My intended route will be based on the International Appalachian Trail / Sentier International des Appalaches (IAT/SIA) as it goes along the western flank of Newfoundland all the way from Port aux Basques in the south to L’Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of the western Peninsula. I plan to take the high level alternative wherever there is one as well as some other highland traverses that are not part of the IAT/SIA official selection.
The core idea is to hike over the highlands as much as possible. It’s where the most interesting environment is. It’s also the most challenging terrain: remote, difficult to access, devoid of any infrastructure and very exposed in case of bad weather.
The lowland route (red line in the map above) would be rather easy technically: it goes over the old rail bed, then a mix of dirt, back country roads and even some tarmac, front country road sections. I could probably cover the whole 742 km / 461 miles in my 3 week allowance, that would be neat but I’d miss the most enticing part of hiking in Newfoundland: the highland wilderness.
The trip is completely different after introducing those apparently short sections that hold most of the difficulties and challenges as much as a key part of the beauty and uniqueness of Newfoundland: the highlands of the Long Range Mountains are a tundra-like microcosm where moose and caribou roam free and there’s nothing human made.
This is a breakdown and short description of the intended highland sections:
The IAT/SIA uses an existing access road to get to the highlands close to the southern tip for a relatively short, obstacle free traverse before coming back down. This is near trip’s starting point and a good introduction to highland hiking: off-trail in rather featureless country with some spectacular views down below across the escarpment.
Lewis Hills & Blow me Down
The Lewis Hills and Blow me Down mountains are at the very core of this trip. Together they’re the longest section of true backcountry traveling, including the highest point of the trip and the whole of Newfoundland. Lewis Hills and Blow me Down are two different sections set apart by the Serpentine valley. The valley offers mid-way protection in case of harsh weather and a chance to bail out but it also means a challenge for its cross-country lowland bush and a sizable river to ford.
I crossed the Blow me Down mountains southbound back in 2003. I missed the Lewis Hills, bailing on the Serpentine due to upcoming weather. The Blow me Downs made for an amazing traverse and a spectacular place to hike in calm conditions.
The whole bunch is bound to be the grand challenge of this trip. If I manage to make it through successfully, it’ll give me confidence for the remaining wilderness legs.
North Arm Hills & Tablelands
The North Arm Hills area is only accessible by boat across a bay where there is no set service so it’s not entirely on me whether I’ll tackle these or not, I’ll need to find a lift. Sailing across the Bay of Islands and crossing the North Arm Hills makes real sense from both a thru-hiking perspective as well as from a wilderness bound trip idea so I hope I eventually do. The alternative would be a long detour over lowland tarmac and forest roads.
The North Arm Hills are probably the most remote I’d get, they’re not even part of the IAT/SIA and they require some lowland bushwalking.
The Tablelands on the contrary are not strictly necessary from a thru-hiking perspective but an incredibly scenic and bush-free traverse: the rock bed comes straight from the earth’s depths and it’s rather toxic to vegetation. This is an asset in thickly wooded Newfoundland. I’ll decide on the go whether I cross the Tablelands or not.
Long Range & Northern traverses
The Long Range Traverse is the most popular section of upland hiking in Newfoundland. It was part of my own route back in 2003 during my first visit to Newfoundland. It’s the section generating more uncertainty in the upcoming visit due to its increasing popularity that led to a quota permit system that leaves thru-hikers out during the peak season.
This is rather odd for a place like Newfoundland that’s as far from the masses as it can be. The Long Range Traverse is not even particularly better than any other hikeable section of the Long Range Mountains. It’s probably the umbrella of the Gros Morne National Park and the limited infrastructures that contribute to attract everybody here, pretty much the same it happened with myself in my previous visit.
Permits for the Long Range Traverse are long gone as I write this. Even if they were not, they’re awarded for a set start date which I cannot really know any significant time in advance. I’ll need to show up on the spot and hope for some late cancellation. Not welcoming but I don’t see any other option.
This is quite a show-stopper. If I can’t hike the Long Range Traverse, not only I’d miss some great sections of the highlands, I’d also need to hike a tarmac road in return. Too much punishment for a committed thru-hiker.
The Long Range Traverse was my introduction to hiking in Newfoundland. It couldn’t have been better. There was real wilderness, nice walking, great scenery, magnificent views of the landlocked fjords, caribou herds and solitary moose. I hope I can hike it again this time.
This section of the Long Range mountains is where the IAT/SIA has created its first, dedicated trail network. I know little else other than the in & out access is a sail on the landlocked fjords. By the time I get there, I’d expect to feel quite at home in the highlands anyway.
I expect the Indian Lookout area to be about as far north as I can get on this trip.