Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park

Gros Morne National Park

Darcy Backpacking 0 Comments

Western Brook Pond in Gros Morne National Park

We don’t know what it was that pulled us towards Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland.  Maybe it was the fact that it was on the opposite side of the country than our previous epic trip (West Coast Trail). Maybe it was a different type of trip than what we were used to.  Whatever it was, Chris, Sarah and I decided that we were going to combine both unmarked map and compass hikes into a single adventure: The North Rim Traverse and  The Long Range Traverse.

The North Rim Traverse is about 27km long and takes about 3-4 day to complete while the Long Range Traverse is a 35km and takes about 4-5 days to complete.   Our plan was to complete the North Rim trail and instead of taking the Darcy, Chris and Sarah at the trailhead for the Northern Rim Traverseferry back at the end, we would simply march on and complete the Long Range Traverse at the same time.  We gave ourselves seven (7) days to do it since we were fairly seasoned travelers by this point and were in pretty good shape  We added two (2) buffer days to account for bad weather and any other issues.  Sarah was a few months pregnant at this point so Chris and I agreed to each pull 10 pounds her backpack and put it into ours.  We ended up doing a 65/65/30 lbs loadout for this trip.

Our trip started off on an interesting note.  Chris & Sarah’s cats used to get a little stressed when they started to pack for a trip.  The cats took it upon themselves to relieve that stress by relieving themselves on their fully packed backpacks shortly before we left on our trip.  As anyone who has had to deal with cat urine, it is not pleasant and the smell does not come out easily (or ever).  Let’s just say that despite Chris’ best efforts to clean the backpacks, people would wrinkle their noses a bit when we were in the area.

Food wise, I decided to trust Chris and give him another shot at organizing the food for all of us. After one bad experience early in our outdoor adventures (Chris failed to pack enough food for me) and I promised myself never to trust others to pack food for me.  Chris had Darcy throws food at Chris while fiercly displays the assortment of cured meat he has chosen for the tripjust finished reading Shackleton’s Adventure and he realized that one of the keys to their high morale and survival was the amazing food that had been packed for their trip.  He wanted to explore this concept since we were usually pretty minimalistic when it came to food on our trips.  Chris convinced me he would pack enough for me this time and also added he had incentive because his wife was pregnant and that he was a little scarred from his experience on the West Coast Trail (I lost 8lbs on that trip while he lost 15lbs).

We did our usual prep work and we had our gear list down to a science.  We slid in a few extra hikes up to Lusk Falls to train a bit and made a key decision to bring my tent despite it being narrower than theirs.  Reason being that my tent is longer and Chris and I needed the length since we were both fairly tall (6’3 and 6’5).  Our sleeping arrangement was what I would later call, the Lightbulb configuration and it was only the way to sleep 3 of us in the 2 man tent.  Sarah Darcy and Chris walk into town from the aiportalways slept in the middle with her head pointing one way while Chris and I would sleep on the outsides with our heads pointing opposite to Sarah.  It worked out quite well.

The flight over was uneventful and once we landed, we couldn’t find a taxi to the nearest town so we hoofed it by foot down the highway.  Once we got there, we took a shuttle over to Rocky Harbour where we would stay for a day before heading out that night.  Rocky Harbour was a great little town where they had one or two restaurants and we found a hostel where we could bunk for the night.  We inquired about a ride up to the trailhead for Gros Morne Natio0nal Park and we were put into contact called Craig who would drive us up the next day.

[title size=”2″]Prep Day[/title]

Part of the requirements for doing the North Rim and Long Range trails are that you pass a basic map/compass navigation course.  Chris had done this type of stuff in the scouts so he was able to pass it without issue.  I’m decent with a compass Darcy, Sarah and Chris get ready to depart the park office after the orientationand map so I quickly learned in case I needed to fill in for Chris.  As a backup, we brought a GPS unit that we would only use to confirm our location if we were not quite sure where we were.  Our goal was to do this as low tech as possible.   The test is administered at the park office and when we got up, we started walking there.  As we started walking, we soon realized that the map of the town that had been given was not to scale and it was not just a short walk to the park office.  We had to hitchhike to get there in time and we were fortunate that a nice family stopped and let us get in the back of their minivan with them and their kids.  They had just finished their groceries so we put our backpacks on top of their food and hopped in the back.  The open windows offered a nice refreshing breeze but that breeze also enhanced the smell of the cat urine on the bags.  None of the adults said a word but the kids were complaining about a strange smell.  Only slightly embarrassing.

