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Long Range Traverse – Day 1 on the Trail

View on the first day hiking the Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park
View on the first day hiking the Long Range Traverse in Gros Morne National Park
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Before you even get a whiff of the Long Range Traverse, the premier backpacking trail on Canada’s east coast, you must pass a serious navigation test and get a full orientation by staff at the Gros Morne National Park Visitor Center. And you need to be mentally and physically prepared as the Long Range Traverse is no ordinary multi-day hike.

The Long Range Traverse is a three to five day unmarked wilderness hike through world-class scenery that includes awe-inspiring views of fjords and rock-covered plateaus, rolling hills and numerous lakes, ponds, streams and rivers.

A navigation test

The navigation test is nothing to sneeze at. You must understand declination and know how to take a compass bearing from the map.

Although you can take along a GPS, and it might help in foggy situations, it’s your map and compass skills that are of utmost importance. It’s the only place in Canada that I am aware of that requires you to pass a navigation test.

I guess what happened in the past, is too many backpackers set out, only to get lost – as there is no marked trail – and ended up needing a rescue.

You are given a location device before you leave the Visitor Center. If you have a real emergency, one press of the button will bring on a helicopter. Don’t do what one fellow did a few years ago though.

He pressed the button when he saw a moose, figuring that constituted an emergency. You should expect to see moose on this trail – and possibly black bear and caribou as well.

Insider tip: Visit the Gros Morne National Park website for all the details and timelines for reservations.

Route finding is a serious issue on the hike
Route finding is a serious issue on the multi-day hike

 How to get to the start of the Long Range Traverse

The trail begins with an easy 3 km walk from the parking lot to the boat dock at Western Brook Pond. From there, you can organize a shuttle with Bontours if you have enough people – or join a tour group, but that’s the slower option.

The boat ride is such a highlight, especially on a sunny day when the water sparkles. It took us less than 30 minutes to reach the end of the fjord and the start of the Long Range Traverse.

Once the boat pulls away you are good and truly on your own with the way out two to five hiking days away.

Parks Canada red chairs looking out over Western Brook Pond
Parks Canada red chairs looking out over Western Brook Pond
John and I looking fresh and clean as we head for the boat
John and I looking fresh and clean as we head for the boat
Boat ride on Western Brook Pond
Boat ride on Western Brook Pond

No signage on the hike

The hike is never signed and there is no official trail. Much of what you follow are game trails, but they can take you off course if you’re not paying attention. But on the first day, because of heavier use, there is an obvious route to follow. 

The official start of the hike - a the dock at the far end of Western Brook Pond
The official start of the hike – a the dock at the far end of Western Brook Pond

The route up the gorge

Initially it’s flat and you can dispatch with it quickly. Next up is a section with filled with house-sized boulders. This can be very slow going and in places there were yawning holes – where you certainly didn’t want to get a leg stuck. I had to have John pull me up several times and on more than one occasion I was on my hands and knees.

A flat section early on the hike
A flat section early on the hike
Looking up the gorge - our next major destination
Looking up the gorge – our next major destination
The start of the trail was much prettier than I expected
The start of the trail was much prettier than I expected

The one word of advice from the park staff is stay right off the waterfall. That wasn’t so hard to do; mind you we had a clear sunny day so navigation was never an issue. The waterfall is a delightful spot for lunch.

The waterfall is a great place for lunch
The waterfall is a great place for lunch

And then the climbing begins

From there the climbing starts in earnest. From the dock to the top of the gorge, there is a couple of thousand feet of elevation gain – all while carrying a backpack. But in short order, the first of the classic Western Brook Pond views appears in your sights – and that spurs you on.

At the top of the hard section on the first day of hiking
At the top of the hard section on the first day of hiking

We marveled at the view and took plenty of photos before continuing on and up. When you get out of the trees, you’re still not at the top of the gorge. There is more steep climbing ahead, this time with better and better views to reach the “trail” at the top of the waterfall pictured below.

From there, the only way I can describe the hiking is as delightful. The scenery was one of outcrops and small lakes with big time vistas. Arctic cotton was a beautiful addition the landscape.

Waterfall at the top of the gorge
Waterfall at the top of the gorge
Almost at our first campsite
Almost at our first campsite 
Arctic cotton
Arctic cotton
Exploring above the gorge in the evening without carrying a backpack
Exploring above the gorge in the evening without carrying a backpack
Looking down Western Brook Pond at about 9:30 PM
Looking down Western Brook Pond at about 9:30 PM
Spectacular place to explore
I couldn’t get enough of this landscape

Camping on day one of the Long Range Traverse

The campsite most people head for on the first day is at Little Island Pond. Its buggy in June and many of its’ tent platforms were destroyed in a storm. Because of that, we had permission to camp at the top of the gorge.

It shortened our day, which was fine with me – and where we camped ended up offering one of the best views from any campsite I have ever stayed at. We had the entire place to ourselves. It was absolute magic. And although there were some bugs, they weren’t bad as we had a breeze because we were up high.

What a view - from our campsite with not a soul around
What a view – from our campsite with not a soul around

The first day, though physically tough, partly because of the heat, far exceeded my expectations. And I felt very fortunate that the weather cooperated. Normally you make a reservation well in advance, so you need a dose of luck in this part of the world when it comes to weather.

Hiking lasts until late September most years – and there are no bugs in the fall. Descriptions of the other hiking days are in the links below.

Further reading on hiking the trail

Click on the photo to bookmark to your Pinterest boards.

Backpacking the Long Range Trail in Newfoundland's Gros Morne National Park

 

 

 

 

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