During the summer of 2017 I’ll be hiking in Newfoundland over the International Appalachian Trail (IAT) starting from the southern end in Port Aux Basques and going as far north as I can.
Newfoundland is wild and beautiful, its beauty related more to the wildness than to the postcard-worthy scenery. It is quite unique in its void of human habitation given the non-extreme latitude.
From the perspective of a wilderness bound, long distance hiker, Newfoundland is a dream as much as it is a nightmare. It’s about endless open spaces, it’s the world as it used to be. It’s a very unique place where the limiting factor is a harsh climate that deters human settlement. For the very same reasons, there are very few hiking trails. This is both an asset and a major obstacle in a land where the bush is no easy place to hike through.
I’ve hiked in Newfoundland before1. It’s ever since been on the list of one of those places to revisit and go bigger.
At a personal level, Newfoundland feels exciting and challenging. It’ll be a good test at both technical and emotional levels. I’m eager to know how I cope.
Why the IAT
There’s not much on the way of long distance trails in Newfoundland. There’s the NL chapter of the Trans-Canada Trail, also known as the Newfoundland T’Railway: it sits on an old rail bed. I don’t know this one first hand but I’d picture endless miles on a rather flat dirt road flanked by trees.
There’s the East Coast Trail, this one is very special being a coastal trail but I’ve already hiked a good part of it and it wouldn’t be long enough for my time frame anyway.
Then there’s some endless set of opportunities by going fully cross-country.
I’ve chosen the IAT as the middle ground in between the too flat and the truly wild. It’s called Appalachian because it sits on that same geology but that’s about all it has to do with the well known AT further south. The IAT-NL is currently a route more than a trail. It’s still a work in progress and runs over some existing trails, some newly developed ones, plenty of dirt road and lots of trail-less wilderness. I see it as a good balance between the challenge of the wildest sections, where I’ll be on my very literal own with no shortcut out, and the peace of mind of knowing that I can break those down into manageable chunks.
Hiking in Newfoundland
Newfoundland is all coast, bedrock and boreal forest with some rivers, lakes and marshes thrown in. There’s little farming and fish used to be the main source of everything. It’s easy to see why most human habitation is along the coast with the sea as the link that holds everything together, even communications. There’s still communities with no road access.
Inland it’s a huge wilderness, mostly forested with thickly packed conifers.
Rather than mountains, Newfoundland has lowlands and highlands. Treeline is about 500 m and above this is where the terrain gets interesting for hiking. The spruce woods below are too thick for any extended bush walking if you mean to keep your sanity.
Then there’s tuckamore, a truly impenetrable tangle of bush sized, stunted spruce trees that grow around the treeline and the wind-battered coastal areas. It’s as thick as bush with trunks and branches as hard as those in proper woods. It won’t give way. It’s virtually impassable.
Wilderness hiking in Newfoundland is about finding consistently high areas where the vegetation is mostly grass, then finding a way to get there and taking care of avoiding the tuckamore in the process.
The higher uplands are found all along the western side of the island. This is the Long Range Mountains. They fall rather gently on their eastern flank and show an abrupt western edge scarred by land-locked fjords.
The IAT-NL goes along the Long Range Mountains with lengthy sections over the highlands and hopefully limited bush walking to access them. It’ll be the base for my route.
I’ll be hiking for 3 weeks, starting mid-July.