Traveling Solo-Hiking Gros Morne Mountain, Newfoundland

Trip Down Home

I decided to take a month long trip around Newfoundland this summer. It’s a trip I’ve wanted to take with a friend or a lover for a decade, but the friend or lover never materialized. I’ve put out over a dozen invitations over the years all to people in my life who have expressed interest in coming out to my homeland. But life got in the way-money and time, the two main excuses not to take a month long trip. People get busy, life gets in the way.

Up until this spring, I was traveling with my dog, Slayer. Newfoundland was the first place I traveled with her 4 years ago. It was her happy place. Coming from Toronto, this was her place to be free. For the past few years, with an animal in tow, I was more protected that I had ever felt. The first time I went camping with Slayer and we could go into the woods and off the beaten path, I thought to myself, “this is what it must feel like to be a man.” I was scared of bears eating my food, but I didn’t have to worry about being accosted in the night anymore. Not with a dog who was up and alert and letting me know someone was coming about 150 feet before they even got anywhere near me. I camped my way through Central America with Slayer, checking out forest trails together and looking at the stars on a moonless night on any beach we wanted to. I barely needed a flashlight to go anywhere, she showed me the way; she watched my back so much that I forgot all about the regular worries of women the world over.


I realized when Slayer died that I wasn’t as good at getting my bearings in the dark, and the old looking-over-your-shoulder habits started to creep in. I felt robbed. Suddenly I was just like every other girl, thinking of her safety instead of enjoying the stars. Except now I felt cheated, because I have known something else. Determined not to let her passing keep me from enjoying my life, I started (slowly) to challenge myself and do things on my own that scared me. On an island in Nicaragua that I have lived on for many months over the past year, I walked 20 minutes on a well-known trail myself at night from one farm to another. My heart was racing for the first ten minutes, but then I settled in and it was the same gorgeous walk it’s always been. I’ve been hitch hiking a bit on this trip too. Not always. I would have been doing it more if I had her, I know that, but it’s actually been really rewarding. I have met so many nice people and because I’m a woman on my own (without a dog), I get picked up quickly every time.

Hiking was our thing. I’ve been slowly going on more and more hikes alone and slowly, my love of being alone in the outdoors is coming back. The challenge is only partly the safety issue, it’s also partly that I just liked having her along for the ride. The beauty of traveling with a dog is that you get to have a companion when you need one but you get to be alone too.

Tackling Gros Morne mountain was the jewel in the hiking crown. 6-8 hours of an intense hike with the possibility of ever changing weather conditions; it looked like the kind of adventure that would either make or break me.

 

Getting To Gros Morne

I arrived in Bonne Bay, Woody Point, where my family is from, and at the mouth of Gros Morne Park on the west coast of Newfoundland a few days in advance. Looking out of the gorgeous bay, I could see the mountain looming in the distance. I could see her calling me, challenging me, exciting my sense of adventure.

For days I was online, looking up what I needed to bring, what the weather was going to be like, and finally I chose a day when the weather was supposed to be perfect: 20 degrees, no clouds in sight.

I packed a raincoat, 2 litres of water and a straw I have that will filter a puddle into crystal clear drinking water just in case I needed an extra litre of pond water. I had hearty snacks: boiled eggs, nuts and seeds, an apple, and warm vegetarian lunch.

A few nights before the hike, I was searching online for accounts of women who climbed the mountain alone and what I found scared me almost out of it completely. One woman warned that the weather could change at any moment and that unless you were an experienced hiker, not to go up alone. She also sited all the people who have died hiking the mountain and that they were all hiking solo.

I hated reading that. The resentment in me grew another layer. At first I was scared to go alone. What if I twisted my ankle and there was no one there to help me? What if the fog rolled in and I got lost? By the time I got to Woody Point though, looking up at the mountain in the distance, it melted away. Fear wasn’t going to keep me from doing anything at all.

In the end, the mountain was packed. I spent a good portion of my climb with other people all around. I also spent a lot of the day hanging back and letting people pass or getting in front of them so I could be alone.

 

The Trail

The first part of the hike is a 4km walk through a forested trail. It’s relatively flat and woodsy. I got about a half hour in and started to cry a little bit. It was the kind of hike that Slayer would have thoroughly enjoyed. I really just missed her in that moment and it overwhelmed me.

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Once you get through the first part, you come on a resting stop where you can see the mountain clearly before you. The signs at the resting stop tell of wildlife in the area and there is a clear warning that the mountain is not as docile as it looks in the distance. It’s bald, rump looks like a gentle climb as far as mountains go, and the flat top seems harmless. The sign clearly tells you not to proceed if there is fog above or if conditions seem like they might change soon. Lucky for me it was sunny and clear. I stopped to have the first snack in my bag and use the bathroom and then I carried on.

The next part of the climb was the steepest. The hour long, almost vertical climb was the daunting bit that people told me about. But I knew it was over in an hour, so I just picked away at it, stopping to take breaks when I needed them and continuing on. Towards the end of the hour, I was stopping every 30 paces for three deep breaths then 30 more and that’s how I made it to the top.

The top of the mountain was flat so you could see 360 degrees of pure ancient glacier loveliness. Gros Morne was a forerunner as a site to film Lord Of The Rings and from this vantage point, you can see why. It’s like something out of a fairy tale, there is no camera made by man that can do it justice.

 

 

I finally got off the trail and made myself a little picnic area on the sparse greenery that grows on the Tundra and enjoyed the complete and utter stillness of it.

After lunch there was nothing to do but start the decent. From the summit of the mountain, there is a long trail to the other side where the decent begins. At first I was really excited to start coming down and seeing the vistas from the other side. My excitement quickly dampened when I was covered in thick brush, descending over boulders in boots that were starting to feel too tight for 3 hours steady downhill. The last hour before reaching the lovely flat trail to the parking lot, I was in agony, my knees feeling like they were going to give out completely.

By the time I reached the viewing station and the brook-I ended up needing another litre of water anyway-I took off my boots and socks, put my aching feet into the stream and walked the last 4 km in bare feet.

By the time I finished, I was exhausted. I felt like I’d run a marathon. I was also pretty satisfied. I loved the moments on the trail when I was alone. I wish I had started out earlier in the day and avoided some of the midday crowds that formed. And I was proud I did it on my own without Slayer, even though having her there would have been a dream come true.

 

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Hiking Gros Morne and hitchhiking on this trip by myself has really strengthened my confidence in myself. I’m slowly learning how to hone my natural skills at survival instead of relying on my dog to do it for me. I have to rely on my own senses to figure out if it’s safe to get in someone’s car (so far the worst “surprise” I got was a man who had a puppy in the cab of his truck) and I’m enjoying the feel of connecting with nature away from the crowds. With each step, I’m becoming more brave, bolder and moving towards the beautiful great unknown.

 

Photos Courtesy of: Anna Von for  © The Things I Wish I Knew 

 

Author Description

Anna Von Frances

Anna Von Frances is a yogi and a traveller. She travels the world looking for all the off-beat places and the most far-out experiences. Having lived in Canada, Europe and the States, she spends most of her time in Latin America teaching and learning about what it means to be a loving human being. She's most passionate about the environment and the study of LOVE. She can howl at the moon with the best of them. Follow Anna on instagram @FullPowerYoga Facebook.com/annavonfrances www.fullpoweryoga.com

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