The trail that leads from the parking lot to the ferry is quite pleasant to walkWe got dropped off at the park office, passed the test (thanks Chris) and hopped in the van with Craig when he showed up.  Off we went to Snug Harbour to start out trip.  We big Craig a farewell after he dropped us off in the parking lot and we started hiking in with all the tourists who were doing the 1km walk so they could take the boat tour that operates on Western Brook Pond.  Why this magnificent fjord like landscape was called a pond is beyond me but it’s part of what makes Newfoundlanders so unique I think.  We peeled off the main trail as we neared the boat/ferry and started our trek in on some leisurely trails.  As we made our way on the easier wooden walkways and bridges, we could see the looming hills before us.  We came upon a sandy/stony beach and agreed that we would make camp there before trying to climb up into the more rugged terrain the next day.  After setting up, hanging out and eating supper we turned in.

[title size=”2″]Day One[/title]

Campsite #1 - Rain kept us in our tent for an entire dayWe woke up the next morning and noticed the weather had turned sour.  It was raining and after an oatmeal breakfast and some discussion, we agreed that we would stay put until the rain stopped.  We had factored two rain days into our trip schedule and were a little bummed that we were already using one but figured it would be wise to stay put to avoid getting every wet as we hiked up these massive hills.  We tried swimming for a bit that day but the water was so cold that it wasn’t very pleasant and we finally just decided to stay in the tent for most of the day and read the novels we had taken with us.

[title size=”2″]Day Two[/title]

We woke on the the third day to find decent weather and after sitting still for a whole day, we were Chris climbs the hills leading to the top of the fjord in Gros Morne National Parkitching to go.  We packed upand started the climb up.  There was a trail and though it was rocky, muddy and steep, it was easy to follow.  Once we hit the top, we took some time to get our bearings, take in the view and rest up after the long hike up.  As we looked at the landscape, we though that it looked pretty easy to navigate but therein laid the trick.  Everything looks so small from far away but once you got close, it was quite difficult to navigate and traverse since you could not see around you and the trees/brush were incredibly dense.  It was one of my favourite days of the hike as we were introduced to a lot of new things.  We learned to follow the animal trails instead of trying to make a bee line for our target landmarks.  The animal trails were beaten down paths and were easy to follow but they would lead you wide of our target.  Most of the time they would be quicker than trying to hike through the Tuckamore but you would have to know when to get off of it because they could take you too far away from the landmark you were shooting for.  What is Tuckamore you say?  Let me explain it to you.

 

Tuckamore

A stunted balsam fir tree that grows in alpine and coastal regions of Newfoundland. It is not pleasant to try to navigate through thickets of this stuff
We quickly renamed the Tuckamore to “Fuckamore” because you simply could not push past it and it would catch on your backpack, pants, laces (if they were exposed – our gaiters fixed that) and anything else you were wearing.  I was wearing Chris busily works with the map and compass to find our next landmarkshorts for a bit until my legs got all scratched to hell.  I ended up putting my leg covers on for protection.  The Tuckamore slowed our progress to a near crawl at some points.

We hiked through fields of boulders, over spongy moss covering, across streams and through a lot of tuckamore.  It was tiring but extremely exciting.  Every hour, we would stop and take our bearings to make sure we were still on track.  Chris would check the map and I would check the GPS.  He would find our location on the map and I would confirm it with the GPS as a backup measure.  Chris and I Darcy, taking a breather, after the long climb up to the top of the hills that line Western Brook Pondwould often debate on which path to take and sometimes the choices were good while other times they would cause delays because the tuckamore was just too thick.  Water was in constant demand as we were quiet thirsty from all the work so we pumped water whenever we found the fresh running variety.  One time, while pumping water on a lake we had found, one of our water bottles slipped into the lake and it started floating away.  It was a relatively small lake so we tracked it (thank god it was pink and easy to see) and navigated around the lake to get it before getting back on track.  We eventually came to our designated campsite where we could put our tent on a wooden platform and it had the nicest outdoor washrooms I had ever seen.  There was a  great double latched food box to protect our food from animals which was nice since there were no trees to  bear bag the food.  The wind was pretty crazy at the time and I decided to take a quick dip in the lake nearby.  I was in and out in record time as it was quite chilly but getting clean was a priority in my head.  Despite the strong winds, the sky stayed clear which was great.  We had another great supper, sat around and talked and eventually turned in.  We slept quite well that night.

[title size=”2″]Day Three[/title]

We woke up to another amazing day and quickly packed up the site and were eager to get going again.  I went to get our food and while our food was still inCampsite #2 - Open space, completely isolated and dry the food box, something had tried to get into it during the night.  One latch had been fully opened and the other one was 1/2 way open which made me wonder what could have done that.  A raccoon?  We shrugged off the near disaster and moved on.  The day would prove to be quite challenging  for a few reasons.  Insects were on us in droves, our progress was slow and Chris and I started butting heads a little more intensely on which path to take to get to our hard to distinguish landmarks.  The insects came in form of the usual mosquito variety and they were not so bad.  What was weird (and unrelenting) were the big fat lazy houseflies that followed us for a while .  It was so strange to see so many of them.  They would constantly land on us and would not even bother to try and fly away when you would swat them.  I would have four of them crawling on my arm at one point and I killed them all just by wiping my hand across them.  They weren’t biting like horse flies or anything but it was annoying to have large things crawling on your arms, neck and face all the time.

