Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Backcountry Skiing in Gros Morne National Park

Birchy Hills to Rocky Barachois Backcountry Ski Trip

On Saturday January 29, 2011 we set out on a backcountry ski trip from Birchy Hills to Rocky Barachois. The Birchy Hills route starts at the bottom of the Southeast Hills just beyond the bridge on the north side of route 430. We followed the remnants of an old logging route which offered great access to the Long Range plateau. The views of the southeast hills along this route are very rewarding and well worth the effort.

Overlooking Southeast Hills route 430 from Birchy Hills

The old logging route up Birchy Hills

Once you reach the plateau the terrain is a mix of forest, barrens, ponds and valleys. It is very open and you can choose to go pretty much in any direction. Our objective was to reach the headwaters of Barachois Brook and ski down the valley back to route 430.


By noon we reached the high point of our trek. We decided to lunch in a valley just before our descent. Normally we would look for a more sheltered spot given it was the end of January, but this day happened to be windless and relatively warm. After a quick lunch we started out again and before long we were descending down to the pond that feeds Barachois Brook. The descent was steep and the perfect snow conditions allowed us to carve lots of turns.

Powder filled valleys

This is an unmarked backcountry route so map and compass skills are essential. Visibility can become very poor on the hills in minutes so knowing how to navigate in these conditions is essential. We always travel in a group of four or more. We carry a cell phone, first aid kit, extra clothing and gear to make an emergency shelter. Avalanches can occur in the backcountry so be avalanche aware and be prepared.

If you would like more information on this trek and other backcountry ski routes in Gros Morne National Park or you are interested in guide services, email me at

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Backpacking in Gros Morne National Park

The Long Range Traverse 

Western Brook Fjord


 Our adventure started with an easy 3km walk to Western Brook Pond Fjord, arriving at the boat dock just in time for the 10am boat tour. The ride up the pond, which by the way is 16km long, takes just over an hour. The fjord is quite impressive with 700m sheer granite walls and numerous waterfalls that plunge hundreds of meters to the fjord's deep, cool waters. Shortly after 11am the tour boat pulled up to a small dock, the deckhand secured the rope and we stepped off. Within minutes the tour boat was out of site and we were on our own.

Starting point for Long Range Traverse


 The route up through the fjord is unmarked. It's a matter of staying in the valley, travelling on animal trails and following streambeds. We passed through a meadow, navigated through a birch forest and alders, scrambled over rocks and blow downs and eventually reached a waterfall. Just at the top of the waterfall we broke out above treeline and onto a rock ledge. It was a great place to stop, not only to catch our breath, but to enjoy the amazing view. For me, this part of the trek was the most difficult as our packs were heavy with food and we had to ascend 700m in very rough terrain.

Above waterfalls

 We continued up the rock outcrop to almost the top of the canyon and then swung south onto more open terrain which made travelling easier. By 4pm we arrived at camp. The designated campsites all have tent platforms, a very primitive outhouse and a bear proof box for food storage.

Visitor at our campsite

 The route across the Long Range Plateau is a series of hills and deep valleys with a mix of low shrubs, bog, rock outcrops, streams and lakes. An unexpected challenge for most trekkers is negotiating around bands of Tuckamore, thick clumps of stunted spruce and fir trees that are virtually impenetrable, often forcing you off your desired route.

There is no marked trail to get you from Western Brook Pond Fjord to Gros Morne Mountain, just a series of animal paths made by moose and caribou. We picked ones that led us in the direction we needed to travel and followed them, always referring to our map and compass to ensure that we were staying on course.

Weather can be extreme at any time of year in the Long Range Mountains. In preparation for this trip we had tents that could withstand high winds and heavy rain. In choosing a sleeping bag we kept in mind that temperatures in early September could drop to 5C. As for personal gear, hiking boots offering some waterproofness is preferable. Gaiters offer extra protection when crossing brooks and walking in bogs. Quick dry clothing, good rain pants and rain jacket, insulating layers, a hat and gloves made up the rest of our kit. Black flies and mosquitos can be extremely annoying throughout the entire summer and fall so we did pack a bug net however the cool evening and morning temperatures that we experienced in September did keep most bugs away.

