Friday, September 30, 2011

The Big Eddy, Cape Blomidon, N.S.

 The Big Eddy

Chris Sheppard Master Rockhound and Landscape Photographer

The Winter and early Spring has the Rockhounds scouring beaches from Ross Creek to Cape Blomidon in search of newly exposed and fallen treasure. During the Summer months a few of the hard-core Rockhounds become intensely focused on  finding rock slides to explore in search of semi-precious gemstones, agates and jasper that still lay trapped in the massive piles of basalt that at some point in the past had let go from the main basalt cliffs stretching high above the shoreline. Looking for something new to us we decided to go off the beaten "rockhounding path" and explore The Big Eddy on a remote section of the Cape Blomidon Peninsula.

The Big Eddy Shoreline. Aerial Photograph by Trish Robicheau.
The first time I visited the area of the Cape Blomidon Peninsula known as the Big Eddy it was as part of a three-person extensive shoreline exploration with Scotian Hiker. When I first started hiking to the more commonly explored areas around the Peninsula I had it in my mind to at some point hike the entire shoreline from Cape Split to lower Blomidon at the Provincial Park. The hike we organized to accomplish this mission became known affectionately as the Mega Trek. Essentially from the Cape Split Parking Lot to the Parking Lot at Lower Blomidon. A very long haul over rugged, rocky shoreline!
On the first Mega Trek. Chris Sheppard approaching The Big Eddy. Photo: Don Crowell
After a couple of Mega Treks under my belt and a year and a half of rockhounding, the rock formations I'd seen around the Big Eddy had always crept back into my thoughts. I needed to get back there to explore more and to rockhound. The length of the shoreline trek (several hours and necessitating waiting out a tide) would often make me reconsider these plans until the summer of 2011 when I learned of possible shorter route to the Big Eddy shoreline from local hiker Karen Cook. I had to investigate.

ATV Path near the end of Rogers Rd. in Scots Bay. Photo: Karen Cook
The "new" route to the Big Eddy beach starts as an ATV path via Rogers Road in Scots Bay. Fellow Rockhound Andrew Hooper and I went to explore the route for the first time in 2011. I have since made the trek many times. 

Rockhounds at the head of the Rogers Road Trail in Scots Bay.
After obtaining permission from the landowner (part of this path crosses private land--he other portion is on Crown lands) we followed the old ATV path through the woods. At some intervals the "road" becomes completely filled in with water.

And we aren't talking puddles. These are small ponds. Complete with an abundance of amphibians!

Parts of the path are actually quite lovely woodland trail. Winding through yellow birch, sugar maple, beech, and white spruce and balsam fir trees.  

After crossing a small brook and hiking a few kilometers we reached a fork. A very old pointed sign nailed to a tree with faint stencil lettering that reads simply BIG EDDY and points in the general direction of the Minas Channel. We've found it!

After a short hike we reached an ATV cul de sac of sorts that comes very close to a 160-m cliff. The trees end and the drop is severely abrupt.

ATV cul de sac. Several feet beyond is a drop of nearly 500 feet to the beach below
From the cul de sac we bushwhacked deep into a very steep gorge that would eventually come out on the shore below . . .

Rockhound Andrew Hooper descending the gorge into The Big Eddy
A faint deer path could be followed down to the shoreline. The deep moss provided ample traction and in the absence of fixed ropes like you find on the popular Amethyst Cove trail, branches and shrubs made decent hand holds. With excellent foresight Andrew put in a short 30-foot section of rope over the steepest drop onto an old rock slide that spilled out onto the beach below.

 A few scratches, some mosquito swarming, but otherwise not too bad a trek!

 And we descended onto the beach we immediately take notice of basalt cliffs. The Big Eddy area of shoreline has a striking profile. 

We  commented that stepping out onto the beach was like stepping back in time, especially when the fog obscures any hint of civilization across the Minas Channel.

Andrew takes detailed GPS readings of the paths and locations we visit for mapping purposes and finding your way back out in a fog blanket or the dark!

The Triassic Red Blomidon Shale is a prominent feature in the cliffs at the Big Eddy Cove. It is capped by the 200-million-year-old Basalt eruption formations. 

