North Rim Traverse, Gros Morne NP

Newfoundland, Canada - August 21-23, 2000

You can enlarge pictures by clicking on them.

Oh, and most pictures of me can be found in Robert's photo-journal - there are some amazing views too

The rest of our Newfoundland adventures

Here are some technical details:

Permits: In order to hike in the backcountry in Gros Morne, you need to obtain special permits from the park warden. They cost $27 per person when we did it (Canadian money). You also have to reserve your spot in advance since they only let a few parties go on any given day. (This is more relevant to the Long Range Traverse rather than the North Rim, which is less popular - you'll see why shortly :) ).

Getting there: Leave plenty of time for driving in Newfoundland. Sometimes roads are not paved, including a bit of the #1 Transcanada Highway.
To do the North Rim Traverse, you'll have to cross the Western Brook Pond (see picture) either on the way there, or back. This also costs money ($30 Can. per person this year). However, if you devise some clever scheme with a kayak, you might be able to avoid it.
Weather: Train your philosophical view of life, and prepare to hike through days of solid rain.
Terrain: Tuckamore. No trail. Tuckamore. If it's been raining (90% chance), there'll be bogs and marshes, streams, and water everywhere. Oh, and tuckamore. Note: tuckamore is an extremely dense forest of very short pine and birch trees characteristic of near-polar climates...i think
Map: The North Rim Traverse conveniently spans across two maps, rather than one, so I put them together here. Distances in kilometers!
And here go the gory details...

Day 1: 10am The boat leaves from the "civilised" side of the Western Brook Pond. The pond is really a fjord cut off from the ocean by a stripe of rising land, and it looks remarkably spectacular. The trip to the other end of the fjord takes about 1.5hrs, including detours to see its little wonders, such as the Snug Harbor and the ex-marine cave - about 400 m above sea level where the sea used to be. About 4 other 2 or 3-person parties get off at the same time as us, but most will attempt the longer (5-day) Long Range Traverse where better conditions are predicted.

Snug Harbor

Looking back on Western Brook Pond

We lose them by first having lunch at the base of the gorge, where we head around noon, walking on a forest trail and a dry river bed. As the trail starts going sharply up next to an impressive waterfall, we meet a couple of well-equiped but nonetheless lost hikers. They advise us that the North Rim is supposed to be undoable with unbearable tuckamore and predicted rain throughout. Sounds good. Soon we're on top of the gorge, but by 4pm my right knee starts to complain, so we stop at the first campable spot in the bogs.

We go for a nap in the tent, and then have dinner at the cliff, looking down the steep sides of the fjord and fighting a losing battle against an army of small flies and mosquitoes. We just make it back to the camp as the rain starts to pour from the unwelcoming northen sky (how's that for an epithet?).

The highest point is our dining hall that night

Above treeline (still day 1)

Day 2: It pours down the whole day with unfrequent breaks of at most 10 minutes each. So by 9am or so, we finally find our way out of the dry and comfortable tent. Breakfast is Ramen (a new concept in Ramen consumption in the wilderness, I'm sure) as it turns out that we brought no sweeteners or anything for our 2 pounds of oatmeal. Then we start walking again. Apparently it had been raining for 5 days straight just before we came to Gros Morne, and so the top of the Long Range Mountains is covered in bogs and marshes with all kinds of streams running pretty much where trails (that is, caribou paths) used to be
While we're "above treeline" (400m+), it isn't all that bad though... the landscape is pretty much what you would expect tundra to look like in the summer, only with lots of water - lakes, streams, and bogs. Then there's tuckamore. Caribou paths go through tuckamore,then stop abruptly at some meadow, or head in the wrong direction. It's unclear whether we can connect the many meadows into some sort of "trail" that will lead us to the right place (the other side of this huge tuckamore field) so we decide unwisely to take a bearing and make our own way. If you ever face a similar choice in tuckamore, don't. Resist the temptation. You will not save any time. You will get scratched and wet, you will rip your expensive gear and you will be a miserable wreck, as you stumble over the roots and get your backpack caught in the branches, not that you can tell which is which and where.
Wet to the bone

