Friday, August 04, 2006

The Gros Morne Diaries, part three, or The Big-Ass Long Hike

So after much deliberation, we decided on our final day to attempt Gros Morne Mountain -- a sixteen-kilometer hike up and down the second-highest mountain in Newfoundland, which the guidebook deemed "extremely strenuous." But we were confident (sort of) and so on a misty cloudy day det off in the morning to the trail.

We started the hike at nine o'clock on the dot. From the parking lot at the head of the trail to the base of the moutain in a hike of a little over an hour, which ascended gently through the varieties of landscape we had become accustomed to in Gros Morne ... some marshy bits, thick forest, and as we climbed higher, increasingly thick but stunted coniferous trees. The way up ahead was fogged in -- or rather, it was clouded in, for the mountain was cloaked in a cloud when we pulled into the lot, and as we climbed we moved into the mist.

At the base of the mountain we encountered a large group of people held up by the foggy conditions. Before you can begin the ascent proper, there is a series of information signs telling you to stop and ask yourself whether it is wise to proceed -- whether the weather conditions are agreeable enough to continue, and promising various dire consequences should you continue on in, say, a cyclone.

One of the conditions they suggest is that you shouldn't attempt the climb if you can't see the mountain's peak ... which we emphatically could not. Harrumph.

If it had only be Kristen and I, we would have turned back ... but as it happened, feeling safety in numbers, we waiting in the milling horde and discovered that a group of eight who were there had come with a pair of guides -- who were in the process of calling weather stations on their cell phones, and deciding whether ascent was possible. To cut a long story less long, they declared that all was good -- conditions were clearing on top, and we could continue. Emboldened, the entire group started the climb.

Now, a word of explanation of what is involved in the first stage of the Gros Morne ascent: from an hour and a half you go from the base to the summit along an extremely steep gully of scree (loose rocks) that at times requires you to use your hands as well as your feet for the climb. As you can see here, while the fog had cleared somewhat, the summit was still obscured ... which led to that ever-so-fun experience of cresting a ridge, thinking you had made it, only to see another, even steeper stretch ahead ...

Mind you, the view was quite spectacular ...

... though looking down was occasionally a bit dizzying.

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