When someone asks you what you did for your summer vacation and you reply with "We backpacked 35kms in the Long Range Mountains!" You are always met with blank stares and the question of why? ...It's the sense of accomplishment and adventure that encouraged a group of us to tackle this challenging hike located in Gros Morne, NL. This hike is not your average day hike and requires careful navigation and awareness as it is bear country and certain precautions must be taken.
I pitched the idea of doing this hike a little over a year ago to a group of friends who regularly go hiking and camping throughout the summer season in Newfoundland. I had completed this hike 5 years ago with another group of friends and was eager to do it again as it offers some of the best hiking and scenery in the province. Chad Blundon, a good friend of mine always regretted not going with us years before and immediately committed himself to the trip. Another friend, Matthew Tucker wanted to accept the challenge and also committed from the start. Rounding out the group was a latecomer, my good buddy, Jeff Cook. So how did the four of us manage on this hike of such massive proportions? Read on to find out why this trip was easily the most memorable moments of our lives so far...
We left St. John's early in the morning as we had a requirement to meet the Park Warden in Rocky Harbor between 1:00 and 3:00 pm. The purpose of this meeting was to demonstrate our map and compass skills in order to obtain a backcountry permit. Navigation in the backcountry can be tricky due to the unpredictable weather and similar landscape. The "test" consists of taking a bearing, adjusting for declination and demonstrating the proper way to triangulate yourself on a map in case you are lost. After the warden was satisfied with our map and compass skills, he issued a permit and we were set to leave for our trip the next day.
The rest of the night was spent checking and double-checking our gear and trying to get used to a 50-pound pack on your back!
Day 1: Up, Up and Away
|Catching the boat on day one|
The hike into the boat tour is a groomed trail with boardwalks and gave us our first real taste of what hiking with our packs on really felt like. After some adjustments and tweaking, we managed to make them feel comfortable and after a few kilometers arrived at the boats. We were running a bit late so a lunch of hot dogs and crackers from the canteen would have to suffice for lunch. We stowed our gear below on the boat and went topside to enjoy the view and the 1.5 hour ride into the end of the pond where they drop you off at a small dock. We lucked out on weather as it was sunny and clear, the mountains and cliffs did not disappoint, towering above us and providing spectacular views.
The boat arrived at the dock and we were met with confused looks from the other tourists on the boat who couldn't believe we were being dropped off in this remote location. After messages of "Good Luck!" and "Watch out for bears!" the sound of the boat engine faded away. Its amazing how isolated you feel when you realize you won't be seeing any civilization for at least 4 days! We started to make our way through the valley, loosely following a dry riverbed up until the point where you have to start climbing the steep incline of the gorge. The valley contains huge boulders, open meadows and rain forest like surroundings. The valley is also spotted with small caves that provide a nice microclimate that is considerably cooler than the relentless sun that we took advantage of quite often. We picked our way up the gorge stopping to check map and compass and verify with our GPS. About 5 hours later we were coming out on the top. This is one of the nicest and most famous views in the park and it made all that slogging well worth it. It was also here we ran into a lady who was camped by herself on the top of the gorge. This struck us as odd because you are not allowed to make this hike on your own. She had been with another group and realized she could not keep up the pace so the tour guide told her to hike down the gorge and get the boat out! This was not only extremely stupid on his part but considerably dangerous as well. This lady had already attempted to go down twice on her own but was too afraid as it is technically challenging and dangerous. She assured us she was fine and that she was not going to budge until someone came and got her. We checked to see if she had enough food and water, which she did and we continued on our way. One rule when you are hiking anywhere, not just the backcountry is: Never leave any member of your group alone!!
|Mud! One of many obstacles|
Day 2: Why are we so sore?
This day started with a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs, always a great breakfast to start the day! Today's agenda consisted of a relatively easy hike into the next campsite located at Harding's Pond. The weather was overcast and it looked like it might rain but it was warm and turned out to be ideal hiking conditions. The terrain moved by under our feet and we were making good time considering all the ups and down in the valleys. This was the day we saw our fist wildlife, a moose scrambling up a hill not too far away from us. We stopped for a lunch of bagels and sandwich meats while we checked our bearing on the map and consulted the GPS. A GPS is not essential for the trek but is handy when the fog is thick and you can't get a bearing on a distant object. Nothing is a substitute for a good map and compass!
|Joe and Matt relaxing|
Day 3: The day the rain came!