Gorge path (still day 1) and Bakeapple berries

Eventually we found other caribou paths which brought us to the end of the nightmare. On the way we saw a moose cross our path (good omen?) really close to us, and another one watching us from a distance. When we finally see "our lake", it's late and we rejoice - there'll be a campsite. The designated backcountry campsites have wooden platforms for the tents, firerings and a toilet. By that time, we are wet to the bones despite all the GoreTex and all the excessive Nikwax on our shoes - oh, and we stopped about 5 times during the day to pour water out of our shoes and twist it out of our socks. As the sun quickly sets, and we hurry to set up camp, I start shivering uncontrollably and find myself standing there with a sleeping bag in one hand, unable to do much at all apart from being cold.
Self-diagnosis: hypothermia at an early stage, helps little. Robert boils water and makes hot jello (we always do it by the book - see later treatment of burns), helps me out with the tent and bags, and even unlaces my boots - sweetie. Dinner is miraculously cooked while I recover in the tent/sleeping bag with my hot jello and slightly less wet clothes (water seeped mercilessly through the backpack and the trashbag liners), and so I venture out - can't eat in the tent - there are bears all around. Pasta soup is delicious. It's almost 10pm and sleep is a must. I'm definitely the weak link in our team :( .

Day 3: Ramen for breakfast, and we're on our way by 9:30am. This is the first perfectly sunny day - to be sure there are some clouds in the sky, but compared to the day before they are negligible. This time we try to avoid tuckamore as much as possible and follow the ridge. The landscape changes slightly and becomes much more rocky. Robert wants to go all the way to the edge of the pond, and so we get lost in a large marsh - when we get past that, having fallen in at least once each, we have to literally walk on top of a field of miniature trees, again falling through every now and again. So it turns out that the fjord drop is too out of the way and tricky, and that we don't have that much time if we want to return to the car the same day.
Fjord mouth

A little rest in the sun

We cut back through the marsh at a narrower point, and press on, trying our best to look for caribou. It's very windy but warm so the only layer I'm wearing is GoreTex. We have lunch in a nice sunny mini-tree field (mini-pines, mini-birches), we get to sit on top of them and we only have one can of liver spread and four balance bars left to eat, so we argue over the food as I become suspicious of Robert's manipulations with the quantities. The dispute is quickly resolved though, and on we go, this time following the ridge to the views of the fjord. On the way, we see a very much dead caribou - in fact, only the skull with horns and some bones are left, - and so we ponder the ephemeral nature of our lives, memento mori, sic transit gloria mundi, or whatever you say on the occasion of seeing a dead caribou. The views from the top of the fjord are awesome, see picture attached.
From there, we descent on unbending legs (me) late into the night, and finally arrive at the car at 10pm exhausted.

The whole hike turns out to be much wilder and harder than it may look on the map. We really had thought the rangers were just deterring losers from getting stuck on a multi-day backpacking trip, and we actually planned to do it in 2 or just over 2 days, with food packed accordingly. It turns out that we almost ran out of food (oatmeal doesn't count) and it took a full three days just as the park warden had said. I'm really glad we did it though. And we are thinking of returning in winter to do the whole Long Range Traverse. Winter of course has to be understood loosely, as its poorly defined boundaries lie somewhere between late October and early May in Newfoundland.

Snug Harbor revisited by land

10:30pm we are eating dinner at "The Fisherman's Landing", civilisation is a blessing
11:30pm sleep at the Berry Point campground, having lusty dreams of hot showers in the morning

And finally, some photographic masterpieces:

In the gorge (day 1)

High art (day 1)

Western Brook Pond

... and its cliffs
It turns out that I have many more pictures of day 1 than others... sorry.

Text and pictures are copyright of Gavastik Publishers, Inc.