The East Coast Trail: Newfoundland, Canada (Part 1)Posted: June 28, 2013
Three weeks ago (yikes, I’m behind!), I was hiking my way along the East Coast Trail (ECT) in Newfoundland, Canada with Lucas. We hiked 60 plus miles in five days and managed to soak in an incredible, rugged coastline, spot some stellar wildlife, and to be reminded how wonderful it is to disappear into the wilderness for a while.
I think I have been putting off writing this blog because life has been a little crazy, and because I never know quite where to begin when writing about a place we spent so much time and saw so many beautiful things. But I will do my best to capture this special place. So here goes…
Our adventure really started on the plane, when we met several friendly folks from Newfoundland, who were more than happy to talk about “the rock,” as it is known to locals. We learned that Newfoundlanders, particularly those who live around St. John’s (our starting and ending destination), are mostly descendents of Irish immigrants and that we should expect to hear thick accents during our travels. It was a wise and helpful piece of information as we did indeed meet many Irish Canadians, some of whom we did have a difficult time understanding.
Our new plane friends also expressed surprise, a common occurrence when talking with locals, that we would be hiking and backpacking on the East Coast Trail. Many of the locals we met had never been on the trail, and most seemed shocked that we would be camping along it as well. This was a bit of a surprise to us, but it also meant that we ended up having this incredible trail mostly to ourselves. Pretty amazing.
We arrived in St. John’s late, spent a little time getting our supplies reorganized, and crashed. The next morning we wandered around downtown for a bit, took a walk up Signal Hill to Cabot Tower, an iconic spot that overlooks the narrows and St. John’s, and grabbed fuel at a local outfitter before catching our cab south to start on the trail.
We began our first few miles in typical Newfoundland weather: rain and fog. At the trailhead our cab driver, a very nice Irish Canadian, seemed reluctant to leave us, even as we layered on rain gear, put on our pack covers, and started down the trail, it was clear he had doubts about our trip. During the drive he even asked us, “Have you done this kind of thing before?” Which made Lucas and I chuckle. I can only imagine him telling his family at dinner about these two crazy kids he dropped off in the rain who were going to hike from Cape Broyle back to St. John’s, 109 kms, he would say throwing his hands up in the air, “Can you believe it?”
I liked that he was worried. It reminded me that Lucas and I share a passion for something that not everyone understands or would enjoy in the same way we do. I, for one, couldn’t wait to disappear down the trail, to sink into quiet and calm. For five days no cell phone, no internet, no life decisions besides the basics: food, water, shelter, and movement, one foot in front of the other. I love how simple life becomes on the trail. It slows you down, lets you think, cleans you out.
Our first day on the trail was a short one as we didn’t even arrive in Cape Broyle until late afternoon, but right away we got a glimpse of what we had come to see: a rocky, rugged coastline, pounded by crushing waves. The fog sunk in so deep you couldn’t see the horizon, but instead, enveloped the world in an eerie, magical cloak. It felt prehistoric.
The trail snaked along the coast with views of white caps speckled along the shoreline, jagged rock pile islands, and clear, cold water. We also spotted our first bald eagle of the trip. We hiked, hoods up, for several hours before we made camp in an open grassy field right on the water’s edge. All night we listed to the waves breaking and the rain tapping on our tent. It seemed like a good initiation to the East Coast Trail.
On day two we set off in a light mist through our first community link, South Brigus, a sleepy village along the shore, before climbing up and into thick coastal woods. Again, we enjoyed the way the fog danced along the coast hiding and revealing at the same time. At Frenchman’s Head, we marveled at the steep drop-offs and clumps of bone-breaking rock outcroppings. We stopped for a short water break in Deep Cove, thick with the mist of fog, and marveled at the clear, green-blue water, and the breaking, geometrical lines of the rocks walling us in. It seemed like a pirate ship could have floated into the cove at any moment.
From here we went up, and the fog became so thick it felt like walking through clouds. The world around us disappeared. We took a short spur trail out and up onto Flamber Head, a small jut-out into the ocean like a thumb made of rocks. The cliffs reminded me of broken teeth, sharp and uneven. In the cove below we spotted our first otter of the trip. I was thrilled! It floated on its back bobbing and rocking with the waves until it dipped under water and disappeared into the foggy ocean beyond our view.
The next stop, and one of our favorites of the trip, was Cape Neddick. Dipping out onto another spur trail, we climbed up a steep rocky trail until we were on a point so high we couldn’t see the ocean below us through the fog. We ate lunch, shoes off, relaxing. This is when we had a “movie” moment. The wind picked up and the fog started to blow out and the sun, our first of the trip, poked through. It felt like a miracle. We watched the wind pushing the fog like a cold breath disappearing and suddenly the whole coast opened up. We could see both north and south in a single moment, and it felt like we were getting our first glance of a whole new world.
If I wasn’t already in love with Newfoundland, I sure was now!