Not only are there no ticks in Newfoundland, the hiking is world class on the East Coast trail (ECT).
I flew from Boston to St. John’s there last year to hike the 170 mile East Coast Trail, dubbed one of the Top Ten Backpacking Trails by National Geographic in 2011.
This coastal trail definitely lives up to its description as a “genuine wilderness walking and hiking experience”. Printed materials from the East Coast Trail Association describes the trail as passing directly over the most easterly point in North America at Cape Spear as it connects over 30 communities (some were abandoned) along the route.
I enjoyed visiting the communities along the way where people were welcoming and were interested in speaking with us.
Here’s three minutes of drone footage from last August that was shot and produced by Mark Shaw of HMS Images, my hiking partner on this adventure. Recently I have been giving presentations on this thru-hike. Please contact me if your organization would like to have me present this summer.
I’ve decided to escape the impending army of ticks and hike in Atlantic Canada this summer.
I plan to redo the Fundy Footpath on the New Brunswick coast near St. John.
Its a 4 hour drive from my house on the Maine coast. I completed this shorter thru-hike in 2008 in 4 days , with a group led by Xenon that featured my Appalachian Trail pals Bad Influence and Rangoon. Here’e the link to my trip report of that most excellent adventure. I plan a full week, including the drive there and back.
I also want to hike for at least a week on the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland again, flying into St. John’s on the Avalon Peninsula and cherry picking sections of the trail to redo. I’ll likely be meandering around the northern half of the trail, camping where I feel and also visiting the oldest city in North America again. The ECT is hard to get to, but worth the visit. Check out my trip report here.
I’m open to company, if any of my backpacking pals would like to come along. Let me know.
Bad Influence and I paid $30 each for the shuttle from the Cappahayden back to Wild Roses B & B just outside St. John’s yesterday. This is the last day before we catch our flights back to New England tomorrow.
We saved the Cape Spear path (one of the best) for last. Not only that, we’re slack packing it !
A slacked pack has no overnight gear or extraneous meals in it. Mine is tiny, filled with just a water bottle, a Steripen water purification device, wind shirt, and a snack.
Mary, our host at Wild Roses, advised us to do the hike northbound. She was right. The wind was at our backs and it was good to put the climb out of Petty Harbor/Maddox Cove behind us as we covered the first two and a half miles of oceanside meandering.
The whales feeding off the coast are here no longer, or at least we haven’t seen even one surface in the past few days.
Guided by Map #2, Blackhead Path, the terrain broke out of woods and entered low lying heath by the water side with Cape Marsh to the interior. Long sections of board walk wound gradually uphill as we approached the lighthouse.
Eventually we spotted tour busses moving toward the large parking area downhill from the Cape.
Day hikers and families were coming and going.
Of all the locations on the East Coast Trail I passed through, Cape Spear Lighthouse National Historic Site is clearly the most popular with tourists, with Ferryland coming in a distant second.
The lighthouse location is dramatic with an accidental slip into to Atlantic only blocked by a single white picket fence. The lighthouse tour is good, with rooms inside set up to reflect what life was like for the family (11 kids) that once lived there.
I am not much of a shopper, but hit the EC Trail gold mine in the Lighthouse gift shop. There are only two official guidebooks to sections of the ECT: Vol. 1 and Vol 2. I now have both of them. Volume 1 is now out of print. I also bought an excellent book about the discovery of L’ ans Au Meadows, a World Heritage Site on the northwestern side of Newfoundland.
It was a relatively short descent from Cape Spear to the tiny settlement of Blackhead.
There was a useless detour away from the path on the coast just as you came into Blackhead where a landowner refuses to allow access to the trail that hugs the coast.
When we concluded out hiking in Blackhead I called Wild Roses to be brought back to the B & B. I was surprised to see that a very old convenience store there was actually open. I consumed three Popsicles and a can of soda wile we chatted with the lady who lived in the title house by the rickety store. She was sweet, and another representative of the exuberant welcome party that extended whenever and wherever went on this magical and wondrous place.
The sunrise awakened us as we prepared to pack up and complete this most southern portion of the East Coast Trail.
It’s always exciting to make it from one end of a long trail to the other.
We were warned about the mud and wet trail here by local day hikers that we encountered up north, so this was a morning to slide into wet footwear that would stay wet, but not cold.
The closer you stick to shore here, the lesser the mud. It was also recommended that if it were REALLY muddy, one could drop down to the beaches and walk there.
