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.