Knocking on Hell’s Gate

At Hell’s Gate in Nova Scotia, George Burden gets a lesson in how not to grow old.

Nova Scotia offers a myriad of activities to entertain the adventurous.  You can dog sled, sky dive, sea kayak and even visit Sable Island, one of the most interesting and isolated island destinations in the world.

Of course with adventure comes risk of bodily injury and certain things should not be attempted by people over 50 (such as yours truly).  I don’t mean relatively safe activities such as jumping out of airplanes or kayaking in the ocean surf but rather the foolish, “only an idiot or teenager would do that” sorts of things.

Hell's GateWhich brings us to a day trip I made recently to Hell’s Gate.  Not the one in British Columbia but a smaller version found near Wolfville, Nova Scotia.  There is a power generating station here and what the locals call Three Pools, a series of three swimming holes with cascading waterfalls and cool, clear water to while away a hot summer’s day.  The top waterfall is bordered by cliffs up to fifty feet high from which teens and 20-somethings hurl their carcasses to what seems like certain doom into the deep pool below.

Our party consisted of my 10-year-old daughter, Ariana, and my teenaged nephew Michael and niece Ellie.  We initially encountered some trouble finding our destination.  It being Sunday morning I asked a gentleman leaving a local church how I could “find my way to hell’s gate”.  From the look (and directions) he gave me I could tell anyone skipping church on Sunday morning to go swimming was already most of the way there.  In any event the directions, if I interpreted them correctly, took us about ten miles out of our way.

George contemplates "The Jump"

George contemplates “The Jump”

Once at our destination, Michael insisted we carry on via a “short cut”, which turned out to be a 45-degree slope to the stream below followed by an arduous trek up to the pools over rocks and tree roots.

At pool one a long rope dangles, tempting those with good timing to swing out and hopefully drop themselves into the pool, rather than on the nearby rocks.  Pool two is a good spot to swim but the real hot spot is the topmost pool.  There were about 20 locals there, none more than half my age, and many were clambering up the vertical cliff face and hurling themselves repeatedly into the deep, churning pool below. 

Ariana, who is a good swimmer, enjoyed paddling around the pool and we both swam behind the waterfalls.  Michael and Ellie started jumping from variously elevated spots around the falls, something Ariana did not request to do, and would not have been allowed in any event.  Her Dad should have applied similar common-sense strictures to himself. 

I allowed my nephew and niece to talk me into going up and having a look.  Just for the record, it looks three times higher from the top than from the bottom.  No bloody way I’m going to do this I thought, before I realized I was about to be videoed wimping out in front of my 10-year-old daughter.

I jumped hurling myself out from the cliff face, initially holding myself vertical but tilting back until I hit the water straight onto my tender gluteal muscles with a huge jolt.  The discomfort was reminiscent of being hit across the kiester with a wet razor strop Following this a shooting pain developed in my sternum, or breast bone and I noticed a neat clicking sound every time I inhaled and exhaled.

The first few seconds...

The first few seconds…

I managed to hobble back on the regular path (eschewing Michael’s short-cut).  The regular path incidentally was a much easier and probably just as fast a way to get back to the car.  Also, from the regular path I noticed a sign I had missed on the short cut saying sudden surges of water from the dam could make dabbling your toes in the falls hazardous in other ways.  After a very painful float down Gaspereau River I made another trip, this time to the hospital, and confirmed I had cracked some cartilages in my sternum (breast bone).

Is this going to hurt?

Is this going to hurt?

My recommendation: follow the advice of the power company and don’t take any risks.  Especially don’t prove the old adage: “there’s no fool like and old fool”.  In fact, I wouldn’t recommend younger people jump off the cliff faces either. 

Instead, go to the nearby Gaspereau River and rent an inner tube for three dollars, then spend the afternoon peacefully floating down to the next bridge. 

*King of the River and several similar operations will rent you an inner tube for three dollars for the day.

A safer form of fun

A safer form of fun


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Photo Credits

Photos courtesy of George Burden. All Rights Reserved.







Recent Dr. George Burden Articles:

  • Eight Encounters with Serious Peril
  • The New Rubicon
  • The Crown’s Perspective
  • The Reluctant Sniper
  • Massacre

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