Battle Harbour is a neat historic island in Newfoundland and Labrador. It offers a unique glimpse into the hardships of the sealing and fishing industry. Battle Harbour was founded in the 1970s with most people resettling in 1966 when the fishing industry declined. It is now a historical site with some summer homes and tourist accommodations.
We have visited Battle Harbour twice on day trips. This site doesn’t offer a “hike” in the sense of walking a long distance. It does have a loop that goes around the entire island. On this footpath, you walk through a graveyard and up a hillside onto the top of the hill. There you have spectacular views of the ocean. On one trip, we spotted icebergs in the distance.
The moss and lichen growing on the rocks is fascinating. During a visit, there was a tourist who was sunning herself on the moss. The hot sun had dried it, making the moss a dry bed to rest on. If we had more time, we might have tried it ourselves. With the sound of the waves and a light breeze, it was a tempting to do the same.
For our trips to Battle Harbour, we went on day trips. We took a boat from Mary’s Harbour and arrived at Battle Harbour just before lunch. We had enough time for a quick walk around the island before lunch. The serve the meals family style at the dining hall. They have large tables for groups of about six people each. The freshly baked buns are always a treat for the guests. We had chicken pot pie for lunch, which was delicious. They do ask about diet restrictions before you arrive at the island and will give you an option.
After lunch, they offer a guided tour of the buildings on the island. You will learn about the salting of fish and processing of seal. Many of the tour guides either grew up on the island or had family members who did. They are full of knowledge and are ready to answer your questions. Whenever we have been there, they were always working on the maintenance of the buildings and the docks. The volunteers take a lot of care to maintain the site.
Battle Harbour is one of those places that if you can spend a longer time there, you should. There is limited internet at Battle Harbour, which helps you disconnect from the world for a while. You can find internet in the loft building if you really need access. The quietness of the Battle Harbour offers gives you a chance to slow down and breathe. And when you breathe, you take in the fresh air around you.
If you take advantage of their accommodations, you can really slow down your walk around the island to stop and reflect on the different views along the way. Often we have found people sitting on the rocks staring out at the ocean. They also are checking out the foundation from the old wireless radio station and the site of an old airplane crash. Parts from the crash are still there to observe.
We hope to return for a third time and stay for a weekend. Our visits have always felt rushed and we always say we need more time. Again, Battle Harbour is not a trail but offers an experience that we highly recommend should you be in Newfoundland and Labrador. It isn’t every day you can visit an island such as this and look out at the endless ocean in all directions.
When choosing a campsite in the backcountry, there are a few considerations to make. It isn’t always possible to set up camp wherever you feel like it. You also might make the mistake of setting up your tent in a spot that you will regret later. Below are some tips to help you make the best decisions when choosing a campsite.
Is Camping Permitted in the Area?
Sometimes you won’t find any campsites in the backcountry. This could simply be due to agencies deeming the area as sensitive or an animal corridor. When planning your hike, identify where camping is not permitted. This could add some complexity when you are determining the distance you must hike in a day. Do not set up a campsite in these areas unless it is an absolute emergency. Basically only set up your tent, if you are waiting to be rescued. Try your absolute best to exit these areas before you set up your campsite. Your feet and back might be tired from walking the extra miles to exit the restricted area, but respect the rules.
Do You Require a Permit or Reservation?
Depending on where you are hiking, you may need to pre-book your campsite. This can be challenging when you aren’t sure how far you will hike in a day and commits you to certain dates. If you are going faster or slower on your hike, you may find this frustrating.
Pay attention to when you you need to make reservations and note any alternates you may to take if the system says a campsite is full. Do your best to figure out your route, make the appropriate reservations, and carry your permits. You don’t want to be the reason that hikers get a bad reputation in the backcountry. Follow the rules.
Distance From Campsite to Campsite
Before your hike, review your map for pre-established sites. Also look at apps with hiker comments indicating spots not marked on an official map. With this information, you can consider your own hiking fitness to calculate how far you will be able to hike in a day. Look at your map and review the camping regulations for the area you are in to determine where you will stop for the night. You can either make a reservation if required, or you can find an unofficial campsite while on trail if permitted. The choice is up to you.
