No perks, discounts or revenues were received writing this post it is my own vacation story. August 5th, 2021
All I know is at some point I saw a picture – maybe on the cover of a magazine or a travel brochure, then I saw drone footage of the same spot, in a travel advertisement for Newfoundland and Labrador. It was so striking it gave me pause. Is there really a place so beautiful and can I live that view that is called Western Brook Pond ?
During my research I found Out East Adventures offered guided tours to the top of Western Brook Pond and I reserved my spot immediately. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I watched the video and read the joining instructions, that I realized what I was getting into. A hike rated as 5/5 difficulty described as an18-km round trip (6km access trail + 12km backcountry trail). We would face landslides, river crossings, and scrambling. A minimum ten hour day that sounded reminiscent of Mount Katahdin, Maine, and while I do recall how fatigued, and at times afraid I was on that hike, I mostly remember how exhilarating it was. So hell and high-water be damned, I am all-in for this adventure.
At 6 am. I quietly back out into the kitchen area and close the door of the dorm room behind me. I only have one room-mate, his name is Alex, and over the last few days, I have shared meals and stories with him. After completing his residency he realized that within months, he would be starting his own medical practice and with the life-long commitments and the time constraints of his chosen profession, he seized a small window this summer, to go have an adventure.
Jumping on his bike with a back-pack containing a few toiletries, a hammock and one change of clothing, he cycled out of his hometown community in Quebec and pedaled northward, catching the ferry from Blanc Sablon, over to St Barbe, Newfoundland then made his way down the great northern peninsula. He averaged about 100 kilometers a day and spoke of beautiful scenery, fog, rain and wind, flies, long stretches of isolation, sleeping on the side of the road, and some incredibly kind people that helped him when he had a flat tire. He was holding up at this hostel in Rocky Harbor, while a tire and tube for his bike was being shipped through Deer Lake. He would use the time to look around Gros Morne park, and once his bike was repaired, he planned to continue south and cross to Nova Scotia, pedal all the way up across the border into New Brunswick, see what was there and carry on northward, looping back into Quebec before beginning his career.
I scoop coffee grounds into the French press and then pull open the fridge door, lifting out the inners for my wraps I had stacked on a dish of left over pasta we had shared last night. Dr Alex was the embodiment of spontaneity and adventure and was just what I needed to validate my own thirst for today’s experience.
At 8 am Collin Shears, the business owner, came out of his living quarters and unlocked the front doors. By 8:30 am lead guides Brad and Jen have ten hikers seated on the couch in font of them. We do a round-table discussion, spieling off introduction and backgrounds, which feed Brad and Jen with a bit of info into our capabilities. Then Brad sets expectations of what we will face: The hike into the boat ride, the boat ride to the back of the gorge, then the three stages of this hike. The first part is the longest but has the least elevation, the second haul takes us uphill over a rockslide that came down in an avalanche several years ago. We will cross a river multiple times and this stage will conclude at a waterfall. Once there, we will take stock of how we are doing y8before we beginning stage three- the scramble up to the top.
His former career as a SAR Tech, (search and rescue technician) comes out, as he scans our eyes for signs of hesitation and the appropriateness of our footwear and clothing choices. Satisfied he has the info he needs, he lightens the mood with a few jokes and then the group disperses. I travel with Jen and Brad in the van, the rest of the group take their private vehicles. Thirty minutes later we rendezvous at the parking lot of Western Brook Pond trail head, to the boat dock. A last check of water supplies and snacks, and Brad leads us down the 3 km trail to the dock. Jen purposely travels mid-pack getting familiar with the group dynamic. Brad tells us the lake is so pure it doesn’t support any fish and we get a bit of history about the glaciers and static-rebound of the land after the glaciers receded, which is why it is a considered a gorge and not a fjord. Fascinating stuff.
Once at the dock we have a last chance at a flush toilet and we board the boat for our 30 minute crossing of the lake. Our boat captain recommends we not sit at far back corners, on this high speed boat “….the spray will get you,” he says.
