Birthday Mountain 2011: Climbing Gros Morne in Newfoundland

In keeping with tradition, I climbed a mountain for my birthday in August. For newer readers: this is something I’ve done every year for quite some time, but  began documenting on Legal Nomads a few years ago. There was Rinjani in 2009, spewing lava throughout the night. I lost several toenails and a good chunk of skin on my foot in the process, but that didn’t stop me from climbing Agung several weeks later. Last year was South Sister in Oregon, a beautiful climb that involved camping out at the summit in a snow-filled crater, the Perseid meteors shooting overhead. And this year I climbed Gros Morne mountain in Newfoundland, joined by my brother and his girlfriend Sarah.

Gros Morne though a spider's web, Newfoundland

Gros Morne though a spider's web.

The trip to Gros Morne was part of my first ever trip to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Fun fact: The province’s official name was just Newfoundland until 2001, when its name was changed to include rocky, barren Labrador, changing postal abbreviations from NF to NL everywhere). I had heard vaguely complimentary stories about the province and its rolling fog banks, colourful houses and the unbelievable diversity of landscape. But I had never made it there, despite having many friends from law school who hailed from its shores.

For those unfamiliar with Newfoundland and Labrador as a province, it joined our country quite late, in 1949. Prior to the mid-nineteen hundreds, it was a colony – and quite an independent one at that.  Newfoundland rejected joining the confederation with Canada in 1869 and again in 1892. In 1907, Newfoundland acquired Dominion status, meaning that it was a self-governing state of the British Commonwealth, despite the fact that the rest of Canada was governed independently. After a series of debates and national commissions as to its future, Newfoundland held a referendum in June 1948 – but there was no clear majority in the results. A second referendum in July 1948 resulted in a 52.3% vote for confederation, and the province Newfoundland officially joined Canada at midnight, March 31, 1949.

Did I mention that it’s beautiful? Because it is.

View from Cape Spear, Newfoundland

View from Cape Spear, Newfoundland

From Cape Spear (above), the eastern most point in North America, we drove over 1000km to Gros Morne National Park, in the west of the province. We stayed a night in Greenspond and then arrived at the park at dusk, pitching our tent with flashlights and car lights with an early rise to get our mountain on.

From the car park, it’s an alleged 4km walk to the base of Gros Morne. I say “alleged” because it feels like much longer, despite the fact that it isn’t a challenging trek. It’s a bright green forest hike but by the time we reached the fork in the road leading up to the mountain itself, we were laughing at the distance.

Approaching the base of Gros Morne Mountain, Newfoundland

Approaching the base of Gros Morne

After those 4 km, signs at the fork in the path note “DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE MOUNTAIN”. This is because while looking up you see nothing but a pristine lake and a mountain in the distance, like so:

Walking toward the scree on Gros Morne

Walking toward the scree slopes to make our ascent.

However when you get a little closer, you notice that there is a sea of scree. And what you don’t see yet is that once you get past that scree, there is more scree. And even more scree. And looping around the corner you are met with…..

That’s right. Scree.

Scree slopes on Gros Morne

SCREE!

Back at the beginning of my trip, I tore two tendons in my ankle, which has put quite the dent in my birthday mountain plans. I still climb the mountains, but it hurts quite a bit. Despite it being several years, I still need an ankle brace when I’m on loose rock or uphill gravel, meaning that scree like this (or the loose rock from last year’s South Sister climb) does not feel terrific.

Summiting Gros Morne in Newfoundland

My face is saying "PLEASE NO MORE SCREE!"

From what I thought was midway up the scree slopes:

And the view down from the next rest point, after the video was shot:

Summiting Gros Morne mountain

....and more scree.

Even the summit of the mountain is one giant rock-fest.

Sitting in a bowl of scree atop Gros Morne

My brother, sitting in a bowl of scree atop Gros Morne

I did love the proliferation of Inuksuk at the summit, small markers of passage to everyone summiting next.

Inuksuk atop Gros Morne in Newfoundland

Not sure where this man thinks he's going - there's only 1 way down.

After posing for photos at the top, we clomped across the rock to the edge of the mountain and began the winding descent, which took us by some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen. Huge fjords rising out from the water, fields of grass in the distance and a perfect place for a picnic.

Picnic atop Gros Morne in Newfoundland

Picnic of champions: off the trailhead, fjords in the distance. That is, until the spider started biting my brother.

I shot this photo to give a sense of size to our passage – you can see the people in the top left of the capture, standing at the edge of the summit crater before the descent.

Summit of Gros Morne, Newfoundland

To give an indication of scale, the people on the left are near the summit.

Circling downward, we passed the highest of the campgrounds on Gros Morne, around a tiny lake.

Camping atop Gros Morne

Beautiful camping spot just below the summit.

From here, it’s a long trek across more scree and down to that fork in the road, and then the additional 4km to the parking lot. First order of business: to the ocean, to soak our aching feet.

At the water's edge in Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland

At the water's edge after a long climb. Felt great to dip our feet into the cold ocean.

Second order of business: much-needed shower.

Third order of business: fish and chips on the pier, while watching the sunset.

Earle's fish & chips at the ocean's edge, Rocky Harbour

Fish & chips at the ocean's edge to end a great day.

Visitor Information

Where to stay: Parks Canada has five camping grounds available for use within Gros Morne National Park. We stayed at Berry Hill, which ran us $25,50 a person per night. It was an RV-free zone, so tents only and quite secluded in the forest. Hot showers, bathrooms and water / kitchen area available for all.

Where to eat: Rocky Harbour has a few restaurants, but we kept returning to Earle’s Restaurant, first for their moose burger and then their fish & chips. Very nice people, helpful information about the area and good food. Grocery stores, smaller ones, are available in Rocky Harbour.

Discovery Center: Gros Morne is a UNESCO site because of its incredible landscape, which provide some of the world’s best illustrations of plate tectonics. Because of the glaciers that carved the park into the scene you see today, the rocks (long buried) are available to discover and according to the geologist we spoke to at the Discovery Center, are a geologist’s dream. I can see why – fossils and volcanic coastline and undersea avalanches all bookended by huge fjords from an ancient continent. Well worth stopping in on the drive out of the park.

* * *

I’d be remiss not to mention the fact that there was actually a second climb, much closer to my birthday: my brother surprised me with tickets to the CN Tower’s Edgewalk, dangling high over Toronto (116 stories high, to be precise).

I posted a few photos here but wanted to add this rousing Happy Birthday from above the city:

All told, an excellent birthday and a real treat to spend it with family.

-Jodi