We didn’t get a lot of footage during our hike at Gros Morne National Park but we did take a lot of pictures. This video is more of a slide show, but it should give you a nice idea of what the traverses have to offer at Gros Morne.
In August 2023, we decided to hike both the Northern and Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland. The Northern Traverse is estimated at 27 km long and the Long Range Traverse is said to be 35 km. To those who enjoy multi-day hikes, this doesn’t sound like a lot of km to cover, but this route does not have a trail and goes through some difficult terrain which makes you earn each one of those km.
Before going on this hike, you need to get a permit from the visitor’s centre and to be granted a permit, you must attend their mandatory orientation. Here they will go over how this is not a trail, you are not going for a nice little stroll, and you are choosing suffering. They tell you to be prepared to have wet feet, be eaten by black flies, and generally have a miserable time. They also tell you that it is some of the most beautiful scenery you will see, and they are right about that. Most of what they emphasize is the tuckamore, especially the section they call “Tuckamore Tangle” if doing the Northern Traverse, and what it will do to your gear and your navigation.
I almost backed out of doing both traverses in one go after a pre-orientation conversation with Parks staff as we had a timeframe to complete the trail and I worried that we might be better off doing one or the other. After digesting what was said and seeing the actual orientation, I changed my mind and we were back to doing both. We were experienced and were prepared for what was going to be thrown at us. We got a ride to the trailhead from a couple who were going to do the Long Range Traverse the following day and got ready to step off.
Day One – Northern Trailhead to Snug Harbor
This was the easiest portion of the hike as we walked down a nice gravel path which leads to the tour boats. There is a little junction for those going on the Northern Traverse that leads into the forest and eventually to a river crossing where we waded in knee-high water to the other side. We were warned that this water crossing can get waist high in some weather conditions. This stretch was generally uneventful as we pushed through overgrown paths, climbed down onto the sandy and rocky beach and back into the forest again. Eventually we made it to Snug Harbor which had about four or five tenting spots, two large chairs on the beach, a bear box, picnic table, and a green throne. It was the best maintained site on the trail with a beautiful view. At night, the toads were very loud and woke me up, but experiencing nature is what we were out there for.
Day Two – Snug Harbor to the Crest
We started out this day with a beach walk to where the “trail” begins in the trees. We ran into a couple who were exiting the Northern Traverse and showed us their scratched, bitten, and bruised legs. Almost immediately we were climbing and we attempted to follow the ribbons tied to the trees. We’d check the GPS and find we were off track and readjusted only to see another ribbon to our left or right that was only visible from above. We found clothing items that had been snagged on branches and chuckled, making a mental note to keep a close eye on anything drying on our packs. Eventually we made it out to an open area on the hillside with a view of the ocean in the distance. The clouds were moving in (and the fog) and we knew we needed to find our stopping point for the night before the forecasted storm hit. The wind was kicking up as we settled on a patch of moss in the tuckamore. It wasn’t perfectly flat and I had a mound of dirt to sleep against all night, but it was sheltered. The wind and rain battered our tent and both of us went out into the field across from our site to gather stones to pile onto the stakes as they had a difficult time staying stuck in the moss. It was a long night as our tent took a beating until the storm passed in the early morning hours.
Day Three – Crest to Triangle Lake
This was the day where we were introduced to tuckamore. We spent a bit of time trying to locate the trail. It was hidden under the low brush and while we thought we could make out where there was a break in the tuckamore, or where the trail might be, we couldn’t spot how hikers chose to get there. We had to backtrack a couple of times as we ended up on game trails and then got deeper into the tuckamore. Everything was boggy. Grass was boggy, mud and water pooled around the base of the tuckamore, forcing us to swing from the branches from one root to another, hoping to land of firm ground on the other side. I tested a patch of grass with my trekking pole only to find the ground give way when I stood on it, sinking to my knee. I placed my other foot on another patch to pull myself out, only for that foot to sink in too. My boots were now suctioned in knee-deep mud and my husband had to help pull me out as I couldn’t get any leverage.