Another unusual feature of hiking the Long Range is the amount of fresh water. There are plenty of bogs which most people expect. What is surprising is the number of ponds and brooks. It is quite beautiful however navigating can be a challenge because every body of water looks the same and distinguishing one pond or lake from another on a topographic map can be difficult.

We left Little Island Pond campsite and headed for Green Island Pond. Knowing the route quite well and having good visibility we reached Harding's Pond Campsite by late morning. We decided to push on beyond the Harding's Pond valley to the top of the hill for lunch. This put us in a good position to reach Green Island Pond campsite by late afternoon.

For me, the trickiest section to navigate was across Middle Barrens, between Harding's Pond and Green Island Pond. It is a treeless, barren section often shrouded in low lying cloud or fog with numerous indistinguishable ponds and streams. We were much slower on this section, always checking our map and compass to ensure that were taking the right route. We crossed the barrens with no problems and it wasn't long before we saw the tent platforms far below us at Green Island Pond.

Green Island Pond Campsite

With rain in the forecast, we decided to get an early morning start from the Green Island Pond campsite. We packed all our gear while it was still dry, walked slightly upstream from the campsite and found a suitable place to cross the brook. In no time we could see Gros Morne Mountain and Ten Mile Pond Fjord. The rain held off which made navigating this section much easier and also made it worthwhile to take a side hike to a great viewpoint to overlook Ten Mile Pond fjord.

Ten Mile Pond Fjord

 In preparation for our steep descent off the Long Range plateau into Ferry Gulch, we decided to break for an hour, enjoy the view and have a snack. On previous trips we have camped in this area and in the morning hiked to the summit of Gros Morne Mountain to look for rock ptarmigan and Arctic hare.

Overlooking Ferry Gulch and Gros Morne Mountain


 We ascended the steep section to Beaver Pond and connected to the Gros Morne Trail. We took another break at the primitive campsite at Ferry Gulch and chatted with a few day hikers coming down from Gros Morne's summit. They were intrigued by our adventure. They soon left and we put on our packs for the last time and started the final two hour walk to the Gros Morne Parking lot.

Descent from the Long Range Plateau to Ferry Gulch

Interested in doing the Long Range Traverse? Gros Morne Adventures offers fully outfitted and guided trips. For more information follow this link:

If you are an experienced wilderness traveller and would like to do this trek on your own, you can find out more information on the Gros Morne National Park website:

For details on the boat tour on Western Brook Pond Fjord, go here:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sea Kayaking Bonne Bay, Gros Morne National Park

Early morning is my favourite time to sea kayak on Bonne Bay. With each paddle stroke you effortlessly skim along the water’s surface. Peering through the water you can see fish scooting along the seafloor, brightly coloured sea stars grazing on blue mussels, and kelp swaying in the gentle ocean swell. If there is a minke whale around you’ll likely see it as you will hear its exhaling WHOOSH sound as it surfaces, giving away its location.

Main Arm Bonne Bay

Bonne Bay is a fjord comprised of three arms or inlets that extend well into the interior of Gros Morne National Park. The Main Arm is the large inlet from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This arm splits into the East Arm and the South Arm near the communities of Norris Point and Woody Point. This protected fjord is over 20km in length, is surrounded by stunning mountain scenery, and has relatively warm water with the surface temperature often reaching 20°C by mid-summer. The shoreline is punctuated by numerous beaches and coves, perfectly suited to picnicking and camping.

The Tickle

The typical wind pattern on Bonne Bay is light winds in the morning and a westerly or south-westerly breeze sweeping in the bay through the afternoon. With this predictable scenario we often run our morning tours out into the Main Arm of Bonne Bay and in the afternoon explore the more sheltered East Arm.

