Side-Questing to Gros Morne National Park
ECT Day 215&216
IAT Day 46&47
Day 215: 7 miles
This morning we had a pretty laid back start to the day. We’re going to be heading into Gros Morne National Park today. But the ferry that will take us over to start our hike doesn’t pick up until 12:30pm. So we slept in at the room and chilled out.
Trucker got up before Sparkle and I and surprised us both with breakfast sandwiches and mochas in bed. What a way to start the day! Then we laid and relaxed for a while longer before packing up. Around 10am we all finally got packed up and ready to go. Then we took a taxi over to the Western Brook Pond trailhead. The guy Ivan who drove us was super nice. He kept joking that us ladies would be coming back from the hike without Trucker. He had no faith in us! But it was pretty funny.
From there we had to walk 2 miles to where the ferry would pick up. We got some soup in the concessions building before boarding the boat. Then got on the 12:30pm ferry. I was surprised that it was really busy. But the boat we had to take actually was a boat tour! We got to listen to the tour while we waited to get dropped off to start our traverse. Gros Morne national park has some of the oldest rock formations in the whole world! Dating back to over 1.3 billion years old. The park is UNESCO Heritage Site and is supposed to be unbelievably beautiful.
While we rode on the ferry we got to look out at the gorgeous rocks, the “pond” which was the size of a huge lake, and numerous waterfalls cascading down into the water. Then the ferry slowed down as we approached a dock. The captain Craig announced to everyone that he would be dropping off a few hikers. The Long Range Traverse that we are about to embark on is for experienced hikers only. That’s because the route is actually not a marked trail at all. We will be navigating and using route finding the whole way. Then the ferry slowed down just enough for us to jump off, and it sailed away! Everyone on board waved goodbye to use as we hiked off. It was quite the funny scene.
The three of us were the only hikers to get dropped off. From there we began our traverse! The Long Range Traverse is only about 18 miles long but is going to be incredibly difficult. Not only will the terrain be rocky and rugged, but finding our way is going to be difficult at times.
We began walking and were blessed with some moderately easy terrain to start. But it wasn’t long before we were struggling to determine which was to go. It’s easy to accidentally follow along dried out riverbeds or game trails, when in reality that’s not actually the way you’re supposed to go. We had to use Gaia maps repeatedly to be sure that we were still on trail.
After a couple of miles we began a long climb up to the top of the fjord. The climb reminded me of some of our ascents in the white mountains. It was steep and rocky. You had to watch your footing and use your hands frequently to scale up rocks. But I really enjoyed it! Ascents like that are easier on the cardio and harder on your body as a whole. It wasn’t too bad though. On our way up we passed by multiple gushing waterfalls and got amazing views of the fjord and Western Brook Pond below. The more we climbed the closer and closer we got to the epic views we would get up top. We had seen photos, so we knew what was in store for us.
When we finally completed our climb we got to look down at the pond and the fjord below. It was one of the most breathtaking views that I had ever seen. I’ve hiked over 7000 miles between the United States and Canada but I’m not sure I have ever seen anything so beautiful in my life. Up top I felt this rush of gratitude. I don’t think that I’d be here right now if it wasn’t for Trucker and Sparkle. I wouldn’t have done this side quest all by myself. We had to travel a lot to get here and it’s quite far from the actual IAT.
Most likely I would have bypassed this park entirely because of logistical reasons. But here I am, at a UNESCO heritage site. One of the oldest and most precious natural landscapes on the planet. I hiked from Alabama all the way to this high Arctic tundra environment. That’s something that I couldn’t stop thinking about as I walked. Truly, how did I get here? How lucky am I to be here right now.
Once we reached the top we began to climb across a valley. The terrain became a bit easier but we still had to struggle to follow our route. We got “off trail” a handful of times and had to bushwack to get back on the right side of a hill or valley. It wasn’t so bad though. Knowing that the terrain was going to slow us down made it a lot easier. We didn’t expect to be flying along. This is going to be hard, but it’s going to be unforgettable.
Every now and then we would be following along a well-defined game trail. These were some of the trickiest parts of the navigation process. After walking for thousands of miles you get used to following trail. But these were not trails that we could reliably follow. They didn’t necessarily go in our intended direction. At times though it was hard to ignore the game trails and just walk in the general direction that we needed to. Those game trails confused us multiple times but we made sure to check our maps regularly.
The views for the rest of the day were incredibly beautiful. The terrain reminded me of the high Sierra a bit. But truly I couldn’t compare the views to anything that I had seen before. I’ve never hiked in a high Arctic tundra before. This is an environment that I’ve only ever read about in books. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that I would be here this year. When I set out to hike from Alabama to Baxter state park this year I could have never predicted this.