Of course, the Northern Traverse wanted to also introduce us to its boulder fields where I learned that my balance on rocks needs improvement and it took a lot of patience to pick away at the obstacle. We reached Triangle Lake which had a couple of wooden tent pads and a few other flat patches that were suitable for tents. We had a nice rest in the sun and set up camp for the night.
Day Four – Triangle Lake to Gilley Pond
Today we learned that tuckamore likes to grow in hillsides, which means climbing up and down while it snags on your packs, and for fun, the ground likes to erode under the branches and roots, so you could be scrambling over a drop of several feet all while hoping that the root you’re standing on will hold.
Where there was no tuckamore, there was a lot of uphill which was at such an angle that it was easier for me to claw my way up than try to stand upright. Oliver didn’t have this problem and just walked up, but I felt closer to the ground and decided it was a much better idea to take a few moments to sit on the moss and celebrate how far I’d come. It was during one of these moments that I looked up at a distant hillside and saw a moose running along the ridgeline. It was the only moose we would see on this trip. To finish off the day, the Northern Traverse decided to treat us with a long descent down into Gilley Pond. It might not have been that challenging of a descent, but given how muddy the hill was, it was a slow climb down. Even though we could see the camp, it took forever to get there. The view that night of the stars and the silhouettes of the hillsides was stunning. You could also hear the coyotes in the distance.
Day Five – Gilley Pond to Mark’s Pond
For those choosing to do both the North and Long Range Traverse, this is decision time with regards to if you want to complete both traverses. After this day, you reach the top of the Fjord where you can climb down the waterfall and wait for space on the tour boat to get a ride back to the parking lot and quit the trail, or keep going. After talking about how we were feeling (tired, wet, and literally bruised by the tuckamore), we chose to keep going.
Being that is was the Northern Traverse, we had rain in the morning as we climbed out of Gilley Pond, making it a soggy and muddy climb out, then we found ourselves searching the tuckamore-covered hillside for signs of ribbons to guide our way through, and climb even more combinations of uneven ground and tuckamore before we finally reached the rock and moss hill that lead down to the viewpoint at the top of the waterfall. It was the payoff. We stopped here for lunch, had a good rest and celebrated reaching this beautiful location. We had chosen the hard way to get there, but it was beautiful. As we went to take a picture together, we realized that the legs of the mini tripod I had attached to the shoulder straps of my pack and been ripped off in the tuckamore, so our angles became limited.
Energized from reaching the top, we climbed up the rocky waterfall and continued along the top of the ridge, following the rolling hills to finally get to Mark’s Pond where we snagged a dry site along the lakeshore. You really need to get used to mud on this trail because there was a lot at this campground and at Little Island Pond before it. Also, look out for hidden little washouts on the paths. When lighting was poor in the evening, I stepped in a hole on my way to the green throne and made a splash as I landed in a puddle near the tent. I had one of my best sleeps at this site. It was lovely.
Day Six – Mark’s Pond to Lower Green Island Pond
A creek crossing is the first thing to greet you as you leave Mark’s Pond. Most of this day didn’t feel all that bad, except for Oliver’s determination to keep his feet dry. The “trail” would run along the bottom of the hills and cut right through the muddy bog. Oliver would take wide swings around the bogs and climb up and down the hills. I would follow behind him, but found the effort was wearing me down. It added extra km and it was just more up and down for me to manage. The tall grass was also damp and as I followed him, I slipped. As I fell, my trekking pole sunk into the ground and I managed to grab hold of it and prevent myself from sliding all the way down the hill into the waiting bog. But the Northern Traverse had another slip in store for me.