Choosing an Unofficial Backcountry Campsite
When you are in the backcountry and there are no marked campsites, you will need to use your judgment when selecting a site to pitch your tent. Below are some considerations to help you determine the best spot to rest for the night.
Find a Sheltered Campsite
Sometimes a spot that looks like a great place to camp, isn’t the best place. Depending on where you are, if there is a storm coming through and you are in an open field, the wind will batter your tent. Find a campsite surrounded by bushes. Bushes will act as a wind guard will provide a level of protection from any wind storms that are passing through.
Look For Flat Ground
In the wilderness, ground isn’t completely flat. There are roots and rocks that give the ground character. Remember, a flat-looking campsite can be deceptive. There may be a slope to your campsite, which means your blood could be rushing to your head all night. By taking a few minutes to examine your site, you can position your tent in such a way that roots are between camping pads and that your head is in a comfortable angle.
Locate a Spacious Campsite
By spacious, I mean a campsite that provides enough space for your tent. You don’t want to try to squeeze your tent onto small space only to have a sharp rock or branch puncture the wall or floor. Taking the extra time to examine the ground and arrange your tent accordingly will save you from the headache of a repair down the road. Position your tent to prevent trees, boulders, logs or bushes from blocking both doors. Going down to one door is fine, but ensure one door has no obstructions.
Does Water Run Through It?
Before putting your tent on the ground, look for any signs on the dirt where a stream of water may have flowed through. Now look beyond the campsite for hillsides or nearby streams that could overflow. When you are downhill, there is the possibility of water pooling where you set up your tent. The last thing you want is to wake up in the middle of the night to an inch of water in the bottom of your tent. And a final point, please don’t camp in a wash. A dry creek bed doesn’t necessarily mean it is an extinct creek. It may mean it is a path the water will take during a flash flood. Be safe.
Look For a Nearby Water Source
When possible, find a campsite that is easy walking distance to a water source. Having water nearby is helpful for cooking for meals and even filling your water bottles before leaving the next morning. If you aren’t able to camp near a convenient water source, at least note on your map where the last and first water sources are so you can plan accordingly.
Note Any Animal Activity Near Your Campsite
A campsite might not be the best option when there is a den a few trees over. Look for signs where bears may have recently been digging up a meal or for fresh scat. Game trails will tell you that animals are present, but that doesn’t always mean bears. You may be camping near deer, moose, or skunks. Be aware of what might be lurking nearby and be prepared for possible encounters. If the signs make you feel uncomfortable, don’t stay there.
Adding to animal activity, it is important to look for the best way to store your food in the backcountry. There are a few options for food storage, but ultimately, you want your food kept away from your campsite. The most ideal option is if your campsite has a storage locker or established bear hang. If you need to make your own bear hang, look for appropriately spaced trees. Ursaks and BearVault canisters can provide added flexibility for food storage in places where traditional bear hangs aren’t an option. Whatever you do, don’t store food in your tent when in bear country. Take the time to find the right spot for your tent and another for food storage and eating.
Other Campsite Considerations
There are a few other considerations for choosing a campsite in the backcountry. While the ground might be perfect, you will want to look at the trees around you. If they look like they could fall over in the windstorm or that there are branches ready to spear your tent, don’t position your tent under them. These are called “widow makers”. Find a spot away from a falling tree’s path, especially when you are expecting bad weather.
Cleanliness of the campsite can be a concern on high traffic trails. Unfortunately, not everyone will be considerate and some may leave garbage behind. When possible, pick up what you find and take it with you to keep it clean for others. If you feel that the site has the potential to attract rodents or predators, or the campground has been used as a public restroom (look for toilet paper), you may want to find another spot.
Finally, check out who else is already camping there. If you feel that they are going to be noisy neighbors who are a bit rowdy (more common at campsites with easier road access), you might want to keep hiking. Most neighbors aren’t a problem are are likeminded people who are wanting to enjoy nature and exchange stories. Every now and then, you might get a set of neighbors who want to party away their weekend. If that’s your scene, maybe they’ll offer you a little trail magic and you’ll have a great time sharing the spot together.
These are tips to help you determine an appropriate campsite in the backcountry. If you are in a safe and legal place to set up camp, that is great place to camp. If you can find a campsite that also has a great view, even better!
