Monday, February 14, 2011

Lobster Hole, Cape Split, Nova Scotia

No great thing is created suddenly.


Chris Sheppard Master Rockhound and Landscape Photographer

Lobster Hole, Nova Scotia

 On the south side of Cape Split along Scots Bay is Lobster Hole. A challenge to access, Lobster Hole requires a two - hour hike along a rough woods trail that is strewn with deadfall. The hike to Lobster Hole also takes you through a long section of towering blackberry canes. Climbing down into Lobster Hole is difficult and strict attention must be paid to the tide times once inside. To be trapped by the tide in here could prove deadly.
My Rockhounding friend Darren Talbot, a cartographer by trade, created an excellent map that highlights some of the main areas around the Split that we visit. Lobster Hole is a very special Rockhounding location and one of my favorite sites. 

Rockhounding Map showing Lobster Hole. Created by Darren Talbot.
Our group of intrepid Rockhounds takes a pause before veering south west off of the main trail at Cape Split roughly 15 minutes from the trail head and parking lot. This part of the trail is called The Old Mill Road.

The Rockhounds. Jan. 23, 2011
January 23rd, 2011.The snow isn't too deep yet. We are prepared for temperatures as low as -15. but we also know the sun will be shining on us today and the wind won't touch us. We are also experiencing a much higher and lower tide than usual today. Perfect rockhounding forecast! We are ready for the hike. Under slightly different conditions we follow the same path with the August sun beating down on us through the canopy...

The path to Lobster Hole in August. Photo: Don Crowell
The Blackberry Canes
A section of the trail into Lobster Hole passes through thick blackberry canes and is completely flanked by walls of thorns that seem to come alive as you pass through the center. Wearing full sleeves and pants in the August heat, as well as the standard safety glasses and gloves, we slowly push through for more than a kilometer. Somehow the thorns still find their way to your skin! The first time I visited was in August 2010 and the brush was very thick indeed. 

Just barely visible in the thorny jungle. Where is the path?? Photo: Don Crowell
.Lobster Hole is the source of seam agates with plumes of fiery reds and oranges. Flame Agates. 
These extraordinary agates are well worth the push through the blackberry canes...
Slowly pushing through the blackberry canes in August 2010. Photo: Don Crowell
A quick rest next to an old makeshift bridge that crosses a small stream at the bottom of the first ravine. Photo: Don Crowell
We breathe a sigh of relief upon exiting the thorny jungle. The path opens up in places and it creates a very pleasant woods trail.  Robert MacDonald swears it is one of the best trails around to really enjoy a woodland hike. Many rare plant species and fungi can be found along this trail. We are often visited by a resident owl as well. Soon enough we encounter  major deadfall to contend with all along the path. This would be especially true after any kind of major storm. Which is when we want to go rockhounding of course.

Chris and Andrew in the deadfall. Photo: Etienne Randonnee

Despite all of the deadfall and scrub brush, as Fall kills the foliage and the Winter approaches the path becomes easier to navigate. That is, until the snows start to accumulate, then snowshoes would be required. 

We enter a small clearing of young fir trees, one with the top cut off marks our way down towards Lobster Hole. The air is filled with the scent of Spruce and the path becomes narrow and weaves along through the trees. The undergrowth obscures the trail every so often, zig zagging around fallen trees. This is part of the Cape Split shoreline trail. Really just a deer path in most places as far as I can tell. We veer off this path and follow a side route through dense brush that descends towards the entrance to Lobster Hole. We cross a small brook and find ourselves looking down the cliff and into the Cove below.

Descending into Lobster Hole
Chris descends into Lobster Hole. Photo: Andrew Hooper
Approaching from the woods on the East side of Lobster Hole there are only two ways down over the cliff and  basalt outcroppings. Below is an approach we used in the summer when ice at the top of the cliff wasn't an issue. No ropes were necessary but the lower part of the climb was treacherous due to the greasy, seaweed covered basalt.
Looking down one of the cliffs that must be negotiated on the descent into Lobster Hole. August 2010

The scent of the woods gives way to a powerful smell of the sea. The air changes. We have arrived. The second way down was chosen for our descent on Jan., 23rd 2011.

