Saturday, June 30, 2018

Day 8 - Little Bald Head to Freshwater

After spending a peaceful and comfortable night on a level tent platform, we woke at 6 am to discover that the torrential rain that had been falling for most of yesterday evening and last night was still persisting.  Since the rain showed no signs of abating, and the idea of getting everything wet as we packed it up and then slogging down the trail was unappealing, we decided to wait until noon to see if the weather would clear up.  The family we shared the campsite with waited until 9 am and then headed out, wishing us luck as they walked passed.

By around 11 am the rain seemed to be abating, so we packed everything up and headed out.  Within minutes the rain turned mostly to fog, and we were soon removing our sweaters and rain gear.

For much of the morning the footpath took us along the edges of high cliffs, offering stunning views of deep gulches, sometimes with towering spires of rock remaining at the entrances.

The path was mostly forested and relatively easy to navigate, making it an enjoyable hike in the mist.


At one such spot we found a Bald Eagle perched atop a towering rock spire, like the undisputed king of his castle, surveying his ocean domain in the fog.  It was very magical looking!

As we continued through the fog we were serenaded by White-throated Sparrows and the odd cry of a Herring or Great Black-backed Gull, and a few times we glimpsed some interested seabirds skimming the ocean surface, including a Sooty Shearwater skimming the ocean's surface, but most of them were too far away in the fog for us to identify them.

Although the trail offered many beautiful ocean views, there were some hard climbs over the coarse of the day, and the slippery trail edges and prevalent mud patches made for a slow a tiring hike, during which we seemed to make little headway.  At one point we passed a very happy group of other hikers who were singing as they hiked, and at another point we passed a group of MUN students who were out for a weekend hike to the Spout.  They were very friendly, and advised us that it was probably "a few more kilometers, or a couple hours to reach Bay Bulls".  Again, it was the seemingly standard answer of encouragement, that at least to us seems to bear very little relationship to reality.

As the afternoon wore on we encountered more marshy sections of trail than we had earlier in the day.  Although it was a pleasant change of scenery, the trail description hadn't mentioned anything like it.  We were left, not for the first time, thinking that perhaps the descriptions provided on the backs of the maps could use some updating.  The description for today's hike had suggested we would make a "precipitous descent over a cliff edge," which had made us a little nervous after our experiences on the Piccos Ridge Path, but thankfully we never encountered anything that we felt matched that description, although the trail did run very close to the cliff edge in some places.  This did provide some beautiful views however.

We reached the remains of the re-settled community of Freshwater, where there is a waterfall crossed by an old trail bridge, around 3:30 pm.  It was a beautiful spot overlooking a little cove, and it offered a nice flat, grassy patch of ground sheltered by some trees, so we decided to stop here, set up the tent, hang up some of our gear to let it dry, and relax for the afternoon.  As we sat on the rocks looking out over the cove, tired from the slippery, challenging hike, a pregnant lady waved to us as she jogged past, clearly having covered the trail we had just done on her way into Bay Bulls.  As they say - on the trail you can either be humble or be humbled!

As evening set in we purified water from the nearby waterfall, which is very powerful and large at the moment, and made a dinner of re-constituted chili.  We ate our dinner on a pair of rocks, looking out at the beautifully sculpted coastline slowly disappearing into the evening fog, while in the cove below us two seals fished and played in the tide and the waves.  It was the perfect ending to a magical day.

If all goes well, tomorrow we will find ourselves in either Bay Bulls or Witless Bay, where we will have a chance to resupply.  We have reservations at the Bears Cove Inn and for O'Brien's Puffin and Whale Watching tour, but we are three days ahead of schedule, so we will have to see if our arrangements can be changed when we have cell service again.
Practical Information:

Paths: Spout Path
Distance Hiked: Trail = 6.4 km
Max Temp: 18.7 °C
Min Temp: 11.1 °C

Friday, June 29, 2018

Day 7 - Maddox Cove - Petty Harbour to Little Bald Head Campsite

After a longish day of hiking yesterday, and a very peaceful night on our clifftop campsite, we slept in until 7:30 am.  After enjoying a breakfast of raisin bread and coffee, we set off along the Motion Path once again.  It was a pleasant morning, walking among the glacial erratics, past clifftop lakes, and through fields of spring flowers and heath/heather. At times the narrow footpath, which was sunk ankle deep into the ground cover, wound very close to the edges of the cliffs, offering multiple opportunities to plummet into the sea below.  While this was a little nerve wracking, overall it was an enjoyable trek.


