Newfoundland: Gros Morne Mountain

I got out the door at 0645 this morning, desperate to make up time after yesterday's fiasco. So I walked all of the (very short) trails at at Lobster Cove Head, around the lighthouse. Lovely in the early light.

Back to the B&B for breakfast. She serves a hot breakfast (omelets all around, very good) and a couple different very good kinds of toast plus home-made preserves - including NFLD-only ones, cloudberry and partridgeberry. And the room is lovely, large, and clean, so I think I'll credit the place: if you're ever in Rocky Harbour, NFLD, stay at the Anchor Down B&B - but book early, she stays busy.

My next stop was the Ocean View Motel, which is the place to book your Western Brook Pond boat tours. Not cheap, but guidebooks and other tourists all say you want to do it. Western Brook Pond is essentially a fjord that got cut off from the sea, so the scenery is supposed to be quite lovely. The daily 1230 outing was fully booked: I had an option on a 1500 sailing, but opted for 1230 tomorrow. Back to the B&B to equip myself for the tough hike I was going to tackle instead: Gros Morne Mountain. This one has quite a reputation: it's an all day hike, and it's tough.

photo: Hikers on Gros Morne Mountain

Two hikers seen in the distance on Gros Morne Mountain

I got to the parking lot at 1000. From there it's 4 km to the base of the mountain, with lots of ups and downs, plus lots of stones to stumble over. And the heavy rain yesterday meant that long stretches of the trails had turned into puddles or streams. But! The waterproof shoes were up to the task! So the 4 km to the base of the mountain are considered to be the "easy part," but by most systems that 4 km would be rated as "moderate," it wouldn't be called easy. At the base of the mountain, you look up several hundred metres or more of scree slope, and you can see everyone who's already tackling this - because they've been slowed down so much you can see the last hour's worth of people on that face. And you're looking at a sign explaining that the descent is "gruelling." Yes, they called it that. Silly me, I thought they were exaggerating. We'll get to that. So at 1120 I tackled the scree slope. Here's the math on that: the base of the mountain is at 320 metres elevation, the summit is at 806 metres. The vast majority of that elevation change is taken up on a 25-30 degree loose rock slope. It's an utterly brutal slog.

But the summit! This massive flat expanse of tundra (really: there are plants and animals there that are almost never seen this far south - and in a lot of places nothing grows more than a foot tall, it's fabulous) looks great on its own, but also provides breath-taking views of several nearby hills that - again, because of the heavy rain yesterday - now have waterfalls spewing over their sides. It's magnificent. Many pictures were taken!

photo: Tundra landscape with scree and bunchberry in the foreground

Lots of scree rock, tundra landscape, and bunchberry

And then the descent. You're taken to the far side of the mountain, and loop slowly down and back around. It's not as steep as the ascent, but guess what that means? It goes on for bloody ever. On the way up, it's your heart and lungs that are working overtime. On the way down its your legs. Specifically your quads as they try to control your descent. And just because you're going down doesn't mean you don't occasionally go back up ... My legs were shaking half way through that descent. I concluded "gruelling" was a fair word.

I got back to the base around 1520, where I ran into a young Swiss couple who said of the picture at the summit that they weren't sure they would share that with their friends - their hometown is higher than Gros Morne Mountain summit. But as I pointed out, the real deal is the elevation change and the elevation of the parking lot is approximately 10 metres.

The Swiss couple complained about the lack of views from the summit: they had started at 0900, and all they'd seen was fog. I'd been worried that I was starting late, but I got fantastic views in every direction.

On the last leg back to the parking lot, I was surprised to find it was almost entirely downhill for the four kilometres: I'd remembered it as being up and down. But I have a nagging suspicion that if it was downhill on the way out it was almost certainly uphill on the in. I got back to the parking lot at 1640, six hours and 40 minutes after I started (and barely able to move).

Dinner was at Java Jack's. It looks like they started as a coffee house, but have expanded to include the #1 restaurant (according to both tripadvisor and a friend of my mother's) in Rocky Harbour, which now occupies the upper floor. I finally got my Quidi Vidi beer: I've been trying to buy it at the local liquor stores, but they only sell sixes. (Quidi Vidi is right next to St. John's, it's the best known local - sorta - beer.) I had the Honey Brown, which was lighter coloured than the name would suggest. My first couple sips suggested it was pretty undistinguished, but I found it went down really, really well. Can it be both "undistinguished" and "great to drink?" A conundrum. I had the seafood chowder and the butter curry chicken. Both were pretty good if a bit expensive, but I'm a bit torn about the place: in Toronto it would sink without a ripple, but in Rocky Harbour it's a standout and a pleasure to find. That's just the way it is when you're trying to find places to eat in towns with a population of 1000.