The ABCs of Snowshoeing!

During a rather nasty mid-winter freeze and thaw cycle, our tremendous snowshoeing conditions are being challenged. But we will persevere, and come out of this weather cycle ready for another 2-3 months of snowshoeing, which will overlap with the beginning of paddle season! So we offer a lightweight blog entry, with a few tweaks and updates from a similar one posted a few years ago! Think Snow! Think Spring!

The ABC’s of Snowshoeing

“Now I know my ABC’s, aren’t you very proud of me” So goes the rhyme we all learned as little children…and learning the alphabet opened the door to a world of endless opportunities! Well, getting involved in snowshoeing opens many doors as well, doors to experiences in the outdoors that are always changing, exhilarating, and allow you to be a part of a winter wonderland. Here are just a few “ABC’s” of snowshoeing…a fun way to share some of the lingo that winter outdoors folks may toss around!

Avalanche   A large amount of snow that slides down a slope or mountain, burying anything in its path. Avalanches are extremely dangerous, and anyone who snowshoes in mountainous terrain should be aware of avalanche dangers

Binding   Bindings attach your boots to the snowshoes; Tubbs provides several binding options, designed for a snug and comfortable fit.

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Crampon  Sharp metal traction devices on the base of snowshoes, to aid in traction on slick surfaces; they may be integrated along the frame, or may be attached to the base of the binding or rear decking of the snowshoe.

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Decking The surface of the snowshoe which provides the support and flotation above the snow surface. In traditional wooden snowshoes these are made of woven, lacquered rawhide strips. Modern snowshoe decks are made of a variety of synthetic materials, which may be contained within a frame, or may be a molded surface without a frame. The Tubbs Snowshoes snowshoe selector tool describes the wide variety of snowshoe decking material available. http://tubbssnowshoes.com/snowshoe-finder

Elevation Gain    Indicates the strenuousness of a hike or climb, essentially, how much climbing is involved; many trail guidebooks provide this information, as elevation gain is important to know, along with trail distance.

Frame   The outer edge of the snowshoe, to which the decking is attached; it provides the shape and structure for the snowshoe.

Gaiters  Water-resistant fabric “sleeves” that  covers the lower leg and ankle, to keep snow out of your boots.

gaiters ice

 

Heel lift   A metal bar at the heel area of the binding, which can be raised and lowered; Raising the heel lift reduces calf fatigue on steeper ascents.

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Incline   What you go up…and then you come down!

Jerky  A high-energy snack popular with many outdoors folks

Kiosk   An open, usually wooden, structure found at many trail heads, upon which may be posted trail maps, regulations, registration books, and other useful information.

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Leave No Trace  Refers to a set of ethical principles, which promote conservation, and minimizing recreational impact on nature ( i.e. pack it in, pack it out!) For snowshoers, the nastiest violations we usually encounter are dog poop ( yuk!) and the dreaded post-hole!

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Mountains   The geological formations which call to us, and where we must go!

Night   A great time to get out on your snowshoes! Bring a headlamp, a hot beverage, and listen to the amazing sounds of darkness….it is especially amazing during a full moon.

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Outdoor Preparedness   Being ready for whatever you may encounter during your snowshoeing expeditions…dress appropriately, know first aid, have your maps, keep hydrated, watch the weather…stay safe!

Poles   Snowshoe poles can aid in your stability, especially on difficult terrain. The poling action also helps your workout include more upper body exercise.

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Quinzee   A snow shelter made by hollowing out a large pile of snow. The quinzee can provide warmth and protection as an emergency shelter.

Register  Signing in at a trailhead; helpful should you require assistance, as it may indicate your destination, companions, and time of departure and estimated return.

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Sunscreen  It is important to protect yourself from the sun, even in winter!

Traverse   Travelling across a slope; secure the edge of the snowshoe into the slope before stepping. Poles and crampons are helpful for a safe traverse.

Uphill   Climbing direction which can result in your becoming sweaty, even in cold temperatures. Be sure to wear a wicking base layer to help keep you dry. Avoid cotton!

Views One of the best benefits of snowshoeing! Amazing vistas, across mountains and valleys, rivers, and fields….You may be amazed at the wildlife you see in a winter environment.

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Winter Fitness  Snowshoeing is a great activity for improving overall fitness, and may burn 400-1000 calories per hour, depending on the intensity of your travels across the snow.

Xanthocomic  The kind of snow you do not want to eat!

