Wednesday, September  19, 2018
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White Hill via Freney Mtn
Route Description

White Hill is located almost in the center of the northern peninsula of Cape Breton Island. It is entirely within Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia. There are two (or perhaps three) accepted approach routes to White Hill. This description is about the approach via Freney Mountain. The start of the route is near the small town of Ingonish, Nova Scotia.
(if you are looking for our image gallery from this hike, this page isn't it. click here to go to page 1 and the start of the image gallery).

Maps: Environment Canada / Cape Breton Highlands National Park, 1:50,000 topographic map.

Driving Directions: Drive north from the entrance to Cape Breton Highlands National Park (the entrance is just south of Ingonish, NS). Continue driving until you cross a bridge over Clyburn brook. There is a road that leads west immediately after that bridge. Do not take this road. Instead continue a couple of hundred metres farther to the next road which leads west, and which should be signed for Freney Mountain.

The road immediately bends south for a bit (and is paved). Contiune following the road as it turns back west, begins to climb, and turns to gravel. In about 1km you will reach the lower trailhead of the Freney Mountain Trail Loop. You may park here if you wish, but it will add 3/4 of a kilometre each way to White Hill.

To reach the upper trailhead, keep driving up the steepening gravel road for another 3/4 of a kilometre to the upper trailhead of the Freney Mountain Trail Loop. The road has some large gravel but is otherwise fairly smooth. A National Park Service gate and sign mark the start of this portion of the Freney Mountain Trail.
Annotated Topo Map
Climbing White Hill: From the upper trailhead, follow the Freney Mountain Trail uphill for about 2.25 km and to an elevation of about 1200 ft / 365m. If you look closely, there is a faint, overgrown old road leading off to the right. This is the start of the old fire road that you must follow. Ferns and vegetation cover the ground on the road, but it is relatively free of trees.

Follow the road as it gradually climbs up and gradually swings to the left. Soon it levels off and is still 'followable'. After about 3km in total from the upper trailhead, however, the road suddenly becomes much more difficult to follow (in fact, I lost it). Try to keep relatively straight (if you are unsure, head slightly right to be safe), aiming to regain the road where it makes a swing to the right and starts a stretch where it stays very straight on a 300-degree heading. Use the following waypoints to help you out (note that all of these waypoints are contained in my waypoint log / tracklog, available from the link on the left-hand side of this page. Also, please note that all waypoints are in the WGS84 datum):
  • Upper Freney Mountain Trailhead (waypoint PARK2): N46.665333 W060.424628
  • Turn right onto faint fire road (waypoint FIRE RD): N46.671542 W060.443420
  • Fire Road becomes v.hard to follow: N46.672067 W060.452624
  • Fire Road becomes followable again: N46.670648 W060.459128
Once you've managed to regain the road, it is followable (with care) for quite a distance. The old road is being used by wildlife, and a discernable herdpath exists in places. Occasionally you will encounter wet muddy areas. Do not try to go through these, as they are sometimes deep (you'll note that the animals avoid them, too).

You will also occasionally encounter thick patches of alder or alder-like bushes right in the middle of the road. Again, do not try to wade through this thick brush. Take your cue from the animals and go around the brush and regain the road on the other side. In general, if you encounter an obstacle along the old fire road, look carefully for a herd path that goes off to the side, and take it. This will usually lead you around the obstacle.

A few ups and downs will bring you across Freney Mountain. The old fire road takes a bit of a descent at this point, as you cross a narrow neck of land that connects to the main Cape Breton Highland Plateau. The fire road in this section is quite well defined, and in some places, it looks like a regular trail. The road bottoms out, then starts climbing via a couple of switchbacks (with a good view down the Clyburn Valley at one switchback) and out into semi-open terrain. Once out into the semi-open on the plateau, the old road straightens out and tracks straight for a bit.

Next, the first marshy area is encountered. The marsh is not muddy if you stay on the grassy areas, although it is wet and spongey. The signs of the fire road are very faint in the marshy areas, but in general you want to keep on a bearing of about 300 degrees (see or follow my tracklog for more details). If you've successfully located the road at the far end, you'll know, because once on the road outside of the marshy areas it is fairly distinct. The old fire road continues pretty much dead straight on a bearing of 300 degrees for several more kilometres (up to a point about 12.8km from the upper Freney Mountain Trailhead). The open barrenlands of the central Cape Breton highlands pass by on either side of you.

The old road then bends slightly to the left, leading through another marshy area on a bearing of about 270 degrees for another 0.9km or so, heading slightly uphill. You then reach an important junction of four fire roads (one being the one you just walked in on).

  • 4-way fire road junction: (waypoint 4WAY JCT): N46.705471 W060.567564

From the fire road junction, you have two options. You can take the 'northern approach' to the summit (which is described in most accounts of ascents of White Hill), or you can take the 'southern approach' (which I used on the way down 'cause I didn't like the northern approach all that much).

Northern Approach to Summit: Continue northwest on the fire road that heads off in that direction from the junction, keeping pretty much northwest for about 1.6km. The old fire road is quite followable and should present no issues. White Hill Lake and White Hill itself are visible off to your left.

At the 1.6km mark, the road bends west and begins a slight descent to a low point. There is some extensive and nasty muddy areas in this low point (put a leg into the waist in one spot - yuck). The road then rises back out of this, and then you must choose which point at which you wish to strike south across the terrain to White Mountain's summit. We chose co-ordinates N46.710753, W060.598923 as our bushwhack start, and headed pretty much due south. There is a tough 100m thick band of bushwhacking encountered shortly after heading off-road. Beyond that, the terrain returns to low, open scrub and it is a matter of making your way towards the summit, which is on the far side (i.e. the south side) of the broad, flattish summit area. The important waypoint here, of course, is the summit:

  • White Hill Summit: (waypoint SUMMIT): N46.702545 W060.598547

There is a small sliver of bedrock and a small concrete square on this bedrock, along with a survey marker right in the bedrock next to the concrete square. This is White Hill's summit. A few metres away lies a red-and-white old radio tower of some sort. Congrats - you've come 17.43 km from the upper Freney Mountain Trailhead and have reached the summit of Nova Scotia. It's quite a wild and lonely place, too!

Southern Approach to Summit: On the way down, I didn't feel like re-doing the brushy section and the deep mud holes, so I charted a course south-east from the summit that avoids both types of terrain. If you wish to use it, please consult my tracklog and detailed trackmap. The route follows some open terrain down from the summit, then catches and follows a couple of herdpaths through a belt of forest, ending up on a fire road that leads back to the four-way fire road junction. It is about 300m shorter than the nothern approach. The important waypoint for this approach is the spot where the animal herdpath intersects the fire road:

  • Animal herdpath and fire road (waypoint RA FIRE RD): N46.694877 W060.582931

Although we ourselves didn't string together the shortest possible starting point and approach to the summit, the shortest route via the paths we followed would be to start at upper Freney Mountain Trailhead and take our southern approach to summit. Total one-way distance for this variant would be 17.1km, for a total round trip distance of about 34.2km.

Please refer to the interactive trackmap at the bottom of page 2 of this presentation. This interactive trackmap has all of the waypoints described on this page, plus a graphical overlay of the track we took, plus interactive picture photo-points of photos taken along the way. And, once again, a GPS tracklog (GPSU ASCII format) is available via the link in the left-hand column.
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