Wilderness hike (long posting)
Jim Butler (ajb@ZEPPO.GEOSURV.GOV.NF.CA)
Tue, 9 Aug 1994 11:12:14 NDT
First a warning!
The following is a summary of a wilderness hike and may not be of interest
to everyone. If your not interested now is a good time to bail out!!
During the week of July 24 - 28, 1994, I had the extreme pleasure of
leading a wilderness hike for a group of Pathfinders. By way of
explanation, Pathfinders are girls in the Girl Guide Movement in Canada
in the 12 - 14 age group. The site of the hike was Gros Morne National
Park on the west coast of Newfoundland, in eastern Canada. I would like
to share this experience with those on the list.
The Long Range Hike
On July 23, 1994, we met with the group at 7:00 am. Twenty minutes later,
after making sure everything was in place, we left for an eight hour
drive to the site of the hike. The group consisted of nine people.
Six of the group were members of the 42nd St. John's Pathfinders between
the ages of 12 and 13 years; Cathy, Gillian, Jennifer, Michelle, Paula,
and Patricia; two leaders Wendy, the regular leader, and Jackie,
the alternate leader; and me as guide. We were at the park campgrounds
by 4:30 pm that evening.
We camped at the Park campgrounds. The Park required us to discuss
our plans for the hike with them. We met and talked about the hike and
the conditions while the girls watched a 20 minute movie about the park
and the hiking trails. We were eager to begin the hike early in the morning.
The morning of July 24 dawned with heavy rain and fog. After some
discussion, we attempted to begin the hike. We ran into a few problems
and, mainly because of the weather, decided to postpone the hike until
the next day. To kill the time the group decided to drive to
Lance-aux-Meadows, a 1000 year old Viking site located 380 kilometres
(228 miles) to the north. The only proven Viking site in North America.
It was well worth the long drive to learn a little more about our
history. It was late when we returned to the campgrounds.
The next morning the weather was good and with better organization we were
ready to walk the first stage of our hike. A 3 kilometre (1.9 mile) walk
over a good trail, to a 16 kilometre (10 mile) boat ride to the head of
Western Brook Pond.
We arrived at the dock at 9:50 am and learned that quite a few other
people were attempting the hike that day. In all 15 people were going
to do the Long Range Hike, the one we were doing, and 2 people were
doing the North Rim Hike, a shorter hike but much more difficult.
All 17 left the tour boat at the dock at the head of Western Brook Pond.
As we stepped off the boat the recorded commentary for the tourists was
saying that most of the people who attempt this hike return to the boat
and do not complete the walk. Not encouraging words at this stage.
We ate lunch on the dock and, half an hour later, began to walk up
the hill. An interesting and largely uneventful walk followed. The
trail was marked with flagging tape for most of the way and it was
really helpful. The trail was sometimes difficult to follow as it wound
its way among the house-sized boulders. Along the way we met 4 people
coming back to catch the boat, one of the party had injured his foot and
could not go on. By 5:30 pm we were at the base of the final climb. This
1.5 kilometre (0.9 mile) climb rises approximately 440 metres (1450 feet)
in distance. The trail from here was poor.
A man and woman who had arrived on the tour boat after ours, had caught
us by that time and wondered if we were on the proper trail. I spent some
time looking for another trail and finally concluded that we were on the
right trail. It was a hard climb. Some of the girls really had to rally
all their courage to make it up this part of the trail. The man we had
met earlier, returned to help two of the girls with their backpacks.
His assistance was greatly appreciated! We finally reached the open spaces
above the tree-line at 7:00 pm. We were all totally exhausted and we decided
to camp at that spot. We were two kilometres (11.2 miles) from the campsite
provided by the Park and where we had intended to camp. We could not walk
any further. I thought that this would be a good place to camp since if
there was any discussion about going on we were within sight of the lake
and the boat. We ate a light dinner and were in bed before 8:00 pm.
The next morning we were up at 6:00 am and, after a quick breakfast,
were ready to move out at 8:00 am. The trail still lead uphill and the
going was slow. At noon we had covered 2 kilometres (1 mile). We had
lunch at the first campsite provided by the Park. The conditions improved
somewhat in the afternoon and we covered another 5 kilometres (3 miles).
Sometime around 2:30 pm we had to cross a shallow river, which we did
with ease, but with wet feet. At 5:00 pm the fog came down around us.
I was not interested in going on because we were leaving one valley
and crossing a ridge into another valley and I wanted to be certain we
had the correct one. We looked for a fairly dry and level site and
camped there. I estimated that we were about 2 kilometres (1 mile)
from the Park cabin on Hardings Pond, our intended campsite for Tuesday
night. After supper the fog lifted and I looked for our route. We were
right on the trail. We were in bed by 8:00 pm.
I was awakened just after dawn by one of the leaders screaming, something
about a bear. There were lots of signs and she did say that she seen it,
but by the time I got out I could see only some caribou. We had seem lots
of caribou along the route, a few moose and I saw one willow ptarmingan.
After breakfast, we were away by 8:00 am and walked to the cabin on
Hardings Pond. We rested at the campsite near it. We had strayed from
the trail a little but had no problems. From 10:00 am to noon I
made a slight mistake in navigation and we strayed from the trail again.
