Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nova Scotia: Gaff Point Trail

Distance: 3.5 km
Elevation: 50 ft
Elevation Gain: Negligible

The wilder side of Nova Scotia, Gaff Point Trail

Gaff Point is a narrow headland that extends into the Atlantic Ocean near Hirtles Beach. Our original intent was to walk on the beach but when we arrived we realized the beach was not sand but large 30 pound cobbles. After a few steps we realized this beach had ankle twisting potential. A sign near the parking area told us about the trail, which was not mentioned in any guide book of the area, including the local gazetteer. We then drove around trying to find a way to get closer to the headland so that we did not have to walk very far on the rocks. We did eventually find a road, but had to park near someone's property and walk through another person's field. There was a sign that indicated that pedestrians were welcome, and a social trail was worn into the grass so we did not fee too badly. I was concerned that our car might be unwanted but there was not way to tell.

Looking south from the Hirtles Beach parking lot towards an estuary and houses beyond.

A view of the beach, the fog, the large rocks, and one brave surfer

Storm damage on the beach. You can see the imprint of the wave that brought all the large cobbles into the estuary and the overturned picnic table.

We hiked this trail two days after Hurricane Bill had hit the province and it was clear that this area had been impacted by some heavy waves. Large boulders were tossed up on the rocks, the the shale cliffs had been fractured and chunks were tossed about. These remnants made the trail feel even more primeval.

A small house we passed on the way to the trailhead

After cutting across some land, we came to the farther end of Hirtles Beach. Gaff Point is in the distance.

The lichen covered trees and moss covered ground of the inland forest

The trailhead is barely visible from the beach. A small placard marks it, but then you have to bushwhack just slightly through the shrubs.

The center portion of the trail crosses an exposed area of heaths. There are nice views of the cliffs here too along with social trails heading down either side to small, rocky beaches.

The latter half of the trail is a loop. Here is where it splits. Note the log and wood tailings trail construction. This was the state of the trail in the forest.

The trail eventually reaches the cliffs. This is looking back towards the beach, which is just of site.

The trail itself spends part of the time in the forest and part of the time on the cliffs, which are incredibly scenic. Storm damage aside, the rocks of the coastline are paper thin shale layers turned vertical by the forces of geologic time. I wanted to spend some time prying apart the layers in search of fossils. The trail travels directly over these area, the route marked in splashes of yellow paint. It was actually hard walking since nothing was flat.

Our first exposure to the vertical shale. The rocks look much thicker in the photo. They are in fact composed of many thin layers.

Looking down into the sea on a relatively calm day. It is not difficult to image what the sea was like during the storm.


The trail continues to skirt the cliffs

The forested part of the trail were unique to our Colorado eyes. Moss and lichens covered every inch. It was peaceful and yet mysterious at the same time. Too damp for fairies, which are admittedly delicate, it was just right for shore birds of various shorts. Chirps and whistles could be heard from the branches of the overhanging trees.

Here you can see the shale torn into chunks and scattered about

After rounding the point, more damage was evident. Large chunks of dirt had been eroded, leaving boulders lying on the rocks below.

We are about to head back into the forest

Gaff Point is a trail of the Canadian Nature Conservancy. Kudos to this organization for trying to preserve some natural space in an ever urbanization of Nova Scotia's coastline. We stumbled across this trail by accident, but I would recommend it to hiker visiting the South Shore. It was one of our trip highlights.

We took one of the social trails down to the shore from the center open area. The rugged beauty of the area is evident.

These flat cobbles are testament to the enduring power of the waves. Each of these stones started out as a chunk of shale scoured from the cliffs along the coastline. Time and the constant pounding of waves have turned them into tiny smooth rocks.

1 comment:

Nina said...

This is my favorite of your Nova Scotia posts. I really want to go now. I find geology so fascinating, and the "paper thin shale layers turned vertical" is enough to make me want to quit my job and get a passport (I really need one of those). It looks like you finally got your fog, too.