Keji

CampingWhen it comes to camping, Nova Scotia has plenty to offer. Anywhere you go, it seems you’re never far from a campground. Camping is a way of life, and a rite of passage for any outdoor loving nova scotian. When you think camping in nova scotia, one place comes to mind above all others. Kejimkujik National Park is the pride and joy of Nova Scotia’s outdoors.

While most of the provinces forests are nothing more than tree farms, where one species of trees is planted and harvested every 20 years, there are a few places where you can see what our forests are supposed to look like. Point Pleasant Park, Hemlock Ravine, Keji and the Highlands National Park in Cape Breton are the handful of places where you can actually see a forest that has been untouched (save for hurricane Juan’s devistation to Point Pleasant).

ForestI had been wanting to re-visit Keji for a long time, and this summer I finally did. Myself and two friends woke up early one Saturday morning and decided to head out, spur of the moment. We called the park before we left to make sure there were camp sites available, and the friendly person on the other end of the phone assured us there was, and that she could help us plan everything out when we got there. 2.5 hours from Halifax later, we arrived at the visitor centre and laid out our plans. We wanted to do some back country camping, where the journey would be a major part of the trip. As young men we were capable of handling any of the physical challenges that we may encounter. Long portage routes, long paddles and hikes were all right up our alley. The two friendly women at the counter considered our requests as well as our time frame (a 24 hour visit) and came up with the perfect site for us. Sure enough, it was all of that and more.
We started the adventure at the boat rental, where we rented one kayak and one canoe. We used the time honoured tradition of rock paper scissors to decide who would be in which boat. The boat rental place usually includes drop off and pickup as part of its services, but where we were headed and where we would return were not on their usual route, so we used the supplied roof straps and made a couple of trips to our launch point. Right away, it became evident that our portage skills were very rusty. Our first attempt included carrying a canoe full of supplies, and manhandling a kayak. After about 20 meters this attempt failed. We re-grouped and determined we would be better off emptying all of the gear and supplies and making one trip with them and returning to make a second trip to carry the boats. If we were early Canadian fur traders, we would have been fired on the spot. We struggled to find a good way to carry the boats, and ended up just bearing down and battling mentally and physically. The canoe wasn’t too bad between the two of us, but the kayak was still a real challenge for our friend, who is not challenged in the strength department.
Once the initial portage was done, we took a break, drank a deserving beer, and took in the sights. Lush green forest, and a large dark blue lake, perfect weather, and lots of birds chirping. As I looked around I began to notice the differences between the forest here and the forest we are used to. The amount and diversity of trees, plants, birds and animals was enormously different than elsewhere.
We set out on our paddle, relaxed, taking in the beautiful weather and calmness. The lakes in Keji can sometimes have some pretty fierce headwinds, Rivermaking the paddling a real challenge. luckily today was not one of those days. The first lake took us about an hour to paddle, and as we reached the end we disembarked and began to mentally prepare for another fairly long 800 meter portage (it sounds a lot shorter when you don’t have a canoe on your head). The portage was long, but we had our strategy perfected now, and we reached the end, exhausted, but excited at the new scenery. A calm inlet, complete with lilly pads and yellow flowers sitting on the perfectly smooth water. To our friend, an avid fly fisherman, this was what we came for. The fly reels were quickly deployed, as I opened a beer and took my camera out to really examine the surroundings. The park sells fishing licenses for the back country areas, for 10 dollars per day, and they only apply to certain spots in the back country. But we were happy to pay for it, as we weren’t even sure if you would be allowed to fish here, since everything is so highly protected.

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SunsetAfter our long but relatively unsuccessful fishing break (I didn’t even bother trying), we loaded up the boats and headed off for the last leg of our journey. The inlet opened into a wide and winding river, where the wildlife was teeming. Within minutes, we encountered a couple of beavers who were quick to let us know we were now in their territory, by splashing the water with their tail in an attempt to scare the crap out of us as we daydreamed. The river was very slow and calm, and the weather was perfect. I’m not sure how long this journey would normally take, but we definitely were not making record time. As the sun began to approach the horizon we realized that maybe we should shift out of relax mode and get a push on to the end of the river. After every bend we were sure the end was in sight, but it was impossible to tell. About an hour after our first guess that the end was around the next corner, we finally reached the end of the river, and our camping site destination. The sun was slowly setting and we set up our tent and got our gear out. We couldn’t have timed it any better as far as getting some great sunset photos and some last minute fishing. I quickly noticed a bird which seemed to be heading towards us, but not really moving at all. I realized that it was actually just hovering in mid-air like a hummingbird. This bird however was the size of a seagull and was actually hunting for fish. Incredible. I have no clue what kind of bird this is, and I’ve never seen one in my 30 years here, which says a lot about Keji. When it got dark, the wildlife kept surprising. Bats cruised up and down the river feasting on flies, and a couple of very large owls had fun making some startling noises that had us running away and reaching for our knives, like true city slickers. We were truly on our own out here, we could not see another camp fire or light anywhere. All we heard was animals, and though the sky was somewhat overcast, the stars were still immensely more impressive than what we are used to.

Sunset

All in all, it was a fantastic trip, and lived up to all of my expectations. I wished we had more time to spend there, as you could easily spend many days exploring the huge park. A multi-day, multi-camp site loop around the park would be ideal. I was very impressed by the park, and the people who run it. It is great to see the extent that all of the volunteers and workers in the park are willing to go to to protect every species within it. If you live in Halifax, you are no stranger to speed bumps…. and Keji is no exception. The speed bumps at Keji, however, are to protect an endangered species of turtles, who nest nearby the main road. The turtles are studied and cared for by the park staff and by volunteers. There are many people who contribute to the park, and it really shows. If you have never been, or haven’t been in years, you owe it to yourself to visit Keji whether its for a day or a week. Click here for the video from my trip.

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