The semi-precious gemstones and agates were formed in the vents and cracks left behind as the basalt cooled. The Bay of Fundy area saw over twelve major volcanic surges or flows as it formed millions of years ago.

Hiking the shoreline within the cove we saw a lot of zeolite material and a few chunks of beach-worn amethyst

On the first trip we carefully investigated the base of many slides on our way back towards Amethyst Cove as we planned to exit via the fixed ropes there several kilometers down the shoreline back towards Cape Split.

One slide in particular caught our eye as we trekked along the shore. Some very large pieces of honeycomb quartz that are usually found close to seams that may contain amethyst. Large zeolites were scattered over the slide base as well.

I pulled a large, filthy plate out of the slide rubble that showed some very distinct banding patterns and a blanket of decent amethyst crystals which covered the shallow inside. The rock sat on my deck with a pile of other rock to sort but I kept coming back to the piece because of the banding.

 I had the large rough specimen cut into two show pieces. 

I couldn't stop thinking about this particular slide over the next couple of weeks and decided to get back as soon as time would allow . . . 

The Mousetrap Slide
The second time we visited the Big Eddy our goal was to find the slide again and do some further exploration. If pieces like this could be found lying on top, what was buried inside the rubble? Finding the answer changed the way I rockhound and view the risks involved. 

This is a long anecdote, but worth reading . . . 

This halved amethyst geode surrounded by vibrant jasper holds a special place in my memory. I was nearly killed finding it!
There is an area between Amethyst Cove and Cape Blomidon called The Big Eddy, accessible from above through a deep gorge. On our first visit in 2011, we had some success finding some beautiful specimens on the surface of a scree-and-boulder slope running up the basalt cliff. We decided to go back for another look another day. It could have been a fateful decision.

Finding the original slide, our mission was to climb a little higher and explore further and deeper. This slide wasn't the nicest or easiest looking, a very steep looking beast with brush obscuring the top with lots of larger boulders jutting out of the mix. Before proceeding, Andrew and I stood a couple of arm's lengths apart casually discussing the look of the slide, when suddenly a huge section of rock collapsed directly in front of where I was perched. It happened without warning and the rocks started down with a sickening sound and increasing speed. Fortunately, we were only twenty feet up the slide when it gave way!

The next few seconds were played over in my mind for weeks after and will be forever locked in my memory. Without time to think I instinctively turned myself around and leaped straight out from the cliff. Everything is in slow motion now and it felt like I was watching from outside my body and I believed the outcome would be horrible. I could feel the energy of the boulders crashing down behind me and I had no idea how much of the cliff was coming or if Andrew had been caught too.

Miraculously only one of the boulders grazed my arm, breaking the hoe in my hand in half and tearing the sleeve of my Gore-Tex jacket. Miraculously, I over-shot the jagged pile of basalt at the base of the slide and hit a clear patch of the beach below, running like a cartoon character! It took me over thirty feet to stop my momentum. I was very shaken up and more than a little shocked but after checking myself over I seemed to be o.k.

Looking back at the pile of boulders that came down behind me I saw that Andrew was safe. I had no idea how I came out relatively unscathed.

Andrew later recalled, "the instant the wall started to fall, I felt deathly sick at what appeared was going to happen. I still can't believe that Chris pretty much outran it. It seemed impossible! It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen. Big boulders amongst the many other sized rocks, all right in front of him (before he turned) and they were moving fast. I have never been so relieved as when he hit the beach still intact!"

As I sat recovering on a driftwood log Andrew slowly examined that areas around the slide (from the safety of the beach) and noticed a mound of crushed basalt poking out from the brush near the slide. He started to discover some very interesting pieces on this comparatively very safe little mound of rock, and I found the following piece next to the dangerous slide.

It serves as a reminder that rockhounds have to exercise great caution and calculate inherent and sometimes unpredictable dangers. We spend a lot of time examining the rock slides for stability. If anything feels too loose, or the grade is too steep we simply don't try to climb it! We still have plenty of amazing finds to show for our efforts and of course acknowledge the fact that all outdoor activities of this nature have an inherent risk.

By the way, we named this slide THE MOUSETRAP!