We awoke in the tent to the sound of a light sprinkle of rain on the tent. After a while this turned into a steady rain so we decided to stay put for a little bit to see if it would pass. We caught a break and got outside the tent to pack up and prepare for our next leg of the hike into Green Island Pond. It was then we noticed one pair of boots sitting outside the tent in the rain with an inch of water inside. It was my duty the night before to make sure everything ws in the tent but I neglected Matt's boots, sorry Matt! While we were packing up another group came through from the direction we arrived in the day before. After quick chat, members of this party informed us that a lady had gone missing and there was a search party of approximately 40 people now looking for her in the gorge. We confirmed it was indeed the lady we bumped into the first day and were quite shocked she decided to move after assuring us she was staying put. If the weather never put us in a gloomy mood, this news certainly didn't help. We said our goodbyes and continued on with the rain threatening to open up and drench us. Later in the afternoon it did just that and within seconds the fog rolled in and rain came down in sheets. Some of us brought our jackets and pack covers while others decided it wasn't needed. The rain was relentless and was starting to test our nerves; we were wet, cold and hungry...not a good combination when you are in the woods. To make matters worse, the fog was making map and compass navigation difficult and the GPS was moving us in a direction that didn't seem to exist! It was at this point we became a bit lost, or as I like to put it..."We aren't lost, we just don't know where we are!"
|A tedious climb|
We walked into camp soaking wet but happy we were actually there. One neat thing about the tent we had with us is that it allows you to setup the rain fly seperate from the tent. We did just that and managed to get out of the rain so we could dry out and get some warm food while we waited out the rain. Its hard to describe how much rain actually fell, but it was easily one of the worst rain storms I have ever been in. Rain and wind pounded our tent relentlessly and would not let up for quite some time. The wind and rain threatened to blow away our temporary shelter and a few times we had to hold it down just in case. Matthew kept up the moral by assuring everyone that the rain had to stop...it couldn't rain all night could it? Almost immediately after saying it, the rain and wind stopped as if someone hit a switch. We made the decision to hop out and do everything as quick as we could in case it came back again. We managed to setup the tent properly and get into some dry clothes, which was a huge moral booster for the group after spending so much time in wet clothes. The rain continued to hold off long enough for us to cook a proper supper and have a cup of tea while we tried to dry out some of our things. We went to sleep that night dry and warm, which considering the day we had was more than anymore could ask for!
Day 4: The Last Day
|Matt cooking supper|
From here we could see Gros Morne Mountain and knew we were coming to the point where we had to descend into Ferry Gulch. We also saw another moose in the distance walking along a plateau. There is one way down from the top and that is through a very dangerous and steep riverbed. We found the riverbed that led down to base of the mountain and started our descent. If there was any place that hiking poles proved to be useful, it was right here. The descent is near vertical and covered in wet and loose rocks. It takes a great deal of concentration and caution while navigating down this part of the trek, one misstep and you can go head-over-heels with a very heavy pack on your pack. Thirty minutes or so later we came out at the bottom and met up with some people who were doing a day hike up Gros Morne Mountain. We looked quite dirty and tired after 4 days of hiking and they were in disbelief because we looked like we enjoying it!
|Calling it a day|
After such a long time in the woods and depriving ourselves of some of life's simple pleasures, we decided a night out on the town was in order. After a well needed shower, we hit up a local restaurant and spoiled ourselves on Fish and Chips and some beer that tasted better than I could have ever imagined! We checked out a local bar and stayed for a few drinks, chatting with some local residents and tourists. With thoughts of the long drive to St. John's the next day, we decided to call it a night and headed back to our cabin for the night.
Overall, this trip turned out to be one of the most memorable moments in my life. From the breathtaking scenery, to the challenge of completing such a difficult hike this trip will be remembered by all of us for quite a long time.
Check out the Photo Gallery for more photos.
For more information about the hike, contact Joe Martin at : email@example.com