I gave up following Oliver up onto the hills and decided to remain down in the bog and mud. My shoes and socks were already wet and I embraced the situation. The sound of squishing moss became the soundtrack for the trail as I stomped. And then I took another tumble. This time I was walking through mud and stepped on a rock. This should have been something solid for me to stand on, instead my mud-covered boots slipped on its surface as my trekking pole didn’t quite catch the solid patch of grass on my right side. As my pole sunk into the deepest portion of the mud, so did my right foot… and down I went. Oliver asked if I was alright and I lifted my now bent trekking pole out of the mud. RIP trekking pole.
At the end of the day, we reached a descent to our camp but quickly realized we were off the GPS route as we were at a cliff. It was a cliff we had been warned at the Visitor’s Centre to avoid and there we were, standing at the edge of it trying to figure out the best course of action. Neither of us felt like trying to jump or slide down nine feet onto a narrow dirt landing and instead chose to hang on to a piece of cord and a tree branch while inching our way across a slick rockface to another, much shorter drop. By the end of this, I was done for the day and we found a patch of grass near the occupied tent pads to set up for the night.
Day Seven – Lower Green Island Pond to Gros Morne Trailhead
The final day on trail. This felt like a long day as we started with another creek crossing and then had several climbs to do and almost all of them were muddy. You have to understand that the steps that you climb up are goopy footprints from previous hikers and the mud wraps around your shoes with each step. Something about stepping on the mud didn’t make me feel confident as I didn’t have the grip I wanted. One really has to embrace getting wet and muddy on this trail and just lean in and grab hold of anything to get yourself up a muddy hillside. Let’s just say, I chose to slide down a few times.
We reached Bakeapple viewpoint which, I would say, is the second best view on the trail, but there are so many wonderful views along the way. It was another great place to stop and eat before we continued down Ferry Gulch (again, muddy and slippery) and then finally connected with the very long trail for day hikers doing Gros Morne mountain. Just when we thought we would be on a nice hiking trail, we encountered scree and plenty of uneven rock. There was even a little tuckamore thrown in, which we laughed at and called “baby tuckamore”.
The walk back to the car seemed to go on forever. By this point, we were ready to be at the parking lot as we were now in the trees on a wide open path with nothing to see, wondering “how much further”. As we met people along the way, they wanted to hear about our adventure, astonished that we had hiked all that way with the mud and tuckamore. When we reached the parking lot, we were relieved to see our car to make our way to Rocky Harbour where we would get a hotel and drop off our permit at the Visitor’s Centre so they knew we made it out.
At the hotel we got our town bags out of the car, had nice long showers, and treated ourselves to a huge meal at the restaurant, even if our now stiffening legs just wanted us to go to bed. After we were well fed, we finally gave in and climbed into the nice warm bed we had worked so hard to earn and had a great rest before our drive home the following day.
The final day. We would get a lovely restaurant meal when we got out. But there was the small matter of getting out. And contrary to popular wisdom, downhill isn’t always easier.
The morning started with a ford across a complicated creek with many pools and holes. I managed to find a very good track crossing first ahead of the two other groups we shared camp with. The ones that followed me did well. The others… did not.
Then a bracing climb up to Upper Green Island Pond camp. Breezy and exposed, with a long trek to water. We made the right choice the night before. The terrain rolling away from this point was up and down, over exposed rock with few mudholes. We made good time.
We stopped for a break at the Bakeapple Viewpoint, which looks down on Ten Mile Gulch, another fjord that had been silted in until it was a lake. Quite breathtaking if not quite as breathtaking as Western Brook Pond.
As Gros Morne rounded into view, we began to see the drop into Ferry Gulch campground was going to be steep. Very steep. Despite the strength of the trail (it saw a good amount of traffic because dayhikers would come up from Ferry Gulch to Bakeapple Pond viewpoint), the steep inclines and lack of good handholds going down made it quite challenging, especially after 6 long, taxing days. We took our time picking our way down to Ferry Gulch, reaching there around 2pm. The well established and maintained trail up Gros Morne on the other side of the gulch seemed covered with ants, as we watched the dayhikers taking on the mountain. A couple of times we recognized our former campmates giving it a try. But clouds were forming, and we were tired so we elected not to go for the peak.
