I arrive at the second bridge at Middle Landing and turn into the parking area. It is just before 6 am but June’s sunrise glow brightens the landscape early this time of year in Bathurst, New Brunswick. Fog rises up from the river in the cool morning air. I can only find one glove and I have to dig out a pair of socks to put on my hands to keep them warm. Lifting my pack up I approach the bank of the Nepisiguit River, I am happy to have found the trail.
I had been attending the annual Festival of Nature put on by Nature NB and over the course of the weekend’s activities, I kept hearing snippets of conversation about an almost-completed 140 km-long trail. “Have you heard of the Mi’gmaq trail?” Andre, the co-owner, with his wife Julia, of Le Camping had said to me when I checked in. He showed me a picture of the Mi’gjgj, the trail logo representing a turtle designed and created by Phyllis Grant of Pabineau First Nation.
“Is this a new trail? I have never heard of it,” I said in reply. He answered back, “It is not a new trail, more of a restoration of an ancient Mi”gmaq trail used for thousand of years.”
On Saturday Dorothy, a bird song consultant, expressed great excitement about joining an all-day hike of the trail, and by lunch on Sunday our bird-watching group was squeezed around a picnic table eating when Blake, one of the volunteers working on the trail, started to talk about the Defi Nepisqisiquit challenge, a two-day adventure triathlon combining running, biking, and canoeing. I posed the question to the group “Where do I find this trail?”
One of the ladies across from me had been on the all-day hike the previous day. She finished chewing her bite of sandwich, swallowed, and then said, “When you take a group of botanists into the mature Acadian forest, you are not going to hike very far.” She could tell me what plant species she recorded, but she car-pooled there and didn’t pay attention on the drive.
“Can anyone tell me how I can find this trail?” At this point it is a myth. I search the faces of those around me. “Middle Landing,” Blake says, but he is working on the section further up towards Mount Carleton and can’t give me directions. I grab a brochure of the Chaleur region and on the back page is a map showing Middle Landing.
Back at the campground Andre has printed off a map for me with some instructions and this is how I have found it.
Crossing the bridge, the gorge is below, and I stop for photos of this stunning place. (feature image) The left portion goes all the way to Daly Point Nature reserve 28 km away. Pabineau Falls is a highlight along that segment. “There will be tepees and camping areas along the whole trail,” Andre had told me.
I decide that I will go to the right. The first spot I come to is littered with core samples from a drilling exploration done in the area. Lead and copper deposit have been identified.
The trail is flagged and the turtle logo keeps me on point. It is an easy hike and this allows me to scout the area and get some photos. I love the contrast of the white birch alongside its green leaves this time of year. A sweet fragrance fills my nose and the Nepisiguit River may be out of view but its roar is ever-present and if I close my eyes, I would have a hard time distinguishing it from the ocean surf against the Chaleur coastline.
Did I tell you my great-grand father was a tightrope walker? The amazing Elmourne was part of a Barnum and Bailey circus act some time between the late 1890’s and early 1900’s. What does that have to do with the trail?
When the rope bridge comes into view I can’t help but smile. All the parts are lashed together by rope, including the ladder and stand. It is approximately 10 ft high at the attachments but has a belly in the middle that will be a tricky part. Straddling the beam, I hear Andre’s advice: “Hook the top lines under your armpits and slide along foot over foot.” This method is not going to work for me because the top ropes are higher than my head. I will have to use an underhand grip and monkey-swing it. My camera is looped around my neck, dangling down by my chest, and I hope to get some video of some of the crossing but my priority is to complete it safely.
When I arrive at the far side I am pleased and relieved. I did my great-grandfather proud. I see the trail going forward and follow it into the trees. The volunteers that have been building this trail have done an outstanding job. This portion is closed-in and resembles a game path, not like any other trail I have been on.
I emerge out of the confined area in a more mature forest that picks up the river again. I follow the trail ’til it empties out onto a gravel road at some sort of quarry.
Flipping back through my pictures to the trail options map I photographed, I realize my error.
I should have gone right once I crossed the rope bridge instead of left. I have landed at the solid bridge and have no option but to complete the loop back to where I started. I will miss seeing the falls and rock cuts Andre had mentioned.
Completing the loop, I am at the rope bridge again and I don’t want to press my luck with a second attempt. Instead I head back and make a deal with myself: I will look for the first option of crossing the river see what that looks like.
I find a gap in the tree cover and walk out onto a rocky ledge of the river bank. I don’t know how I missed this on the way out but I am very glad I caught it on the return. Stone walls contain the rush of water on each shore, forcing the river to run swiftly. A merganser floats through the current, pecking and diving its head under water, feeding. When it lands below the bridge is flies back upstream and then floats back down again, like it is on a lazy river ride at a water park
I see a sitting area on top of the bluff and it calls to me. Hopping the rocks across the stream I follow the path up the stone wall. Sidestepping with my chest to the bluff I grab a shrub to steady myself but with very little soil for anchor, it starts to break loose and I teeter for a moment on this narrow ledge.
A wrong step and I will not come away uninjured. My legs tremble but I keep climbing up, using the rocks as steps, until finally I reach the top and plop down on the log seat. From here I could continue to follow the trail along the river to the rock cuts and falls but I don’t need another destination, this one is perfect.
After fifteen minutes I climb back down the rock face and resume sitting on the lower rocky platform. Unpacking a take-away dish of lo-mein noodles left over from dinner, I eat and watch the merganser pass by again. Andre had said the trail should be completed by the first of August and I am now as excited about it as everyone else. I will have to return once it is connected. I know I only did a small sample of this trail and at the risking of producing a pun here, there will definitely be more to follow.
Cheers and happy travels from Maritime Mac.
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