Somewhere to Watch The Sunrise.
^Picture from march of this year.
Approximately one hour away from my house lies the third largest Canadian National Park.
Gros Morne, a Unesco World Heritage site, features more types of land covers than you're accustomed to seeing in one national park. You can hike rocky wastelands, take boats through fjords, meander along the ocean or climb mountains.
I'm not the most nature orientated person by any stretch of the imagination. Therefore, I haven't used the park that much; which some of my friends think is an absolute travesty. The one thing that excited me though, was the one thing which most people, nature orientated or not, do complete - they summit Gros Morne.
The 2nd highest point on the Island of Newfoundland, the Gros Morne summit hike takes about 8 hours total and all of my Newfie intel cells were telling me that you're quite tired afterward.
I can't recall where the idea came from, but I thought it would be amazing to watch the sunrise from the top of Gros Morne.
After work on one random Friday, I went home and tried to take a nap. Unsuccessful, I ended up leaving my house tired, around 12:30 at night.
Throughout the drive, I thought about this plan and it made me uncomfortable. Nevertheless, I continued moving along, onto the secondary highway and into Gros Morne National Park. Once inside, there were fewer lights and the uneasiness grew inside me.
I was already extremely tired with heavy eyelids, but a moose on the road instantly brought me back from dreamland. After what seemed like forever, I finally came upon the sign indicating the summit hike parking lot.
I sat in the parking lot for a couple minutes. I can't remember what song was on the radio, but I do remember the digital clock ticking 2:04, 2:05, 2:06. I sat there and tried to convince myself that this was a good idea and to get out of the car.
About 5 minutes would pass before I opened the door into the brisk night air. I packed myself with fiber bars, water, my maglite and attached my keys to a ring I found in New Jersey. I stood for another 5 minutes thinking about just driving home...before slamming my driver-side door and moving towards the trailhead for the first hour or so of forested hiking.
Now I should explain here that I think I grew up upon the slice of Earth with the least amount of wildlife possible. There are no bears, moose or anything sizable except for deer. Even deer, while I've always been told they were around, I have only seen 3 in 23 years of living back home. Other than that? Muskrats? Seen a couple of those.... Foxes? Nope... Um, uh? Rabbits?
So with growing up where I did, I have a definite fear and uneasiness about any interaction with the bears, moose or lynx of Newfoundland. Now, I've come to understand that lynx aren't a concern because most people say you could hike your whole life and never seen one - plus, a lynx has to be really hungry or courageous to try and take a deer, so humans are typically safe. Onto black bears and they seem to be pretty scarce; plus they're the type of animal where as long as you leave them alone and don't come between a mother and her cubs, you should be okay. Alright, onto moose - which every single Newfoundlander which I know has told me are of no concern - they're somewhat scared of people and you'll be fine as long as you don't heavily harass them.
All of that knowledge and Newfoundland intel allowed me to even fathom this sunrise hiking idea. I would NEVER do this in an area with predatory creatures or poisonous ones, as nature frightens me all too much. Anyway, this Newfoundland mammal knowledge gave me some comfort, but I still didn't want to run into Mr. Moose at 3 a.m. - therefore I had attached my keys to my belt for noise and brought my bright flashlight for my own comfort.
I jangled those keys viciously as I climbed steps and scurried across boardwalks within the 2nd, 3rd and 4th hours of this day. I actually shook them with such instinctive fear, that I had to switch belt-loops at one point, as my right hand was hurting too much. I remembered my stoner roommate in Nova Scotia telling me that if you wore a bell into the woods, then you would never run into a wild animal - and therefore I fought through the pain to move those keys.
Remembering his one instance of wisdom and the assurances about Newfoundland wildlife; I knew that if I kept moving, that I would get through this.
I shook those keys violently, moved my flashlight about the surroundings frantically and moved my feet furiously.
Walking through that night forest was something completely foreign to me. I've never had such an elevated level of adrenaline and fear for such a long period before - it was as if you had that initial fear of wandering into some place you shouldn't be...but then having that feeling continue steadily for the next 70 minutes...
(Side note: I could never imagine doing this on a mountain which you've never tried before; but I had already went halfway to the summit once, and that definitely helped with comforting myself.)
Thankfully, the only wildlife I came across was Mr. Frog.
This frog was at a boardwalk about 2/3'rds of the way through the initial woods. I really wanted to sit and observe him, but the mysterious, black woods were freaking me out all too much. I apologized for flash-photographing Mr.Frog in the middle of the night and moved along.
