The twisted Forest.
“The trail is different each time I’m here. In the spring I search for wine-red larch cones, in early summer for wildflowers, in autumn I watch the larch trees turn bright yellow and lose their needles and in winter I ski between the dwarfed dormant trunks. Larch trees (often called Juniper in Newfoundland) like wet soil. Their tough wood was prized by boat builders for rot-resistant knees and spars and was laid in bogs to build corduroy roads. The inner bark was made into a salve for frostbite. Because larch wood was used for musical instruments, the Acadians of the Port aux Port Peninsula called it bois de violon (violin wood). This landscape changes from season to season, from year to year. We’ll experience layers of change as we walk towards the falls.”
No credit is given to the speaker of these words that are written on the plaque in front of me. It is one of several poster boards I stop to read along the boardwalk on the way to Bakers Brook Falls. Suddenly, this hike has gone from plan B to an ecological experience and I start to look at the trees and terrain a little closer.
Today was supposed to be my hiking-tour up Western Brook Pond Gorge but it was postponed due to high winds. While it is calm here, sheltered deep in this evergreen forest, the topography of Western Brook Pond Gorge amplifyies everything from sound to wind and when Out east adventures owner Colin Shears, called today’s hike off last evening, I shrugged my shoulders and asked if there was room on the next hike up. He checked his computer for reservation and said, “Yes there is room.” So the only logical thing to do was to stay an extra night in his hostel in Rocky Habour and embrace the evening by twisting the cap off a cold beer I had chilling in the fridge to celebrate post hike.
Finding myself a seat on the couch in the communal seating area, I looked over at guide Jena and said, “I want to do Gros Mountain, but not the day before the hike to Western Brook Gorge. Anything worth hiking near Rocky Harbour, that isn’t too taxing but will stretch my legs?” I took another drink of my beer while I waited for her answer.
She said Green Gardens was one of her favourites, but I pinched my lips together and shook my head in a no gesture. I didn’t want to drive the hour back towards Trout River, and I had already done the The Look off, So she countered with Baker’s Brook. “It is flat… a nice hike.” Then she pauses and adds “It might be a little wet.” I tell her I brought four pairs of hiking boots and I still have three dry pairs. And that is the back story on why I am here this morning plunking along this trail to Bakers Brook Falls and learning from the sign boards how black spruce, while not the most beautiful tree, was incredibly useful to First Nations and settlers.
Roots were used for weaving baskets and for sewing bark together for canoes. If you needed yeast to rise your bread or ferment beer, black spruce provides it. Its protection against rot was lent to ropes and netting, that were boiled with spruce bark. The resin was chewed as a gum.
Next is the story is of the balsam fir, the traditional Christmas tree appreciated for its sweet smell and it upright growing cones. The sticky pitch concealed in the blisters of the tree’s bark is widely recognized for its medicinal properties and commonly added to cough syrups, As a child I had pierced a lot of those blisters for entertainment, but you only have to get that sap in your mouth once and you’ll never forget how your tongue will immediately start to lap against the roof of your mouth to rid itself of the waxy sinus-opening assault. I giggle and smile thinking how fortunate I am to have that memory.
I keep going down the trail. A long wooden boardwalk transitions from forest to open meadow and onward to a bog. It too has a distinct smell of rotting foliage and peat. I start to thinking this might be the perfect place to see a moose. I walk slowly and quietly scanning the tree line. In spite of their enormous size, they are masters of camouflage, blending into to their surroundings so easy, and If there is one here, I can’t pick it out. I keep going forward hoping for an sighting but none comes.
Checking my watch I see I have been on the trail for over an hour but I don’t see a river or hear one and I haven’t seen anyone since the parking lot trail head. I take a pee break at an open pit toilet not designed for those who are shy and picky.
Then I return to the boardwalk, which ends and the dirt trail takes over. It is indeed wet here- very wet. I search out higher patches and try to leap across wet areas, but it is becomes apparent that I am not getting to the end without getting my feet wet. I stop wasting energy going around puddles and pools and just trudge though the muck and think still two pair of dry hiking boots left..
I see a platform off to right and a sign for a look off but another sign points further up to the falls So go for the big show first and if it is worth the side trek I will stop at the platform on my return.
I follow the sound of the rushing water, peering through the trees at a set of rickety stairs I must ascend to get out to the prime viewing area of the cascades. I give out a few gasps going down a set of slick narrow boards with no railing. I debate continuing any further but I can’t come this far and bail, It just requires careful foot placement. A woman in front of me holds tightly onto a the hand of young boy, her caring patience keeps him safe as he slowly double-steps his way down the stairs.
Once at the bottom it is worth the trouble and risk but the mid-day light is a bit too bright for great photos of water falls and the mist suspended in the air threatens to spot up my lens. I take at least fifty shots trying to get the aperture and shutter speed right but trying to squeeze in a shot around other people is hard and few photos turned out satisfactory or salvageable but to say the cliché you get the picture.
I follow the family back up the stairs and on the way back, I take the detour to the overlooking platform to the upper falls. I am glad I did it last or I may not have gone all the way to the bottom, believing I had seen the falls. From this spot.
On the way back I passed a man with two boys on mountain bikes, I am sure they were surprised at what they were gettting themselves into. Definitely not a cycling trail. I had to step off the boardwalk to let them by. Then a family all wearing bright clean white sneakers. Headed toward me, We shimmy by sideways with little room on the boardwalk. I say, “The trail is pretty wet up ahead.” They thank me and keep going. Making it back to the parking lot, I see a trail leading up a prominent hilly feature called Berry hill. I decide to add it to my day’s hike.
You follow a spiralling trail up the hill to a look off. It was short steep climb, 750 meters long and a rise to 135 meters high. It was a satisfying view of the forest below. I learned this hill was an island in the last ice age, and the land below was covered by an inland sea. It added only and extra 1.5 km to my Baker Brook hike. If you go up watch out for the slick rocks at the top..
It was an easy twelve kilometer hiking day with beautiful scenery and a great prep for my hike up Western Brook Pond and Gorge, NFLD. Please join me on that amazing tricky trek. Happy travels from Maritimemac
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