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