Moose Hunting in Zone 4 of the Cape Breton Highlands

It was 5 years ago that Grant and I first walked the land that we would later purchase and build Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins on. That fall Grant was taking me out hunting, an activity I had never participated in before. We would quietly tip toe up the mountain at daybreak in the truck, looking for any sign of deer in the frosty morning dew. After a few mornings we took notice of a small driveway with a gate. We had been looking for a place in the country with some land for years, so when we figured out this spot was for sale, we pulled in to have a look.

The rest, as they say, is history!

Ruffed grouse on tree branch in Whycocomagh on Cape Breton Island
Photo Credit: Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins

Now that we have had our cabins open for 3 years, other hunters coming to the area are noticing our convenient location that puts them at the edge of the back country in the mountains of the south western Cape Breton Highlands. Last year, we had one moose hunting party, this year we have two moose hunting parties, and that is the way it goes, as we steadily build our business.

We are looking to build a very long term sustainable business, and word of mouth and repeat customers are our best marketing assets! We get a thrill of especially hosting young guests, who we hope will be back many times as they grow up, one day we hope they bring their own children here to hunt.

I don’t really get romance. Bring me fish or moose, not flowers.

Eden Robinson, Canadian Indigenous Author

Blogger is pictured smiling, standing in front of a river in autumn.

Make Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins your basecamp for hunting adventures in the southern Cape Breton Highlands

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Living with Integrity, or ‘Having a Set’

A photograph from the mountain...

A quote we like...

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.

~ Aldo Leopold

A reflection on a mountain moment...

A young man visiting with us recently told Grant and I that we had the most integrity of anyone he knew. This is one of the greatest compliments I have received. "I mean it, you have balls. You too, Jess." he says, nodding at me seriously. As two Torontonian guests suggest "Ovarian fortitude" may be the term he was searching for!

Having the courage, guts, or balls, to stand up for yourself and what you believe is right, is not always easy. Sometimes you will stand alone - but integrity demands that we do it anyways. Being honest with one's self, and having the courage to express the sometimes hurtful truths that you discover within, is what our conscience demands of us. If we fail to, our light shines a bit dimmer; an important part of us retreats and withers inside.

We can bury that feeling and stay quiet to not rock the boat. Life might be easier for us when we do that, temporarily. We can make an excuse for why we cannot stand up for our beliefs and principles, but inside we cannot hide from the fact that we knew what was right, but did not speak or live that truth. We can accept and reconcile this, but this experience seems to be urging us to do it differently next time. So that we will feel more whole inside - living our life inline with our own beliefs and personal truths.

In my opinion, conscience is an individual's compass that guides us to live by principles and morals that are formed, not only by the customs and views of those around us, but also truths that have uniquely developed within, through the divine life we have been given to experience. Every time that we choose to listen to our inner voice, or intuition, to follow our conscience, to act in harmony with our own truths and beliefs, we demonstrate integrity. We learn to do so, not because it makes us look good in the eyes of others, or to appear "holier than thou", but because we know it is the right thing to do for our own spiritual development, and that is worth experiencing temporary pain and discomfort.

After this recent visit, I also appreciate that even though it may cause our external world to ripple with disapproval, and cause us to suffer ridicule or rejection, we are serving as examples to others when we act with courage and integrity. We might influence the lives of others and never know it. And if we can be an example for the next generation, by demonstrating the value of living a life with integrity and showing them how to courageously state and defend their truth, what greater purpose could there be?

Even when we fail or struggle with how to do this, we are showing those who may be silently watching us that we are invested in expressing our humanity. That we are dedicated to uncovering higher truths, which human beings, with our divine conscience, intuition and inner ways of discovering what is true, are uniquely enabled to ascertain.

A song...

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Welcome to The Marrow, a Newsletter by Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins

September 2022

Our new monthly newsletter, The Marrow, presents snapshot moments of life on the mountain. On the first Monday of the month we present 3 kernels that speak to the gist of life here, represented by a photograph, video, poem, artwork, recipe, quotation, joke or other musings. This newsletter is our way of documenting the experience we are having living this dream of building a sustainable homestead on Cape Breton Island. We hope the content in the Marrow connects you for a few moments to the heart of our mountain, no matter where in the world it finds you each month!


