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samschmitz committed Nov 23, 2014
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title: Hiking the Gros Morne Long Range Traverse
summary: In which modest men conquer modest mountains
date: 2014-10-07 18:54:40
A group of my dear friends periodically come together in (increasingly) far-flung parts of the world to remind each other of our mutual affection. This most recent round took place in Newfoundland, a ragged thumb of land somewhere north or east of most places familiar to you and me. The object was the Long Range Traverse, a much-vaunted trail across the spine of mountains that run the length of [Gros Morne National Park]( I think This, is must be said, was as unlikely a mission as any for this particular crew. While I wouldn't say that we're unathletic, per se, unlike some gangs of collegiate pals, joined in lusty pursuit of mountaintops and women, we were brought together over the school newspaper and such, rather than the mountaineering club. Needless to say, a few the marginally more experienced of us took it upon ourselves to organize. Briefly, this consisted of:
* Important-ish Things to do Before Leaving *
- Making LRT reservations with the Gros Morne park office
- Car rental for the duration
- Scheduling "taxi" drop-off at Western Brook Pond
- Reserving ferry tickets to be dropped off at trailhead
- Flights to YDF, Deer Lake
That was about it, I believe. I didn't do any of this. I mostly confined myself to perusing various online travel guides and figuring out how to use a fancy little GPS gadget I'd purchased for the occasion. After much wrangling, I managed to load on the [Ibycus Top Maps](, that provide detailed coverage of all of Canada. For those new to the world of GPS devices and the like, it's a pain—a network of proprietary devices and file formats, custom-made tools for conversions, well-intentioned corporate efforts at cross compatibility, etc. For good measure, I also ordered the necessary (paper) topo map as a fall-back (012H12-P).
## Day 0: Getting Set
We'd assembled at Deer Lake, where the airport is, but that's a solid hour or so from Gros Morne itself. Joe's flight was delayed, which made it mildly more complex. And there was some kind of elaborate blasting operation taking place on the single road to Grose Morne, so we ended up arriving at the visitor center towards the end of the day. I don't know why I thought it'd be more rustic, but it was one of those solid, rustic buildings with interpretation centers and everything.
After announcing that we had reservations for the LRT, we were directed over to a sunken-auditorium, where somber video introduced us to the trail. This was the first indication that thing wouldn't be quite as rugged as anticipated. How many trails have full-blown taped introductions?
### The Test
To get issued tickets for the LRT, you've got to pass a written basic wilderness navigation exam. We were all a bit nervous about this, having essentially zero experience. The internet had various rumblings about it; it didn't _seem_ difficult, but some hikers had been delayed while trying to convince the rugged characters up there that they were fit to take the trail. That, and the standard issue emergency GPS beacon that everyone is issued gave the endeavour a serious, dramatic air.
Navigation-wise, after watching a few YouTube videos and trying to wrap my mind around declination and such, I felt reasonably prepared. We needn't of worried. The test itself is only 20 or so questions, a few typewritten sheets: take various readings off of a map, identify where you might read the scale, measure the declination, grade-school stuff. While I'd imagined we'd be in a room with a rugged, Canadian outdoorsman, the whole affair was much more casual. We got to take the test off to a table in the visitor center and work together as a group. And the particular photocopy we'd been issued happened to have the answer key stapled to the reverse. Oops. I pointed this out to the rangers when we returned it to the desk, so I imagine that particularly oversight's been corrected (sorry), but overall, it was a casual experience.
We passed with flying colors, though I'll admit, that doesn't prove much.
After a solid dinner at Earle's (at least I thought so)—Moose Burgers and other assorted Newfie delicacies—we spent the night at a campground that Anton had scoped out, Green Point, just north of town. It was a nice, developed campground. We got there a bit late in the day to really enjoy the beach, but it was a beautiful spot. We divied up some supplies, food, etc., in the back of our rented minivan. I, of course, was stressed about the relative weight distribution, as well as the self-appointed navigator dude, somewhat apprehensive about the 'morrow.
## Day 1: We Begin
We drove out to the end-point of the LRT, which is just a few minutes from the visitors center. Most people do it this way—North to South—and were met there by a pair of friendly locals who moonlight a "taxi" service. Jesse made the reservations, I think, so I don't recall the exact details. I do know that one of the fellows ran Pittman's Restarurant in Norris Point. Or maybe Pittman's Inn in Rock Harbor. Something like that.
They charged, I believe, $20 each, which like most things in Newfoundland, seemed a bit steep, but what-the-hey. Anyhow, the system worked easily enough. We piled in and they drove us up to Western Brook Pond, where we'd been instructed to begin the trip. The Pond is a capped fjord, a long jet of water between steep cliffs. After being dropped off by our drivers (who gamely snapped our photo), we walked over the mile-or-two of boardwalk that spans the swamp between the coast and the pond. Upon arrival, we encountered our first mini fiasco: a gruff, intimidating ship captain, eyeing our swollen packs, informed us that we'd screwed up—the 11:30 ferry was too large to stop at the small dock that we'd have to be dropped off at: we were supposed to be on the 9:00AM.