Passing the lighthouse itself in the first half hour, we observed numerous ATC tracks and flat areas where we might have camped. We learned that nighttime is when locals come out to visit the lighthouse on their ATV’s, so I’d try and find a place a but stay away from any ATC tracks if you like sleeping.
Many of the bridges and stairways in the first half of this day’s hike are in very worn shape and caution is necessary to avoid injury.
On the positive side, there are plenty of trees here so it is an excellent place to hang a hammock, if camping the ECT is your thing.
Readers should review YouTube videos that Randy Best has posted on his East Coast Trail Thru Hike web site. He breaks down the trail into map sections which have their own on-trail views of what the hiking in each section is like. This is one of the muddiest sections. In fact, Randy’s segments #17-18 video was taken in early spring when there was still snow and ice on the trail.
Randy chose to do that because it is easier to walk over ice and snow that it is to walk this exceedingly muddy trail in the summer, especially after it rains.
We made short work of the brief section for trail from the Renews lighthouse to the settlement itself. Renews has some serious history that features includes pirates, shipwrecks, secret midnight meetings and even a resupply visit from the Mayflower en route to Plymouth Rock.
Renews is where we met Gerard, who owns one of the first houses that you come to as you enter the settlement of Renews. As we were walking by he came out of the house and asked us if we needed anything. I was keen to check out the situation and asked for fresh water- the streams here produce light brown water. After filling our vessels, Gerard asked if we’d like him to make us a breakfast. Of course we said, “Yes!” In no time we were seated at an ancient formica table graced with plates of eggs, toast, and hot tea. Gerard showed us around his house, where several of the tiny bedrooms were either in original or close to original condition. The road walk through Renews to the start of the trail to Cappahayden is 3 miles long. Our host provided us a ride across the road walk, with a little tour of the notable places thrown in to boot.
Renews is part of what is known as the Irish Loop. The Irish Loop website notes that, “Since 1500’s the migratory fishery attracted Europeans to fish off the of the Avalon Peninsula. Beginning in the early 1800’s, large numbers of Irish began settling year round and caused the regions demographics to be changed forever. By the mid 1800’s, unlike other parts of Newfoundland, the overwhelming number of settlers in The Irish Loop were Roman Catholic and of Irish descent. In almost 400 hundred years of permanent settlement, the people of the Irish Loop have endured countless marine tragedies that include hundreds of shipwrecks off their shores.”
Few Americans understand just how close Newfoundland is to Ireland, with Dublin just 2,000 air miles away.
After Gerard took us on his tour, he joined us to hike the segment from Renews to Bear Cove, which meets Highway 10. He planned to hitch back to his car, and we’d continue to hike the last 6 miles to the end of the trail at Cappahayden.
Gerard was an excellent ornithologist. He spotted several interesting birds that he let us view through his binoculars.
It was also very encouraging to meet up with a large trail crew who were working their way north from the end of the trail in Cappahayden.
They were on assignment to keep moving until the snow got in the way of their work. The crew here had corded power tools that were juiced with small Honda generators. Big drills and Sawzalls helped ! I maintain a section of the Appalachian Trail back in Maine on Bigelow Mountain. I lump a chainsaw and hand tools, but these folks have much more to do in dealing with these extensive bogs and mud pits.
Eventually we made it to Cappahayden, which might have been the littlest settlement of all. There are no places to buy food, or pulling a signal for a cell phone here. We were fortunate to have reserved lodging through John Nidd, who encouraged us to resupply when we were passing through in Aquaforte and to tell the cashier to hold our resupply for him to pick up on his way back from St. John’s. He planned to bring it to the mobile home and have it there for us whenever we arrived.
There is not much to do in Cappahayden, but there is some history that defines the place.
“Just south of Cappahayden is the site of the tragic sinking of the SS Florizel. SS Florizel, a passenger liner, was the flagship of the Bowring Brothers’ Red Cross Line of steamships and one of the first ships in the world specifically designed to navigate icy waters. During her last voyage, from St. John’s to Halifax and on to New York City, she sank after striking a reef at Horn Head Point, Cape Race near Cappahayden, with the loss of 94 people.”- Wikipedia
Our lodging for the night in Cappahayden was in an empty mobile home right facing the ocean. There was a photo of the Florizel on the wall on the mobile home. The impact of such a tiny community dealing in February with the aftermath of 94 bodies to be brought to shore must have cast a pall on life here that extends to today. That legacy of tragedy is framed by a vastness of blue ocean of that held bounty, fear, and glory as it has for thousands of years.