Get the Marrow in your inbox

Our monthly newsletter is a space for us to share a bit from the heart of this mountain life, through photographs, words, music and art.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Travelling in Uncertain Times

March 2022

Unama’ki ~ Land of Fog ~ it certainly feels like we have spent a lot of time travelling in such conditions over the past two years. Unable to discern what lies ahead. You have an idea of where you are going. You are familiar with the terrain you are in, and how you got here, but visibility, is only so far. You can easily get disoriented without the familiar landmarks that help distinguish where you are and in which direction you should strike out to get where you are trying to go. The usually visible and ever-changing sky, distant hills, or birds flying by aren’t available to distract or inspire you.

It was a foggy morning like this, when I first arrived in Cape Breton in 2010. It was mystical then, and ever since, the Mi’kmaq name for this magical island recalls to mind moments surrounded by the mist, considering this experience I am having here.

When the fog hides the world from view, I have the inclination to embrace the stillness it creates. The constriction of sight, the dampening of sound, and the grey emptiness of the fog, has the effect of opening and quieting the mind for me. I can feel my heart and spirit in that stillness, just being.

It’s okay to not have a plan. To not be going anywhere or aspiring to do anything grand. To be in Cape Breton, maybe finding your way, maybe just checking in with yourself, maybe just breathing and finding a sense of calm and connection.

I have so many dreams, of what I could do here

in Cape Breton.

In, Unima’ki, the land of fog,

I am just here,

for now.

~ Jessica

Whyocomagh Mountain


Hunting Season is Just Around The Corner!

Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins is in zone 4 for Moose and zone 112 for white tail deer.

We love walking in the woods in the fall, looking for game. The smell of the autumn forest, the sounds of the birds and the wind in the crisp leaves. The gentle and shortening sunlight hours feel welcome and good after the heat of summer. Then there is the excitement of finding your prey, setting up a shot, and the satisfaction of taking a meal home, cleaning it and enjoying its nourishment. Some days our hunting are about not firing anything – its just the impetus and justification to step away from everything else and spend time outdoors, in the forest and quiet peace of nature.

Consider taking off a few days this fall during hunting season to stay at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins. You can venture out into the woods at the crack of dawn and be back to your cozy cabin in the evening. Pop over for a drink by the wood stove in our licensed lodge, then try your luck again the next day.

If you would like to speak to us about our staying at our facility this hunting season, you can email us: [email protected] or call 902 932 7137


The Iron Mountain Cabins Idea

After finding this beautiful Iron Mountain Wilderness property on the top of Whycocomagh Mountain, we considered how we would and even if we could proceed with the land purchase. Grant and I are too small business owners. As entrepreneurs we have invested considerable time and money into our businesses to build and grow them. Grant opened FireHouse Ironworks Ltd. in 2010 and I started my website and print design business Beach Pea Design in 2013. As any self-employed person can tell you, trying to arrange financing for purchasing real-estate is a little tricky if not impossible without co-borrowers or a spouse with a regular income. If you have reinvested in your business as we had, your personal income can be unimpressive to lenders. Nevermind trying to convince a conventional bank to lend you money to purchase vacant land, off-grid. Hahahahahahaha……..

That being where we were, the quaint thought of purchasing this mountain property for our own little paradise and sustainable farm was not an option for the two of us. However, we were determined to see if there was a way. After all we had been looking for a place like this for over 5 years! Grant wisely held strong in his view that if we were going to proceed with this purchase of property, we had to have a plan for how it would pay for itself. In effect, economic stability needed to be the first “sustainable” or “self-sufficient” item to tackle.

In effect, economic stability needed to be the first “sustainable” or “self-sufficient” item to tackle.

Given the stunning views and groomed snowmobile trails that passed through the property it didn’t take long for the genesis of a plan to offer four season wilderness accommodations to emerge. We had watched the winter snowmobile traffic grow exponentially in our local area year after year, and knew they were an under serviced segment of the tourism industry on the island. We began to do our homework on winter tourism and accommodations. The more we learned, the more of an opportunity we saw in developing a business that would suit our location, our personalities, and the market. We started writing our business plan in December 2017.