Yield   The snowshoer going down the hill should yield to the snowshoer coming up the hill…a standard of trail etiquette.

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Zipper Pull   You can get attachments to your jacket zipper that can make it easier to adjust zipper while wearing gloves; some have thermometers, lights, or whistles on them.

So that’s the snowshoeing alphabet…the most important letters? F-U-N !

 

 

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Bubbly in the Kingdom…Welcome 2019!

 

The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont is a term “used passionately throughout Vermont and beyond when referring to the corner of the state against the Canadian Border and the upper Connecticut River” (Vermont.com) This rural corner of the state is definitely one of our favorite areas in Vermont, with remote and often undisturbed land, fantastic recreational opportunities, and cabin rentals with snowshoe trails located right out the door. For the past few years, we have been fortunate enough to rent the Hadsel Mares cabin at Wheeler Pond ( though the Green Mountain Club) for the site of our year’s end, and New Year’s Eve celebrations. For reports of prior such celebratory stays, please check out our blog posts from Jan, 31, 2017, and Jan. 6, 2018. In these postings, you can clearly see that the winter weather can be quite variable, and we always wonder, right up until the day we depart for the cabin, what Mother Nature will hold for us.

This year turned out to be pretty fine! Our November and December weather had been marked with lots of snow, great snowshoeing conditions, and not too much oppressive cold. The week before we left for Hadsel, we saw a bit of fluctuation…some warming weather, rain, and icing…but our experience had told us that in the NEK the snowpack is pretty durable.  So we packed our microspikes, a few different pairs of our Tubbs snowshoes, and dog and human gear and attire suitable for a range of temperatures and conditions.

Since check-in time at the cabin is after lunch, we stopped along the way to spike hike a local trail network; trails had crusty snow and ice, were a bit firm, and it was chilly…but we enjoyed exploring the trails through the sugaring operation, adjacent to a lake we paddle in the summer.

 

 

After a few hours on the trails, we headed off to the Kingdom. The winding, narrow road up to the cabin was a bit slick, but we saw that the woods had good snow cover. The dogs have been to this cabin quite a few times, and seemed to recognize our destination, as they were getting quite excited when we pulled into the small parking space. Our homemade pulk was used to haul much of our gear; backpacks and portage packs went on our backs.

Inside, it was time to get the fire going; the cabin had been used the previous night, so the temperature inside was balmy, in the 40’s. Our settling in consisted also, as usual, of unloading gear, making up bunks, getting the dogs settled in, and checking log entries from those who have stayed here since our last visit ( which had been in October). This rather rustic and rough around the edges cabin, was in fine shape; the Green Mountain Club insures it stays clean, safe, and welcoming!

 

 

After lunch, we decided to head up to the Moose Mountain Trail, which has a nice overlook above the Wheeler Pond and the cabin. A ¼ mile road walk, and we were at the trailhead. The trail was packed out and firm, despite a good deep snow pack, so we used out spikes. It was cold ( teens), but sunny, with little wind. The trail has a few scrambles, and as I stepped a few feet off the trail to photograph Edgar and his dad heading up this area, I sank into 3 feet of snow….at least I was stable when taking the photos!

 

The trail above the lookout was unpacked; it was firm, but as Griff and I climbed further up, I did begin to sink a bit. As we were beginning to lose the sun as it lowered over the nearby mountains, I opted not to stop to put on my snowshoes. Instead, turned around  to rejoin Edgar and his dad as they had headed down the trial after the overlook.

So back to the cabin; bringing in more wood, shoveling out the outside fire ring ( full to the brim with frozen snow, ice, and unburned wood), and getting our dinner prep started. Easy dinner prep for this first night…the second night we would have Aunt Jackie join us, so a New Year’s Eve feast was planned! The dogs settled in for the night, and in our toasty cabin, sleep came easily.

 

The final day of 2018 was sunny, with temperatures in the 20’s. We headed ½ mile up the road, and up Wheeler Mountain trail, using spikes as we negotiated up the trail. The snow began to soften up, and was getting a bit clumpier, so I opted to switch over to my Tubbs Mountaineer snowshoes; great traction, and security on loose snow as well as a few icy spots. I was able to bushwack around a few tricky spots, enjoying the deep soft snow in the woods.

 

Knowing that we would be heading off to a different hike that afternoon, we turned around after about 90 minutes…have to save some energy for the next hike!

While back at the cabin preparing lunch, the dogs suddenly alerted, excitedly running around  and looking out the window of the cabin, thrilled that…..Their beloved Aunt Jackie had arrived!