After hiking sections of the Great Divide Trail (The Wildest Thru Hike, or so they say) and the even wilder Gros Morne Traverses, we have seen rough trail conditions and variable weather. We have adapted our kits to cope with wet, with bugs, with sketchy trails (or nonexistent ones), with fluctuations in temperatures from hot sunny days to snow and ice on our tent.
But in choosing the Arizona Trail for our next hike, we are going to be challenged by a completely new set of variables. There will be some items in common, but enough differences to make it worthy to consider.
First, the temperatures will be higher. And drier. The elevation we will be dealing with will be higher also – even the Great Divide Trail does not reach the heights of the American Rockies in terms of elevation above sea level. The highest pass we hiked was Wonder Pass at just shy of 7800 feet. The height of Mica Mountain, our first big climb on the AZT is 8594 feet. Another thing to consider is when we did the GDT our home was at about 2000 feet, so the difference between the trail altitude and our home was not nearly as great as this time, where we live is just 50 feet above sea level. So, while it is possible we may see the remains of the winter on the AZT at certain moments, what we will have to plan for is management of water supplies and protection from the sun, and keeping cool (well, cooler anyway).
The AZT, we have been told, has bears but not like the Grizzlies of the Canadian Rockies. The consensus seems to be one doesn’t even require bear spray or food storage precautions they are so seldom seen. So that will lighten our load in one direction.
ThermaRest Z-Lite Foam Pad
Extra 1L Water Capacity
Mid or Insulation Layer
But we will add weight in another area: our shelter. Many “Cowboy Camp” the AZT but we are going to bring our DurstonGear XMid 2P just in case. However, we have heard that the rocky desert and its abundant poky things will require consideration as well so we are adding weight there. So here’s a nerdy chart for you:
Going from pants to shorts will be interesting for me. I have always done the convertible pants thing, but for this trip I am just going to stick with shorts. Cheryl will probably have some leggings but she runs colder than I do.
Dropping the bear stuff will be a significant weight savings, and I am still processing breaking the cardinal rule of food in the backcountry – no food in your tent! Not sure how I am going to feel about it on trail but it seems that’s what people do on this trail.
The extra water capacity won’t add much weight if empty (Smartwater bottles don’t weigh much) but full that’s an extra 2 lbs. The GoPro is Cheryl’s weight – I take the tent so she carries the camera.
The question of base/midlayers and raingear is interesting to me. I know myself, sporadic storms are better dealt with in a fleece than a rainjacket/pants because I just wind up soaked with sweat in them (I only use rain pants to protect from morning dew and water off foliage). I’d rather be wet and warm in a fleece and dry out quickly than locking in all my own moisture! But, bringing two insulation layers (fleece and puffy) seems redundant with this trail. I’ll never wear them both. A puffy provides insulation on cold mornings and evenings, and wind resistance on windy days. The fleece provides water tolerant warmth but no resistance to wind. I am thinking just the puffy may be the way to go. I’ll have a set of technical base layers with me if it’s REALLY cold but doubt I’ll use them. They could also be used in a pinch if it’s raining, as they will still provide some warmth if wet. But I really don’t see it likely we will experience hours and hours of soaking rain on this hike.
The last thing to discuss is the tent/sleeping changes. I have seen horror stories of air mattresses being punctured in desert conditions. We watched a thru hike video of a couple who used larger egg crate mats as their sit pads, giving more area to recline and relax on during the day, and use under their air mattresses for extra insulation at night. We really like that idea, not so much for the insulation (Cheryl runs an X-Therm and I have a Tensor Alpine) but for protection from possible punctures. We will also bring a footprint for the tent – we have never needed one up to this point – it’s a durable tent! But it has never faced desert, so we will err on the side of caution.
One other tiny thing we will bring along – we like the idea of a cowboy camp, but find it hard to believe creepy crawlies won’t amble over to us at night so we are bringing Dan Durston’s “Stargazer Kit” – it weighs next to nothing and allows us to pitch the inner part of our tent without the fly – best of both worlds!
Another daylong adventure I took boys on while we lived in Southern Alberta was Turtle Mountain. It sounds innocuous if you aren’t from the area, but if you are there is another connotation entirely.
