As we walked down (and up, and down, and back up) the trail that led to the base of Gros Morne Mountain in Newfoundland, I was starting to regret our decision. When we got up at 5:30 a.m., we knew this would be the longest, and probably most difficult hike we had ever done. Yet, Gros Morne (“Big Lone”) Mountain had beckoned us from the very first moment our eyes fell upon it. And you know what they say about mountains calling…
A Rocky Beginning
Waking up with our alarms was our first feat. We are far from morning people, and being up well before we had gotten our eight hours felt like torture. Once we got to the trail, I stumbled along, too tired and anxious to be in a good mood. And after our first steep incline up wooden stairs, I realized they probably weren’t over-exaggerating when they described this hike as “grueling.” Especially because this was supposed to be the easy part.
The mumbling complaints and cursing under my breath started in full force when I saw that first ascent. I had basically convinced myself that we would turn around at the overlook before we were out of ear-shot of the RV. Then I decided to change my thoughts – something I have to do often, since I have a tendency toward pessimism. I WOULD climb this mountain. The weather was perfect and we may never get this chance again. This was happening!
Despite what I had been told about the brutal walk down, I rationalized that I only needed to make it up the mountain and I’d be fine. The “easy” up and down trail to the base made up about half of the entire hike. And the steep climb up was only about a kilometer. Up is always the biggest struggle for me. “If I can just get passed that part, the worst will be over.” Famous. Last. Words.
The 4-km (~2.5 miles) hike through the woods, by pretty ponds and passed some gorgeous overlooks of the surrounding area, ends at a view of the looming mountain. There is a sign that tells you, quite bluntly, that the hike will get much harder. And it reminds you that it is not too late to go back.
Already determined to finish, I stared up at the mountain before us. The rock face was split in half by a large stone gully. When we looked closely, there were some idiots walking up there.
“Why the hell would anyone go that way,” I asked Buddy as he gave me a look of concern. That was the way up.
Idiots Among the Rocks
It didn’t take long for us to join the other hikers in the rock gully, as people behind us probably questioned the sanity of the little dots they saw from the overlook. We were determined, not crazy, right?
I read that there were large boulders marking the trail, but it was almost impossible to make that out once we were among them. So, we just scrambled up the safest-looking route.
Although the stunning views behind us were tempting, looking behind us made us dizzy. And we tried not to stop too often anyway, because there weren’t many places that felt stable enough to relax. When we did take a water or snack break, the spiders crawling around on the wobbly stones ushered us along.
At some points, the trail seemed extra treacherous – with thin rocks slipping out from under our feet and tumbling down far below us. And there were other times when the trail flattened out a bit and we thought we were almost finished, only to have more rocks to climb over. Our trekking poles helped, but sometimes we had to just crawl over the rocks on all fours. Did I mention neither of us are fans of heights?
Even though we trekked along diligently, that didn’t mean we were fast. About a half-dozen people passed us as we made our way slowly but surely to the top of the mountain. However, many did seem to be in much better shape than us. Buddy swears one guy had calves the size of his torso, and another told us he was hitch-hiking around the world. No big deal.
Top of the World
Once we finally made it to the top, I was ecstatic. We had dragged ourselves up 806 m (2,644 ft)! Another couple offered to take our photo next to the sign, and my smile would make you think I just won the lotto. I felt so proud for pushing myself more than I had ever before.
The top was just rocks. Although it felt great to be at the summit of the second largest mountain in Newfoundland, there wasn’t much to see unless you ventured to the edges. After a short visit with the other hikers, we started on our long journey down – with more of those great views!
Initially our trail was rock, but eventually it turned into a wooden boardwalk trail with stairs and I was beaming. This would be so much easier on the way down!
We even saw a moose as we wandered down the trail. And the views of the nearby mountains and fjords were gorgeous.
Shortly after our moose encounter, we passed a gorgeous lake and stopped to admire it for a while. What a peaceful trail this was turning into.
But then, as we turned the corner, I saw another rock field in the distance. My heart sank. More rocks?
Everything Hurts & I Want to Cry
There was about 5 km (~3.1 miles) left of rocky, toe-busting descents before we made it back to the first portion of the trail. We were exhausted. I wanted it to be over more than anything.
Eventually, the rocks broke down my mental guard against negativity and the complaints started rolling in again. I was pretty sure my toes were bleeding (they weren’t) and my right knee was about to burst. At one point, I even told Buddy “I never want to do a hike like this again!” I’m sure we’ll laugh about that next time we are on a mountain.
About three hours of steep descents and a lot of whining later, we made it to the RV. I was basically limping due to my poor decision to wear cotton socks and the damage they were doing to my feet. Even Buddy looked like death – and he usually can push through anything. We were hot, exhausted and couldn’t wait to get to our campsite for the night. The mountain had gotten the better of us.
But, Was It Worth It?
I was sure I wouldn’t be able to move the next day. Although it took both of us a while to get going, all of our appendages seemed to move fine – albeit with a touch of soreness. We eventually went out for lunch. And we even had the energy for a short hike to a viewpoint overlooking the lovely town of Trout River, where we were staying. Clearly, my mind had just over-exaggerated the pain the day prior.
But in all honesty, we probably weren’t ready to hike Gros Morne. We’ve been hiking a lot, but nothing even close to that length or difficulty. However, it was hard to pass up such an epic hike in one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever been. Who knows when or if we will be back? We didn’t conquer it easily, but we survived. And you don’t know your strength until you test it, right?
Despite the struggles that came with it, I’m glad we did it. I mean, did you see the pictures? It is certainly an experience we will never forget and a lesson in humility. Nature can both build us up and destroy us, and sometimes it happens simultaneously.
Know Before You Go
Location: The parking lot is 7 km (~4.3 miles) east of Rocky Harbour. There was even room for our rig – just get there early if you need extra room.
Length: 16 km (almost 10 miles). It took us eight hours, but we were going pretty slowly. The trail to the overlook is 4 km (~2.5 miles) each way.
Difficulty: Hard! We hike often and had a really difficult time in portions, but if you are determined and know how to pace yourself, a healthy individual should be able to make it. However, it isn’t suggested for kids. You could always go to the turn-back point and see how you feel. The views from there are great as well!
Nearby Camping: Ferry Gulch (on the back portion of the trail) has camping sites. A permit is needed. For non-permitted camping, Berry Hill is a short drive and we really enjoyed it.
More Helpful Tips
- Check the weather: If you can’t see the top don’t go. Not only will it hinder the great views, it will make the climb very difficult. Also, hiking this mountain in rain would be miserable! The hike is not accessible until the last Friday in June.
- Read the Rules: No dogs allowed. No fires, shelters or rock cairns.
- Where the right shoes and socks! Cotton almost killed our feet. Another hour and I’m sure I would have had giant blisters. Luckily, we did think to wear boots to protect our ankles.
- Bring poles: Whether you like to have a walking stick or trekking poles, having something to keep you balanced can definitely help.
- Water and snacks: At least 1 liter is recommended per person. We suggest a lunch and some snacks as well to keep your energy up.
- Sunscreen and bug spray: You are fully exposed to the sun for most of the trail. And there will likely be bugs in the initial wooded part.
- Bring a jacket: It may be cold at the top, depending on the water. But make sure to wear layers! It may also be really hot!!!