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Once Jackie had unloaded her gear and settled in, we had lunch, and decided to take a short (30 minute) road trip to get to our next hike. We had stumbled upon Sentinel Rock State Park in October, impressed by the expansive views. At that time we had not explored the developing trail network, but in December we had snowshoed in this new state park, guessing our way around the freshly blazed trails. The snow had been 3 feet deep in places, marked only by lots of moose sign…it was apparent that no one else had recently trekked on these trails! So we thought Jackie might enjoy these trails, as they are not too difficult, rarely used, and have lots of wildlife spotting opportunities. We arrived, to discover that the exposed field (leading to the trails) was now windblown, mostly devoid of snow, but with open marshy areas and icy patches. Spikes got us safely to the trail’s entrance to the adjacent wooded area…alas, lots of snow in here! Snowshoes on, and time to explore!  We found beautiful conditions, and look forward to more snowshoeing on these trails, as we have been told moose do frequent this area, (confirming our belief after all the scat we saw in December.)

 

After returning to the cabin, it was time to prep our New Year’s Eve feast; we would not be waiting until midnight, but rather celebrate a bit earlier in the evening. A nice fire was started outside, and as a light snow began to fall , we cooked up some filet mignon and chicken. Inside, the lobster meat was being thawed, and the rice boiled up. A little melted butter, and some sparkling and cool champagne, and our feast was ready! Surf and Turf, winter cabin camping style…does it get any better?

 

A late evening trip to the “House de Potte ” (privy) revealed that a steady snow was falling; however, the temperatures were rising, and by morning, the rain and sleet had arrived. We had enjoyed 4 delightful hikes so far, so rather than get soaked while hiking the trail around the pond ( our planned morning excursion), we decide to have a nice slow paced bug-out, and then head off for a nice breakfast.

Our favorite local restaurant is closed on Tuesdays, so we would not be enjoying our breakfast there. Plan B worked out just fine, and we had a nice hot morning repast, bringing in 2019 in culinary style (at a great Vermont diner).

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So now it is 2019! The new year has seen a return to nice snowfall, and more fantastic snowshoeing conditions.  I hit 50 days snowshoeing on January 9th; last season, it was mid-February before that number was attained. We hope that some of the local dog-friendly x-c trail networks are groomed soon, so that we can get in a little skijoring. We will have some more cabin camping trips, as well as our annual early March snowshoeing trip to Maine or the Adirondacks. Though winter is firmly entrenched ( it is -12 degrees today) , we remind ourselves that we will be paddling again in less than 4 months!  Happy New Year!

Welcoming Winter…Windy, Wet, and Woebegone!

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The first day of winter is here…along with a very rainy and windy change in our weather. All our beautiful snow is at risk! Being Vermonters, we recognize that we will have fluctuations in our weather, and have learned to live with whatever is thrown at us. However, this storm action seems particularly cruel, since we have enjoyed some of the best early season snowshoeing ever. 36 Days snowshoeing so far…last year at this time we were still in single digits! Our deep snow base probably will result in our still having a White Christmas, though the snow may be a bit crusted over and frozen after the temperatures drop again in a few days.  More snowstorms will be arriving, and we shall return to our winter explorations, near and far.

Here is a short video of our December…stick with it to the end, if you want to see our dogs on their annual “earn your keep” trip, helping us select, cut, and then pull out the Christmas Tree. Merry Christmas to all our readers, and we will see you after we return from our New Year’s winter camping and snowshoeing trip. On to 2019!

 

Five Below, but There’s New Snow!

 

Five inches of new fluffy snow, on top of a deep, weather-resistant (we had a few days of rain) snowpack…but with the temperatures at 5 below zero, we will wait until later today to get the dogs out for their hike.  We will utilize dog booties, paw wax, dog coats…all the necessary accoutrements , plus these are the final days of having to wear orange for hunting season safety. If it becomes a short snowshoe outing, no matter, since the dogs have been busily taking advantage of all our early season snow and we have over 20 days snowshoeing already!

Snowvember. That is what they were calling it. November 2018. It began as a pretty typical month, with drizzly, grey, wet weather ,with maybe an occasional dusting of short-lasting snow. Our stick season hikes were tolerable (the dogs just enjoy getting out in any weather), but not particularly noteworthy.

 

 

We paddled until November 13th (our 131st day on the water), and had to stop paddling once the snow made access to the launch sites impassible. The water had begun to show some icing in,  but this year we did not have to actually break through ice to paddle.