When we reached Motion Point, the feature for which the trail is named, we paused to enjoy the unique wave action, which had a somewhat mesmerizing effect.  The unusual patterns seemed to be caused by waves playing around exposed rocks near shore, and wind gusts going offshore at the same time.  
While watching the wave action we spotted our third whale of the trip!

After this the trail gradually descended down a series of  geological steps – while relatively easy to navigate the slow decent over stones and boulders made for a tiring period.  This was followed by an equally tiring climb up to Hartes Point Ridge, but the views from the top were fantastic!

At one point we met a friendly couple on the beach watching the birds and enjoying each other's company who had lots of advice about great rock formations and the beauty of the Spout, a natural jet of water we were heading towards.  When we asked them how far the Spout was, their answer was 2 - 2.5 hours.  Every time we've asked anyone how far something is on this trail, that always seems to be their answer: 2-2.5 hours.  This does not necessarily reflect our reality, but I'm sure it is always well meant.

By early afternoon we reached Miner's Campsite, which was  a very well established and attractive spot to camp - sheltered, but with great views, and with several platforms and a toilet.  We were tempted to stay at Miner's and just relax for the afternoon, but with predictions of poor weather for the coming few days we decided to continue on and enjoy as much as we could while it was nice.

As we continued on we were suddenly assaulted by a adult Spotted Sandpiper, in a classic display to lead us away from a nest or young.  We stopped and very carefully looked around, and a couple seconds later spotted a tiny chick, hunkered down on the edge of trail a foot from where we were standing.  As we saw it, it popped up and ran into the bushes like an adorable little pompom on legs.  So cute!

So the trail brought us to a newly constructed wooden platform, looking out over the ocean, with an abandoned cabin behind it in the woods.  The cabin freaked us out a little, so we hurriedly continued up the track behind it, which led back to the trail.  Although we didn't exactly get lost here, the trail wasn't too well marked in this section.  

After regaining the trail, we soon passed by Raymond's Gulch, which had two massive waterfalls pouring off the cliff face into the ocean below.  It was in this stretch that we finished Motion Path and began our trek along the Spout section of the ECT. Spout is considered to be a challenging path as it is the longest part of the East Coast Trail system.

By 4pm our energy and legs were almost exhausted and so coming across a semi established campsite we decided to relax for a bit and figure out whether it was advisable to continue onwards.  In the end we made coffee and apple crisp, dried out our laundered clothes from yesterday and took a ½ hour break.  After this we had regained enough energy for the final push to the Spout.

On our way we passed a couple who were thru hiking from Cappahaden to St. John's with their two husky dogs.  After chatting for a few minutes, we parted ways and continued to Long Point, a spit of land which sticks ways out into the ocean.  At this point we also passed through a large spray of salt water that was soaking the path as waves crashed into the cliffs below and were tossed over the top by the wind.

By mid afternoon we reached a river crossing beside the famous Spout.  The river was running really high from all the rain, and it was quite a challenge to make the crossing while being continually sprayed by the Spout.  It was quite a lot of fun though.  The Spout, which is a renown feature of the East Coast Trail, is a place where the wave action regularly forces a large plume of water into the air.  It is both beautiful and mesmerizing to watch.

After spending some time at the Spout, we continued for just over half a kilometer to Little Bald Head campsite.  This is our first official ECTA site, and it is complete with wooden platforms on which to pitch tents, and it has a toilet nearby. 

 We decided to try pitching our tent on a platform, which is something we have never done before.  It seemed to go okay, and after last night, we will be glad of the flat ground.  As we finished setting up we were joined by a very large, very happy sounding family group.

After a dinner of Mountain Chili, along with cups of tea, we were just washing up when it began to pour.  We took this as our cue to disappear into the dry warmth of our tent for the remainder of the evening.

If the weather predictions for the next two days hold we are due to get 20-30mm of rain tomorrow.  If that is the case then we may decide to stay put on our camp platform with river and toilet, or we may decide to take it easy and only go 5 km to the next established site.  We will see what tomorrow brings.
Practical Information:
Paths: Motion Path, Spout Path
Distance Hiked: Trail = 15.6 km
Max Temp: 23.3 °C
Min Temp: 12.8 °C

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Day 6 - Blackhead to Maddox Cove - Petty Harbour

We were up at 6 am this morning.  As we made our breakfast of oatmeal, raisin bread and coffee we watched as a huge fog bank rolled in off the ocean, completely obscuring St. John's harbour.  It was so dense we assumed that our views from Cape Spear would consist only of the immediate coastline, but to our amazement, half an hour later the fog had burned off, leaving only blue skies.  The weather on the edge of the Atlantic really is fickle.

After packing everything up we set off along the very short community connector to the Blackhead Path trail head on the other side of town.  The Blackhead path, which is fairly short, began with a steep climb up a rocky slope.