Jesse, our planner-in-chief, was disconsolate. He'd called and asked this very question, and the woman he spoke to had insisted just the opposite. Nevertheless, despite the warning, the boat boss said "he'd do his best to drop us off," leaving off with a significant shrug. What would happen if we didn't manage to get to the trailhead wasn't immediately clear. No matter; we bought our tickets—$33 dollars apiece. As we'd cleverly left our credit cards behind in the car (what kind've backwoods adventurer carries plastic?) so in another panicked moment, we pooled our emergency cash resources and came up with the request $200CAD or so. Off we went!
The weather was great and the ferry ride was lovely. Concern over the drop-off gradually dissipated. It seemed clear that there was some element of manly drama in the captain's concern: we'd met a trio of other hikers who'd be starting down the trail with us (and who we'd run into a number of times over the course of the trip), who were in the same situation. We also met another fellow from Somerville, MA (Union Square, actually), on some intermediary leg of a vast cross-continental tour (and from whom Mishy immediately extracted various personal details—"Will you and your girlfriend get married?")
The drop-off wasn't anything to worry about—and soon, we were collected on the ferry. After getting our bearings and clicking "go" on the GPS, we were off! A very clearly marked trail led us up the gorge, through thick, almost tropical growth. As we ascended the gorge, the path become somewhat less clear—but it was tough to get lost. The gorge was narrow, and well, we were just going up it. We'd been told a number of times "to go right at the waterfall."
Just a few miles from the trailhead, this was, funnily enough, where we go the most lost—or at least, half of us did. Time and again, we'd been told to "go right" at the waterfall. We kept our eyes peeled. When the opportunity presented itself, it was pretty clear what right was — a sheet of water slid across the center of the gorge. To left was a reasonably-sheer cliff. We went right. Too far right, it turns out. Mishy, Joe, & I found ourselves gnarled in a thick nest of tuckamore — the technical term for wiry, nearly-impassable scrub of stunted trees that was a fixture of the trip.
We weren't lost, per se, just a little off the trail. It wasn't pleasant. At length, we made it back to the trail. We decided to camp in the bowl at the top of the gorge—which after a group photo, clouded in. We cooked and made camp, bracing ourselves for the poor weather we knew was to come.
## Day 2
We woke in the fog. It was cold and wet, though not yet rainy—that would come later. This was the worst day, about as close as I've gotten to a bit of a "situation", but I'm also a little paranoid. We did seem to be on the verge of hypothermia at certain points, though...Starting out, all was rosy. It took some doing to even figure out the best route out of the bowl, me clicking around ineffectually on the GPS, the map, wet, creased, and folded in my hands—but we did fine.
Starting out at the top of the gorge, we were surprised by how much longer it took us to make it to the Little Island Pond campground. We checked out what we'd been missing — wet, leave-covered platforms and a nice, open-air toilet. The trail, in general, was very well-marked. We did refer to the map, compass, and GPS, but honestly, it would've been tough to get lost. We speculated that it was because it was so late in the season (mid-September), that the trail had been beaten-pretty well in. Also, no bugs. After what I'd read about black flies and the like, that was great. I don't even think I went for my bug spray.
After passing Little Island Pond, we pushed on to Hardings. This was the toughest stretch of the day, and probably the trip — an endless succession of water-soaked meadows, muddy pits, and stream crossings. We did spot a few rainbows along the way, but it turned winder and the rain turned colder as the day wore on, and by the late afternoon, we were freezing and soaking wet.. I don't think we caught more than a glimmer of sunshine all day. By the time we were coming descending to Hardings Pond we were miserable. At the lake's edge, we passed the other three hikers who we were sharing the trail with. They had set-up camp against the wall of a rangers' hut—clearly closed—on the shore. It looked like they were boiling water in the outhouse. It was _cold_. They waved us merrily on, and trudged grimly thorugh the mud, hoping for a sheltered camping spot.
Nothing to be found — the platforms on Hardings Lake are clustered along an exposed beach. Beautiful, no doubt, in fine weather. It didn't look like it now. Mishy had started uncontrollably shivering. Joe followed. We set-up the tents side-by-side on the tent platform to create a little area screened from the wind. It kinda worked, and at least, with the tents up, we were protected from the cold. Recovery was on the way.
## Day 3
The next morning was sunny.
As we were getting moving, the other hikers cheerfully passed us: "We were worried about you guys last night!" Yeah. Sure. What were they expecting to find? Our frigid little bodies, desperately spooning in the Gros Morne mud? At any rate, we were triumphant and so fortified by survival, forged on.
## Day 4
## Day 5

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