We started walking today at 10:15. it took that long for the heavy rain that fell during the night to taper off in the morning and our host Dave to drive us back to Aquaforte.
After just 10 minutes we were completely drenched. Water from the rain clung to all of the foliage in front of us as we left the highway at Route 10. I used my trekking poles to whack the overhead branches in front of in order to throw the rain off before I brushed up against them. In addition to the rain on the foliage last night’s rainstorm topped off the levels of the copious black pools of muck that we slither and slide around multiple times an hour.
Bad Influence was excited to stop to take drone footage through and around the massive stone arch at Berry Head. He had the great big sea as the backdrop for some spectacular video, complete with thunderous ocean soundtrack. Just as he was filming the last portion at the arch the tiny Mavic Pro drone hit the wall and crashed into the deep. BI was lucky enough to have already transferred data from his previous drone recordings on to two SD cards. The portion of the footage around the arch was also preserved on the iPhone that served as the drone’s control and software module.
We continued to make good mileage and decent use of our time as we slogged through the wettest and muddiest section of the East Coast Trail so far. It was also section where the views were often obscured by the thick forest that flanked the ups, downs, and twist-arounds that characterized today’s track.
The section heading South from Fermuse interested me, due to the abandoned community that we experienced I was able to locate old foundations, piles of rock established by humans, and level areas at the edge scrubby forests that were important for sanity in the sloping terrain. There were numerous steep climbs today, as well as extended periods of walking through muck. I gave up the thought of dry feet earlier, and unless the nature and depth of a nasty mud hole was ascertained, I would walk on the sides of the mud pool and lean my body away from the foliage with the support of my trekking poles. BI sunk in up to mid-calf twice today. Best to have him up front, eh?
We walked late today. I didn’t want to and neither did BI. The issue was a lack of even one tent site that was level and not sopping wet. It went on and on. It was getting darker a bit. I was ready to stop, eat, and sleep in rapid fire execution. I loaded up 2 quarts of the brownish groundwater and expected to walk all the way to the Bear Cove Point lighthouse. BI liked the looks of a couple of trees just after the stream. He’s hanging in a hammock this trip, so he cares less about what’s on the ground under his comfy bedroll. I didn’t have a decent pick. I ended up needing most of the East Coast Trail track in order to accommodate my tent’s footprint. The stars out tonight were astounding, as I was swatting away mosquitoes.
In the next couple of days I am simultaneously prepping for two events.
I present this coming Sunday at the 41st Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s biennial Conference “Views from the Maine Woods,” which runs August 4-11 at Colby College in Waterville.
Here’s my Sunday, August 6 workshop description: Why Walking Matters: Benefits of Walking and Improvisational Skills in Long-Distance Hiking. Tom Jamrog, Triple Crown thru-hiker, author, and Maine Guide with Uncle Tom’s Guided Adventures. From the ages of 57 to 63, “Uncle Tom” thru-hiked four National Scenic Trails. Tom reviews the latest research on the physical and mental health benefits of walking, and discusses pre-hike training and mental practices that can bolster an aging hiker’s continued success on the trail.
Two days later, I fly out of Boston to St. John’s to attempt a 185 mile thru-hike of Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail.
Foot care will be a priority activity that I’ll discuss in my workshop and that I’ve been applying on as I approach this rugged hike. I’ll tell the audience that I’ve been walking barefoot as much as possible in the past week in order to toughen up my feet. I have also been applying rubbing alcohol to the soles of my feet toes and heels, a technique I picked up years ago from Colin Fletcher,’s The Complete Walker IV book, formerly described as “The Hikers Bible” when it came out in 2002. Alcohol cleans, dries, and toughens the skin. Addition to the alcohol, I use an artificial pumice block to buff up callous areas in my forefoot, toes, and heel.
I’ll be backpacking in thin wool socks from Darn Tough and my broken-in New Balance boots, a combination that has resulted in blister-free freedom over the past 5000 miles of hiking. Roomy footwear is best.
Right now, I’ve signing off to work on my updated Powerpoint for the Colby ATC talk.
I’m planning to thru-hike this trail next August. I have visited Newfoundland about a half-dozen times in the days when I used to enjoy long distance motorcycling. There are so many biting insects there that we often celebrated riding in the cold rain, which kept the bugs down. I am looking forward to the simplicity of walking, although there will be logistical challenges that a thru hiker will need to work through in order to complete the whole 165 mile hike.
Despite recognition by National Geographic as one of the world’s best adventure destinations, Newfoundland’s East Coast Trail remains virtually unknown to Americans.