We arrived in Norris Point just outside of the park at sundown, where all we could see after nine hours of driving (yeah, we took a wrong turn…for about an hour) was the dark outline of the hills. My friend Heather hosted us for the weekend in her amazing little bungalow, her backyard being the mountains and her front-yard being the Tablelands.
The next morning, we got up early for our first big hike around Gros Morne mountain. Heather asked if we were prepared. “I’m gonna make this mountain my bitch,” I said with confidence. 16 kilometres? No sweat. I run five kilometres three times a week. I got dis.
Right off the bat, I forgot to pack my lunch.
Heather hiked with us through the gulch and to the base of the mountain, about 2 hours in. The day was perfect: sunny, warm, and just a slight breeze. We shed our coats in favour of long-sleeved shirts. We didn’t encounter a single person along the way, just dense forest and the occasional pile of moose droppings or a hoof-print embedded in the mud. Have you ever appreciated the smell of Newfoundland autumn? It’s like peat and mud, and makes you feel healthier just by breathing it.
The mountain, from afar, doesn’t look intimidating. It stands out like an awkward teenager, surrounded entirely by verdant hills. Nothing grows on it, because the mountain is actually exposed quartzite from an old beach which occurred as a result of the continents colliding and closing over the Iapetus Ocean, somewhere between 600-400 million years ago. Yes, it’s essentially the earth turned inside out. Some people refer to this province as “the Galapagos of Geology.”
Even at the immediate base, looking up and ignoring the “WARNING: YOU MIGHT DIE” sign, the slope doesn’t look drastic. Until you begin to climb. And climb, and then climb some more. All the while, you’re scrambling over extremely loose rock, large boulders and trying to avoid that one precarious foothold which might send you crashing backwards.
I barely made it. Maggie, the valiant trooper, rushed ahead of Glassman and I while we struggled and sweated up the slope. My backpack killed me. Every time we thought we were about to reach the top of the mountain, there was another ridge. This happened at least three times, and each incident made me want to cry. Even when we had FINALLY breached the top of the mountain, the goddamned summit was halfway across the surface. Little green signs just kept popping up on the horizon. We kept walking through more jagged and loose rocks. My ankles cried.
The surface of the mountain looked like a combination of the moon and the Arctic tundra. Being so wide, even standing at the center we couldn’t see the sweeping fjords we had so often viewed in all the tourism paraphernalia. For a rest, we hunkered down in a man-made rock fort and ate our lunches, while I tried to come to terms with the fact that I’m terribly out of shape and probably developing Secretary Butt.
But finally, as we followed the makeshift route laid out by those goddamned green arrows, we came to the wide open chasm plunging deep across from Gros Morne. There’s the quintessential Gros Morne shot, the cliffs with the dark blue water and a hiker posing in various yoga stances in front of it all. I would have lingered, but we had gone from warm spring weather to a raging, windy nightmare as soon as we made it to the summit, and I couldn’t feel my fingers anymore.
The rest of the hike, six hours in total, we mostly trudged along in silence. We fanned out on the trail, Glassman disappearing somewhere ahead while Maggie fell back to take pictures, and I spent over an hour walking in complete, total silence. Nothing, not even a rustle of wind. You’d think this would be ideal time for thinking, but the mission at hand was finding a firm footing. I liked that part, the simple task of just moving forward, one foot after another.
The sun was setting and glaring directly in my eyes when I finally decided to take a break and to wait for Maggie to catch up. Glassman had sprinted on ahead, fuelled by adrenaline and oatmeal cookies. We sang campfire songs on the way out, nearly ran into some frolicking moose, squealed like little girls, and totally made it out alive. We then celebrated by ordering two large pizzas and one large platter of garlic fingers from a local joint named Earle’s. We also made a drinking game out of the Newfoundland scenery slideshow being presented, whereby we scared of all other customers and were promptly told to leave the premises.
(JK, we left on our own accord.)
So there I am, hiker Candice breathing lung-loads of fresh, crisp autumn air in western Newfoundland, a place which reminds me of Cape Breton and similarly heals my soul. I’m an amalgamation of personalities, never dismissing the city life until I’m driving through a rural village after a day of hiking with the most perfect view of stars in the sky. Then I’m thinking, “Wait a second, this is living.”