Around 5:30pm we passed the first designated camp site along our route. It had a nice big tent platform and was right on a beautiful pond. We had only made it about 5 miles on the Long Range Traverse. But we are moving at about 1.6 miles per hour, so those 5 miles took all afternoon. The next camp site was still pretty far so we decided to call it a day. We’ll have all day tomorrow to hopefully complete the traverse. No need to push ourselves too hard today. Plus the camp site was beautiful!
I set up my tent on the platform which was interesting. I have a trekking pole tent which really aren’t meant to be set up on platforms. But I made do and we got all our tents situated. Then I made myself a dehydrated meal for dinner and sat out with Trucker and Sparkle. Within an hour or so of getting to camp the temperature dropped drastically. I bundled up and was a lot more comfortable. It’s really cold here though! The Ranger informed us that this area can get freezing temperatures and snow pretty much any time of year. The weather can be unpredictable. But it looks like we’re going to have pretty beautiful weather.
After I ate, I retreated to my tent to warm up. I did my stretches and relaxed. My body felt really good today! I think that the mild injury I’ve been nursing is finally starting to heal. My best guess is that I pulled a muscle or slightly tore something behind my knee. The compression has given me a lot of relief and has allowed me to heal while continuing to hike. I’m so grateful for that. Hopefully over the next week I will continue to heal and soon enough I can stop wearing the compression. It’s not uncomfortable to wear though, so I’ll wear it for as long as I have to! I’m just so happy that I’ve been able to continue hiking.
I got all my electronics charging in my tent and got ready for bed. Then ate a snack before finally calling it a night. We’re going to try and have a nice early start tomorrow. There are about 15 miles remaining in the Long Range Traverse. And considering the fact that we’re moving at around 1.6 MPH that distance is going to take us all day long. Plus some of the toughest terrain and navigation of the trek is what’s ahead of us. I’m excited though! I think that this is going to be the highlight of my entire year of hiking.
Day 216: 18 miles
This morning I was up around 5am but everyone was still asleep. I was pretty tired so I decided to just lay and see if anyone else got up. When Trucker didn’t start packing up early I decided I’d keep sleeping. In the end we wound up sleeping in until almost 6am. It wasn’t too cold this morning which was great.
When I finally got out of my tent I was presented with an incredible sunrise over the pond by our site. What an amazing way to start the day! We wound up deciding to sit around and watch the sunrise fully over the lake. It was so beautiful. Then around 7:45am we started walking.
The first few hours of the morning involved nonstop route finding and slogging through a whole lot of mud. We would basically climb up and then walk along an open ridge. Then descend into a valley before repeating the cycle. There were deep bogs of mud all over the entire trail. Within the first 20 minutes of the day my feet were soaking wet. And it wasn’t long before I was sinking ankle or shin deep into muck as well. Some sections of mud were much deeper than they appeared to be as well. A few times each one of us sunk into a shin or knee deep section and had trouble getting out.
We did a decent job staying on “trail” to start the day. Every now and then we would accidentally follow a game trail a bit off course and have to correct. That would involve climbing up over some sort of rocky hill or through some dense brush. Some areas the brush is so dense that it’s impassible. We were trying hard to avoid making that mistake over the course of the day. The morning was slow going but it was so unbelievably beautiful that I just couldn’t care.
About 3 hours into the morning we passed by another pond with tent platforms. We decided that was as good a place as any to stop off for a break. I stretched and pulled out some snacks to eat. At this point in time we still weren’t sure if we would complete the traverse or not. We had only gone about 5 miles in those first 3 some hours. So it’s tough to say if we’ll make it to the end today or have to finish tomorrow. I guess we will see as the day continues on.
Once we got moving again we followed along the pond for a bit. A lot of our navigation was using landmarks such as lakes and rivers. Knowing whether we were supposed to be on the left or right side of those areas was crucial. If we accidentally tried to go along the wrong side of a pond or lake that mistake would likely cost us hours. Plus we might reach a portion of terrain that we physically couldn’t hike through and may have to turn around.
At one point a couple hours later we were climbing up a hillside. I looked at the map and realized that we were off course, but not by much. I figured that we would be able to correct soon enough to get back on track. We wound up following along a game trail and trying to get back to our route. But the game trail got super steep and we wound up having to climb down a pretty sketchy cliff.
