when we told them where we were going and when we had started. One guy looked at his watch and chuckled, wishing us well.
We still managed to keep a good pace even after climbing the hill out of Refugee Cove. We cruised all the way to Cape Chignecto and arrived at about 8:00 am. I didn't go down the side trail and instead rested my feet and stretched. It gave me an extra boost I needed when we continued. We left Cape Chignecto and Ile Haute behind and headed north.
As the morning went on we began encountering (and passing) more and more hikers. At Little Bald Rock Brook some campers looked us up and down as we breezed by the campsites. Our next major milestone was to be Seal Cove Brook. We met a few hikers coming from that way and we tried to estimate when they would have broke camp, and how far we had left to go. I knew it couldn't be too far, as we were already approaching Keyhole Brook.
The trail rose and fell, meandering along the coast. It stank with a combination of salty air and fresh mud. At Carey Brook, the trail pretty much falls down the steep slope. We carefully made our way down and crossed the river. On the other side, the trail takes the simplest approach-- straight up the hill. Fantastic. At the top we took another break. Our breaks were becoming longer and more frequent. It was necessary, though. A few minutes off of your feet can be all they need to keep going for another hour. If anyone had a reason to stop the group would take the opportunity to sit down, in the middle of the trail if need be.
At about 1:00 pm we arrived at Seal Cove Brook, where we took another break and refilled our water. Our progress (and possible fatigue) had us feeling giddy. We were going to finish the circuit, and way faster than any of our best predictions. Before that could happen we still had to get around Green Point and the Three Sisters. From there we'd meet up with the Old Eatonville Road and the long, tedious third leg of our trip. From here everything was just a formality.
The weather all day was perfect. New Brunswick sat in the distance and the Three Sisters passed us on our left as we headed east. It took a little while to approach the Eatonville Road. Dave and I took a route involving a reckless river fording. Kris and Matt S. stuck to the trail which, while potentially harder on the feet, would intersect the road further along.
Dave and I reached the road and it seemed almost instantly my pace was halved. Shade was hard to come by on the open road, and my feet were starting to protest deep inside my boots. We ambled along until we rejoined Kris and Matt S., where we all promptly fell to the ground. Two guys in a pickup truck drove by what must have been a sorry sight. We waved hello. I took my boots off and chose sandals for the long stroll ahead of us. It gave my feet the chance to breathe a little.
We all had varying paces at this point. Not to mention an irritating rash between the thighs. Ah, the joys of hiking. We stretched out into a single file line, with Dave in the lead. It seems out of nowhere he had a sudden burst of energy and he flew down the road. It wasn't long before we could no longer see him down the road ahead. The rest of us stuck together, taking the occasional break. My body in general was still in fine shape, but the feet were not going to tolerate much more punishment. Matt S. was looking a little run-down as well. It was all the more impressive to me because he had never even been to Cape Chignecto Provincial Park before. And still he kept up the entire way.
We mustered one final push, which was mostly on an uphill slope. That was really pleasant. Soon enough we happened on the parking lot and then it was just a short walk in to the camp site. With a mixture of fatigue and pride I threw my pack to the ground. Dave was lying comfortably in his tent with Sheena. Matt M. was crouched on the ground in his bug jacket, looking pensive.
We had done it. It was 5:30 pm and we had finished the loop in 14 and a half hours. I'm not sure why the Park advertises the loop as 60 kilometres and it's always confused me. I can tell you with certainty that the Coastal loop is no more than 42 kilometres in total. You could say I feel it in my bones...
We spent the evening eating and groaning and lying around on the ground. I thrive on the fatigue that hits you after a good and thorough hike. For the next day or so my body was stiff, but never happier. I hit my pillow pretty early that night, with the staisfaction that we had conquered Cape Chignecto. What the hell are we going to do next year?
Used with permission
GPS UTM beta
Cape Chignecto Provincial Park
Cape Chignecto - 0347646E 5021065N
Mill Brook - 0354038E 5023619N
New Yarmouth Campsite - 0357279E 5025240N
Refugee Cove - 0350539E 5022249N
Seal Cove - 0349462E 5029214N
From Parsboro, take the 208 to Advocate Harbour. The provincial park enterance is located there.
Try Mapquest for Advocate Harbor NS.
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Posted By: Jodi
- Thu Jan 04 18:11:14 UTC 2007
CommentNew World Record :) as of September '06 is 6 hours and 28 minutes for Mark C and Jodi I!
Posted By: Jodi
- Wed Sep 13 18:26:17 UTC 2006
CommentWe've done this trail 3 times now and we've completed the full loop (no beach and no Eatonville Road) in a best time of 6 hours and 58 minutes with a total distance being 50kms. Get out there and beat us...it's doable!