Some late season paddling ( safely ensconced in dry suit, neoprene booties, and the dogs in neoprene vests under their life jackets)

 

 

There were a few days overlap between paddling and snowshoeing seasons…paddle one day, snowshoe the next, then paddle again. However, early snowshoeing required heading up to the mountain and higher elevations. However, by November 16th, we were back snowshoeing our regular winter trails! And in the most amazing conditions! Deep snow! Heavy snow! Soft snow!  We have been working hard, plowing through the beautiful white stuff, dealing with a few very cold days, and a few rainy days, but so far the season seems to be one for the record books. Once hunting season is over, and the XC ski trails are groomed, we hope to have epic skijoring conditions, too. The quick onslaught of winter really resulted in an abbreviated bikejor season, but the dogs should be in great shape from all their hard work in the snow so far.

 

We are once again serving as Tubbs Snowshoe Ambassadors! We love our selection of Tubbs snowshoes, and they carry us through whatever conditions we may face. Check out our information, and lots of other helpful snowshoe tips, on the tubbssnowshoes.com site! We are also going to be testing out and reviewing some new dog gear for trailspace.com, the best site for honest and helpful gear reviews for all outdoor activities!

 

One of the really cool things we monitor each winter is the development of the ice falls on one of our favorite local trails….This is what we have so far. Since we hit up this trail a few times a month, check our facebook page ( Vermont Paddle Pups) for the ongoing photo report!

 

 

News Flashes!

#1  Gryphon and Edgar were both brought to Vermont from South Carolina kill shelters, by our local animal shelter the North Country Animal League. Last summer, NCAL asked if we could share our story for a PETCO company Holiday Wishes Contest, in hopes of winning a financial grant for NCAL. Well, proud to announce that Gryphon was selected, and we earned a $5000.00 grant for NCAL!  Gryphon also was able to go to the local PETCO store to receive his own shopping spree, and get lots of the publicity photos taken. He was initially a bit unnerved by all the attention, bright lights, and slippery floor in the store…but walking all the treat aisles, with all the accompanying odors, really made him happy! Here is a link to the PETCO site and Gryphon’s contribution.

https://www.petcofoundation.org/love-story/adopted-dog-jumps-into-a-life-of-outdoor-adventures

#2  Edgar and Gryphon are featured as the “Dogs of August” in the fund-raising calendar for our Veterinary Clinic.  They proudly grace the calendar, which is sold to raise money for a veterinary care assistance fund. And, our former Agility instructor has her dog in the calendar too!

 

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So, our winter begins in earnest. We will once again spend the New Year celebrating in an off-grid cabin in the wilds of the Northeast Kingdom, snowshoeing right out the door. This year, we certainly are hoping for temperatures a bit more welcoming that we had last year (over 20 below). We are also planning on trying out a different remote hut in the Kingdom, later in the winter, with access to some of our favorite trails in the more northeastern part of the state.

We are so fortunate to live in a part of the country that provides us with endless recreational opportunities. Winter here can be very looooong, and if we did not go out and play in the weather, it would be an intolerable wait for spring.  So while the canoes and kayaks hibernate, and the paddles decorate our walls, we hit the trails and mountains for a Vermonters ideal winter!

Merry Chrismas and Happy New Year…On to 2019!

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“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” (L.M. Montgomery)

October in Vermont…we may have beautiful warm weather or cold rain and snow. High winds are common, and our daylight hours diminish rapidly. It is definitely a transitional season, starting as summer ends, and ending with Stick Season, marked by leafless trees and cool grey days. However, it is a wonderful month! We did not have radiant foliage colors this year, but we did enjoy the muted shades of red and orange. The dogs get re-energized when cool weather arrives, and we head out for cool fall hikes and we start bikejoring to prep for winter season.

Paddling season is drawing to a close…perhaps a week or two remain, as it all depends on when the lakes become iced over. My Mythic Gear Dry Suit has proven to be a great investment, as it allows me to safely extend paddling season. We have yet to find dry suits for dogs, but a neoprene vest under their life jacket provides an extra level of thermal protection for the pups.

The Tubbs snowshoes are on deck—just waiting to be called out to attack the first real snowfall! We hope that it will be a quick changeover from paddling season to snowshoeing season!

This short video sums up our October activities…hiking,camping, paddling, and enjoying all that Vermont has to offer. Our next Blog Post? Snowshoeing! ( If Mother Nature cooperates of course) Enjoy, and get out there with your dogs to have safe and fun adventures!