We finally came to an area where the tuckamore was so thick that we couldn’t get through it and it seemed to spread out wide around us.  We sat there for a bit trying to Hours of hiking through the gnarly tuckamore earned it a new nickname. Fuckamore.figure out how to get around this spot and decided to to try and get up on top of it to get a better view.  Lo and behold, the tree tops had some kind of layer on it and it supported our weight.  So we all climbed up the 5-6 feet to get on top of this tree top crust and started walking over the tuckamore.  Not sure what it was but it was a nice break to catch.

Chris and I are both type A personalities and we had never butted heads before as we tend not to try and compete to hard with each other for (I believe this was a subconscious decision we made at some point as it would cause problems on our trips if we got into that mode).  Sarah always laughed because on all our outdoor adventures, Chris and I would rarely follow in each others footsteps but we never realized we were dong it.  If I went left around a tree, Chris would go right and vice versa.  This didn’t cause any problems on marked paths but for the unmarked path, it started to cause friction as I wanted to go one way and Chris wanted to go another.  It culminated at one point when Chris and I got into a bit of a heated debate on which way to go and we decided to take different routes around a massive hill.  I had the GPS and they had the map which meant we would be okay if we were somehow separated but I was pretty sure we would meet up on the other side.  We were out of sight for about 15 minutes and once we reconnected on the The fields of boulders were great as they gave us some reprieve from the tuckamore. Too few and far between thoughother side of the hill, Sarah stepped in and said that we would not be doing that again as it was just plain stupid (had to agree with her).  Chris and I later exchanged words and stayed silent for a few hours.  I felt bad for what I had said so I approached him and told him I was sorry.  It was our first and only argument and it taught me a few things about learning to follow people even when you are not always in agreement.  I forget the arrangement we came to for navigation but we supported each other and everything worked out.

After climbing through ravines, sliding down hills on our butts and winding our way around lakes surrounded by tuckamore, we realized we were behind schedule and had to make camp in the middle of nowhere.  We hung our food bag over a somewhat steep rock face and then setup camp.  Chris went wandering for a bit and took some photos while I nursed a sore foot that had been bothering me more and more over the course of the day.   Chris pulled out some great food and we ate like kings (and queens) again with 5 year old cheddar, cured summer sausage and other rich foods.  Again, after such a long and tiring day, we slept well.

[title size=”2″]Day Four[/title]

Morning came and we continued on our way knowing that we were nearing the end of the North Rim Traverse and would soon You can see our tent near the middle left side. Very deceiving landscapestart the Long Range Traverse.  As we hiked up hills covered in Tuckamore, across steep grassy slopes and slogged through wet muddy trails, we quickly grew tired.   My foot continued to ache and despite taking off my boots several times to check the it, there were indication as to what was causing the pain.   It started to rain and everything got soaked despite our best efforts to remain dry.  We eventually came down one ravine pass and noticed we were in some of grassy valley with all kinds of rocky hills surrounding us.  As we a corner of a hill, we realized we had reached the end of the North Rim trail because we saw the famous view of Western Brook Pond.  We didn’t have too much time to take it in as it was pouring rain so Our goal was to shoot up the valley on the left side. Seemed easy from that vantage point. History tells a different storywe continued on and found a heavily used footpath that looked like an animal trail and hiking trail.  We soon discovered that the Long Range Traverse path was the more popular of the two treks and thus path was regularly walked upon and it made easy to follow.  We found our camping site and I limped in and we rested for a bit before setting up camp.  I started thinking that I could not hike for another 3-4 days with the way my foot was acting up and I apprehensively expressed my opinion to Chris & Sarah.  We were all around the 30 year old mark and still feeling invincible so the concept of a sore foot stopping us from moving on was a real head-scratcher for Chris.  We had some food and by this time, the rain had let up and so we we hung everything out to dry and I stretched my foot out.  An hour later, I felt better so we all hiked back to Western Brook Pond to get a better view of the fjord without the burden of our backpacks.  There we saw an arctic hare, a caribou and some spectacular views.

