by Brad Donaldson
I thought it might be too late, that when I finally got up to the Cape Breton Highlands National Park to see the leaves in all their seasonal glory there’d be none left. But luckily I was terribly, terribly wrong.
* * *
On Saturday, October 21st, I woke up early and drove towards Franey Mountain. When I arrived at the trail head, the gravel parking lot was empty. The morning was cold and crisp, with a chance of showers. I dressed in layers and started in on the trail.
The first kilometre or so was gravel and slightly inclined. Stretches of the trail were completely covered in fiery leaves that crunched under each step. The sounds echoed through the empty woods, walled with peeling white birch trees.
But the gravel finally ended, and the steepness increased, giving way to sections that unavoidably made my legs burn.
After a steep climb, the trail plateaued for a short while at about the 2km mark, revealing this sweet view.
Then it was back to more climbing.
The hike was challenging in a myriad of ways. The elevation, the weather. I played around with different layer combinations, but it was hard to find the right one. It was windy then calm, sunny then cloudy and raining.
But that’s hiking in the fall.
I found these inconveniences challenging in a good way—something about wearing winter gloves and a tuque while simultaneously being covered in sweat—and they quickly dissolved into irrelevancy when I popped out of a concealed trail to these views.
When I reached the top, the rain clouds that had haunted my summit moved across the mainland and out over the ocean. For a moment I was completely transfixed on the pace of the clouds, watching them swallow everything in their path. And then I turned my eyes inland, towards the colourful Clyburn Brook Canyon.
I’m not sure how often this happens (especially at this time of year), but I had this beautiful view, overlooking Cape Smokey and Ingonish from 425m above, all to myself. I spent almost an hour on top of the mountain. I kept trying to walk away, but couldn’t. Each time I turned to go, the sun polished a different section of the valley, making every second look beautifully different than the last.