And it was a good thing we didn’t. The trail down to the parking lot from Ferry Gulch felt much longer than it looked on a map. It went on forever. The first 5km was brutal – it was a trail, but not gravelled – more like broken out of the stone into fragments. We traversed several scree fields, and footing was treacherous often with shifting rocks under our feet. At least it was dry…
Finally the rocky footing subsided into gravelled trail. But that still stretched on for some time. The map says we did 14km today, but it felt like 18. The trail on the map was not the same that we walked, and I believe the reroute added 4km. The last 5km water was sprinkling out of the sky on us – so this experience began with some cloud and rain, and ended with cloud and rain – but because the 5 days in between were glorious and sunny, we cannot complain about that at all!
A well deserved feast in Rocky Harbour was a fitting denouement to this trip. All told, with the many extra kms we logged getting off track then back on track, I am convinced we made this trek into one closer to 100km instead of 80. As I have said to many people, it was a once in a lifetime trip, and we loved it… but we NEVER want to do it again!
Total Distance: 18km
Total Ascent/Descent: 200m ascent, 700m descent
Rising early is my normal. I tended to get nice sunrise photos of our campsites.
On this day we would be making for Green Island Pond. There is an upper and a lower campsite we would have to choose from. But that was later.
First, to leave Mark’s Pond we had to cross a swift, rocky creek. Cold feet first thing in the morning wasn’t as bad as we had feared – and we scouted a crossing for our friends to follow. But they hiked much faster than us so they quickly left us behind.
We went up and down several lovely passes. The views to the interior were beautiful. If I didn’t know they were covered in swamps I would have called them idyllic. But I didn’t have to walk there so I enjoyed the views.
The walking was once again much easier. I began a streak on this day where I did not get my socks wet again for the rest of the traverse. Now, my wife thought I was nuts because I would skirt widely around wet boggy spots that she would slog through. I probably added at least 1km to my distance on the day from all my extra steps. But I had dry feet and I think that was worth it.
The group of young fellows from the States caught up and passed us. Several times. They took long breaks but pushed hard when they were moving. They ploughed through the sloppiest bogs – they had totally given up keeping their feet dry. black mud all up their legs, they were just going hard. With higher amounts of traffic, it was easier to guess where the traverse went, but at the same time, we found a couple of instances where the “good” track went off in the wrong direction from many people making the same mistake in trusting the tracks in front of them.
We enjoyed this day’s walk until the very end, just before Green Island Pond. There was a steep draw down to the lower campsite by a wide creek crossing. We had been warned about this place by the guide who briefed us before we started – she told us “stick to the wooded draw. Don’t take the cliff!”
We took the cliff.
We found out after the trail that we would have had to backtrack at least 1 km to find the wooded draw once we were at the cliff. But the cliff is so tempting, because from there you can see the campsite just below you. Tantalizingly close. But it’s stupid hard to get down.
You either have to jump about 9 feet down the cliff onto a muddy spot about 1 foot deep, and if you lose your balance, you’re tumbling down a steep muddy bank for another 20 feet and probably getting scratched and stabbed by the bushes growing there. OR you traverse across the cliff, to a point where a spring leaks down the cliff, cross over that slimy surface without falling, to reach a muddy step down that avoids the cliff. Your only assistance is a 10 foot piece of paracord someone tied to a slender tree.
We made it across, but it was a dispiriting end to the day. Down in the campsite, all the pads were taken by the vanlifers and the young men, but we found a mostly dry, mostly level bit of ground and pitched up.
We could have had a tent pad, we would find out the next day, but we would have had to cross the creek in the evening, when we were tired, then climb a steep hill. And when we got there the only water access was to go down another steep hill to Green Island Pond itself. We made the right choice. This would be our last night on the trail.