 

To Digby Neck and Schoodic Woods…our Ocean Adventures Continue!

With the ocean breezes blowing us along, we traveled from Kejimkujik Seaside heading along the shoreline route on our way to Digby Neck, NS. Since we had to board the ferry from Digby in a few days, we decided to camp on Digby Neck and explore a section of Nova Scotia we had never previously visited. Campground options near the ferry were a bit limited, so we had chosen Whale Cove Campground, about 40 minutes south of the town of Digby, and not too far from trails we wanted to hike, and islands we wanted to visit.

One of our targeted activities in Digby was Doing Laundry! We located a few options within the town, so planned to check them out after we had gotten set up at the campground.

Whale Cove was located in the perfect spot for us…it is a rather funky little campground, with some open sites, some with water view ( none available), and small sites with hedgerows providing privacy.  Definitely not an upscale spot, but it served our needs as a base of operation for our explorations. We were thrilled to discover, upon our check-in at 4pm, that there is an on-site laundry room. But, unfortunately, we were told there was a planned power outage for the campground starting at 6pm. Since the laundry facilities were in use at that time, we said we could do laundry first thing in the morning, or up in Digby while were were getting dinner.

Sure enough, when we arrived in Digby at 5:30, we discovered that the town was also subject to the outage, so the restaurants were all closing, except for one, which has a generator. We did enjoy a fantastic dinner of famous Digby Scallops, and then a nice stroll around the harbor town.

We never did have a campfire at the campground…we really did not spend much time just sitting around our site, and the fire pits were…well, let’s just say “unique”. Each site had a lawnmower base, upon which was located a metal ring ( washing machine drum?). This is what folks use to have a campfire…apparently, the inherent mobility of such a fire ring is efficient when RVs, pup-up campers, and tents of various sizes use a site. We just found it less than attractive!

whale cove fire pit 3

  Do you want a delicate or heavy duty fire?

Our full day on Digby Neck was definitely a busy one…we took two ferries to get to Brier Island, a small ( 5 miles long) island at the southern tip of Digby Neck. Short quick ferry rides ( 7.00 CDN each RT ride) brought us to the village of Westport on Brier Island. One small “we carry everything” general store provided us with a lunch to go, a few groceries we needed, and some gas for the car. Then we drove a few miles to Seal Cove, where a network of trails is located right along the ocean. Beautiful! The dogs loved hiking the trails, the sea breeze was blowing, and we watched the numerous sea birds and Harbour Seals.

Rocky shores and endless views!

Marine Life!

Of course, Brier Island has lighthouses, so we had to pay a quick visit to at least one…had to get the iconic lighthouse photos!

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Our next stop was a wildlife preserve, designated as a protected birding site. We saw hawks, gulls, many small birds, herons, and even made a skeletal discovery. Gryphon stopped to sniff what looked like a skeletal arm with fingers…but the fingers had remnants of fur on them. Locating some additional skeletal parts resulted in our conclusion that this was a seal skeleton. Definitely a fascinating first!

In this area, we had a great chat with a few local residents who were collecting Rose Hips…we had seen these ocean side plants on all the seaside trails, and we were informed that they are collected to make Rose Hip jelly. Prior to boarding the ferry to return north, we managed to find a jar of home made Rose Hip Jelly in a little shop; bringing home a piece of Brier Island tradition!

On our way back to the campground, we stopped to hike to Balancing Rock. This geological curiosity is mentioned in all the tourist guides, and the hike is dog-friendly. Though the hike is only about 1.5 miles, it meanders through different types of environments, from sandy scrub, marshy areas, and wooded pines. There is a set of 235 steps that lead down through the woods to a viewing platform; amazing, overlooking the ocean, a basalt column 37 feet high, balanced on two points on a rocky ledge. Incredible to see, and so glad we hiked along this tourist trail. Once again, we received many complements on our dogs’ trail etiquette from other hikers.

Our long day finished, we made a quick-n-easy dinner at the campsite, and prepped for our morning bug-out before heading to the ferry dock. Early in the morning we heard rain pelting the roof of the GO…damn, we really hate to break camp in the rain. Thankfully, by 7am, the rain had dissipated to a light mist, and we were able to head out by 8am, remaining fairly dry. A stop at Tim Horton’s for breakfast, then off to wait in line for our placement in the ferry to St. John. The dogs made a final “pit stop”, and we bade farewell to Nova Scotia!