In that moment we remembered wise words from the Ranger that we met with a couple days ago. He said that in this section if we found ourselves climbing down a cliff that meant we were well off trail. It was so funny that he warned us of this error because it is so common. But after we climbed down the cliff we were able to reconnect to our route quickly. The detour didn’t cost us any time at all. It just led us down a much sketchier route. All of us were laughing at the fact that the Ranger warned us of this cliff! And we wound up climbing down it anyways.
Once we got back on “trail” we continued on for another couple miles. The path was a bit easier to follow after that which was nice. Then when we got up top or another hill we decided to stop off for a quick break. The views were beautiful so we couldn’t resist. At this point we still weren’t certain whether or not we would complete the traverse today. It was still pretty early, but we also still had a ways to go.
We walked for another couple of hours after that. It was around 3:30pm at this point and we passed by another tent platform. This was the last marked tent site that we had on our maps. So we talked about whether we should just stop there for the day or push on. But it was so early. All of us knew that if we kept pushing we could probably complete the trek tonight. It was just going to be a long day. We sat at the tent platform for a little while and ate some food.
When we left that camp site we had to immediately ford a pretty fast moving river. Some sections were quite deep so we had to maneuver around rocks to avoid the deepest portions. But it was easy enough. We just got wet! Though the water actually cleaned off my terribly muddy shoes which was great.
Not long after that we climbed up a bit and got some epic views. We were looking down at the Ten Mile Gulch which was exceptional. I’d say it was just as beautiful as the fjord views on the other side of the traverse. It was just blowing my mind to see such incredible views. The trail seemed like something you might see in Norway. I’d never seen anything like it. All day long we were passing by enormous lakes and ponds. Each one somehow more beautiful than the last.
Around 4:30pm we passed the nicest camp site that I’d ever laid eyes on. There were views of a huge lake right from the tent platforms. We all seriously debated calling it a day right then and there. But we didn’t have any water for the night and once again it was super early. We’d already come so far and knew that we could complete the traverse today if we kept moving.
From there it was only a few more miles to the end of the Long Range Traverse. Though when the traverse ended the trail itself didn’t end. We just picked up onto an actual trail which would take us to a parking lot. But that new trail was still about 3 miles long. On the bright side it was incredibly easy to follow, wide, and cruisy! There was a lot of rock in some areas but it wasn’t so bad. The shift in terrain was almost immediate once we exited the traverse.
Those last few miles were so easy it was such a great change of pace. We were back to moving at 3+ miles per hour and everyone was stoked. I jammed out to music and walked effortlessly. Before we knew it we were nearing the parking lot. What an epic adventure!
This is my first ever backpacking trip which was entirely navigation and route finding. I’ve done hikes before which required navigating, but never an overnight. And I really enjoyed the challenge! I’m looking forward to testing myself on similarly difficult hikes in the future. The Long Range Traverse is supposed to be one of the most difficult treks in all of Canada. Normally rangers suggest that experienced hikers plan to take 3-4 days, and less experienced hikers take 4-6 days. We completed it between today and yesterday afternoon!
We got to the parking lot just before it was getting dark. By the time that we walked out to the road to begin hitching it had just gotten dark enough that you needed a headlamp. The road was super quiet so we figured it would be a tough hitch. But one of the first cars that drove by actually wound up turning around and coming back to get us! The guy driving was super nice and said that whenever he sees hitchhikers he always tries to take them. Kyle works mostly from the road so he’s driving all day every day. He offered to take us into Rocky Harbour which was about 6 miles away. The drive was super quick, but the hike would have taken us about 2 hours.
Kyle dropped us off at the ranger station so that we could drop off our permits. That’s the only way that the rangers know whether or not you make it out of the park safely. Then we began walking around town trying to figure out where to stay the night. It had gotten super cold out, so I was eager to get indoors.
We stopped into one place that had rooms available and decided to stay there. They gave us a key and we headed to our room. But the room was already occupied! That was a hilariously awkward situation. So they gave us a new room and we tried our luck once again. Once we got settled in and dropped our packs, we walked down the street to grab food. All of us were starving. We pushed hard today to make it to town before dark. In the end we got to the trailhead, got a hitch, and were back in Rocky Harbour by 8pm. That was better than expected. The restaurant in town closed at 9pm so the timing couldn’t have been better.
We sat down and all ordered a bunch of food. I got a French onion soup and poutine. The idea of hot soup sounded phenomenal. Then life was good! We were all warm and stuffing our faces.
After we ate, we headed back to the hotel to shower up. It was already so late and everyone was super tired. Once I showered, I got into bed and my body was so happy to rest. My body was exhausted, but my mind was wide awake. We watched TV at the room and all hung out. I wound up laying up on my phone until almost 1am! I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t fall asleep. Eventually though I managed to doze off.
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