Before the New Year, we had placed an accepted offer on the property, conditional on financing. And there began a whole new set of obstacles and hurdles to maneuver, before the closing date of April 30th, 2018.

We had found the property, we had the business idea, we had a plan and now we were lacing our boots and getting after it. What does it take to try and do something like this, some might ask. In our case: two dedicated, loyal, stubborn and very determined people; a patient guardian cattle dog to keep them grounded and sane; and a few generous angels who believed in them and stepped forward to assist when they most needed it.

To be continued…..

Splendid Isolation

Once we decided to make an offer on our mountain property, we came up to do several exploratory hikes. This was such a big move, we wanted to get a better feel for the lay of the land. The first hike we did was in late fall with dear friends. The wind was up and sharp, bringing tears to our eyes when we stood at the camp looking over the mountains, Bras d’Or Lake and Denys Basin. We decided to walk down the trail heading west through the parcel across Whycocomagh Mountain’s “Whaleback’, so called because it has a distinct ridge on its north face.

Once in the shelter of the forest, the wind was barely noticeable. We struck out down the trail under the shelter of the Acadian hardwood forest. While the eastern half of the property had been harvested for softwood several decades prior, this western half was mature beautiful hardwood forest. Brooks bounded south down slope, the moss was thick and lush, and a wonderful sense of the land falling away on either side of you reinforced the fact, that despite the beautiful shelter of the woods, we were on the apex of this ancient mountain.

On a second hike, Molly and I toured the southeastern part of the property, crossing over the previously cut land that fell away in rolling hills to the south west. I could picture future agricultural fields, animals, and shelters for them tucked in here. I was feeling a bit apprehensive crossing the land – the new growth vegetation in this area was dense and higher than I could see and knowing the wilderness surrounded us I feared sneaking up on or coming face to face with some wildlife. I spoke loudly to Molly as we safely descended down into a gully where the old trees had been left undisturbed.

A pristine mountain creek, where ages of water flowing had scoured away the rock creating a wide gully, seemed to me to be a great natural cathedral. A bowl where the creek now meanders in curves along the gully floor. The land rises up steeply around it and the great old birches tower above. The kind of place I would retreat to, when I needed to reconnect.

On our third hike, Molly and I walked The Great Trail from where it meets the Whycocomagh Mountain Road to where it meets our property. It was a foggy mild winter day and the visibility was not great, perhaps 30 meters. I felt nervous again. The forest looked particularly wild and prehistoric as the fog slunk into the woods below the canopy. My imagination was picturing coyotes and bobcats stealthily watching us, wondering what we were doing there. I decided the best course of action was to sing loudly as we hiked.

One of Grant and my favourite songs was what came to mind then and there – Splendid Isolation by the wonderful Warren Zevon. I sang it loudly, making up the lyrics I didn’t know. Molly and I stopped to further explore and pay homage at the creek. While the place was still wild, and scary at times to me, and the weather could be extreme on the mountain, my spirit was connecting with it. I was becoming familiar with it. And I knew that I loved it, with all its peculiarities, all its challenges, its moods, creatures and weather. It was our opportunity to live in nature, but how we would manage to be able to stay there turned out to be quite a challenging course to traverse. Before us lay obstacles great and small, characters of ill repute, major disappointment and challenges that would require great perseverance and fierce determination on our part. Of course, perhaps mercifully, we had no idea what was in store for us. Our first task was to envision a plan for making our life in this place and that is when the idea of Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins found its genesis.

To be continued….

10 Things to Do at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins

1. Hike on The Great Trail

Have you explored part of the world’s longest recreational trail before? If you didn’t know it was in Canada, that is probably because it was only fully connected in 2017 after a 25 year effort. Known previously as The TransCanada Trail, it now connects us to three oceans and encompasses 24,000km of trails, ranging from mountain multi-use trails like those found here to urban paths and waterways. We’ve already had our first through-hikers visit from France. On their way to the Arctic Ocean, they had crossed Newfoundland in mid-winter and turned up at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins in Cape Breton in February. We were inspired by them to say the least, and a little envious of the wilderness adventure ahead of them, as they set out into the highlands woods heading towards Lake Ainslie. A beautiful look off over Whycocomagh bay can be seen by hiking 2.5km from our facility south on The Great Trail. We offer guided hikes too, if you would like some company!

