Gros Morne – Long Range Traverse (or bust!) – Part 1

Sarah and I had been working on prepping our gear and our bodies for the last 7 months for what some describe as one of the toughest hikes in Eastern North America – the Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park.  We decided right from the beginning that we’d do the hike guided.  Not because we needed to, but more so that we can take time to enjoy it.  The terrain is rough, weather is unpredictable and there are no marked trails.  You actually have to pass a navigation/map & compass test before you get your permits if you’re hiking it without a guide.  Again – not a big deal because I have taken courses and I’m confident in my map skills but it would be one less thing to have to focus so heavily on.  We wanted to have more time to take pictures and just ‘take it all in’ – the wonder that this place has to offer – Turns out this decision was the right one

Prep Day – Aug 6, 2012

Our first day started out at Gros Morne Adventures in Norris Point, NL, our outfitter for the trip.  I can’t say enough about this company.  They are amazing and definitely have their stuff together!  We met our guide, Colin as well as the others in our group who would be heading out first thing in the morning together.  After some introductions, we got down to the business of finalizing the packing of our packs.  We were to only bring our packs, clothes, sleeping bags, and other odds and ends and the outfitter would provide the rest.  This was something new for us.  If we were doing the trip, we’d know days in advance how much and what we’d be carrying.  We were a little worried we wouldn’t have room for everything we’d need to carry.  Turns out it was fine.  It was actually less communal gear than we were expecting.  I was expecting about 40lbs of gear in my pack but it ended up a few pounds less.  After packing, most of us headed up to 1 of the 2 restaurants in town to grab some dinner and get to bed.  The next day was the real start.

Day 1 – Western Brook Pond & Up! – Aug 7

We were picked up at about 8am from where we were staying in Norris Point for the trip up to Western Brook Pond.  We had an easy 3km hike to get to our tour boat that takes us down Western Brook Pond and drops us off at the far end to begin the real hike.  The boat tour itself was good and the beauty of the shear cliffs we were staring at was even better.  Then a sinking feeling hit.  We had to get to the top of these 700-800 metre high cliffs.  This is what we trained for and was personally what I was a little nervous about.  Did I train enough?  Could I have done something different?  Too late for those thoughts.

We shared the boat with just regular tourists.  They would be returning to the dock where we started.  Not us.  At the end of fjord, we quickly jumped off to a small wooden dock and the rest of the tour wished us good luck.  I overhead the tour guide on the boat as they pulled away, “Now that the bears have been fed…”  I’m sure that’s the standard line…

After a quick adjustment of the packs, we were off.  You could see the waterfall that we had to get to and climb up.  Camp would be just up top.  The terrain here would be something we wouldn’t see again for the next few days, until the climb back down at the other end of the Traverse.  Mixed forest with bolders strewn everywhere.  The smell of ferns and dampness was fantastic.  The weather was a lot hotter than we were expecting.  We expected cold and rain but sun and heat was just fine by me.  This was it.  We were doing it.  My legs felt good, pack was comfortable and the new boots were still dry.  So far so good.

We trudged along for most of the day, taking breaks as necessary for water.  You can drink the water without filtering!!  Our guide Colin was amazed at how low the water levels of ponds and creeks were that we’d pass.  Apparently they were experiencing a very dry summer, just like those of us from Ontario (turns out the hikers in our group were all from Ontario).  One of the ‘coolest’ things (wait for the pun) about the hike through this terrain was that every once and a while, you would feel a cool breeze coming out from a vent in a cave beneath some of the large rocks.  It cooled you off nicely and then when you got past the vent, you were blasted again by the hot, humid summer air.

When we made it to the waterfall and the far end of gorge, we took an extended break.   A few of us climbed up the smooth rock face to have a look back at where we’d come from.  We made some good distance, but we all knew the challenge wasn’t over yet.  We still had to get to the top of the waterfall, taking what was called the “easy” route.  Easy is a relative term, something that I’ve learned on this hike.  I was up for the challenge though.

We made it.  All of us.  We turned around to see the view.  The pictures don’t do it justice.  It is indescribable and something I won’t forget.  I was proud of Sarah (and myself).  The training paid off.  We took our pictures and set off to set up camp, just before the rain started.  Perfect.  Colin set up a tarp and got dinner going.  It was delicious.  Especially because I didn’t have to cook it! Day 1 was in the books.

Day 2 – Hardings Pond

The rain stopped overnight and the sun was shining!  The view was even better this morning.  Truly unbelievable.  You can even make out the little dock that we got dropped off in the right corner where the water meets the greenery.  Day 2 was going to be our first trudge above the tree line here.  It was mostly rock and bog – sphagnum moss mostly.  We’d be following Caribou trails where we could be here’s where it gets tricky.  The Caribou don’t always travel the way you want to go and here’s where a lot of inexperienced hikers get lost, especially when you have to head through the tuckamore (stunted fir and spruce trees).

We had a break at one of the Park’s official campsites.  The park puts in tent platforms and thunder boxes on their designated sites.  We didn’t really use these since we’re with a guiding company.  They know the dry spots to camp and the good “facilitrees.”

The weather was forecasted to be raining all day.  Not the case.  We had gorgeous, in fact hot sunny weather all day.  We were all drenched in sweat.  Colin made sure the group was staying hydrated.  Along the way, there were many blueberry and ‘bakeapple‘ bushes.  So good!  I prefer the blueberries over the bakeapples but they were still good.  Sarah loved the bakeapples so she bought some jam at a local shop after the hike.

Even though this was not a birding trip, I couldn’t help but pay attention to what I was hearing and seeing.  It was hard to miss the White-throated Sparrows.  They were singing everywhere.  Ravens would show up from time to time, even an occasional Ring-billed gull made the trip up to the highlands’ many lakes.  The highlight was of course the pair of loons on Hardings Pond.  Our campsite for the day.

The site was on a sandy beach.  The spot is a Park’s site, with tent pads but the tent pads were taken by other hikers that we saw on our tour boat.  For some reason, the Park took out a few tent pads, but it didn’t matter.  We just set up camp right on the beach.  The thunderbox was a nice luxury until someone noticed it was leaking (and full) .. but I digress.  The site was perfect.  Everyone went for a swim.  We all needed to cool off after that hot day of hiking – not that I’m complaining – I was just surprised.

Dinner was delicious again.  It was a shrimp curry.  Gros Morne Adventures dries their own food so it was way better than those pre-packed dried foods.  Dessert was amazing – fresh blueberry & bakeapple cheesecake.  Picked fresh on our hike to the site.  Another perfect ending.  Off to bed while the loons are calling.

To be continued….

 

 

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