We form a queue to get into position. We fixed a temporary rope today in case the basalts are covered in a thin glaze of ice.

David Sheppard and Robert MacDonald lower themselves from the treeline.

The group descends through a large, steep crevasse with the aid of the temporary rope. The basalts are generally extremely slippery. You can count on it in the Winter.

Small Beach at Lobster Hole.

First we reach a small beach of very well tumbled rock.The shape of the surrounding basalts creates a giant tumbler. If you stand above the beach as the tide quickly moves in you can hear the rocks tumbling beneath under the immense force of the flow tide.

Searching the beach at Lobster Hole in August 2010 for tumbled agates.
The small lower beach is only exposed for a relatively short time during the daily tidal cycle. We last visited on Jan. 23, 2011. There was an extremely low tide of 0.3 m. or 1 foot at 8: 24 a.m. The average low tide would be around 5 or 6 feet. The next series of photos were taken on that day with parts of the beach showing that only get exposed a few times a year. Exciting!

Andrew Hooper taking in the Cove. Photo: Pam Talbot

Robert MacDonald and Chris search the lower beach. Photo: Pam Talbot

The agates we find pre-tumbled on this particular beach are very solid, usually without faults or cracks that would have made the original seam pieces they came from break apart under the force of the tidal surf here.

Rough Lobster Hole Agate. Fundy Rocks Collection.

The Agate above is an example of one of the pre-tumbled agates from the lower beaches that are exposed at low tide below the basalt outcroppings. These agates make beautiful show pieces.

Lobster Hole Agate. Fundy Rocks Collection

Lobster Hole Agate. Fundy Rocks Collection

We take a last look around the beach before we scramble over the seaweed-covered boulders and outcroppings to get to the middle and top portions of Lobster Hole to look for fresh seam pieces.
To escape the fast incoming tide we make our climb off the lower beach into the middle of Lobster Hole.

Working the middle of Lobster Hole. Photo: Etienne Randonnee

Inside Lobster Hole

 A prominent feature of the cliff is a giant outcropping that looms out over us below.

Strewn amongst these boulders, crevasses and outcroppings we find loose pieces of seam agate. These are the prize! The movement through the area is difficult and strict attention must be paid to avoid a potentially serious fall. Note where the cliffs turn dark gray and green. That is the high tide line. Many of the basalts are seaweed or algae covered and are extremely slippery. Some of the boulders are several tonnes and the tides can render them unstable.

We climb over the terrain searching for the Agates and checking the status of known seams. Occasionally we hear and see rocks breaking off the cliff face. Especially during a freeze- thaw cycle when the sun hits the frozen rock.

Moving through the Cove on the Agate Hunt in August 2010. Photo: Don Crowell
The Agates!

A few of  Jan. 23, 2011 finds. Photo: Richard Baird
Agate, at its simplest, belongs to the Chalcedony group, a form of quartz made up of microscopic crystals that gives each piece its unique pattern and colour, some spectacularly vivid and each one unique. The Agates (as well as other semi - precious minerals and gemstones) were formed in the open gas cavities called vesicles or amygdules and in fissures called veins  within the Jurassic basalt lava flows. Several lava flows and eruptions created the Southern Ridge of the Fundy Coast that includes the North Mountain and of course Cape Split. Below is one of my favorite exposed seams.

Agate Seam at Lobster Hole.

As the lavas cooled, pockets of gasses escaped from the cavities and eventually a silica - rich gel poured into the cracks, seams and openings of the igneous basalt. The unique arrangement of these microcrystalline quartz structures were created by chemical and physical reactions such as changes in pressure, temperature, and mineral content that occurred after this silica - rich gel entered the lava cavities.


During a very complicated solidification process inclusions could be formed that, as in the case of the seam agates found at Lobster Hole,  give the agate the appearance of being engulfed in flame. Stunning indeed.

Lobster Hole Seam Agate Show Piece. Fundy Rocks Collection
Lobster Hole Agate. Fundy Rocks Collection.

Seam Agate with inclusions that give the agate its distinctive flames. Photo: Richard Baird.