Total Distance: 14km
Total Ascent/Descent: 2-300m ascent/descent
Day 7 – Lower Green Island Pond to Gros Morne Trailhead
After the difficulty of yesterday, I briefly considered whether we should hike down to the boat launch and call it a trip. But my wife does not go half way. She’s all in. She said she was finishing this, and besides, the rest of the way would be on the Long Range Traverse, which by all accounts is easier than the Northern.
And she was right. The morning started out tough with a stiff climb out of Gilley Pond through thick bush but the trail was clear at least. Then it was up and down a couple more draws, a creek crossing, but thankfully no more real tuckamore. Lots of interesting sights though. A strange bird family hanging out by the trail, and down in a copse of trees by the trail was a little lair with a pile of moose bones. I wonder if a wolfpack had used it as a den.
And then we arrived at “the viewpoint”. The place where everyone wants a picture.
And it was stunning.
There have only been two occasions in my life where I have looked out over a natural wonder, and thought to myself, “This doesn’t look real. This can’t be real. It is too beautiful to be real.” One was here at the east end of Western Brook Pond. The other was at the Grand Canyon. That’s the scale of epicness.
We lunched at that viewpoint, and rested in the knowledge that at long last, the Northern Traverse was done. Now, on to the easy part.
And it was easier. The path was clearer, the swamps were less common. The tuckamore became infrequent to the point where when it did appear, it was a refreshing interlude. The campsites were more frequent. We cruised through the first one (Little Island Pond) with a 30 minute break to snack and sit on a dry tent platform, and pushed on to the second one: Mark’s Pond. Somewhere in this stretch we had a short muddy descent. My wife jammed her trekking pole in too deep and bent it in half. I gave up one of mine to her and used the bent one the rest of the way as I didn’t need steadying as often.
Coming into Mark’s was interesting because there was a wide flat swamp to navigate and tracks of those before us went everywhere. It was unclear what the “official” route was. Because most of the day had not needed it, I had gotten out of the habit of referring to my GPS constantly. So we fumbled around a bit, until we finally found tracks into camping spots.
Mark’s has no wooden tent pads. But dry tent sites are plentiful. We found one by the lakeshore with a convenient log to sit on and hang socks off to dry. It was a bit of a walk to find the bear locker and the toilet, but we managed. Another couple, a retired couple who were vanlifing, camped next to us. We really enjoyed their company. They told us a group of young men were behind them, so we would probably see them sooner or later. We settled in for the night, resting much easier.
Total Distance: 16km. That’s how much easier the LRT is compared to the NT.
Total Ascent/Descent: probably around 300m.
The following days was likewise perfect weather – partly cloudy and warm but not hot. We hoped against hope the Tuckamore was behind us. It was not to be. There were stretches where the going was easy and we were able to pick our way over stony stretches. But there was a lot more up and down today. And worse: the tuckamore we encountered lined the walls of the valleys we traversed! Now we had to fight the tuckamore up or downhill! And when you can’t even see where to put your feet… it was less hiking and more pulling and pushing.
The highlands, where the tuckamore opened into rock-strewn clearings, were covered in berries. low-bush cranberries (locally called partridgeberries), bakeapples (cloudberries to some) and blueberries – millions of blueberries. There is a reason the bears are no trouble up here – they are full of berries! More accessible and less trouble than any hiker’s lunch!
I neglected to mention just how thick and violent the tuckamore was. On the second day as we climbed the headland, at one point I passed a pair of women’s underwear hanging on a branch. We saw a couple coming down on day 1, before we reached Snug Harbour. My guess it was theirs. It must have been drying on the outside of her pack and the branches stripped it clean off without her realizing. We ourselves had brought a small tripod to use with our phones – we arrived in camp this evening with only the phone clamp still attached to my wife’s pack. The rest had been ripped off somewhere in the tangle. We hadn’t even noticed. Brutal stuff. If you come this way, do not keep anything tied to the outside of your pack. You will lose it.