Turtle Mountain, when you are driving through the Crowsnest Pass is unmissable. Why? Because the side of the mountain sheared off in 1903, crashing down onto the coal mining town of Frank, burying it and the railroad under millions of tons of rock and killing as many as 90 people. To this day, it feels like you are driving through a rock quarry as the entire foot of the valley is covered in boulders.
There is a trail on this mountain though. If you drive west up the valley past the slide, you come to a town called Coleman, and if you drive into town and bear to the southeast, you will find a trailhead. The hike is 7 km return, up and back, with about 900m to the top of the remaining peak.
I elected to take my twins up there. In retrospect, probably ill-advised, as I did not realize how nervous I would be with them near (less than 5m) away from the sheer cliff that is the slide face. They were good boys though, they listened and never went really close.
The hike up was steady, with views of the town behind us. The trail mostly stays on the side of the mountain away from the slide, and does get steeper and more exposed as we got close to the top. What I found particularly interesting… or possibly unnerving, was that when we got to that zone, we wove amongst cracks in the stone that sometimes descended a couple meters down.
I was able to see firsthand how the slide happened – snow and ice had built up in some of these cracks, and with the spring thaw, ice has an interesting characteristic. Water decreases in volume as it cools to 4 degrees Celsius, but below 4 it actually begins to expand – this is what gives ice its buoyancy. Unfortunately, this freezing and thawing cycle can be so dramatic it can fracture rock. So one day the ice got too deep and expanded a little too much with a freeze cycle, and broke the mountain.
So this hike is great for geology lessons, and for incredible views of the slide and the pass. I heartily recommend it for a dayhike, even with kids!
With our upcoming trip on the Arizona Trail on our minds, we thought we would do a new Bucket List post – this time with both our perspectives. We will go through the list one place at a time, volunteering ours then commenting on the other.
Oliver’s #5: I would have put the Te Araoa on here until we watched the Hiking America videos of their thru. There were some beautiful days, but a lot more road walking than I thought, and also quite a bit of swampy stuff. I’m still traumatized by our Gros Morne Traverse thru-hike I guess! Now, I’d probably say the Colorado Trail. There’s a posting in Colorado Springs I may be eligible for in 5 years or so… (Swamps can be fun. – Cheryl)
Cheryl’s #5: The Florida Trail. While the road walks aren’t appealing to me, I like to celebrate when I complete hard things. The Florida Trail could involve a lot walking through swampy water (Hey, gators!), but it also has a lot of warm weather and plants that I would enjoy experiencing along the way. (Swampy… – Oliver)
Oliver’s #4: I’d probably put the Appalachian Trail here on the list. I am not as excited about it as some other trails, but there are parts of it I would love to see. Honestly, the busyness of the trail is probably the biggest turnoff for me, but I’d still give it a go if Cheryl wanted to do it. It wouldn’t be a hard sell. (See #2. – Cheryl)
Cheryl’s #4:Ozark Highlands Trail. Who wouldn’t want to spend time in the Ozark mountains? I have visited Arkansas and thought the area is beautiful. I wouldn’t mind spending some time hiking through it. (Or the Ouachita Trail? I wouldn’t object to either! – Oliver)
Oliver’s #3: The Arizona Trail. I’m really excited about our section hike in March. But despite the fact that I am very happy with the section we are doing, I REALLY want to see the Grand Canyon too! This isn’t the year for it though. (We will have to go back to do the Grand Canyon. – Cheryl)
Cheryl’s #3: The Wonderland Trail. It is a shorter thru-hike at 93 miles (150k) and one that needs to be done at a time of the year when there is not a lot of snow, but it checks the boxes for a manageable time commitment and beautiful mountain views. If we were to do this trail, we would need to win the “permit lottery” to camp in the backcountry. (For a short trail this would be lovely – Oliver)
Oliver’s #2: the Great Divide Trail. I’ve already hiked almost 2 sections of it, and I just love it. But I want to finish it, thru-hike it. It is without a doubt the best trail of its kind in Canada – 600 miles of Canadian Rockies, cutting right through the world famous Jasper and Banff, and those aren’t even the best parts! (So many trails. So little time. – Cheryl)
Cheryl’s #2: Appalachian Trail. Oliver has talked many times about the tree tunnels and lack of views on this trail, but the idea of really getting connected with the trail community and building a “tramily” really appeals to me. When discussing thru-hiking, this feels like a must do. (It’s my #4, so I’m in! – Oliver)
Oliver’s #1: The Pacific Crest Trail. Ever since encountering the movie, “Wild” it’s been on my mind, taking up space. I want to do it before I die, 100%. The clock is ticking though, and I know my body hasn’t been broken yet like many friends’ have, but it is wearing. I was talking to my boss’s boss last year and she said if I want to do it, do it – take unpaid leave if necessary, don’t wait until it’s too late. So I am hoping this may happen in the next few years as our kids graduate and move out.