As soon as I noticed it, I began to move the girls towards the proper route
and after lunch we were on a good trail and progressing well. (I told the
girls I was just demonstrating how easy it was to get lost. I don't think
they believed me!)
By 4:00 pm we were at the spot where the trail went between two ponds and
footprints assured us that we were on the right route. We crossed the
stream and were processing up the hill when suddenly we were caught in a
torrential downpour of rain. We found a spot to put up the tents and did
so in the wind and rain. Things became tense for a while but we accomplished
the task and bedded down for the night.
The fourth day of our hike began sunny and cool. Everything was wet
from a night of rain. We ate a hurried breakfast and were ready to
walk at 8:00 am. In a short 20 minutes the fog came in again and we
stopped. After about 15 minutes the fog lifted a little so I went to
check our location on the map, looking for a particular pond. I found
it in about 10 minutes and returned to the girls. The fog had lifted.
We walked to the pond and from a ridge near it we could see most of
the walk ahead of us. We went down a steep slope and had to cross
a rather deep river. It took us an hour to find a good spot to cross
the river, so we had lunch about 1 kilometre (0.6 miles) from where
we had planned.
In the afternoon we were determined to finish the hike, but knew
that it would be a long day. We did not really stop after lunch. We
walked along a relatively good trail, only losing it a couple of
times, to the edge of the mountain. There was a small celebration
when Gros Morne came into sight, and we took some pictures overlooking
Ten Mile Pond.
At 6:00 pm we were at the trail leading down from the plateau. That took
almost hour of very steep down hill walking. The decent was about 130
metres (430 feet) over about 0.2 kilometres (0.1 miles). We had to be
careful because we were tired and it was late. It was a prime spot for
a fall or a broken leg. We were on the final trail by 7:00 pm.
Now, only to walk to the highway, about 5 kilometres (3 miles). We were
told by people in the park, that it was about a two hour walk. It took
us a little longer. About 1/4 way along the trail one of the leaders and
I decided to walk ahead to have the vehicles at the end of the trail when
the girls got there.
We reached the highway at 10:30 pm, walking the last kilometre with the aid
of flashlights. We ran into at least one moose on that trail and something
black crossed the tail in front of me, but it was too fast to identify.
(Then again, at that stage of the day it could have been just a strange
play of shadows from the flashlights.) The girls were about an hour behind
We were tired. We dropped our packs as soon as we were in the parking lot.
Rocky Harbour, and our vehicles, was still 7 kilometres (4.2 miles) away.
We could not get a ride. Who would pick up someone late at night? We were
about 3/4 of the way to town when a girl stopped and, with some convincing
talk by the female leader, she gave us a ride to the Park Centre. We called
a friend and she said she would pick us up. After a few quick telephone
calls to assure relatives and friends that we were back from the hike, we
got the vehicles and returned to the end of the trail to pick up the rest
of the party. I could hardly move my legs as I climbed into the car. I fully
expected the girls not to be there, but still on the trail. We were met
with a display of flashlights and everyone in a good mood. I was relieved!
The girls were taken to the Park Centre to call home and then on to the
Park campsite for showers and a snack. Other campers were at the site and
it was sometimes difficult to keep the excitement of the girls from getting
out of hand. The girls had a great laugh at how funny everyone looked and
that everyone was walking like penguins or doing what we later called the
Long Range Shuffle. Spirits were high, but when we settled down no one was
awake for very long.
I was leaving early in the morning so, before going to bed, I talked to
the girls for a few minutes and told them how I appreciated their company
and I was proud to have been a part of that hike! I praised them for their
courage and determination to complete the hike. We agreed to get together
to discuss and celebrate the completion of the hike in about a month.
By 6:20 am Friday morning I was on the road. It was an hour into the
drive before I realized the full impact of the hike and what those young
girls had accomplished. I singled out Patricia crying as she climbed up
the hill on our first day out; quiet little Michelle tolerating the
attack of mosquitoes, black flies and deer flies on day 2; the intense
fear on Jennifer's face as I guided her across the deepest part of the
river we had to cross on day 3; Gillian's leadership role in helping
all the girls through rough times during the hike; Paula's humour and
enthusiasm for the hike and a good joke; and the seat of Cathy's
splashpants hanging in shreds after the particularly steep trail down
from the plateau on Thursday evening.
I thought about the hike and the past four days for quite some time
over the next hour or so. I concluded that these young girls could not
face any harder problems during their live than the ardious conditions
they faced on this wilderness hike. They certainly proved to me, and
hopefully to themselves, that they are ready for live and anything it
has to offer. Wendy, their group advisor, has certainly played a very
important part in that development.
Then my thoughts turned to the future and the National Training Event I was
to attend in Halifax the next week. This NTE was organized by Scouts Canada
to help understand and develop leadership skills, problem solving techniques
and resolve conflict while working with small groups, but that is another
story. I was on a high from being a part of such a special group for five
Jim Butler - ARC Training, Northeast Avalon Region (Scouts Canada)
NF Dept. Mines & Energy, 95 Bonaventure Avenue, St. John's, NF, A1B 4J6
voice: (709) 729-2172 fax: (709) 729-3493
home: 32A Ashford Drive, Mount Pearl, NF A1N 2Z4 (709) 368-8732
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City