I wish I could show you a picture that did justice to the terrain we crossed on this day. It would just look like thick bush. You wouldn’t be able to see the ground standing like a wall behind it and having to pull myself up it by inches. Or the ground dropping away at other times, and I would find myself walking on branches suspended far from the ground, wondering where the GPS line was, because anything had to be easier than this. I’d find some easy walking, then realize I was 50, 100m off the track. Then I’d have to backtrack.
Finally, as the sun began to make its descent, the ground fell away on a steep grassy slope, and a lake was at the bottom – our lake! The next campsite was visible on its shores on a wide open dry grassy area. Signage was clear – there was a toilet there too! The bear locker looked in good repair! I began to rejoice.
But then we looked at the slippery, narrow, muddy, slick, grass-covered track that others had used to get down this hill. And with tired, aching muscles, we tried to make it down. It was painfully slow. Especially since this slippery track traversed the top of a 50 foot cliff. We picked our way down that hill over the course of an hour, at our slowest pace yet. The sun was fully setting as we shambled into the shockingly flat, dry campsite. No wood platforms needed – it was big enough and flat enough to accommodate a dozen tents. And the ground was loamy and great for tent pegs. The tent went up in a flash and we settled in with a lovely view down another lake which fell away directly into the Western Brook fjord.
Total Distance: 7.5km by map, 14km by Garmin
Total Ascent/Descent: 3-400m both ways
On the third day…
This is what is known on the Northern Traverse as the “Tuckamore Day”. Newfoundland is famous for low scrubby black spruce bunches, twisted and bent by deep snowpack and howling winds. This type of forest is rarely taller than 8 feet, and often around 5 feet or less. But the height means nothing. It is DENSE. It is tangled and vicious and it snags on everything, pulls on everything, it cuts bare legs and scratches legs in pants. And up top on the Traverses of Gros Morne, there are many many patches of Tuckamore to navigate through.
We actually hit the first bunches of them on Day 2 but they were relatively minor. On this day we would be fighting them all day long. The GPS track we were assigned was our only guide most of the time, as the “trail” would fade in and out of sight. And when the track let to Tuckamore, it was a misery trying to spot where the bush would give way to a slightly more passable tangle than the untouched parts. It would not be a trail or an opening we would be looking for – just a slightly less dense passage. And because GPS is typically only accurate to 2-4m, we could be standing right next to the right path and not even see it.
But to our experience. Up reasonably early, the headland was socked in with swirling fog. We had been warned that fog could sock in so hard we might have to wait hours for it to clear. But thankfully, the fog began to clear before 9am. It was thin enough that we could get going. And it burned off before an hour or two passed, giving way to a beautiful sunny day.
That was good, because as I said, the navigation was hard. My wife managed to find a soft spot in the swamp and sank one leg up to her thigh. I hit a spot before long too. We desperately hoped we would see Triangle Lake, the first established campground in the direction we were going. It was only 7km away, but it was a fight. Still, when we would climb a rise, the views of the surrounding hills, especially the distant views of the fjord, were breathtaking.
Finally we glimpsed the lake. It glistened bright blue in the distance. I saw a rocky draw that pointed the way to the lake and celebrated – rocks would be simple to navigate compared to the tuckamore. But it turned out that wasn’t true for my wife. Her balance was not as good as mine, and so we climbed over each and every boulder one at a time, until finally reaching the campsite around 3pm.
The campsite had seen better days. There were three wooden tent pads in various states of disrepair. There was a bear storage locker, but it looked like someone landed a helicopter on it. All our literature said there was a toilet here, but we never did find it. The most sheltered, dry, flat tent pad there had a nice piece of sod dug out and replaced – someone used it as the toilet. Still sunning ourselves on the unused wooden pads in a fork in the little creek that bisected the camp was glorious. There were no bugs there which was amazing. We soaked tired feet in the cold creek water and contemplated taking a swim in the lake. The lake and stream were very cold and the sun was nice but not quite hot enough to overcome our fear of the chilly water.
