Visiting the ski chalet in Southwest Gulch offers a number of great day trips for skiers or snow shoers willing to brave the harsh conditions of the Tablelands. The 5km trek to Winterhouse Brook Canyon is one of the best scenic routes across the top of the giant red mountains, giving you great panoramic views of the Long Range Mountains, Bonne Bay, and Trout River Gulch.
The first 2.5km is mostly uphill, rising up almost 350 meters above the chalet, but it is fairly gradual compared to most of the surrounding slopes. Large pieces of rock, broken off by frost, line the way up like giant ochre trail markers. This section is quite strenuous so be wary of overdressing and make sure you have enough water. Each time you crest a ridge, expecting to be at the top, the endless mountain just keeps rising getting rockier as you go. The mountain's size is very deceptive and the terrain tends to get worse as you go. It is a little difficult to navigate your skis through the narrow snow and ice channels that run through the rock fields.
When you finally get near the summit the land begins to flatten out in a broad icy expanse that looks like it would be quite at home in the high Canadian arctic. The terrain is featureless and white with the only landmarks being scattered rock fields rising up out of the ice and snow. There is a cold mountain stream running near the top of the valley on the route up, giving you a chance to refill your nalgene and get a few snap shots of the rolling foothills that stretch all the way to the North Arm Mountain, 20km away.
Navigation can be quite tricky when traversing the Tablelands. The terrain can be disorienting and on my last trip the fog rolled in and there was nothing but white as far as you could see. My group had to resort to leap frogging with our compasses in order to stay together and on course. Storms and snow squalls are also common here and can reduce visibility to zero in a matter of minutes. Trying to travel here without a map and compass would be foolhardy. Even walking or skiing can be dangerous as the edges are all ice-lined and slippery, and you could fall for a kilometer or more before being thrown over the edge, giving you more than enough time to ponder your fate before going over. As you travel towards the canyon the land has a very gentle uphill slope that is easy to travel on and fun to ski on the way back.
An hour on the plateau should be enough to cover the last 2.5km and reach the look off point at Winterhouse Brook Canyon, which is an awesome view to take in while eating lunch. We were lucky when the fog lifted just as we reached our destination and allowed us to get out our cameras for a few shots. The gorge runs from the top of the mountain all the way to Bonne Bay, 6km away and almost 700 meters down.
The canyon walls are lined with huge cornices and evidence of several avalanches can be seen below them, giving a grim reminder of what can happen if you don't travel responsibly in this area. My group was all equipped with avalanche probes, beacons, and shovels even though we made sure to avoid the many high risk areas that exist near here at the end of the ski season. Sitting there and looking across the frozen expanse all around me often gives me a strange feeling of serenity, and reminds me of how small I really am in the grand scheme of things.
As soon as we shouldered our packs and set a reverse bearing on the compass, the fog rolled in again leaving us in an endless white haze that was kind of eerie but very cool. The only noise was the sound of our skis and they occasional shout to correct our position. We had to leap frog again for about half of the way back, until we started to go down a gradual downhill slope, when in a second the fog rolled back out again leaving us with a bright clear sky. At this point half of the group went ahead on snow shoes while the rest of us removed our ski skins and picked our way down the rocky slope, being careful to stay well away from any of the steeps. It was late march and the snow conditions were very icy and bumpy making it a little difficult to traverse, even with a small day pack. It was a bumpy ride but very fun as well.
When we reached the place where we stopped for water on the way up we split off to the left across a steep slope leading into the valley below, where the chalet is located. We scouted a nice line that was very steep but looked safe from avalanches and rocks. We took off down the mountain one at a time, skidding our turns more than carving them on the icy slope. I had a brand new pair of telemark skis with a much bigger side cut than I was used to and it was probably the most exhilarating run of my life. My skis reacted perfectly and I made it all the way down in "ski or die" mode until I skidded to a stop at the bottom and fell over in slow motion, giving my companions more than a few chuckles. With runs like this all over I could see why this is a treasured location for the few telemarkers that make their way into the gulch each year.
The final section of the trail is another gradual downhill slope to the chalet that is filled with trees and rocks making for an interesting slalom style run. Coming down the mountain you have an excellent view of the amazing countryside and is probably the most scenic slopes I have ever skied.
This route is a great day ski that can be done without staying at the chalet, but with the unpredictable weather it is probably safer to stay the night. The Tablelands offer an amazing adventure and the skiing here is some of the best in Eastern Canada. The view from the top of the gorge is well worth the trek up and the landscape is defiantly one of the most strange and interesting that you will ever see.
Always remember to stay prepared even on a short trip like this one. An hour after we got back to the cabin from our trip a blizzard came in with 90km/hr winds howling through the gulch and blowing snow reducing visibility to near zero, keeping us inside for almost two full days. I'd hate to think of what it would be like on the plateau when that storm blew in. Make sure you have a good map and compass as well, and know how to use it. A GPS can break and I know that our group would not have been able to travel through the fog without a compass.
Take route 430 (viking trail) north from Deer Lake to Wiltondale. Then turn left onto route 431 and follow it to the town of Woody Point. Follow the trail to Southwest Gulch and pick your line up the mountain
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Posted By: Bud Stokes
- Sat May 09 00:27:05 UTC 2009
UpsideShort approch to some big lines from hut. Lots of steep chutes in area, most of which have never been skied. DownsideUnpredictable weather and generally wind packed snow. No Avalanche Bullitens CommentGreat low angle ski tour when done as described. Excellent opportunity for some big mountain descents into Winterhouse Brook Gorge and Southwest Gulch with easy return to hut via. SW Gulch. ASSESS SNOW CONDITIONS CAREFULLY!!! Western NL has no avalanche bullitens unlike western Canada. However, the terrain found along the western coast of NL IS avalanche terrain and just as dangerous as terrain found in larger mountain chains around the world. It even shares the treeless topography of high altitude, alpine terrain do to the unique geology of the area. On the upside, the snowpack is a maritime snowpack and is generally stable. Be aware of MASSIVE cornices overhanging the Gorge as well as the Gulch. REMEMBER: Tackeling big lines in the backcountry takes more then skiing ability, you need to be educated about avalanche awareness as well as always carry a beacon, probe, and shovel as well as be with a simalarly equipped partner.