Like many stories, this one starts with a whale and ends with a trail.
We started our day off in Petit Étang, just southwest of Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Our AirBNB host told us he’d seen the body of a right whale being brought in and people were gathering along the beach to see the necropsy. I’ve never seen a whale before and certainly not in these kinds of conditions, so we went out of a sense of morbid curiosity.
When we arrived at the beach there was a whole team of scientists and vets already performing the necropsy. I’ll spare the gory details and other pictures, but I will share this one just to show the sheer scale of the creature.
It was only afterwards that we looked it up and learned that the whale’s name was Punctuation, and she was one of only a hundred or so fertile female right whales remaining in the world. It looks like a lot of them are getting trapped in fishing nets or being struck by large vessels off the eastern seaboard, so her death (and the deaths of multiple other right whales in a span of a few weeks) was a tragedy.
After the beach we decided to go get some lunch. It’s a strange thing to do after seeing a whale necropsy, but there’s really no next activity after a whale necropsy that doesn’t feel weird. You have to eat though, and as random chance would have it, Alan Arkin was at the restaurant just two tables over. I had no idea until the lady in front of me at the counter whisper yelled, “Holy shit, that’s Alan Arkin! The actor!”
Our first stop after lunch was the Gypsum Mine Lake, which was something I’d seen on Google. It’s the site of an old gypsum mine that was turned into a trail / swimming hole.
The hike in was about 10 or 15 minutes long and there was a good view of the lake from ground level, but a great view if you were willing to ascend the nearby hill. It gets pretty steep at times, but there are ropes to help you keep your balance and footing.
I’m not good with heights, but even I felt cavalier enough to hold onto the rope with one hand and take this panorama with the other.
Once again, the bag of three primes wasn’t super helpful here. I kept the XF23mm as my default prime lens because it was the widest weather resistant lens I owned for vlogging purposes (I swear I took video, it’s just gonna take a bit to edit), but it did mean that any landscape shots required a stitched panorama.
We picked our next two destinations to kill time before sunset. Our ultimate goal was to head to the Skyline trail, which is the trail in the park, for a sunset view. We had hours to kill beforehand so we did Le Buttereau trail, which wasn’t as well marked as some of the others. In fact, at one point Leona found herself at the very edge of a cliff because the dirt path we were following wasn’t part of the official path. Whoops.
The other time-killing stop was the Bog. There were zero steep ledges there, but we visited it because the frogs there sound like badly tuned banjos. We didn’t hear the sound then but it was a peaceful stroll along the boardwalk and Leona demonstrated her incredible skill at spotting wildlife.
In fact, on our drive over to the Skyline trail, we encountered the very same moose as the day before. He wasn’t on the road this time, but Leona managed to spot him in a clearing to the side.
We arrived a the Skyline trail at 8pm and actually saw other people, which was weird after all the solitude we’d enjoyed. We wanted to make sure we got a good viewing spot for sunset, so we hoofed it through the trail. It takes about 45 minutes on the short path to reach the end, and we power walked the shit out of it. Was it worth all the hustle?
The end of the skyline trail isn’t so much a cliff as it is a set of steep hills situated over the coast with a boardwalks stretching over them for easy access. The view was as spectacular as we’d hoped and you could see for miles all around. It turned out there were enough benches that everyone could have their own seat.
I dared myself to walk down the various steps to the end of the trail. I made it about 60% of the way before phoning it in and heading back. The boardwalk was good enough for two people to walk comfortably, but I still walked right in the middle. Heights, man.
When the sun actually sank beneath the horizon, everything looked like the cover of a Tycho album.
The colours were unreal, and the cloud cover served to make the scene all the more dramatic. It turns out the Skyline trail is the most popular one on Cape Breton island for good reason.
[Want to see even more of Nova Scotia? Part 4 is out!]