Cheryl’s #1: We agree! Pacific Crest Trail would be my #1. It is an opportunity to connect with other hikers while getting to experience the vast mountain views. There are also enough towns along the way for resupplies and showers. The time needed to complete this hike would be a challenge though, so it must wait.
Oliver’s Honourable Mention: Since two of the Triple Crowns is on the list, I might as well add “why not the Continental Divide Trail?” It’s not NOT on the list… I think if we did the AT and the PCT, there would be a big draw to finish the Triple Crown… but it’s the longest of the three, it’s got the most road walking, and if we do the AZT and Colorado Trails, we will have already seen much of what it has to offer. So it would just be “to get the Triple Crown”.
Cheryl’s Honourable Mention:Te Araoa. It would be amazing to travel to New Zealand and thru hike, but the amount of money it would take to fly all the way there would be costly. Also, if we were to go to New Zealand, we are going to want to do more than just explore a trail, so there would be a lot of time and money involved in seeing as much as we can of what New Zealand has to offer. Also, I don’t want to do that much road walking. To me, a hike should be in the trees and not on paved roads.
Somehow writing this post slipped my mind for 3 years. Despite its importance in a number of ways – for one, I visited a bunch of times, and another – it was a critical part of our preparation for Section C of the Great Divide Trail. We spent most of 3 years in Cold Lake, AB and this was the longest and most accessible trail for us to hike locally.
During our time up there I always meant to thru-hike the trail. At 128km, it’s a nice length for a 4-5 day trip, though the trail is advertised as a 7 day trip. However, despite my shoes stepping on 90% of the trail, I never did get to do the thru-hike.
You can take a look at my previous post about how to book the Boreal Trail. However, since I wrote that post, they have released a better more current trail guide. It can be downloaded here. In my several trips out to it, I have learned that despite it feeling like it is administratively rigid, it is not. The park staff straight up told me that it’s fine to hike the trail, then retroactively pay for camp spots and such. This was as of 2022, so double check to see if they have tightened up the regulations.
On to my trips on the trail: first was a dayhike in the winter with a friend of mine. We wanted to do some “rucking” training, so we drove out to the park one Saturday with about 30lbs on our backs to walk the first 20km. We parked one car at one end and one at the other of the section we planned to do – the Cold River camp (BT1) to Sandy Beach, a frontcountry campsite on the trail. While on that walk we passed by BT2, a pretty little backcountry camping spot on a spit of land that juts out into Pierce Lake. It has a bear locker, elevated barbeque cooking spots, and several flat areas to pitch tents. It also has an adjacent “Green throne” privy set back from the camp.
My second trip was a spring overnight with one of my sons. We the the same route as the one I did in the winter, and camped at BT2 before hiking out to Sandy Beach, and the sunset was well worth it. Some swarms of mayflies liked the spot we pitched our tent, but that really was our only complaint. The way to Sandy Beach was more complicated in the spring than in the winter, as there was some beaver dam problems that flooded certain spots on the trail, but there was a way around.
My third trip was with the same son, another daytrip hike. We parked a little past Sandy Beach at the trailhead for Humphrey Lake and Humphrey Tower – the former location of a fire tower turned viewpoint on a knoll above the surrounding terrain. We hiked up to the tower site, skirting around one shore of Humphrey Lake, a little pond not really accessible for water (it’s swampy around the edges) but nice for waterfowl. The climb up the hill was brisk, and at the top, we were saddened to see that the tower had been burned down by vandals. But it was cleared in one direction, so we did have some nice views to enjoy a break at. We continued on to the narrows between Pierce Lake and Lapine Lake, where we had lunch before turning back to the car. On the return trip we did the other shore of Humphrey Lake which makes a nice little circle for dayhikers.