Bald Eagle

The Main Arm gives you a real sense of being on the ocean as you often experience a gentle ocean swell and it is where we seem to have most luck spotting Minke whales. The fir trees along the shoreline provide favourite morning perches for bald eagles, so if we don’t catch a glimpse of the whales our guests are very satisfied with their close up views of these beautiful birds. The East Arm of Bonne Bay includes the sheltered coves of Gadd’s Harbour and Norris Cove and between them, an incredible rock outcrop of layered limestone called Shag Cliff. On the far shore you can enjoy great views of three very distinctive mountains Killdevil, Bill Hill and Gros Morne.


Gadd's Harbour

If you choose to extend your outing for a full day or an overnight, we often suggest paddling all the way down the East Arm to Stanleyville. A sawmill was located here at one time and now all that is evident of this human history is a grassy meadow. Parks Canada has established a primitive campsite in this location and a lovely 3km hiking trail links this cove to the Lomond campground.

Morning Paddling

Thinking of sea kayaking on Bonne Bay this summer? Find out more information on our guided tours here  

If you an experienced paddler and wish to explore on your own, go here for information on our sea kayaking rental program

Gros Morne Adventures Base, Norris Point Waterfront

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Big Lookout Hike, Gros Morne National Park

The Big Lookout Hike is one of my favourite hikes in Gros Morne National Park. It is an off trail trek to a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Bonne Bay, the Tablelands and the Long Range Mountains. If you are staying on the north side of the park, you can access this route via the water taxi. It departs from the Catstop wharf on the Norris Point Waterfront at 9am and crosses Bonne Bay to the village of Woody Point.

Bonne Bay

Bontours Water Taxi

This 15 minute ride across Bonne Bay is stunning, the scenery is spectacular and it is common to see bald eagles and whales along the way. You can find taxi information here

By the way, if you need a packed lunch, drop by our Kayak Café on the Norris Point waterfront just down the road from the water taxi and Christine can put together a hearty hiker’s lunch for you. On the topic of things to take, be sure you have rain gear, sweater, map, compass, and hat and gloves. I highly recommend wearing quick drying shorts or pants and shirt and a sturdy pair of hiking boots. There is some low shrub and boggy areas enroute so I usually wear gaiters.

Once you arrive at the Woody Point waterfront, take the road to the right of the Lighthouse Restaurant and head toward the water tower. From the water tower, follow the brook upstream and cross it by the old dam. Look for a faint path on your left. This will take you up a forested hillside to the Lookout Hills plateau. As I mentioned earlier, this is an off trail trek, the route is not well defined and map and compass skills are essential. Once you reach the plateau you are above treeline and rewarded with great views of Bonne Bay and your ultimate destination, Centennial Peak (1967 feet high). Watch for moose as they are plentiful on the plateau. It takes about 45 minutes to walk across the plateau to the base of Centennial Peak. The last 45 minutes is a short scramble up a scree section and then a steady ascent to the summit.

Scramble to the peak

At the Summit

Overlooking Rocky Harbour and the Gulf of St. Lawrence

I often take a different route back across the Lookout plateau in the direction of the Tablelands and intersect the Parks Canada Lookout Trail at Partridgeberry Hill. It takes about an hour to cross the plateau to this vantage point which offers a great view of the south arm of Bonne Bay. You will know you are on this trail as it is well defined and you should arrive at the boardwalked section. The well maintained trail descends to the trailhead at the Discovery Centre. From the Discovery Centre two walking trails lead back to Woody Point.

Crossing the Plateau

Partridgeberry Hill

I usually arrive back in Woody Point between 4:30 and 5pm, in time to enjoy a refreshing beverage and snack at the Lighthouse Restaurant which is located right across the street from the water taxi dock.