The formation of the Agates is an extremely complicated process with many, many variables. Water can seep into the lining between the formed agate and the basalt. The freezing and thawing of this "frost" can cause the veins of agate to pop out in chunks. This is what we hope to find around the base of the cliffs, and washed in amongst the lower beach rock by the tides.

Lobster Hole Seam Agate Show Piece. Fundy Rocks Collection
Lobster Hole Agate. Fundy rocks Collection
We are fortunate to be close to the exposed basalts around Cape Split and along most of the Fundy Shore where agate - forming conditions just happened to be perfect in some places. Lobster Hole is an example. I'd encourage you to seek out some books on Agates to do some further reading. Fascinating stuff indeed. Now back to the collecting!

Andrew Hooper checks out some zeolites that can also be found at Lobster Hole
After a few hours of collection we examine our finds and do a high grade. Climbing out of the center of Lobster Hole is difficult, but putting on a forty or fifty pound pack makes for a real challenge! I always try to keep three points on contact as I'm moving through Lobster Hole with a heavy load.

These World class agates make beautiful show pieces and stunning jewelery like this Cabochon from Jonathan Dunphy.

Lobster Hole Cabochon by Jonathan Dunphy. Fundy Rocks Collection.

The Tides

Keeping an eye on the tide we begin to pack up our high grades and get ready for the climb out.
Darren, Pam and Richard resting on the ridge before the climb out. The small beach behind them is now covered in several feet of water. August, 2010.

Enjoying a moment in the sun before loading up my pack. August 2010. Photo: Don Crowell.

I recently put together the following set of photos that I think nicely illustrates the Flow Tide at Lobster Hole. The area of focus is looking South from the ridge that rises above the small beach. Every 6 hours and 13 minutes the high and low tides alternate. Become very aware of the tide times before venturing out anywhere around the Split where the tides are amplified by the shape of the Bay of Fundy and rise progressively higher towards the head of the Bay. A place like Lobster Hole, because of its shape fills in remarkably quickly with an extreme difference in height from High to Low. The highest in the World.

Robert Macdonald makes his escape as the tide flows in...

A narrow ridge we call the Dinosaur's back is the only way out on an incoming Tide.

The ridge widens at the top of the Dino back and we scramble up the dirt and scree to the tree line and the path out.

Looking West from the same footing...

With our packs full and heavy we begin the trek back to the Cape Split Parking Lot whence we came several hours earlier. Another excellent rockhounding adventure completed and some real treasures found!

Snowshoeing out of Lobster Hole with 40 lbs. of seam agate.

Thanks to the gang of intrepid rockhounds documented in this blog. Darren and Pam Talbot,  Robert MacDonald, Andrew Hooper, and Richard Baird. And my Dad, David E. Sheppard who bravely took his first trip into Lobster Hole on Jan. 23, 2011. Thanks to Don Crowell aka Scotian Hiker for his Summer pictures on my first trip to Lobster Hole on July 31st, 2010.

The Cape Split Area is a world -  class rockhounding site. We respect the natural beauty of this area and take what we do seriously to minimize the inherent risks involved. We never force the precious gemstones and minerals out of the solid cliffs. Forces of Nature and the relentless power of the Tides will do that for us, leaving treasures to be found amongst the rocks on the shoreline each time we visit for years to come. Let's hope it stays that way. . .
Chris Sheppard
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Here is a link to a video we made on a Rockhounding trip to Lobster Hole:

Important Disclaimer:

Always accompany a guide to a new or remote area described in our blog or on Facebook. Many of the shoreline places we visit could potentially leave you trapped beneath cliffs at high tides of immensely powerful currents. Always know the tide times and plan accordingly. Being trapped may not always be a survival option. Terrain is steep and dangerous in places. Weather is unpredictable along the shore. Never attempt to descend or ascend an unfamiliar cliff area. Basalt can be loose, crumbly and very unstable. Be aware of falling rocks and boulders. Slide climbing should never be attempted without an experienced guide and never by children. Caution is strongly advised. Please rockhound safely and responsibly. Respect private property. Always get permission when accessing the shore from private property.


  1. I enjoyed your blog, I need to get out to this place and look around :)

  2. Thanks so much for this!
    and the linked-to video
    Now I know so much better where my rock came from!