2. Snowmobile in the Cape Breton Highlands

The Cape Breton Highlands offer over 1100km of snowmobile trails, and at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins, the trails are at your doorstep! One of the most loved ways to explore the backcountry of Cape Breton is on a sled. You’re likely to experience good powder and drifts up here. Glide over the Keppoch Mountain range to Margaree for lunch and on up the highlands to Cape Clear for that amazing view. You will have a great day cruising around Whycocomagh, Lewis & Campbells Mountain and Lake Ainslie too and be back to the lodge for pints and to warm up by the wood stove in the evening. You can check out the extensive trail system in our area on this map: Make us a part of a multi-day tour across the Cape Breton Highlands!

3. Go on Tour – Daytripping

With so much to see within a few hours of scenic rural driving – Inverness and Victoria Counties offer dozens of day trip adventures! Whether you’re into waterfalls, rocks, beaches, museums, music or culture – there are destinations to discover in all directions! Have you been to Marble Mountain? Seen the church in Glencoe? Been to a baseball game in Brook Village? Checked out the train trestle in McKinnon’s Harbour? Gone whale watching in Bay Saint Lawrence? If you are looking to experience Cape Breton, we’d be happy to recommend some of our favourite places and people! If you are into fishing or canoeing, there are dozens of places to paddle and cast a line!

4. Forage in Hardwood Acadian Forest

Add some wild foods to your mountain menu during your stay at Iron Mountain Wilderness Cabins! The forest surrounding us is rich with edible plants and mushrooms for those with the knowledge and skills to forage for them. Our location is riddled with wild raspberry, blackberry and blueberries in late summer. In the spring look for fiddleheads, cattail shoots, wild asparagus and garlic. In the late summer and fall, mushrooms are the prize to find in the forest. Even in winter, there are little edibles that you can brew into a tea. Remember to only harvest sustainably, which means never harvesting more than a third of the plant population you find, and if its not abundant in the area, best to leave it be.

5. Go Backpacking in two Wilderness Protected Wilderness Area

For those guests with advanced navigation skill travelling in backcountry territory, you may be up for discovering the forest off the beaten path. If that’s you, then you are in for a treat up here on the Keppoch Plateau, where two protected wilderness areas converge. Bring your flora and fauna guide books, your camera and your backwoods day pack for some wild back country exploration!

6. Ride the mountain on 4 wheels

Its a 4×4 wheelers paradise up here – ride all day then come back to your peaceful mountainside cabin for a great night camping out in our super comfy cabins! With 4 awesome Nova Scotia craft beer on tap brewed by Unfiltered Brewing, you can round out the adventure by sharing stories and laughs in our licensed lodge, complete with its own Lodge guitar! Players and vocalist welcome for sing-alongs =)

7. Go out on the Hunt

Come the fall, those longing to connect to their childhood memories hunting in the woods with their parents or grandparents, or those wanting to get some training in with their hunting dogs, or those wanting to pass on some life skills to the next generation – our base camp is the perfect spot for you! With plenty of crown land access available, the plateau is home to grouse, deer, moose, bear, and coyote. Whether you are out to bag a few, or just tracking for the thrill of seeing the wild creatures or capturing a close up photograph, we welcome licensed, responsible hunting enthusiasts to make the most of our backcountry location. Looking for a guide for your adventure? We can connect you!