My fourth trip to the park was another overnight with that same son. He was a trooper that year! This time we had our sights set on a backcountry site set back from the rest – if you are thru-hiking you’d probably skip it as it’s up on a spur trail north of the main route. We parked the car at Grieg Lake near the east end of the park, and hiked up to BT9 on Fourth Mustus Lake. We chose this site because we brought my dog, Watson with us and he was a little unpredictable with people (he was an SPCA rescue) so we wanted to have a campsite with nobody around. The trail was sandy and mostly easygoing, and once again we were treated with a beautiful camping spot.
At that time (2021) there was no privy at that campground, and the picnic table was in bad repair but there was a working bear locker. But the tent sites were glorious and roomy, and we never saw another soul. We spent the evening after supper exploring some game trails on the north side of the lake, then tried to put the dog to bed. He didn’t go down easy, refusing to sleep in the vestibule. He ended up being off leash all night, and patrolled around us while we slept. Around midnight something got his attention because he bolted off barking at something, but he never left earshot and returned after being satisfied that whatever it was was not coming back. Glad there was nobody else there to be disturbed by him! Lesson learned.
My fifth trip was again with that same son, and we were aiming to do the whole trail. We started at Cold River this time, and once again camped at BT2. The next day we pushed pretty hard, and made it to BT3 by midafternoon. We could have gone further but the clouds had socked us in and the wind was blowing, and rain was beginning to make us miserable, so we set up our tents and hoped that the rain would slacken for some soggy dinner. The camping was down a rise next to the river, and the dinner spot with a firepit was at the top of the rise by the trail – so was the bear locker. After warming up a bit we came out and had an early dinner, but the weather was still miserable so we just hunkered down early for the night.
The next morning dawned sunny and nice, to the point where we could get a better sense of the place. It was an old forest fire clearing formed in 2011. The wind affected us because there were few large trees to break the wind. The river was quite nice though, and we took some snaps of a half dozen or so white pelicans who were punting around the rocks in the stream. Then we pushed on.
Sadly, my son’s feet were not as conditioned as mine to long trail days. By the time we pulled up in BT4 on Lac Des Iles he was pretty out of gas. We took a long break sunning ourselves on the functionally private beach there (Highly recommend this camp for a stop!) and then tried pushing on. We got to Murray Doell frontcountry camp (in the middle of another burn, so hot and sunny also beat us down) and then shortly after, we made it out to a road crossing and made the decision to call for an extraction. Still, got to see a lot of the park, and good quality time with my boy.
My sixth trip to the trail was in the training runup for our Great Divide Trail Section C trip. At this time my wife had decided to accompany me, but we needed to prepare her. So first order of business was to test her feet and our big four with an overnight. We selected a start at Jack Pine and hike into BT7 on the Waterhen River. We pitched my newly acquired, slightly used Durston XMid 2P above the river at sunset and it was lovely. The campsite had treed or open grassy field options, good fishing spots on the river, and well kept Bear Lockers. The trail used to go from BT7 east to the chalet and then north, but north of the chalet they had some beaver flooding issues, so they elected to close that part of the trail.
The following date we pushed for a longer day, crossing Mistohay Creek (nice views), passing the visitor center, and continuing on past BT5 to the Gold Creek area. There was some gravel roadwalking in this section, and the hot August sun beat down on us pretty ferociously. We had to hunt for water a few times in the drier stretches. Towards the end of our time in between the Murray Doell and BT5 area, it was quite hilly and nice. But we decided to call the trip there, almost connecting to where my son had left the trail on the previous trip.
All told, I probably got to see 80% of the trail, and the only significant backcountry stretch I didn’t get to hike was from Jack Pine to Kimball Lake area – most of the rest was roadwalk I was not sorry to miss.
I’d call it a well kept, well maintained set of trails for the most part, with well appointed campsites, though they frown on random camping. The challenge level is not Rocky Mountains, but there are hilly sections, and I’d definitely call it a good early season warmup hike, or late season final go before the snow flies. It is hikeable by May, and can still be done well into the fall (though make sure you hike in blaze orange in the fall!) If you’re in AB/SK, it’s definitely worth the trip!
