Sunday, June 30, 2019

Howley to Gros Morne

Have you ever gotten to the end of a day, and wondered how on earth you got to where you are? How you could ever be so unexpectedly lucky? For us today certainly begs the question - how many amazing things can happen in one day?

We had a bit of a late start out of Howley this morning, because we waited until the Trapper's Lounge opened for breakfast before setting out. As we were enjoying coffee, scrambled eggs, toast, and hash browns we were chatting with the owner of the restaurant. Heading west out of Howley meant that we said goodbye to central Newfoundland, and hello to the western portion of The Rock. She described the island as having two parts - that the culture, art, and fancy restaurants were in the east, but that the west was Newfoundland's playground. I guess we will find out!

As we headed out of the small community of Howley, we passed a memorial garden commemorating the release of the first moose on the island in 1904. Apparently moose were introduced to supplement people's food supply from wild game. The introduction was successful and by 2004 these large mammals had spread to all parts of the Island and become a huge economic success as well.

Once out of town the trail took us over a series of trestle bridges that spanned from small island to small island. The sections of trail on the islands were golden brown sand bars, which were beautiful, but which made progress difficult. The sand bars stretched out into the lake, but although we scanned for shorebirds we didn't see any.

As we chatted with a fisherman on one of the bridges a Common Loon surfaced. The man was very happy to describe the Loon for us, saying it and its mate were often out on the lake, fishing just him, and showing us where the bird would surface. At the far end of the lake we also saw a male Common Merganser with three females, which is a new species for us on this trek. We stopped briefly to enjoy the peaceful scene and the stunning reflections on the lake, and then pressed on.

The trail took us through wet meadows, but beyond were tall, dark, forested mountains with patches of snow. These mountains are part of the Appalachian range that extends south to Georgia, and somewhere along their ridges is a part of the International Appalachian Trail.

An hour or so after leaving Howley we came to huge hydro electric dam. The old train line, and railtrail did go over the top, but we misread the signs, and ended up crossing below the dam and rejoining the trail on the other side. It was a slightly uncomfortable feeling to walk below the huge metal wall that was holding back such an enormous volume of water, but made us appreciate the stunning feat of engineering that made this possible.

After the dam the trail turned into a more or less straight run, which for the first time offered little shade. We walked past open meadows, marshes, and bogs, and there were very few trees. It felt as though we were heading straight towards the mountains, which was something new that gave this part of the island a very different feeling than anything we've experienced so far.

Around 3 PM we reached the edge of Deer Lake, which is one of the larger towns in Newfoundland. We were hoping to step off the trail for a few days to visit Gros Morne National Park at this point, but weren't sure if it would work out. We were thrilled to learn that two of the park staff could meet us this afternoon and give us a ride up to what we've been told is "Newfoundland's Grand Canyon."

Gros Morne (lonely mountain), the second highest highest mountain in Newfoundland, with an elevation of 807 m. The National Park that is named after it offers visitors a chance to wander coastal beaches, hike alpine meadows, and explore the Boreal forest. Its landscape has been shaped by colliding continents and grinding glaciers, and provides a stunningly beautiful and dramatic scene featuring towering mountains, shear-walled gorges, and many ancient, fascinating, and unique geological features. It has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as an Important Bird Area, and we are very excited to have an opportunity to see it!

Once we reached Deer Lake things happened fast. We headed in to Foodland to get supplies, and were picked up by two incredibly kind park staff. They drove us the 67 km up to the park, and even gave us a guided tour along the way, pointing out the names of the mountains we were passing, and describing some of the wildlife surveys that take place in the park. It was extremely exciting to learn about the fish ladders that are in place to monitor salmon populations, the Willow and Rock Ptarmigan surveys, the Barrows Goldeneye, bat, and vegetation monitoring that is done, and the icepack measurements that are collected, among other things.

We have been invited to give a talk at the park in a few days, and as part of that Parks Canada is letting us stay in a complimentary cabin for a few nights! We had no idea this would be happening, and it completely blew us away. We are in one of the most beautiful spots on the island (there are lots!), staying in a gorgeous cabin on the edge of lake. It is like a dream come true!

After being dropped off we walked the 2 km Berry Hill Pond trail, which is a footpath that takes you through Boreal forest around the edges of a lake. The tight spruce trees, deep, soft moss, lichen covered rocks, and wildflowers were a stunning foreground for the steep, treed mountains beyond. As the sun set it sent down golden rays through the clouds above the cabin, as if to highlight the many gifts we received today.

As we sit beside the warmth of the wood stove, listening to the wind and the frog calls outside, it is hard to imagine how we can possibly be this lucky. It was an amazing day.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Beyond Pond Crossing to Howley

This morning was hot, sunny, and full of surprises. Since we camped in bear country, we took the precaution of hanging our food last night. It wasn't really high enough up to flummox a determined bear, but it was secure and away from the tent. When I went to retrieve it this morning I saw fresh moose tracks, from both an adult and a calf, and fresh bear tracks on the trail outside our tent!

I walked back to the tent with the food bags, and as I was getting ready to boil water for our morning coffee and oatmeal I looked up to see a big black bear about 30 m down the trail! He looked at me for a few minutes, apparently full of curiosity, and then wondered off into the bushes. Quite a sight!

After setting out in the hot morning sun, we were in for several treats. A few kilometers down the trail we came to a beautiful lake, whose perfect reflections were broken only by a family of Canada Geese consisting of three adults and twelve goslings.

From that point the trail began to descend, and we soon found ourselves in a deep river valley. The steep sides were forested with conifers, and at the bottom we found a wide, shallow, fast-moving, bolder strewn river. The sounds of the rushing water, and the cool refreshing breeze were wonderful indeed.

The river remained a constant companion for much of the morning, and we crossed over it several times on impressive trestle bridges.

We also passed several settlements with cabins and cottages, such as the small settlement in Kitty Brook. Some of these cabins had been fashioned out of old railway cars, although these creative abodes ranged from abandoned and derelict to very well maintained.

As we were taking a short break by the side of the trail around mid-morning, we were at first puzzled and then delighted to see a Pine Marten. He was zigzagging back and forth on the trail scent marking all the larger rocks as he went. When he finally noticed us he stopped and stood up on his hind legs, giving us a fantastic view of his bright orange bib.

Throughout the day we were also passed by quite a few vehicles and ATVs, all heading in to spend the long weekend at their cabins. Each time we stepped off the trail to let them pass we startled 3 or 4 American toads. All day there were frogs and toads calling in the ponds, marshes, and wetlands, so mating season must in full swing here!

Once the trail pulled away from the river we entered a long stretch of treed trail that was bordered on both sides by marshes. Apparently this stretch is renown for its ducks and water birds, but hard as we searched we didn't see too many. The mosquitoes were pretty thick and hungry however, making stops impossible during the last 15 km or so.

We did however have another unexpected encounter with a caribou! This one was running down the trail towards us, stopping every so often to nibble on a particularly tasty looking bit of vegetation. The colouring in this animal seemed unusual - a light coat with dark spectacles, nose, and legs. He noticed us before he got too close, and high tailed it into the trees, but we enjoyed watching him nonetheless.

Just before reaching Howley we passed several beautiful ponds, which were reflecting the evening light, and echoing the calls of frogs. It was still very buggy, so we continued in time town.

Tonight, to celebrate our successful crossing of the Topsails, and to do some posts on our findings up there, we are staying at the Howley RV Park, where there are showers and laundry facility.  We made it!