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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada

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A Trip to Mount Carleton

Chris Campbell

We didn't make it to the top.

A few weeks ago my friend Diane suggested a weekend trip to Mount Carleton in northern New Brunswick to hike up the tallest mountain in the Maritime provinces. I'd never been to the provincial park there and was keen to go to a place of New Brunswick where I had never been. So the plans were made and a cabin booked (since I like the idea of camping, but not necessarily setting up the tent and sleeping in it).

In the days leading up to the trip the weather was checked often. It looked good for a long time but then Hurricane Arthur) showed up. The track looked as though it would keep most of the effects away from the mountain, so the trip stayed on. The path changed a bit the day before, but the forecast still was for some rain and a bit of wind.

Mount Carleton Provincial Park is located in an isolated part of New Brunswick. So isolated and preserved that there is no cell service or power lines in the park, so it is a really great way to disconnect. It's been a long time since I disconnected for even a day or so, and this was really nice as it forces you to be in the moment and look and listen to the world around you.

The park is beautiful and we arrived on a Friday afternoon just before dark. The heritage cabins are log cabins that feature a kitchenette with running water, a propane stove and oven, a full-size refrigerator, as well as a full bathroom with shower. So it wasn't roughing it all. The cabin was close to Lake Nictau which is a lovely, long lake at the bottom of Mount Sagamook. The trail for that mountain is a short walk from the cabin, but we came for Mount Carleton and on Saturday we went to the front gate (where they have Wi-Fi) to check the weather and see what the conditions were going to be for the day.

The forecast from 11am called for rain with a bit of wind, but nothing too strong, so we set out for Mount Carleton which is located at the end of a narrow dirt road. Part way down the road there was a birch tree across the road. I was able to use a broken branch as a lever to move the tree out of the way so we could pass. There weren't any other trees down and the rest of the drive was uneventful. A light rain was falling and with good socks and sturdy hiking boots and waterproof gear in place we set out up the easier way to the top which is a 4.4 km hike.

The enchanting and terrifying part of hiking on the trails in Mount Carleton is that it is peaceful and quiet and isolated. While we saw a car in the parking lot at the bottom of the mountain, we didn't see anyone else on the hike. At the top there is a shelter, but nobody is stationed there. The park has regular patrols on the roads and it's good practice to sign in at the bottom of each trail and to also let someone know where you are going and what your expected timeline is. But being in an area without cell phone service can be disconcerting as the usual quick checking of the weather forecast (or tweeting) can't happen. If that was possible we would have seen that the path of the tropical storm had changed and that it was going right up through New Brunswick.

It's a beautiful, tree-covered hike up the mountain. The branches provided some shelter from the rain as we ascended. As we went there was more and more water running onto the trail. About halfway up there was a steady stream of water covering the trail which intensified the further up we went. Close to the top there is a shelter and at that point the trail was completely covered with a heavy flow of water. It looked like a river and at that point the decision was made to turn back as it didn't feel safe.

The rain kept falling and the wind picked up and we heard trees and branches breaking and falling as we hiked down. A couple of branches and trees fell across the trail, so we had to climb over them. It was very wet and I'm so glad that I had good socks and boots as they kept me comfortable the whole way. My iPhone was nicely ensconced in a waterproof case that allowed me to take some pictures along the way to document the experience.

Arriving at the parking lot after the hike down was a relief. The trail near the bottom now was also covered with water, so it was definitely getting worse. We took off our gear and got in the car to head back to the cabin along the dirt road as the rain fell and the wind blew. A few minutes down the road there were a couple of newly-fallen trees completely blocking the way out. These were too big to push out of the way, so we turned the car around and went back to the parking lot to wait for the patrol. After a half hour or so a pickup truck with flashing lights on came up the road followed by another pickup truck. They said that it took them an hour to get down the road and they cleared about 13 trees along the way.

We headed out following them down the road and seeing broken and fallen trees all along the way. We needed to stop four or five more times on the way out as they took out the chainsaw and cleared trees from the road that had blocked it again. These were trees that had fallen in the past 15 minutes, so the weather was definitely getting worse. Luckily none of the roads back to the cabin were washed out, so arriving back was very nice and the cabin had power and firewood, so the day was ended with a warm fire in the wood stove and good meal.

The next morning was sunny and beautiful. Probably a good day for a hike, so we drove out to the base of Mount Carleton again to see if we could make it up. On the way there we saw another patrol and they let us know that all the trails were closed due to the number of trees down and the flooding. We turned around and headed to the main gate to check out. We found out that the park had been closed the day before a couple of hours after we arrived back at the cabin. But there were a couple of smaller trails open and that Williams Falls was quite close and quite beautiful. So we went there and along the way had a beautiful view of Mount Sagamook and had a peaceful short walk through the woods to see the raging waterfall that was probably much more intense due to the day of rain.

A gentle way to end a weekend in a park that was filled with wind and rain, but still very beautiful. It's a place where I will return and attempt to climb to the top of at least one of the mountains at some point in the future.