Trekking the Topsails : Quarry to beyond Pond Crossing

After a very peaceful night this morning dawned sunny and clear once again, and by 8 am it was already a hot day. We were soon on the Great Trail, and almost immediately we came across a completely unexpected sight - snow! There was quite a thick layer still remaining above the brook we had been drawing our water from, and a little farther on there was a sizable patch on the ground. It was definitely hot enough for a friendly snowball fight :)

As the trees thinned, we entered a wide open, grassy landscape filled with pale erratic. The bent tops to all the spruce and tamarack we saw were a vivid testament to the brutal wind that must whip through there, as were the miles of fence posts running beside the trail, which we can only guess were once snow fences to protect the train tracks.   We were very grateful for the perfect weather today!

As we steadily climbed we had another somewhat unexpected surprise - frogs! Their singing sounded incredibly loud in the otherwise almost silent landscape, and seemed to carry in a way that is impossible in a denser forest.

From that point onward it was one 'wow' moment after another. The vastness, expanse, and beauty of the rugged, remote landscape cannot be captured on film or video, and only a very few writers could adequately describe it with words. This is one of those places, like the Rocky Mountains and the open Prairies that really must be experienced to be understood.

We crossed several trestle bridges over clear, fast-flowing streams. One thing that puzzled us a bit was that some of the rivers were flowing north to south, and others were flowing in the opposite direction.

As we climbed we also passed thousands of small lakes, sprinkled with erratic. The blue and white of the reflected sky on their surface, the colourful stones in their midst, and the intriguing shapes of the topsails in the background kept us constantly amazed.

As we approached the first of the topsails a moose wandered out in front of it, but he galloped off before we could photograph him. He was accompanied by a caterwauling Greater Yellowlegs, which was probably the most common bird we saw today. There were also plenty of American Robins, a few White-throated Sparrows, Boreal Chickadees, Black-and-white Warblers, Dark-eyed Juncos, a family of ducks which included twelve ducklings, and on one of the larger lakes a Common Tern.

As we approached the Gaff Topsail we passed by an old abandoned quarry. There were large chunks of granite left behind, many of which had been spray painted with graffiti. Apparently marble from this quarry has been used in some of the most famous buildings in Europe as well as in railway stations across Newfoundland, including the one in St. John's.

Just past the quarry was a community of lodges and cabins. These little red and white buildings looked very romantic against the vast green backdrop and  blue sky.  No one seemed to be around, but shortly after ward a group 10 or 12 ATVs loaded with supplies passed by us.

Around mid-morning we found a geographic anomaly (one of several today actually). We came to 'Summit,' which suggested we were 328 miles from St. John's, and at an elevation of 1554 m. The highest point on the Great Trail in Newfoundland is at the Gaff Topsails, so we were happy to celebrate this modest summit at the sign. However, we kept climbing for another 5 km or so up to the Gaff Topsail, so clearly the name was just a name and not an accurate description.

The area around the Gaff Topsail was truly a beautiful spot, offering panoramic views that spanned 180 degrees. There was another small group of cabins by a lake at the Gaff, with some signs of people in residence. We could certainly understand why you'd want to spend time out there!

After the Gaff Topsails the trail began to descend slowly. We crossed several more beautiful rivers and a waterfall, continued to enjoy stunning views down the valley, and visited the small collection of cabins known as Pond Crossing.

A few minutes after leaving that community we had yet another surprise - a black bear on the trail ahead. He crossed back and forth a few times, then began ambling towards us. Sean had his pack off and was switching camera lenses when suddenly the bear began picking up speed. It was a relatively small bear, but it was heading straight for us with that endearing loping run bears have. As it quickly got closer, not too sure what else to do, I grabbed the bear spray and started yelling at it to 'Shoo!' and 'Go home!' while waving my arms in the air and walking slowly  towards it. Of course the poor bear was home, and we were the intruders, but sometimes it is difficult to know exactly what to say to a bear. At first this had no effect, which was a bit alarming, but about 30 m away the bear suddenly realized someone was there, perked up its ears, slowed down, stopped, looked, and then turned tail and ran in the opposite direction. Phew!

We continued on for another few kilometers and then found a spot by the side of the trail to pitch the tent. It was a bit exposed, but there was a stream nearby, and we were hot, tired, and ready for a break in the hot afternoon sun. As we stopped to set up camp one of the groups of three ATVs we'd seen this morning passed by again. They stopped to chat and offer us pop or water, and we discovered we'd met one of the guys in the Tim Hortons in Grand Falls - Windsor.  Small world sometimes!

As we settle down for the night we can see a golden sunset over the hills behind us, and hear only the rushing of a waterfall and the melodic sounds of a Wood Thrush.

See you on the trail!

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