A rainy but uneventful ferry crossing brought us back to St.John, NB, and soon after, a return to the USA. This was a designated travel day, so the steady rain did not bother us, and we knew that this portion of the country had also suffered drought and needed the rain. We took some scenic options along the coast, on our way to the Schoodic Peninsula.

When we originally planned this trip, we discussed driving home via Umbagog State Park in northern NH, a beautiful paddling location. However, in 2018, the park was closed as of  September 3 for renovations. This was actually not bad thing, as our 3 days at Schoodic were wonderful.

We have each been to Acadia National Park many times…it is one of the busiest national parks, and visitors to Mt. Desert Island face crowds, traffic tie-ups, and limited parking at popular sites. However, the Schoodic Woods portion of the park, about a hour north/east is much quieter and less crowded. The campground is in only its second full year of operation, and is designed for privacy,  quiet, and in a way to preserve the dark sky location. We arrived at this modern, beautiful campground early evening, as the rain was stopping, and a foggy mist was settling in. As we set up, we encountered the first of curious onlookers, fascinated by our GO camper!

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The campsites are arranged to provide maximum privacy and quiet. We noticed a path to an adjacent ( behind our site) campsite; cool, since that was the site that Martha and Steve, relatives who live nearby would be using for our second two nights.

We paddled two different lakes located in the general area of Schoodic, and also did a hike up to Schoodic Head, and also along the rocky coastline.  Great campsites at night, in the huge circular fire pits, beautiful star-filled skies ( no external camper lights allowed in the campground), and critters and birds visiting our site. We spent hours around the campfire catching up with Martha and Steve. What a great few days to wind down as we neared the end of our vacation!

Schoodic Woods Campground, Acadia National Park

Paddling Donnell Pond and Jones Pond

 

Hiking, hot and muggy, but great views!

Salty Dogs!

So our trip came to a close, 13 days after it began. Only 1700 miles this year, which I think the dog’s appreciated!  Nova Scotia was fantastic, Schoodic was wonderful, the weather was outstanding, and we had no glitches in our travel plans. Our well-traveled adventure dogs are home, looking forward to canoe camping and cabin camping this fall.

Summer is over, and fall is upon us. Before we know it, we will be digging out the snowshoes and skis for cold weather adventures ( but not yet, still another month or so of paddling!)

Who knows where we will venture on our next big adventure!

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Kejimkujik…”The wilderness will welcome you, and teach you, and take you to it’s heart.”

Our trip to Kejimkujik National Park was planned based on input from our Winnipeg friends Kev and Andre ( and their dogs Burger, Belle, and River), social media contacts from Nova Scotia, and a fellow board member of Friends of Green River Reservoir. How to pronounce it? Well, the best I have been able to determine is Kedgie-ma-KOO-jik ; hence, we will refer to the park as Keji!

NS Map

 

Plans were made in January 2018, so that we could reserve the back country sites we desired, and have front country sites reserved as “back-up”, in case we encountered stormy weather,injuries, or illness. We had to pack and plan for both front country camping with the GO, as well as back country remote camping…this meant different gear,cooking stoves,and food. We also had camping at Digby Neck on our Nova Scotia itinerary,and our trip was scheduled to finish up with a few days camping at Acadia National Park ( Schoodic Woods). Organization through the use of gear checklists, graphic organizers, and meal planning charts all helped us  have very successful camping in all the locations we chose.

Off to Keji! I downloaded a free copy of “The Tent Dwellers” book to bring, based on recommendation of Andrew, an outdoor educator from Nova Scotia who has frequented Keji for 30 years…he actually reached out by phone, and he was able to answer a few questions we had ( i.e re: the need/not need for bear canisters), and also suggested trails, and this particular book, the story of two adventurers exploring the wilds of the Keji area in 1906. Thank you Andrew!

We left on a sunny day…would this be an omen of sunny weather for this year’s trip? It was, as we had glorious weather for two weeks ( except for one travel day, so that was okay). We stopped in Maine for our first night, and camped at a campground alongside a large lake. It was quite windy, but we were able to get in a sunrise paddle before we headed north to St. John, NB.

Our trip to St. John NB was uneventful; border crossing was without a hitch, and we were able to stop at a beautiful provincial park beach for lunch. The helpful park staff pointed us in the direction of the dog friendly beach, where we walked in the fog ( and reminded the dogs that they could not drink this water).