As we paused to catch our breath, we looked back over the harbour and to our great delight saw a minke whale!!  He surfaced a few times before disappearing.  As we watched we noticed a group of Northern Gannets circling above the whale, as well as a couple Great Black-backed Gulls cruising nearby.  Looking down we suddenly noticed a Bald Eagle perched atop a rock outcropping, calming watching the whole spectacle.  It was a morning of natural wonders!


After a somewhat precarious climb along the coast, we came to the foundations of two dummy forts which were built during the Second World War as a means of convincing enemy aircraft and naval vessels that the Newfoundland coastline was heavily defended.  This is one of the unique features of the East Coast trail that we are thoroughly enjoying - it is so rich in both nature and history, and it offers so many unexpected delights every day.


About an hour later, after hiking along the coastline and enjoying clear views back to Fort Amherst and Signal Hill, we arrived at the Cape Spear Historical site.

Cape Spear is the eastern most point on mainland North America, and is the site of a lighthouse with a unique octagonal tower.  It was also used a long distance defender of St. John's Harbour during WWII, and has a battery to serve that purpose.  Although the lighthouse was closed for renovations when we visited, luckily the gift shop was open, and we ended up enjoying a warm coffee and some local Newfoundland chocolate while we watched tour buses load and unload.  It was a gorgeous sunny day, and many people were out enjoying it.


As we continued along the Cape Spear Path, which began behind the lighthouse, we headed off in the direction of North Head, a spit of land that we reached about an hour later, having traversed a relatively flat section of trail with many boardwalks.  In this open grassy landscape, dotted with boulders, our pace picked up a little.

After rounding North Head we joined a number of other hikers who were sitting on the side of the trail near a picaresque waterfall, watching the waves.  One gentleman spotted a humpback whale, but we weren't fortunate enough to catch a glimpse.

 Along this stretch the trail continued lazily along the shoreline, providing majestic views with little effort on our part, although at one point we encountered clouds of swarming insects.  Perhaps the most striking feature of this area was the large glacial erratic which were cast across the landscape.  Each clearly had its own story, and added such a presence to the region that I wish we knew more about the geology of the area. Regardless, they were beautiful and fascinating.

The last three hours on the Cape Spear Path we spent leap frogging a group of ladies on a local tour – each was very happy and loving the great weather and sites and the challenges the trail presented.  They were also from Toronto, and at one point they filmed me as I attempted to cross a particularly difficult stream.  If I had fallen in I likely would have become an Internet meme, but luckily that situation was avoided!

The final 2 km of trail into Maddox Cove - Petty Harbour seemed more challenging than this morning's hike, and they included descending a cliff in the middle of a rushing waterfall.  It was a little scary, but rather exhilarating at the same time!

By late afternoon we found ourselves at the edge of Maddox Cove - Petty Harbour.  The town of Petty Harbour is a traditional fishing village which is known as a popular filming location for varous movies, including one of my favourites - Rare Bird.  We paused at the picnic tables at the edge of town to have some water, and then headed into town in search of some dinner.

 Although a number of options were listed in our guidebook as being available, we found only Chafe's Landing Restaurant to be open.  This turned out to be an excellent place!  I had a very tasty veggie burger and fries, while Sean had a bacon cheese burger.  As we ate we enjoyed live music coming down from upstairs!

Feeling refreshed from our dinner we decided to continue on to the Motion Path to find a campsite that was listed as being about 5 km in. The path began with a very steep climb out of town, but then it leveled off along the clifftops, which were covered in fields of heather, heath, spring flowers and the skeletons of a long dead forest.  In the fading light it was a very beautiful sight!

We passed Freshwater River, which is where we thought we would find the campsite, but there was no shelter, and no flat areas to pitch a tent, so we continued on.  When we reached a spot about 3.5 km past Petty Harbour we found a single mossy, flat-ish spot sheltered by trees on which to pitch our tent.  It is extremely soggy, and hosted an inordinate number of blackflies, but for tonight it is home. 

By  6 pm we had pitched the tent, gone back to Freshewater to fetch some water, and done some laundry.  Now, as we perch atop a rock looking out over the Atlantic and watching a harbour seal float below us, we feel that today has been our best day on the ECT so far - it gave us whales, gulls, eagles, Cape Spear and almost 18 km of trail covered!
Practical Information:

Paths: Blackhead Path, Cape Spear Path, Motion Path
Distance Hiked: Trail=18.7 km, Connectors: 2.8 km, Total = 21.5 km
Max Temp: 24.2 °C
Min Temp: 7.5 °C