Last week I traveled to the picturesque southern shore of Bonne Bay. The area, known as Gros Morne south, contains some of the best scenery anywhere in the park. The seemingly bottomless waters of the bay once made the small communities that dot its shore, hubs of transportation and commerce. Now all that remains on the bay is the songs of the whales and the odd fishing boat.
The real reason for my visit to this historic waterway in the middle of winter can easily be seen from sea level if you just turn to the south and gaze upwards. The majestic, shadowing monoliths towering above are known as the Tablelands. Thrust up from the earth's mantle, the Tablelands are a hundred times older than the Rockies, and are a major reason why the park was founded in the first place. Their barren slopes and flat summits entice many adventure seekers in both winter and summer. Looking up I could tell this would be no easy trip.
I found a local guide who agreed to take me to the top and also offered to take me past Pic a Tenerife, a beautiful rugged peak overlooking the coast of Bonne Bay's southern shore. Moose, Caribou, and even the elusive Coyote had all left their tracks along our path as we climbed the forested foothills and valleys that would bring us to our destination.
After a couple of hours we crested a large hill, and I was able to fully appreciate the nature of the mountains for the first time.
As we reached the base and began to climb, the hills became icy and steep, making it a little tricky although still easy to navigate. Although the climb only took us about an hour, it was exhilarating. The forested valley below gradually started to look far away, as the "summit" began to reveal itself.
The so called "summit" was actually a long, frozen, tabletop plateau. Stretching as far as the eye could see, the barren top of the Tablelands gives the impression of hiking in Canada's high arctic. It is flat, frozen, and white. As we came upon a large area of rock revealed by the powerful winds that tear through the area on a regular basis, I was surprised to see a small assortment of flowers, grasses, and lichens growing among the ancient rock. I can only assume that life here exists not much different than it did when the first plants sprung up, millions of years ago.
Another hour of hiking brought us to the real reason for hiking the Tablelands in the first place. The view of Trout River pond from atop the mountains is breathtaking. 15 kilometers long, the pond winds its way from the rugged mountain interior, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean at Trout River. The blue metallic ice covering the depths of the inner pond, gives way to the snow covered snowmobile highways closer to the coast. The contrast of mountains-meet-sea are a must see for all who visit Gros Morne.
After a few photographs we began our descent towards the sea, pausing for a quick stopover at a nearby backcountry chalet, operated by Parks Canada. We met up with a couple of snow-shoers heading for Pic a Tenerife. This area features some amazing backcountry ski and snowshoe terrain, as well as excellent climbing. Bonne Bay enjoys a very high snow accumulation, especially in February and March making it a very popular backcountry destination.
We enjoyed a hot cup of tea before heading down a long wind blasted valley known as Southwest gulch, where just looking at the odd shaping of the snowdrifts made me shudder at the thought of being caught out here unprepared.
Looking back over my shoulder just before we reached the last wooded trail of our journey, I found it hard to believe that despite living so close this is the first time I've ever been able to enjoy the total wonder that these mountains have to offer. One thing I can believe however is that I'll be back this summer for a different perspective.
from Port aux Basques ferry. Follow TCH east to Deer Lake. Take route 430, also known as the Viking Trail and follow it to Wiltondale and the entrance to Gros Morne. Take route 431 to Birchy Head. Visit the local Arctic Cat dealership to get directed to the start of the trail. (3 Hour Drive)
There is a regional airport located in Deer lake (45 minute drive)
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