Western Brook Pond on one of the more sunny daysAfter making our way back to the campsite, my foot was acting up again so Sarah and I relaxed while Chris went on a long trip up the stream and came back with tales of ice rimmed lakes that were higher up than we were.  We had supper and talked about my foot.  Despite my desire to continue, I was worried that I would slow the group down and that we would miss our exit date and or cause a serious issue.  My gut feeling was telling me that we should not do it.  With a bit of support from Sarah  we agreed that we would spend the next day hanging out at the campsite and would then head back to Western Brook Pond and take the ferry out.   Our plan was to spend the last few days exploring a bit of Newfoundland and would see where the wind would blow us. After agreeing to that, we turned in early and read our books until we could not keep our eyes open.

[title size=”2″]Day Five[/title]

We woke to a beautiful morning with lots of sunshine.  Sarah lounged around the campsite while Chris and I climbed the  A warm and sunny day and a good time to dry everything outnearby waterfall/stream system and took a bunch of pictures.  We aired out and dried all of our gear on the trees and finally packed up and started hiking back to Western Brook Pond.  We had to get down to the bottom of the gorge by 4pm to catch the ferry and it seemed like an easy task but as usual, everything looked smaller from high on up.  The hike up from the bottom of the gorge takes about 4-5 hours and that is if you do not get lost.  There are multiple trails to follow and most of them,made by animals and lost backpackers, lead to dead ends against the sides of the fjord.  As we slowly made our way down, we bumped into a couple who had gotten lost the day before and had setup their tent in a pretty cramped area.  After some discussion with us, they decided to abort their trip because they had not planned any extra days on their trip so they hiked back out with us.  We got along quite well and would continue to hang out with them once we got back to Rocky Harbour.

As we hiked further down towards the lake, we left the tuckamore brush behind and found ourselves hiking through streams, through grassy clearings Chris, Darcy and Sarah posing in front of Western Brook Pondwhere we couldn’t see anything because the grass was up over our heads.  It was a bit warm (like a corn maze) but we eventually made our way out of that and got into some forested areas which was nice as we hadn’t seen a lot of tall tress up at the higher altitudes.  We had to push ourselves a bit to make it to the Ferry in time but we it to the dock with a a bit of time to spare and were thrilled to see it show up.  Most of the passengers thought we were a little off to have trekked through the backcountry and others were not thrilled with our current state of cleanliness but hey, what can you do?

The boat dropped us off back near where we started and while we wereThe trek is done. Time to head back to town with the tourists hiking back to the parking lot, we came across a bunch of rubberneckers who were taking pictures of something just off the trail.  When we got there, we realized there was a huge moose sitting 10 feet off the path and people were trying to get closer to take a picture.  I took my camera out, walked by, stopped for 2 seconds and and snapped a picture because I know the kind of damage a moose can do when provoked.  The scene reminded me of when people get out of their cars to take pictures of bear cubs on the highway up in Northern Ontario.  I always cringe because I can’t see the mother but know that she is somewhere nearby.

We called for our ride, Craig made the trip from Rocky Harbour and picked us up.  Back in town, we went out for pizza that night and talked about what we could do.  We decided that we would go up to the viking settlement, L’Anse of Meadows and check it out along with anything else we would find.  Craig hooked us up with transportation and I’ll write about that little adventure in the future.

[title size=”2″]Overall Thoughts[/title]

I would have to say that Gros Morne National Park it was nearly on par with the epicness of the West Coast Trail trip but I would only recommend the two trails to people who have experience with the outdoors and are in fairly good shape.  It was really us vs nature and I enjoyed trying to figure out the best path to take to get to our destination.   The landscape is absolutely stunning and I hope the pictures I took did some justice to it.  I also want to mention that the people in Newfoundland are some of the friendliest people I have ever met.  Happy  and always willing to lend a hand, it is something that I have not seen anywhere else in the world.  Let’s put it this way, how many strangers do you know that would end up lending you their car to go on a 300km trip with your word that you had a valid driver’s license?  Sound far fetched?  We lived it.

[title size=”2″]Post Trip Followup[/title]

After our tour up to the North of Newfoundland, we made our way back to the airport and swapped books for the flight home.  It was a fantastic trip despite the fact that we had to adjust it mid trip (no thanks to you Mr. Foot).  I decided to look into what was going on and it turns out that I had a wicked case of Plantar Fasciitis.  Basically it is a stretching of the muscle/tendon under the foot and it hurts like hell.  It had been building for years and I never really noticed it but it has curtailed a lot of my activities over the years despite many types of treatment. Chris eventually suffered from it at one point and he came to me and apologized for being hard on me back when we did this trip because he had no idea.  If you ever feel it, take care of it early.

 

[title size=”2″]Additional Photos[/title]

 

[title size=”2″]Videos[/title]
Here are some videos from our trip so you can get a sense of what things looked like. Apologies for the low resolution quality but it was cutting edge tech at the time.