We splash and pound over the water, with a few zigs and zags to get everyone a chance at being wet from the spray. The two girls that are on the trip get a chance to drive the boat. The first one jumps right up and takes the wheel, the second girl is shy and needs a bit more encouraging then finally goes and seems to enjoy it. Her parents snap keepsake photos
The captain takes over and slows at what is called Pissing Mare Falls so we all can take photos. We hear him say the valley is closed in the spring as the caribou migrate through and swim from one side of the lake to the other. Everyone on board draws a line with their eyes from one cliff wall to the other. An unbelieveable feat of endurance to make that crossing.
I breathe in th air and try to memorize the shape and size of the cliff walls. We chug along into the headwater of the gorge. The boat gears down and we slide up to the dock where the ropes are thrown to tie up and we are given a hand to step off onto the dock. When we are all ashore the captain waves off and heads back. There is no going back now. With our packs heaved on our backs and hikers double-tied, Jen take us up the first part of the hike into Moose Meadow. There was a question asked about needing to keep our coats on and she responds with, “I always say, be bold start cold.” I smile and say, “I m going to use that line at some point again.” She smiled, then headed up the path Our pace is steady-fast and in spite of the recommendation not to use hiking poles, the ground is rocky and uneven and I am happy to have them on this leg of the trip at least.
Brad had slipped away to bury a cache of supplies but soon catches up at the back. We take a pause at an open pit toilet we could us if we so desired, He reiterated his warning to be mindful not to touch or grab the giant hog wart plants, they have a caustic sap that will burn and blister your skin. Brad told us an anecdote that on one occasion to prove his point to a group, he smeared a dap of the sap on his hand and regretted it immediately, the blister and burn lasted for days. A few other people added to his conversation of their own experiences with it.
I took my pack off to get a snack, and a swarm of black flies attacked. They have a particular fondness for my ears and after several minutes of relentless nipping my lobes felt red and swollen. I had brought a full net shirt so I pull it on and cinch it up. I have never seen blackflies like that, the shirt net was on to stay. The front zipper I undid just enough to push my water line through to take a drink and then close it back up.
Stage two was the rock slides and river crossing. By this point I had asked Jen if she could stow my camera away in my pack. It had been a hinderance dangling around my neck and I had smacked it hard against a couple of large rocks. I didn’t want to worry about it while I was finding my way over stuff. She graciously helped put it away. The photos for the rest of the hike in are from her iPhone.
The temperature was rising and the previous week’s rainfall had made it very humid. I had removed my outer jacket and strapped it to a side lanyard on my pack. I was down to my long sleeve shirt with my fly net shirt over top. The air so close it felt like a tropical jungle. We pushed on. The plate and pins in my ankle and leg are always at the forefront of my mind. If I hit the ground wrong they hurt and rock-hopping across tottery boulders puts my heart in my throat. To relieve my own anxiety of going too slow and holding others up, I step aside and let them pass. I prefer to be near the back with our guide Jen.
Water crossing – the first few are easy, the next few rather tricky, thigh-deep and leaps of faith to make it to the rock on the side.
We stop at one spot in the river, I soak my kerchief in the cool stream and wring it out over my head then sweep the damp cloth around my face, neck and cleavage to wash off the sweat and dirt, My outer clothing is strung all over my pack like a clothes line. I keep my eyes towards the ground and glance up to see the scenery when possible.
Photos above credited to Jen Phoebe.
We finally made it to the waterfall the end of stage two. Brad again scanned everyone for dehydration, injury or reluctance to continue. I ate my wraps and two chocolate bars. We were informed we could leave our packs here to lessen the weight we would need to carry, the rest of the way was going to be hands over hand plant step, grab, pull upward, plant step grab pull upward.
