Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Green Gardens Hike, Newfoundland


The northeast corner of Bonne Bay rises up to a rugged, barren ridge called The Lookout Hills, the biggest of which – Big Lookout – is 600 meters (1968 feet) above sea level. And it’s only about a mile from the sea, so it’s a pretty steep slope that more or less drops right into the ocean. From where we’re living right now, we look out across Bonne Bay at this ridge, as well as the mouth of the bay. It is spectacular. We've been here about two months now, and it is still difficult to look out the window without getting momentarily distracted – a good problem to have.

It’s good to have such a view when you’re inside working much of the time, which is how we spend the first parts of our days. Distracting as it may be, it makes you feel like you’re not totally missing-out on what’s outside. Sometime in the afternoon we usually get out for a walk on one of the shorter trails, not so far away, as much to stretch our legs and get a little exercise as to explore and take a few snapshots. There have been a few days when we realize, usually too late, that it would have been okay for a paddle, perhaps in one of the more sheltered nooks of the bay, but we’ve felt more motivated to walk than paddle. Most days the temperatures have hovered in the low 30s (or around zero, as they say around here) and it tends to get windy at some point. 

I’ve often gazed across the bay at the Lookout Hills and wondered what it would be like over there. Just beyond that ridge, around the corner from this view we have, the shore stretches about 8 statute miles to the southwest, to the town of Trout River. It’s a rugged stretch of coast, but there’s one area with a popular trail, called Green Gardens, so named for the gentle, rolling pastures perched atop the steep, shore-side cliffs. It is all part of Gros Morne National Park.

A week ago we took a hike down to Green Gardens. This is a full-day trip for us, since the trailhead is about an hour’s drive from here, and the hike itself- the short version that just goes from the trailhead down to the sea, and then back up – is about 9 or 10 kilometers (6 or 7 miles total). (The longer version is now closed, due to erosion). The weather forecast didn’t look great- a bit windy in the morning, increasing to a gale warning in the afternoon, along with the arrival of a snowstorm. But it was the day we had planned, the day we could do it, so we stuck to our plan – which, I was too aware, is the auspicious beginning of many outdoor survival stories. 

The trailhead lies high on a plain between The Tablelands and The Lookout Hills, in a treeless, rocky tundra, gorgeously austere, but with nothing to buffer the wind. We had it at our backs for the first stretch, a mile or so in which we climbed a couple hundred feet in elevation, and were aware that returning against it might be difficult. We reasoned that after we crested the hilltop, we would be somewhat sheltered as we descended toward the ocean- and we were. It’s a different landscape on that side, with trees, ponds and meadows. The Gulf of Saint Lawrence came into view, steely grey, corrugated with whitecaps, and we made our way down toward it, stepping through shallow snow, which tapered-out into mud and bare rock as we descended.

It’s a bit backward from hiking up mountains. We hiked mostly downhill to our destination, and had an uphill climb to look forward to for the trip back. But the destination – Green Gardens – was astonishingly beautiful, even now, when it wasn’t all that green. We came to the tops of steep cliffs and walked along these meadows and pastures, dotted with piles of sheep poop, looking down at rocks and sea stacks below. It invited us to imagine paddling there. We were glad to not be paddling then- cold and windy as it was, but what a playground! The near-shore area lay in the lee, the whitecaps and big, lumpy seas beginning maybe a quarter-mile out. The shore had big, dark beaches and cliffs – probably anywhere from fifty to a hundred feet – rising just above them. 

And the pastures themselves felt like playgrounds, grassy fields to romp through, with weird rock formations like sculptures or perhaps the set of a Dr. Seuss drama. On top of that, there are some campsites there: tent platforms, picnic tables, privies. I wouldn’t want to carry boats and gear up there from the shore (and you would probably need to carry everything up, unless you were sure the tide wouldn’t come too high) but it would be a great place walk to and camp. 

We walked a little ways down the shore, had some lunch and then headed back-up. We knew the storm was coming, and as if on cue, the snow began.

We encountered a young woman walking toward us, which came as a surprise, with the storm coming, and she didn’t look terribly prepared. But she also looked young and energetic. The wind increased as we climbed – we had nearly 800 feet in elevation to attain – and as we came back over the ridge, it hit us in the face, driving the snow – and sometimes painful bits of sleet – into our faces. But we were warmed-up from the climb, and just leaned into it, savoring the severity of the scene. It was a relief to climb back into the car. 

We worried about the young woman we’d encountered, and stopped at the park office to let them know she was out there. A ranger said he’d keep an eye out and make sure she got back to her car.

This hike is in Gros Morne National Park. Visitor’s centers are closed for the winter, but you can find information on their website. They sell a small-scale topo map that covers the whole park – not a lot of detail, but it gives you an idea where you’re going.

I also have enjoyed Hikes of Western Newfoundland, by Katie Broadhurst and Alexandra Fortin. It provides basic details for a number of hikes in the area, including several off-trail, multi-day backcountry hikes, which certainly fuels my imagination for warmer-weather treks. Alex Fortin and her partner Cory also have a website called Wildly Intrepid, which is full of inspiration for adventure travel.

I’m really pleased that a photo I took was chosen as the winner of The Preserve Prize in Maine Coast Heritage Trust’s Wild Maine CoastContest. The photo was taken at Western Head Preserve in Cutler, and is described in this blog post from September. There were a lot of gorgeous photos entered in the contest; I’m very grateful to have been chosen.

We still don’t have much in the way of plans; we’re mostly focusing on the present, trying to get as much work done as we can. Hopefully we’ll share some of that before too long. Of course, lately our distractions have included not just the magnificent view from the window, but from where I sit at the kitchen table we see the occasional spouts and diving tail flukes of humpback whales, as well as others. There's herring in the bay, and at night, the lights of seining boats float out there in the dark.

We’ve also been able to spend some time with Rebecca’s parents, and with other family and friends. I’ve continued to post snapshots every now and then on Instagram. I’m still not sure why I’m doing this (a bit like writing blog posts) but it is oddly compelling, and I enjoy perusing other people’s photos more than a lot of the ‘content’ that gets passed-around on Facebook. 

Oh yes, I suppose it's worth mentioning: my sea kayaking guidebook, AMC's Best Sea Kayaking in New England makes a great gift. 

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