Before the longer trips, our children were young. We had neither the types of jobs nor the ambition of some of these homeschooling families who I have heard about hiking the big trails in the USA. But passion for hiking was not going to be denied. So, I sought out hikes in the Rockies I could do with my sons as they grew up. One of the earliest I discovered was Table Mountain, just behind Pincher Creek in southern Alberta.
Perched on the south side of the pass entrance with commanding views of the transition from Rockies to foothills to plains, I was excited to get up there. I had heard of others who took kids up, so I figured it was attainable. Turns out I was in for some surprises.
The trail starts from Beaver Mines Lake Campground. It starts out fairly nicely, then begins some steep undulations as you get your start around the back shoulder of the peak. The draw that the trail follows has a little creek at the bottom but you aren’t really near it until you reach the “good parts”. A couple of kms in they start! The trail becomes more of a scramble as you ascend some very rocky areas to get to a winding switchback over scree. Some people descend by sliding down the scree. I do not recommend scree shortcuts uphill! It’s hard enough!
After ascending the very steep bit (for quite some time) the trail becomes a more gradual ascent and very dry. Bring water, you’ll be hot and need it. A cool skeleton of a tree hangs over the trail as the only memory of a time when this path had shade. Finally, as you come over the lip to the table area, you will see low scrubby trees in bunches and a couple of makeshift rocky walls to hide behind if you come up on blustery days. I am pretty sure on the second trip I spotted a bear den in the scrubby trees… I didn’t crawl in to check.
The first ascent I took my three oldest boys when they were still in single digits (2012). They complained of course on the steep bits but it made good memories. The second ascent several years later (2018) I took my youngest (twins) and a teenage friend of the family. We ascended in the afternoon, and got some stunning pictures from the top of the sun making its way closer to the line of mountains to the west. But the biggest treat was the descent: when we made it past the steep bit, the remainder of the descent was pointed right at the sunset and made for some of the best photos I have ever taken.
All in all, I really liked the mix of terrain and the challenge that the trail gives – enough to make you earn the summit but not enough to stop you. Bring adventurous children who are up for a challenge – this hike isn’t for city kids! But even if you don’t have little folks, it’s a great spot for anyone. I seem to recall a marriage proposal on one of our hikes up here!
After our go at the Gros Morne Traverses, we found ourselves a little worn out of rugged, wild, barely-there trails. Especially when said routes cross bogs and other such fun things. We began to talk about our next adventure, and how our current locale has a very long winter (even for Canada). Wouldn’t it be nice to get in an early season hike, before the snow melts? Not on snowshoes! Sorry, I have done a little winter camping, enough to know that ultralight and winter don’t mix well – at least not in Canada!
A unique quality to the military life is the end of fiscal year. At that point our annual leave rolls over to a new year, and all of a sudden we have more. Some people have attempted to “save” their annuals from one year until the end of fiscal, so they can add them to leave days borrowed from the next year to create a mega-trip. It worked out for us to do that this year! So with a big chunk of time available, we began to look for a “fair weather” destination.
We looked at the Pinhoti Trail, the first few hundred miles on the Appalachian Trail, the Florida Trail, Ozark Highlands, the Lone Star, and even the PCT up to San Jacinto. (There were more shorter trails too). But none of them sat quite right. I liked the idea of a desert hike over a forest hike where the leaves haven’t come out yet. So we looked again at the beginnings of the PCT and I also threw out a question on the Arizona Trail subreddit: what’s the best stretch of passages to do if you only have a couple weeks?
The answer was “Vail to Superior”. So we watched some videos. And some more. And it started growing on my hiking partner. Over Christmas break we pulled the trigger on some flights and now we are set! We will be on trail over Easter, enjoying the sunny days of Arizona! This will be our longest trip yet – our previous longest trip was 11 days of hiking on the Great Divide Trail. This one we will be on trail 16-18 days (I built in some flex into our plan, depending on how we are handling the altitude and such). The plan is to cover over 186 miles. Given the choice between this or a standard all-inclusive in Mexico like many friends and family like to do, we much prefer this plan!
But here’s the best part: previously we snapped a lot of pictures, but we never really did video. This time, we have invested in a little videography equipment, and my wonderful partner will get to put to use her long dormant cinematography skills (she used to have a vlog on YouTube a dozen years ago). So keep watch for video once we get on trail!
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!
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