If frogs have any semblance of our brains, this particular one had to wonder why a clumsy human was passing through his territory at three thirty in the morning...
Like I said, the adrenaline and the fear were steady throughout the first portion of the hike (all forested).
It's hard to describe the feeling that I got when I came upon the small staircase to the Gros Morne Mountain plaques and the end of the forested portion. The mountain portion was nowhere near terrifying to me, as I knew I could see animals off in the distance, as opposed to walking right up on them in the forest.
As I stepped up onto that platform and took a seat on the bench, feelings of accomplishment, jubilation, relaxation, and comfort all converged on me; like the water which surrounds an object suddenly dropped into a lake. I ate a fiber bar and contemplated the remaining challenge before me.
Estimating the time required to hike to the top, I determined that I didn't have much time to waste. I quickly took out the tripod and snapped the 3 pictures at 65-second exposure - which you see stitched together into the panorama above.
Packing my tripod back into my knapsack, I guzzled some much needed water after not having the fortitude to stop for a water break in the woods.
This area is what they call the 'decision point', where you're halfway to the summit, but you still have 5 hours of hiking ahead of you. As you might have surmised, it's called the 'decision point' because you're halfway and it's a good spot to turn around if you're not up to the task. I myself, looked at it as if I had already completed the most terrifying and tiring portion; so I was completely in favour of deciding to continue - the fear in the forest may have worn on me immensely, but now I was through it and ready to move along.
The next portion of the hike which you come to is a tiny marshy area with small kettle lakes; then onto a giant scree hill which you see at the center of the picture before last. A few small arrow signs direct you from the marsh boardwalk, through the rocky flatlands and to the bottom of the scree slope (which is an incline of broken rock fragments(see above)).
I paused here for a second, thinking about the task before me; while doing so, I flashed my light at what I thought was a sign reflecting my artificial light - until I realized it was actually the eyes of a distant moose...it was definitely time to tackle the scree slope!
Following an established path upwards, there was these giant rocks plunked down at frequent intervals, which provided excellent spots for much needed rest. Near the top, I grew tired of jumping up onto these rocks (they were about chest high) and took to simply resting on them or standing in place. The decision to quit hoping atop these boulders may have been helped by the fact that I remembered the sign back at the 'decision point'; where they show these nasty spiders which enjoy the rock crevasses.
I also noticed that someone must have snuck some spraypaint up here somehow, and you would come across a rock every now & again with an ugly hand tag on it. It didn't bother me because there was graffiti in nature, it bothered me because there was UGLY graffiti in nature! While resting on one of the boulders, I thought about this and I am truly surprised that some nature loving mofo hasn't brought a can to cover up the hideous yellow tags yet.
At the beginning of the climb, I was surrounded by darkness. It didn't take very long to make it halfway up the hill, and by that time, the sky had already begun to illuminate - not enough to scare me into running up the hill to catch the sunrise, but enough for me to only take short stops and move with increased speed. The average rock fragments littering the ground were about the size of a soccer ball - which is just big enough to force you to pay attention, while hurting your ankles and feet with their awkward size.
The fact that I had to move somewhat quickly, and also the fact that it would have meant taking out my tripod for long exposures, meant that I didn't get very many pictures from the scree slope climb. I was really kicking myself for not leaving an hour earlier and having more time to snap pictures of that fantastic portion.
Anyway, as I neared the top and the incline decreased (it's a large flat area atop Gros Morne), the coming sun illuminated the sky enough for a couple of underexposed, noisy pictures (see above). Forgetting about my camera, it was jaw-dropping to finally rise above the surrounding area and peer out in all directions at the mountaintops and corresponding fjords. It wasn't very windy and it was quite warm; even with a drenched shirt from working my way up that scree hill.
As I moved across the barren lunarscape of rock fragments, I was curious how far it was to the summit.
The sun was already warming the sky into yellows and pinks, but it hadn't emerged from the horizon just yet. Soon enough, the Gros Morne summit sign came into my sights, at about 100m away. I realized I had all the time in the world now; I was up here and I was shining here before the sun's rays.
I clumsily stumbled forward with that weak kneed jubilation which you get at the accomplishment of something like this. A smile from ear to ear and a warmth throughout my body, I was in complete bliss.
The beautiful thing about not having another person within a good 3 hour radius, is that you can do things like hop atop the actual summit sign and take it all in.
With probably the minimal amount of wind you can get at the 2nd highest point in Newfoundland; it blew just enough to not have deafening silence, but enough to provide some sound.