8. Drink Wine and Watch the Eagles Soaring

To be honest, you can spend several days not straying very far from your cabin porch at all. Bring (several) bottles of big juicy red wine and a fitting sized goblet, perhaps a book and and a blanket and sit in the sun and watch the sky for eagles, ravens, red-tailed hawks, bluejays, and the odd snipe. Of course you could substitute tea for the red wine! Or pop into Eagle Island Lodge in Whycocomagh for your herbal remedies. Add in intermittent naps, mountain water showers, strolls around the grounds, and some good food, and you will be well on your way to embracing the mountain chill we strive to maintain here! PS you can always wander over to Iron Mountain Lodge if you want to share your observations during cocktail hour…

9. Stargazing

For many people, finding a nice wide open dark landscape from which to enjoy the night sky has become a trip out of town. We’ve got you covered up here. Stoke up a nice bed of coals in the campfire at your cabin side, cook up some dinner and as the sun goes down snuggle up fireside to watch the stars come out. Its amazing during meteor showers like the Perseids or Geminids. Fingers crossed for clear skies! Feel free to bring a telescope! Fireflies live here in summer too.

10. Unplug

Let’s face it, sometimes life just gets too insane. Too busy, too loud, too annoying. Your being dinged, pinged, and sucked into the digital world all day long. Demands keep coming your way from all directions, and all of a sudden, you aren’t feeling to well. This is about the time we clue into the fact that we’re wearing ourselves down – and before it makes you sick or crazy, its better to take some time for and to yourself. It’s a hard thing to do sometimes, but we think the world is a better place when people take care of their own needs. Often that is best done in a quiet place away from your day to day stressors. Up on the mountain we welcome everyone to enjoy the solitude on offer and invite you to take time out for yourself. Your cabin is your private space – but if you feel like sitting around the lodge, you’ll likely find other people to relax with – so that quiet wilderness wont freak you out too much before bed time (you learn to love it pretty quickly though).

Park ‘N’ Play Package

With fuel prices going up, why haul your trailer every weekend to Cape Breton? Park your trailer in our secured lot at nearly 1000m elevation, this is where the snow is! Short and long term parking is available.

Guests enjoy a campfire and a beer at Canadas off-grid-pub

Getaway to the Woods

Get outside and explore the hardwood forest of the Cape Breton Highlands. Enjoy on site hiking or explore the local ATV/Snowmobile trails, local historic sights, and music venues.

3 Night Unplugged Retreat

Quiet days for detaching from the digital life and reconnecting to the natural world!

Living Off Grid: What We Learned in Our First Year

Although we are located a mere 5km from the TransCanada Highway 105 and our local village, the climb up Whycocomagh Mountain covers 260 meters in elevation. The nearest power line is several kilometres away. After purchasing our property, we began staying in the small hunter’s camp that came with the land almost immediately. The small dwelling had a wood stove for heat but no power or water. Staying up on the land was important for us to get started planning for construction for our business, and we quickly learned a few things about living off grid.

This air photo taken from our property shows our location in relation to the village and highway on the bay below – there are no services up here, and we like it that way!

What we needed to start living off grid

  1. Heat. For us, this meant fire wood. We had a small shed that had a bit of wood in it when we purchased the property, but getting a load of cured dry wood was one of the first things we did. We filled that little shed right away and the wood stove has been or primary source for heat and hot water. Since then, we have gathered more firewood processing tools so we can build our own system for sustainably felling, bucking, transporting, and splitting wood. Yes, one of us needs to get up and add more fuel to the fire on cold nights, but you get used to that.
  2. Water. Our property has freshwater sources, this was an element we looked for when searching for land, however the creek is quite a bit lower in elevation from our camp location. For the time being we opted to haul water to the cabin for our use. It didn’t take long to appreciate how much we abuse and waste our water resources when it comes on demand out of the tap. We invested in several stackable BPA free water totes and a water jug and dispenser. Simple low tech, but very useable. For cooking, drinking and washing water for two people and a dog we find it quite doable to fill up our water containers every few weeks. A steel kettle goes on the wood stove to heat up water for cleaning up, cooking and tea. In the summer, we used an outdoor solar shower.
  3. Cooking. For the first year, we mostly cooked on our Weber BBQ, wood stove or camp fire.
  4. Bathroom & Laundry. For the first year, while still working out of our blacksmith shop in the village, we use the washroom, shower and laundering facilities there while getting set up on the mountain. Of course we water the shrubberies as needed. For the business we needed to install an engineered septic system and drilled well to service the lodge and cabins.
  5. Lights. We found small LED lanterns that could be recharged in a vehicle via USB the most convenient. We would later invest in a small solar powered system so we could wire in some RV lights, an exhaust fan for our propane stove and charging station in the cabin. This two panel system provides quite well for our electrical needs, as part of the goal here, is to live simply. No need for many gadgets. And the lanterns are still great for reading at night. Cooking indoors was a very welcome luxury after the first winter!

