"Hang your food up outside! We hung from the rafters, and the mice came in. They got in everything. Made a terrible mess."
"Beware the mice."
"I woke up at four in the morning to a mouse licking my toes."
Paraphrased notes from the guest book, Cabin #2, Kejimkujik.
In 1997, I spent the most formative summer of my life attending Shad Valley at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. My summer was 28 intense days of lectures in science, math, technology, and entrepreneurship; genius missions; house projects; evenings of vaudeville and music; presentations on poetry and the comet Levy-Shoemaker 9; hiking along Nova Scotia's scenic coast; camping under the stars on beaches and backcountry; and lifetime friendships.
2017 was the year I decided to go back and reminisce.
We camped a lot of beautiful campsites at Shad, but Kejimkujik always stood out to me. Maybe it was just fun to say it, or maybe it was the white sand beach and the massage train we took part in, or maybe that's where I have my clearest memory of professor Bob hollering "Hot dogs, hamburgers, sausages" from his station at the grill.
Nevertheless, I'd decided that on this trip, after we'd toured around Cape Breton, and much of the Annapolis Valley, Eveline and I would rent a canoe and head out into Keji's backcountry. A pilgrimage and an adventure, all at the same time.
Kejimkujik is a National Park and National Historic site, one of the must-sees on our Canada 150 tour through Nova Scotia.
The park is situated on the ancient lands and canoe routes of the Mi'kmaq people. A place once dotted with encampments, fish weirs and the like. Now home to sought-after, backcountry sites that dot the islands and shores of Kejimkujik lake (from what I understand, they largely sell out on January 1st each year).
But also home to more remote sites along hiking routes, backcountry roads, and portages through country not unlike our own Canadian shield.
Kejimkujik is also an official Dark Sky Preserve, and regularly promoted as a fabulous place to watch the stars. Unfortunately, our time there was spent entirely overcast.
Between Keji Outfitters, and the cabins available for rent via the National Parks service (see "Leave your tent at home"), organizing the trip was pretty simple. We opted for the "lightweight" canoes offered by Keji Outfitters. If you choose to go this route, beware, "lightweight" means 60+ lb Old Town Royalex canoes and not 47lb Kevlar beauties.
We launched from Jake's landing, right on the Mersey River in 30+ degree weather, making for the headwaters of Kejimkujik Lake. We'd been advised to start as early in the day as possible, due to the propensity for the winds to pick up during the latter part of the day, making for a difficult paddle.
Kejimkujik Lake is large, and it is dotted with islands both big and small. To aid in navigation, the National Park has navigation buoys throughout the lake. Keji Outfitters included a map of the buoys with our rental. In no time flat, we were orienting against the buoys and making our way across the lake to our first portage.
Navigation buoy M8
Despite the warnings, we started our day later than we would've liked, and shortly after passing the first islands on our route we encountered the wind. Eveline and I have had our share of windy paddles, and while challenging, the wind we contended with on this day was by no means debilitating. That said, we took the opportunity to rest in the lee behind an island with a number of other paddlers halfway through our route on the lake.
The paddle route here is fairly busy owing much to the hordes of people who rent campsites on the big lake for regular weekend getaways. Our destination was the less bustling southern route off the main lake and into Cobrielle, Peskowesk and Peskawa Lakes.
When we first arrived at the park, we stopped at the Park office to check-in for our reservations. We had planned on two nights in the backcountry with an afternoon arrival on our return for a stay in a Yurt in the main campground on the shores of the Mersey River. The front desk felt that our plans were rather ambitious, and marked us down for a "late arrival" at the Yurt.
The portages along our route were generally short, averaging around 600 metres. We encountered our first National Park campsite at the trailhead of one of them. The campsites here are well kept and well serviced.
Tent platform with outhouse in background - the outhouse came complete with toilet paper in a Rubbermaid box.
Picnic Table and Firepit.
Cable-and-pulley Bear hangs provided at every site (and cabin).
The southern route has been described as "like the Canadian Shield", and I think that's a pretty accurate description. It became apparent shortly after our first portage. The soil's very different, but the rocky outcroppings are eerily similar, and the vegetation wouldn't look out of place at home. Rocks are much more prominent in the water. It's a veritable minefield in many of the bays and the shallow waters of the smaller lakes.
Early into our paddle on Cobreille Lake, as we scraped along an unannounced submerged boulder, we discovered why Keji Outfitters offer the Old Town Royalex boats as their lightest option. Depending on the lake you're paddling, the waters may be bog, or spring fed. The bog fed waters are black as night, and the National Park recommends not diving in any of them due to the risk of hitting your head on an unseen crag.
I was reminded of this, yet again, on our second day when I went for a swim in the shallow waters near our cabin to cool off. The water here was deep black, and I intended just to wade in to clean up and get cool. Instead, my leg quickly sunk to my hip in the boggy detritus that rested near the lake bottom. I lost my balance and quickly flailed to keep afloat near the surface. In flailing, I clipped my hand across a submerged stone, cutting my thumb from tip to knuckle. I emerged from the lake covered in black soil and decomposing tree, cool and injured but not even remotely clean.
One striking difference in the landscape here is the effect of the prevailing wind. Keji is subject to a regular wind pattern blowing through it's reaches. The wind seems to influence how the trees develop. Many have high boughs that whisp out in the direction of the wind, much like a combover.
The prevailing wind gives these trees a combover.
A veritable minefield
On our last day, we hoped to make better time returning to Jake's landing than the front office had predicted. Having stayed overnight in a cabin, it was a little easier to pack up and get on the trail first thing in the morning. We also reviewed the map carefully, weighing our options. There was a longer portage that we had avoided on the way out (2.3km), but if we took it on the way back it only added one kilometre to our total portaging for the day, and saved around 6.6km of paddling. We decided to go for it.
I wouldn't describe the portage as "pleasant," but perhaps picturesque. However, it was well designed. Based on my pace count, I would say there is a well-constructed canoe stand every 500 metres or so, giving you an option for a regular break to rest your shoulders and neck.
Just 2.2km left to go...
We made it back in much better time than predicted. In fact we arrived early enough that the Yurt wasn't even available for check-in yet, and we were able to take the time to find the campground showers and clean up.
The cabins we stayed in were not of tight-construction. Gaps under the doors, and other various leaks would be very wecolming to curious mice.
Éveline and I followed regular camp procedure, cooking outside and hanging our food overnight in the bear hang that was provided.
We each slept soundly in our own bunk, tightly wrapped in our sleeping bags and alone in our ear-plug induced silence. The mice did not visit us.
As far as we know.