Sunday, June 2, 2019

Cape Spear to Fort Amherst, NL

June 1st is International Trails Day, which seems like the perfect day to start our hike across Canada on the Great Trail. As it turns out, we couldn't have asked for a better day!

We began with a breakfast of coffee, muffins, and fresh melon at MUN, before taking a taxi out to the Cape Spear National Historic site. Cape Spear is the site of an iconic lighthouse, and also the eastern most point in North America. We were delighted to learn that the name comes from the Portuguese term for "Cape of Hope." This seems like a very promising spot to begin a very big adventure. As we stood at the point and watched the waves crash into the rocks below us we realized that for that brief moment, all the land birds of North America were west of us.

It was a cloudy and cool morning - just about perfect hiking temperature, and there was no wind. As we climbed up to the lighthouse and crested the ridge we were really excited to see a rather large iceberg just offshore, partially hidden in the fog!

We headed down to the parking lot around 9:30 am, and were amazed to watch as a group of nearly 20 people ranging from new university grads to retired folks assembled to hike the Blackhead trail with us. It was humbling to realize that this group of enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers were willing to come out and take part in something which at this point is little more than an idea.

Today we took the first steps towards making this idea a reality, and it was amazing to share the moment with these people. The sound of their cheer as we set off down the trail will definitely stay with us!

As we followed the footpath along the shore and began to climb, we were almost immediately reminded of the incredible beauty of the East Coast Trail. Each day brought something new and beautiful, whether it was the song of a White-throated Sparrow, a red fox silhouetted on a ridge, a group of seals fishing and playing in a cove, or a pod humpback whales. As we climbed we entered a section of Boreal forest, with the short white and black spruce, balsam fir, and tamarack that can be so effective at blocking wind. Today was no different - as we turned around and looked behind us at the view of Cape Spear we were amazed to the iceberg on the other side, which now looked enormous!

As we walked to Blackhead we had a chance to speak with many of our fellow hikers. We learned a lot about the challenges faced by conservationists in Newfoundland, and the various strategies they have employed to encourage sustainable and responsible use of our natural resources. It was both interesting and inspiring.

As we approached Blackhead cove we were delighted to find another good-sized iceberg quite close to shore. As we were navigating a rather tricky descent there was a loud, dull, crack as a small piece of iceberg detached itself. It was very exciting, and inevitably led to us taking far too many photos of the impressive ice sculpture (don't worry, we won't share them all).

As we left the group and headed north out of Blackhead we were followed for a bit by a disobedient puppy, until he was distracted by another group of people out watching icebergs. After that we headed up into the forest on our own. The tangy smell of the forest, and the cool fresh air made it wonderful to be back on this trail again.

The section of trail between Blackhead and Fort Amherst is very beautiful. Much of the path before Freshwater Bay is forested, with a long, steep, climb up out of Blackhead. Once at the top we were treated to panoramic views down the coast and out to sea, as well as across the rolling hills stretching inland.

The trail also provides a fantastic view of a colony of gulls nesting on a picaresque sea stack which has been dubbed Peggy's Leg. During the course of the day we saw Black-legged Kitiwakes, Herring Gulls, many small groups of Northern Gannets, Black Guillemots, and Common Terns over the water. Inland there was little activity apart from American Robins, Dark-eyed Juncos, and White-throated Sparrows.

At Freshwater the trail descends down into a bay that is bisected by a pile of rocks. On one side is the ocean, and on the other is a freshwater lake. Today there was a large iceberg, a tour boat, and a large barge on the ocean side.

When we reached the far side of the bay we encountered a large group of students with large packs. It turned out they were Dukr of Edinburgh Award applicants who were out training. It was wonderful to see the energy and enthusiasm these teenagers were showing as they engaged fully with nature, and heartening to see that outdoor education is still part of one of the highest awards available.

After Freshwater there is a steep climb up to a more rocky, open area which is punctuated with small lakes. The pink rock, which is covered in colorful green and grey and lichen is beautiful, with the dark green conifers, bleached dead wood, and reddish heath providing pleasing contrast. The effect is then enhanced by the reflections in the dark, still pools. We took a short break, enjoying the view the mystery brought about by a light fog, and then made the last push on to Fort Amherst.

Just before we reached the steep descent to Fort Amherst we had a wonderful view of Cabot Tower and the Battery Village. It was a lovely end to a day that couldn't have been any better!

Distance: 15.3 km
Cape Spear to Fort Amherst
Accommodations: MUN

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