What we enjoy most about living off grid

  1. Silence is Golden. The quiet and darkness of night is sublime. Although the occasional aircraft, trail vehicle, or when the wind is right, sounds from the village may disturb the quiet peace of the forest on occassion, for the most part, evenings are beautifully peaceful and we feel a relieving sense of calm. The darkness and lack of wireless and electrical signals makes sleeping much easier.
  2. Being Unplugged. It’s dangerously easy to forget what its like to not have to worry about being in constant contact with people, news, stories, videos, pictures….screens. As I have no cell phone plan, my world becomes incredibly simple when I am up at the cabin. I can read a book, listen to music or the radio, talk with my companion, explore the outdoors, practice a hobby, or just rest. The liberty and release this affords me has been incredibly restoring to my spirit and the growing ability to do without the constant bombardment of social media, emails, texts, phone calls, and media is a great thing to realize. You can choose to do without. Whether that is for a night, a week, or always is up to you. Even if your work or family demands you check in during the work day or evening, we have found that setting limits is healthy and beneficial and does not have many down sides, in our opinion. But obviously this way of life is not for everyone.
  3. Being Aware of the Resources You Use. Living off grid without all of the conveniences at hand has given us a much greater appreciation for what we really need to live comfortably. At the end of the day, its not a long list. Of course, if your able to, you can add some more creature comforts and acquire the means to make life a little easier and convenient, but understanding the baseline of what you really can do without, and what you can’t, puts things into perspective for you.

Modern life has made us think many of our needs and expenses are required. Knowing what is, and isn’t, helps you choose for yourself what you want to pay extra for, or what you don’t need to pay for at all. Like a cell phone plan, oil or power bill, internet bill, etc. You have better control over what you will spend your hard earned dollars on.

The Climb up the Mountain – Our Journey Begins

Our trek up the mountain began many years ago. Grant and I had been looking for a piece of land out in the country quite seriously for about 3 years. We were looking for a rural location with a southern aspect that would be suitable for organic gardening and farming. A quiet place in the woods where we could live peacefully in nature, learn to be more self sufficient and eventually spend more time doing the things we enjoy – fishing, hunting, gardening, and creating. We visited many properties prospecting for such a place. While we found a few that seemed promising, nothing had materialized.

One of our goals was to spend more time doing the hobbies we love – here Grant is in his element, fly fishing on the Margaree in Fall.

It was while we were out hunting early one fall morning that we first laid eyes on what would become our Iron Mountain property. It was late in the season, the frost was heavy in the highlands. It was beautiful, the hoar frost clinging to the shrubs and tall grasses, twinkling in the first rays of daylight, the forest so quiet and serene. We had gone up Whycocomagh Mountain at the crack of dawn in pursuit of Ruffed Grouse, or if we were lucky perhaps a deer.

Frost covered leaf on a pebble beach

We had noticed that a property had come up for sale on the realtor maps on the mountain behind our existing business and home recently, but hadn’t been too optimistic after looking at the airphotos. It seemed much of the property had been logged and, logging practices being what they are in Nova Scotia, we feared that the land may be very degraded. That morning however, we impulsively pulled into the driveway to take a look. As we entered the drive, fruit bushes tumbled out toward the dirt lane, remnants of the old forest stood out on the horizon and a vibrant young forest was recovering after the last softwood harvesting activities. The lane meandered around a bend and then ended suddenly on top of a rocky hill crest. The land fell away from a little trailer, down to a singing brook. The site commanded an unbelievable view across Whycocomagh Bay, Denys Basin, all the way to Mainland Nova Scotia. It was breath taking. We couldn’t believe the site before us. Suddenly our daydreams, thoughts and wishes for our future came into sharp focus.

I couldn’t help but proclaim to Grant: “This is it. Let’s go for it!”

And that is what we did. What we have been doing, every day since.

To be continued….