We arrived in St. John NB, a city we have visited before ( for youth fencing tournaments, bicycling trips, and taking our daughter to university in Nova Scotia), but which was really just a stop-over for us. Since we had to be at the ferry dock very early the next morning, we opted to stay in a motel! This turned out to be a fortuitous decision, since there was an overnight thunderstorm and heavy rain. The ferry dock was encased in fog, but we lined up alongside the tractor trailers, RVs, and other cars waiting to find our place on the MV Fundy Rose.

We carried the boats on the roof of the car,since the price for crossing is calculated by length, not height…we saved some money by keeping our total length to 26 feet. The dogs had to remain in the car for the 2.5 hour crossing….temperature and ventilation were not an issue, and they are quite used to spending long hours sleeping in the car. We did leave our cell phone number on the dash, should deck hands need to contact us.

The ferry crossing was foggy, but uneventful, and we arrived in Nova Scotia late morning. Our GPS wanted to route us on a 4 hour journey, up and around NS, to get to Keji…silly, since RT 8 crosses NS, and brings you to Keji in 90 minutes or so. I had a very good Nova Scotia map, so we decided that we would use old-school navigation.

We arrived at Keji, and recalled that about 35 years ago, we had bicycled into the park entrance roadway….no paddling on that trip!

keji trip 21

At the visitor center, an extremely helpful Parcs Canada ranger helped us check in—a bit convoluted, since we had reservations for  back country sites, and front country sites on some overlapping days. She efficiently got us all checked in, issued us our permits, took our information about emergency contacts, and we were all set! We made camp at our site at Jeremy’s Bay, within 100 years of the water, and headed off to explore some of the many trails in the park. Being a mid-week, after Labor Day, the park was not busy…a good thing, since the sites at this particular campground loop were very scenic, but do not offer much privacy between sites.

Hardwoods and Hemlocks Trail..hiking a beautiful trail amidst 400 year old hemlocks!

We walked along the shores of Kejimukujik Lake ( not where we were heading for backcountry), beginning to get a sense of the enormity of this park. We relaxed at the campsite, knowing we were heading off to the Big Dam/Frozen Ocean Loop in the morning.

The next morning, we packed up our gear into the GO storage crates, placed them in the GO, and with our car loaded up with our back country gear, headed off to the parking for Big Dam Lake. We do not have to portage very often, and we knew that most of our portages would be suitable for use with our canoe and kayak carts. We had chosen this particular loop because it was recommended as an introduction to paddling at Keji…and there are only 3 portages each way, important information when our boats are not lightweight Kevlar! We each had an enlarged sectional map of our route in a dry bag,and I had the entire Keji park map as well. Since we saw only a few other paddlers the entire trip, and we were definitely newbies to this location, we really did not want to get lost!

Our loop in relation to entire Keji NP…

Off we went, only to discover that the fist put-in was a bit mucky ( to say the least). The famous Keji boulders ( rocks everywhere!) also presented another obstacle, but this was a challenge we were up to, and were soon paddling on mirror-calm waters of Big Dam lake.

We had been warned about the dark water, and rocks just below the surface, a characteristic of many Keji paddling locations; we knew we would have to negotiate ‘the Narrows” , a 200 yards stretch of lake that can be tricky to paddle. Since water levels are even lower than normal, we did not feel too incompetent when we each got stuck. Can’t go forward, can’t go backwards, can’t go sideways….hmmm, really a paddling puzzle, trying  to paddle and pole our way through the rocky water. This was when we first saw varying colors of paint, left by canoe hulls, on the submersed rocks. ( no portage or lining options) We contributed a bit of green and orange to the kaleidoscope!

Alas, the other side ( the northern end of Big Dam Lake ) was beautiful! Our first campsite was located a short ways along the second portage trail…when we realized the prior occupants had yet to break camp, we dropped of our camp gear, and took back to Big Dam, exploring the beautiful lake, marveling at huge rock formations, many of which looked like pyramids.

After providing ample time for the prior occupants to exit, we portaged the canoes and gear down to the site. The remote sites here are quite well equipped, especially for being in the middle of nowhere! There are two large tent pads on each site, an outhouse ( furnished with TP, no less), a picnic table, a small metal firebox, and a effective bear hang system, allowing for safe storage of food and other smelly items. There is even a woodshed with firewood located ear each site! Though this may seem a bit too close to “glamping” for some, it certainly helps preserve the natural environment, and protects the sites from being damaged or changed.

