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Surviving the Fundy Footpath

May 18, 2017

Found in Activities, Community news, Stories

Since the Fundy Footpath (FFP) opened in 1994, people have underestimated its difficulty and duration, which has resulted in tougher-than-anticipated hikes and expensive search and rescue operations. We wanted to make some videos to highlight the safety precautions needed to hike the FFP. But who would ever watch a safety video about hiking? Enter our main character, Bruce “should-I-say-my-last-name” Persaud and our Surviving the Fundy Footpath films. Bruce grew up in Toronto and had just moved to New Brunswick from Montreal when we met him. When he agreed to have his first serious hike filmed, we knew we had our hook.

These films are a must-watch before you head out on a challenging hike. Bruce illustrates that you don’t need to be a hardcore backpacker to complete the FFP, but you do need some good knowledge before you head out, and helpful advice from experienced hikers can make a huge difference when you’re a beginner backpacker.

Episode 1: Is He Ready?

What is the Fundy Footpath?

Where the resistant igneous rock of the Caledonia Highlands drops off into the mega-tidal Bay of Fundy in Southeastern New Brunswick, you’ll find the treacherous Fundy Footpath. It’s over 60km long, crosses nearly 20 watercourses and traverses very steep terrain that culminates in over 4000m of elevation gain (and an equal amount of loss).

What is the FFP’s reputation?

It’s rocky, rooted and riddled with steep elevation changes. Backpackers are lured by the promise of a one-of-a-kind coastal experience and an intimate encounter with the great Fundy tides, but it’s also a raw wilderness experience.

Episode 2: Many of Firsts

What are some misconceptions about the footpath?

Many hikers expect the FFP to be flatter, smoother, more forgiving and faster to complete. These misconceptions can lead to people pushing themselves too hard, too fast or to trying to take short-cuts, resulting in injuries or just a bad time.

Episode 3: Threading the Eye of the Needle

Where should beginner hikers start before tackling the footpath?

Train by putting some weight on your back and finding some elevation to climb and descend. Anything technical with tricky footing is good practice and using trekking poles will be very helpful, especially on steep downhills. Pole placement can seem complicated at first, as each step is one more task for your brain.

What does hiker preparedness mean?

Here are some things you’ll need to be prepared:

  1. Mental toughness: be ready for the challenge and recognize when you’re tired and not thinking clearly. Not everything will go according to plan.
  2. Physical conditioning is a key preparation activity; learn some good stretches to reduce soreness.
  3. Proper gear choices and packing covers a lot of things, from boots, backpacks and clothing to shelters, personal hygiene and kitchen equipment. Take only what you need and make your pack as light as possible. Make a list of essentials.
  4. High calorie, lightweight food is key. Have a plan to treat or filter your water and remember to keep drinking; dehydration leads to all kinds of physical problems.
  5. Tell people where you’re going and when you’ll be done. Register before beginning the FFP on either end so help knows your hiking agenda. Take a first-aid kit, map of the trail, guide book, tide chart and a cell phone/GPS. Cell coverage is very thin, so don’t depend on it. If you must call 911, be ready to give them detailed information on your exact location and the nature of your situation.

Episode 4: Hitting the Wall

What do you want people to know about the footpath?

The mega-tides of the Bay of Fundy are impressive along the trail and vary by as much as 11.4m (nearly four storeys). Tide level is vitally important here, as it can close routes, limit your travel, and even trap you on the cliffs when exploring the beach. The wrack line – a line of dead seaweed and driftwood – shows the reach of the tide, making it a safety line of sorts. Camp above it and don’t lose track of the tide while you’re exploring.

Episode 5: Becoming a Hiker

What are some instances of things going awry on the footpath?

The example in “Episode 5: Becoming a Hiker” is one of the best. Two men hiking the FFP were worried they wouldn’t get out on time because the trail was taking longer than expected and decided to take an intertidal short cut. With darkness falling, they likely panicked and tried to climb up the cliff back to the trail, only to become stuck. An expensive helicopter rescue saved them. Another time, a hiker nearly froze to death in the winter, while one called for rescue due to sore knees, only to be found later, living it up on the beach.

What else do you want people to know?

If you’re an experienced hiker, then help others get out and take on outdoor challenges. Everyone should spend time in the wilderness and it is up to others with experience to help them along, whether through guiding, teaching or just encouraging them. In an urbanizing landscape we must all stay connected to nature and gain experiences that will allow us to understand the importance of conservation.

Episode 6: Some Serious Chafing Going On

Learning to set up a tent

MEC was proud to provide a grant to the Fundy Biosphere Reserve, and ultimately help Ben Phillips, Alonzo Leger and Marc Leger lead Bruce Persaud along the Fundy Footpath safely while Craig Norris captured each moment. Congratulations to Bruce for surviving the FFP! Time to pick up some real water shoes.

Photos by Craig Norris.

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