Seaside Souvenirs and Restuarant

Gros Morne Adventures guides the Big Lookout Day hike on Sunday, Tuesday and Friday throughout the summer. For more information select:

Gros Morne Adventures also offers a weeklong Gros More Explorer Hiking Vacation package four times throughout the summer. If you are interested in more information on our hiking holiday package, select:

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Spring Snowshoeing - Gros Morne Mountain

The snow is quickly disappearing from Gros Morne's high country so on Friday April 9th Bob and I decided to have one last snowshoe adventure for this season. We picked Gros Morne Mountain for our destination.

We managed to hike to the base in hiking boots despite there being some snow on the trail. It wasn’t until we reached the gully just beyond the base of the mountain that we needed snowshoes. The snow was deep and soft so the snowshoes prevented us from sinking and also provided traction on the steeper pitches.

As soon as we made our way out of the gully and on to Gros Morne Mountain’s flat summit we saw seven caribou. They were digging through the light layers of snow foraging for food. We continued across the mountain to overlook Ten Mile Pond Fjord, looped back to the summit and returned down the gully.

Spring has arrived about a month earlier this year. There is very little snow on the trails and in the mountains and there is no ice in Bonne Bay. Our next adventure will likely be in kayaks!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Gros Morne Backcountry Skiers Circumnavigate Burridge's Gulch

Overlooking Burridge's Gulch

On Friday, February 26th, 2010 our Gros Morne backcountry ski group circumnavigated Burridge’s Gulch, a spectacular hanging valley located in Gros Morne National Park’s Long Range Mountains.

Our starting point was at the top of the Southeast Hills on route 430. Our route took us across Southeast Pond and up a valley just to the south of Burridge’s Gulch. Access to the high country plateau was through fairly dense forest requiring a fair bit of maneuvering back and forth.

Within an hour of climbing the landscape changed to open forest, stunted trees and finally snow-covered barrens, rolling hills, and frozen ponds. It is common to see rock ptarmigan in this area. Arctic hare also live on these hills however seeing them is a little less common. Camouflaged in all white, the ptarmigan and hare blend in so well with the landscape you often unknowingly ski right by them.

None of us had skied to the end of Burridge’s Gulch following the south rim before so we were a little unsure of how easy this would be as the topographic maps indicated some pretty rugged terrain. It turned out to be no problem and there were a number of routes that we could have selected.

I would describe our traverse as a combination of kick and glide skiing on the long stretches of flat and rolling terrain and snowplowing, side slipping and telemark turning down the steep short descents. Conditions were generally hard packed. In valleys open to the sun all day the snow was wet and heavy. In the shaded areas we encountered powder snow and in some places ice. With the varied snow conditions and terrain we found that our waxless skis, heavy leather boots and sturdy bindings were ideal.

Once we reached the end of Burridge’s Gulch we were in familiar territory as this area has been a favourite day trip destination for us for many of years. We followed a valley that paralleled Burridge’s Gulch and soon connected with our well travelled route and enjoyed the 3km gentle run down an open forested valley to the old cutline.

From a lookout point at the cutline you can see route 430 and the remainder of the route back to the highway. This last section is a steep but short descent through thick forest and along a narrow streambed to a pond. Once on the pond it is a short ski over flat terrain to the highway. In a good snow year, this decent can be skied however it requires a good snowplow and lots of side slipping. This year the snowpack was marginal so to be safe most of us walked this section.

The entire route was over 20km and took us from 9:30am to 4:430pm to complete. Snow conditions were hard packed and fast for the most part allowing us to travel at a comfortable pace and take time to stop numerous times to enjoy the surroundings. If you plan to do this route, be sure to check the ice conditions on both Southeast Pond and Southeast Brook as you must cross both to complete this trip. Since your start and finish are in two different locations, it is a good idea to have two vehicles. Climbing skins are necessary on this route as the ascent is steep and through thick forest, leaving no room to traverse. As with all wilderness travel, be prepared with proper clothing, emergency equipment, tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back, and take a map and compass and know how to use it.

For information on this route or if you would like a guide to take you, just contact

Stay tuned for our next blog!