One of the couples were celebrating their anniversary, and the lady was climbing just ahead of me. She was stepping and pushing upward then she paused, tipping her head down to catch a breath. I could see she was breathing hard as I looked at her, her lips parted open and eyes bore downward not at me but beyond towards her husband and she said, “Hon, if you ever take me on an adventure like this again…..” and left the thought in the air. Jen and I chuckled. Brad called out “Five more minutes!” We all climbed carefully, aware that a wrong step and we could all go down like dominos. Pebbles occasionally rolled by from the above climbers. Our strong brave leader shouted out again, “Five more minutes!” and ten minutes later he said it again. Myself and the lady in front of me start jokingly singing it like a jiggle, ” Five more minutes, give me five more minutes yeah….,” and then the last bend and through some trees and we were there. The magical place high above the lake. We had made it. Packs were dropped and people flopped to the ground or leaned against each other, just staring off towards the view.
Brad gave us a his plan of picture taking poses we could get. I was the first up. Here is the collection of photos of me he took of various angles
There was an pond further up in the gorge one couple went for a mountain-water cold dip, The anniversary couple smooched for their photos. Her threat from earlier about his choice of adventure replaced with joy and a sense of gratitude. Brad continued taking photos of families, couples, individuals. I stretched out on the rock after removing my shoes and laid my socks out to dry in the sun. I just wanted to stay still and study the rocks, the folds their shapes, the treeline, the valley below. I want to recall every detail of this place in my mind as I probably will never return. It was a hard hike up here but the reward far outweighed the struggle.
The forward looking crab-crawl down was the easiest way to get through the scramble, lots of loose rocks and soil fell away and we called out below “tumbling rocks.” We stopped to eat some berries that I called service berries or wine berries, and Brad called saskatoon berries. We grabbed handfuls of plump tasty blueberries within reach and kept stepping and scooch downward. Jen encouraged and helped everyone from near the back. A few sighs of relief were expressed when we got to the waterfall. We retrieved what we left behind. The flies returned in full force to gorge on our ears and the nets went back on and we departed quickly.
We follow the same route, I recognize spots from the hike up. In some places I do the same step pattern, and at other places I attempt a new approach hoping for a good outcome. Through the rapids, ducking under overhanging rocks and throwing a leg over a downed log. A low grade tremble hits me again crossing the landslide areas and I step aside to let someone else pass. Iturn to Jen and say, “I hate this shit.” She smiles and says, “Let us know how your feel about it, eh?” We chuckle. “I don’t mind the smaller rocks but the big teetering ones frighten me.” I have to say I was relieved when we arrived back at the meadow. I turn back to look up at where we had gone and returned from, amazed.
Back on the dock we cheer and high-five, take final photos, savour the feeling of accomplishment.
One more thirty minute lake crossing on the boat. I continue to take photos and absorb what I can. I am in awe at all of what I just experienced. Some emotions you can’t share.
We depart from the boat for our last 3 km hike back to the parking lots. Brad has been entertaining the children most of the return hike.
He says in the car ride back, he has done so many of these hikes he knows with kids the excitement is getting there, but on the return fatigue sets in. The parents are focused on trying to get back safely with their own energy depleted and so, “.. I help keep the kids having a great experience.”
Arriving back at the hostel, I hustle into my room with my backpack and notice Alex’s bed is made and his belongings are gone. I drop my stuff beside my bunk and head out to the kitchen, a little disappointed I wouldn’t get to share my day with him. I collapse into the chair and open a celebratory beer. I say to Collin, “Alex is gone?” more of a question than a statement. Collin says he is gone for a few days, he will be back. I nod my head and pinch my lips together, thinking he probably went to Deer Lake to pick up his bike tire and tube. I’m heading north in the morning to Arches Provincial park so I wouldn’t see him again. Good luck Dr Alex. I hope your cycling journey is a safe one.
In case you want to know my gear on this hike.
Osprey Day-lite pack
Platypus water bladder with syphon
Marmot long sleeve trekking shirt
Fleece by Arc’Teryk
Rain shell by North Face
Columbia Omni-Shield trekking pants,
Keen ankle-high waterproof, hikers
Black diamond, titanium collapsible hiking poles
My camera was a Nikon 610 point and shoot.
Please join me again as I head up Newfoundland’s Great Northern Peninsula for more adventures.Thank you.
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