(We are re-posting this account as a reminder to people who haven’t heard it that there are serious risks along these shores looking for its hidden treasures.) Determined rockhounds continue to search the shores and slides of The Big Eddy, but if we climb we do it very cautiously. The rewards are worth it!

Although slide climbing is dangerous we now try to minimize the inherent risks involved by exercising due diligence. We spend a lot of time examining the sections for stability. If anything feels too loose, or the grade is too steep we simply don't try to climb it! We still have plenty of amazing finds to show for our efforts and of course acknowledge the fact that all outdoor activities of this nature have an inherent risk. All factors must be weighed and calculated. The bottom line, you are responsible for your safety and if you do something foolish you may very well pay a heavy price. Always play it safe.

Some of the most brilliant Jasper I had ever found and more amethyst became abundant at The Big Eddy.

In the following weeks we made a few more trips down to the slide area and noted the changes each time. 
I would also maximize my daylight hours this way. In the early summer it was not unusual for me to spend ten hours on the beach.The reward for a day's work would be sore muscles but usually a few beautiful specimens. Untouched by the pounding surf, crystals and forms are often in pristine condition!

Big Eddy Amethyst

Of course, spending ten hours on the beach and being cut off from escape for a few of them, I had to pay close attention to the weather forecasts, as frustrating an exercise as this becomes around The Bay of Fundy and Minas Basin. We often joked that Cape Blomidon had its own distinct weather, usually the opposite of what was predicted in the local forecasts! The best possible day would be a nice cloudy one with a steady breeze. The worst, a blistering sun and no shade on the beach!  With the humidity of the summer also came the usual morning fogs that engulfed the shoreline. That same humidity could conjure up thundershowers that would turn a nice afternoon on the shore into a hair-raising experience . . . few things I fear more than being trapped out in an electrical storm. I've been fairly lucky. I've only had to endure this twice!

A good rain would send sections of slide down rooting up small trees and bush. Unfortunately, this exposed more of the rock a little deeper in the slide. The stability of the slide became very questionable and didn't look a lot different than the one that nearly killed us. Two trips gave us lots of treasures.
Andrew and Darren wash and high grade finds from "The Mousetrap."
Amethyst from The Big Eddy

Andrew washes his slide finds in the Minas Channel

Rough find. Amethyst Geode in Porcelain Jasper.
High grading the finds becomes very important when you must climb and hike for a few hours to get back to your parked car. A lot of trading usually occurs. Everyone will leave with their maximum load!

Andrew examines a large agate find. Worth carrying out?

Hinka and Milada high grade their finds at The Big Eddy
Examining our finds. Photo: Darren Talbot
Pristine Amethyst found in the slide.
Seam of Jasper and Agate

The Big Eddy slides have incredible red Jasper. A perfect contrast with the Amethyst.

Waiting out the 40+ foot Tides of the Minas Channel at Big Eddy to maximize the days dig!

Waiting the tide out at The Big Eddy

A few more Big Eddy Show Pieces from the Fundy Rocks Collection

Agate and Jasper seam with Amethyst. Fundy Rocks Collection.

Porcelain Jasper with fortification agate center. Fundy Rocks Collection.
Close-ups of agate detail in Big Eddy rock slide specimens.

Liz takes a break at the base of the "Mousetrap"

We had an excellent summer on the slides and beaches around Cape Split, and the Blomidon Peninsula. More stories will have to wait until next time. The Fall is creeping in. A welcome coolness in the air and no bugs! As we explored the slides around Coyote Pass last weekend we watched the leaves dancing in the air as they cascaded slowly down from high on top of the cliffs towering above us. Rockhounding as a hobby is so much more than the rocks we haul home. It is about being out in the elements and the full sensory experience of the Fundy Shore in these often remote and beautiful places. No matter how difficult the climb is or the weight of the pack over the many kilometers of beach and woods my batteries are always re-charged after every adventure.

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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 have 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 comment:

  1. Thanks for all you do with this blog - it is a true treasure. We attended your talk at Blomidon last year and wrote to the park to tell them how great it was! We picked up the books you recommended and, as usual, can't wait to get back to the area. Keep hunting and be safe!
    Deb and Larry - Massachusetts