The sun allowed us to dry out wet shoes and socks, and wet tent from the night before. It definitely increased morale! We began to look forward to the next day where we hoped to get all the way to famous viewpoint.
Distance: ~7km officially, 15km according to my Garmin
Ascent/Descent: 200-300m both ways
Waking up at Snug Harbour we had cause for trepidation, but were ready to face the challenge. We set off fairly early, and the trail would take us along the beach for 1km or so before cutting uphill.
Our destination for the day was not an established campsite – most people who do the Northern Traverse do it by itself, so they take the boat up Western Brook Pond and then turn left at the top of the waterfall. The campsites are laid out with that in mind, and usually when people come from the east (westbound) they are prepared for a few more kms because they have been going downhill, and are looking forward to getting off trail. We were doing it backwards, and expected after climbing to the top of the headland, we would be out of gas, so we were planning to random camp near where the trail forks to a viewpoint over the pond, or heads towards the “Tuckamore”. I’ll explain more about that word in Part 4.
Climbing the hill was not great. Trail markers were more and more scant – few people take this route at all, and the markers were put up over 20 years ago when the park had a vision to actually make this a trail. Now, they are content to let the wilderness claim it and just warn people what they are in for. Once we got out of the draw we were climbing, the terrain opened up and we could make out faint trail… sometimes. They were very untrustworthy as these paths saw more moose prints and bear paws than human boots.
The terrain climbing up I thought would be fairly rocky. It was not. Somehow, it is possible that swamps can exist on slopes. We were sloshing through moss and wet, desperately trying to hop from log to log, stable spot to stable spot (and hoping what we thought were stable spots weren’t just taller piles of moss that would give way when we put our weight on it). It was not long before both of us had feet soaked through.
A word about footwear. If you are looking for a nice dry stroll in trail runners, this is not the trail for you. The terrain is so treacherous, I see why many prefer real hiking boots for this trip, but I chose to wear Keen Gore-Tex lined low rise hiking shoes. My reasoning was this: if I stepped in wet but shallow, the gore-tex would keep my feet dry and if I stepped in the deep stuff, they would dry faster. Higher ankles might have given me more support, but I am not prone to ankle twists, so I wasn’t worried. I was happy with my shoe choice. Normally I’d think a waterproof hiker would be too hot, but Newfoundland is rarely hot and the amount of wet we faced, there was no chance I’d have to worry about heat blisters. Trenchfoot? Maybe. Heat blisters? No.
We reached the top and the weather was getting blustery again. Nothing to block it up here, so we hunted around for as much shelter as we could find. At the top, the trees don’t get more than 7 feet high, and they are stunted and twisted into a mass that is well nigh impassable. But we found a little clearing with thick sphagnum moss to tuck our tent into an set it up before the weather hit.
And the weather did hit. It began drizzling, and the wind became very gusty. It would blow lightly for a few minutes, then hit like a freight train. At about 6pm one such gust did manage to knock loose one of the tent pegs, so I had to go wander the field next door looking for rocks to stack on our pegs. The moss was so thick we couldn’t sink the pegs into soil at all. Once I had 3 or 4 on each corner, the tent held up all night.
Distance: About 5km by map, 9km by Garmin
Ascent/Descent: 600m-ish, or about 2000 feet
Our plan was to start with the Northern Traverse. This means instead of the popular boat ride, we would be hiking to the boat launch on lovely groomed trails, then heading north along the edge of Western Brook Pond, destination a Parks Canada maintained backcountry campsite called “Snug Harbour”.