This was a very nice site, and we were able to talk with a nice couple that we had seen camping on site 2. They were heading up the portage trail for a day paddle on Still Brook, the pathway to our next site. They said they would give us a report on the water level in the brook when they returned.  Their report? Good news and bad news. The river paddle was said to be beautiful, but they told us about a particularly rocky and nasty section in the river, equal to or worse than the narrows. Also, the next portage, though short, was so rocky and rooty that we would not be able to cart the boats. Oh, jolly, something to look forward to! But we enjoyed our stay at this site, particularly since we had managed to bring along a large 4-person tent which provides much more room and comfort than out small camping tent. I guess we really were Canoe Glamping! ( and confession…there is cell service in this area, due to a tall tower at the park. We were able to access wi-fi through use of a hot spot, but we really did not use the internet much)

The next morning, we re-loaded our boats,which were on canoe carts, and headed down the portage trail. Though there were a few tricky areas, we were able to roll the boats to the next put-in, using a dock/boardwalk for the last 100 feet. A sunny and warm morning awaited us as we paddled along Still Brook, which really was more of a small river. Very mild current exists, good since we were planning on a return paddle on the same route. We paddled through very different environments…marshy areas, large piney woods, and scrub brush areas. We did find the rocky section, and after a few cuss words and a few futile attempts before we found a passable route, we continued on to the next portage.

 

Our final portage going out was a few hundred yards long, but we had to carry each boat, and then make numerous trips to carry the gear. Oh, and getting the boats and gear across the exposed rocks, and up to where we could begin the carry was tough. The dogs were very well behaved, but were a bit confused as to why we kept going back and forth on the same trail! The put-in at the end of the portage trail was rocky, but a  pretty easy access point. By now, of course, the wind had picked up, and thankfully, we did not have too long a paddle on Frozen Ocean Lake to get to our next campsite, home for 3 days.

Our site was pretty spectacular! Along with the amenities of the first site, it was well over an acre in size, with lots of open wooded area, large boulders, and waterfront access. And we appeared to be the only folks on the lake! We were able to get out an paddle multiple times each day, exploring this wonderful and scenic lake.  The quiet was impressive,and the sky was filled with stars each evening. There were nearby hiking trails we could access, but we never saw another soul.

Filtering water, fungus on tree stumps, and frogging on the shoreline…

Life at Frozen Ocean Site 6

 

On our final morning, we were hoping for cool temperatures, since we had to paddle two lakes, a river, and make 3 portages all in one morning. We knew this would be a challenge, but we were able to compete the task in less than 5 hours ( below our target times!) We took it easy, took breaks, kept the dogs hydrated and plied them with snacks. The rocky crossings seemed less intimidating, and we managed to cross with less difficulty in both the river and the Narrows. Big Dam Lake was glorious, with sun shining and the water sparkling..we even exited at the mucky access point without issue…and we did have a feeling of accomplishment as we concluded that last final Portage Q!

Porcupine in a tree..as we paddled out Still Brook

We loaded up our gear and boats on the car,and headed off to get an ice cream cone for us and the dogs. Best tasting ice cream of the season!

After reclaiming our Jeremy’s Bay campsite, happy to see our GO waiting for us, we took advantage of the park’s hot showers, and then drove around to different areas of the park, impressed by the diversity of natural settings. We relaxed around the fire, and put up with the increased activity and noise of weekend campers. We were able to live stream our son’s choral concert from Alexandria Virginia…while sitting in the GO, in the middle of Keji in Nova Scotia,Canada. Sometimes technology is just amazing!

We packed up early the next morning, a bit sad to leave such a beautiful spot. But we had further Nova Scotia and Maine adventures waiting for us, and we were not actually finished with Keji quite yet.

Kejimkujik National Park also has a separate section located on the ocean, on the south shore area of Nova Scotia. So on our way to Digby Neck, we stopped off there on a fabulous bluebird sky sunny morning. There are many hiking trails, and we enjoyed hiking along the seaside trails, watching for birds (and bears…a bear was spotted on the beach the day after we were there). We encountered a few other dogs hiking, and other hikers enjoying the trails. We received many complements on how well our dogs were behaving.

I would return to Keji Seaside any time! What a gem, and so glad that Parcs Canada is preserving this special place.

So we left Kejimkujik….and drove around the south shore of Nova Scotia enroute to Digby Neck, where we were going to camp in the GO for a few nights before heading back to the states. Our Keji trip was great fun! We had fabulous weather, great paddling, well behaved dogs, and challenging adventures. The remainder of our vacation was also wonderful, but that will be reported in a future blog post.