I absolutely loved being up here without 15 other people. After climbing Katahdin in Maine and finding 60 people at the summit, this was much more enjoyable and definitely preferred.
I sat atop that sign for a good 15 minutes before my backside became too sore from the metal edge. I consumed two or three of my fibre bars and knocked back quite a few more quarter quarts of water. I set up my tripod and got some pictures with the sign, before changing my shirt to a dry one I had in my backpack - believe me, while it was pleasantly warm wearing 2 shirts and a jacket; being anti-shirt while changing garments at the summit was quite cold on the bare chest.
Dry shirt, full of breakfast food and drink; it was now time to descend.
There are two common options for summiting Gros Morne - up the scree hill and then down the back; or up the back and back down the back with no scree hill action at all. Since I climbed the scree hill, it was now time to traverse the rock fragment wasteland to the backside of the mountain.
The ground was quite level atop, with a defined path so you didn't disturb the fragile arctic plants in all the other areas. Once I was past the summit plateau, a path led me downwards beside a fjord with rocks cast in the morning light (see above).
Standing there for a couple seconds, I was overwhelmed, but really, this whole adventure was a sensory overload - I could only spend so much time doing the 'take it all in' thing; especially for a person who never takes enough time to 'take it all in'.
While here, I thought of these Newfoundland tourist advertisements which I always laugh at. They show places while someone talks about Newfoundland; but they show a place in Northern Labrador that you actually need to hire a private helicopter to get to and they also show L'Anse Aux Meadows - which involves driving 8 hours north of the ferry terminal. The third place they show is actually the most achievable one as there's a guy outstretched on a rock overlooking a valley - which I'm certain was taken around here somewhere.
(By the way, I laugh at the advertisements because of the inaccessibility of the locations. "Yeah we have all this! Good luck getting to it though!" It would be like seeing an Ontario travel advertisement with a picture from Moose Factory, Ontario.)
Continuing on, the next portion of the climb down had a gently sloped path and a few staircases. It was pretty easy going until I noticed a mother moose and her spawn. They were in my way, but by this time, it was about 7 in the morning and I was quite tired and I really didn't want to turn around and go back down the scree slope.
Thankfully the mother moose moved to the south with her young. They traveled nowhere near a 90 degree line away from me, but slowly they angled further and further away.
Now that I knew they wouldn't be in my way, I really enjoyed standing there and watching them until they disappeared into some shrubbery.
A bit further and this gigantic staircase helped me down the backside hill.
Continuing along, the path looked similar to the above picture for the next hour, until I was finally back at the 'decision point' (which you've seen already). The path was a little rougher than it looks here and I had to actually pay attention and consciously move from rock to rock - near the end though, I was growing fatigued and began dragging my feet as the journey had really worn on me. My feet, ankles and knees were killing me!
Anyway, about 30 minutes from the above picture is a primitive camping area with room for about 3 tents. A 30-something couple was packing up their tent and getting ready for the day, when they saw me stroll by from the backside of the mountain. I'm not much of a social person, so they HAD to wonder where the heck I was coming from at quarter after seven in the morning.
Another 40 minutes and I reached the 'decision point'. Here I ran into the first guy ascending the mountain that morning. It was funny because I was dying for a break there, continually telling myself, "oh, just keep going until the decision point"; but then, when I saw that guy, my hermit ways took over and I gave him a simple head nod scurrying through.
It was another 15 minutes or so before I took my break in a forest clearing. During that time, two couples and another group passed me by, going up the mountain, and providing strange glances in my direction - hungry & tired, I was more than ready to get out of here.
Therefore I powered my way through the remaining 30 minutes of forest, while passing about 7 different groups; from a couple where the Abercrombie & Fitch dude-guy gave my appearance a disgusted look, to a group of 9 middle aged women wearing matching shirts and on some type of 'excursion'.
I was now beside myself with glee at having the summit to myself this morning.
I should say that I don't fear interacting with other people that much, it's just that people were looking at me like a weirdo for walking the wrong way at eight in the morning. In spite of all that, I actually really enjoyed one of the interactions, as an older fellow joked that "the mountain is back that way my son!"
"Oh, I was already up there, I had my breakfast up there."
He was instantly set aback and the thought of that interaction still puts a smile on my face.
Anyway, I finally reached the car, which had now been surrounded with other cars since my nighttime departure. I happily threw my backpack into the car and put my hands on my knees; extremely exhausted and worn out.
I tried to drive home, but it just wasn't happening. I pulled over into some quarry and slept for a good hour before getting back on the road and making it home to sleep another 4 or 5 hours in the middle of the day.