As you can see, we had a choice of going all the way to the boat launch or take a trail through the woods. The first leg from the parking lot to the fork (where the green line diverges) was on wide, gravelled trail. It is well maintained because anyone taking the boat tour has to walk in. At the fork, it just looked like a narrow bush trail heading off to the north, skirting a swampy area. It turns east again when we hit the Western Brook outflow, a creek/river about 20m wide. We needed to wade it but the water was never past my knees. Refreshing.
After crossing the creek the trail reduced down to barely a discernible path – except for where it gets swampy. Still, we ran into the odd boardwalk in poor condition, which sometimes made the going easier. The clouds were building as we went, but we knew we only had a short distance to cover our first day and little elevation to deal with. A good portion of the walk was along a gravelly beach which was better than picking our way along the swampy bits. Little did we realize it would get much worse.
But not today. We pulled up at Snug Harbour in just a few hours, and set up camp. Snug Harbour was very nicely appointed – a good bear locker, a “green throne” toilet, and easy to find camping spots for tents. It wasn’t called Snug Harbour for no reason – we faced a sheltered cove and listened to the wind and rain all night howl around, but little of it hit us. By morning, it was cloudy but the storm had passed.
Total distance: about 6km by map, 11km by my Garmin
Wow! I never realized I had not done a series of posts about our summer 2023 adventure. Probably because it was a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t expecting my missus was going to be up for a trail this summer, because she had some trips for her new career planned and she didn’t think she would have the energy. But 2 weeks ahead of our planned vacation time, she says, “Wanna do Gros Morne?”
Now, some explanation. Gros Morne is a place of stunning beauty – a national park in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada. Basically, if you have ever seen a picture of a national park in Canada, it’s either Banff or Gros Morne. This view is what it’s most famous for:
Stunning, right? Funny thing is this view isn’t even of the park’s namesake: Gros Morne mountain, the tallest mountain in Newfoundland, and part of the International Appalachian Trail.
She wasn’t interested in hiking the mountain – oh no. That would be far too easy. This park does have a number of trails, but they are mostly dayhikes. What it does have is a famous route: the Long Range Traverse. About 35km through the Newfoundland wilderness, with no official trail. Just a route. Through swamps, the thickest brush you’ve ever seen, more swamps, and more brush, oh and some very rocky mountains (shorter, but rugged).
The Long Range Traverse is the most popular – you take a beautiful boat ride up the above gorge to the eastern end, hike (read: climb) up a waterfall, then head out. It ends roughly 3 days later at Gros Morne mountain where you can elect to head down to the parking lot or add another 5-10km to summit the mountain first.
But there’s more. There is another traverse. The Northern Traverse. A much harder, much more rugged, equal lengthed traverse. Taking both traverses circumnavigates Western Brook Pond and doubles the time in the backcountry. And she suggested we do both.
I’m a sucker for a challenge so I didn’t have to be convinced. We made a plan: 7 days to do both traverses! A paltry 70km – 10km a day! Surely that will be easy! I called ahead to make a reservation – they only allow three hiking groups per day on each traverse. the LRT I was fortunate – I got pretty close to the dates we were interested in. The NT was no problem – as far as I know we were the only people on that traverse at the time we went.
We drove down to Rocky Harbour, and stayed in a lovely place on Cow Bay the night before the trail. We also had to attend a mandatory trail briefing at the visitor’s centre, where an experienced hiker and trail guide did her level best to talk us out of going. She told us the LRT would involve pain and suffering most likely. When we told her we were doing the NT too, she said she guaranteed pain and suffering. She warned us of all kinds of dangers – from thick fog to deep swamps to getting lost, to falling and twisting or breaking things, to cold rain and even a chance of snow just about any time of year. One thing she did NOT say was a danger was bears. Oh sure, there were lots of bears, but apparently the bears in their park run from people – and have no interest in people food. According to her they have never had a negative bear interaction reported by hikers. Not one. Ok…
The next day we hit the trail. I’ll do a post for each day on the trail. Stay tuned!