For those thinking about hiking Gros Morne Mountain alone - don't. I had planned to hike it solo until my more seasoned hiking colleagues warned me against it. What were they cautioning me about? Fog.
"The trail is well marked, how hard can it be?" I thought. Well, if the fog rolls in it's a lot more difficult to navigate the mountain than you would imagine. The fog courts the summit and envelops it in the fashion of a wedding dress on a bride. Beautiful, yes, but don't get carried away. It's amazing how, in a foggy shroud, one might easily confuse a caribou run for part of the hiking trail. That was the mistake I almost made. Thankfully, I had an expert guide with me - Dave Jenkins - who quickly got me back on track. But it's not only newbies who can get in trouble in the fog. Dave told me the tragic tale of two experienced hikers, each travelling alone, who fell from the mountain summit to their deaths.
I met Dave when I checked into my chalet at Middlebrook Cabins and Chalets in Glenburnie. When I asked about a guide for Gros Morne Mountain, the manager, Uena Jenkins, suggested her husband Dave.
On the appointed July day, Dave and I left the parking lot of the chalet at 11 a.m. The 45-minute drive to the trail start gave Dave and me the opportunity to talk about what there is to do in the area. It also gave him time to tell me about the nature of the mountain, where the summit is clear one minute and hemmed in with fog the next - something I would soon experience on a very personal level.
From the hiking trail parking lot to the rock gully, or scree as many hikers call it, it's a 45-minute hike. The ensuing climb to the summit, an elevation of 806 metres, would take us one hour.
The sky was clear all the way to the summit. There one can often see partridges (rock ptarmigan), arctic hare and caribou, and find partridgeberries (due to the barren nature of the land, not much else can grow here). Once getting the charter photo by the sign announcing a hiker's success, we made our way to the south side of the mountain to take a clear view of Crow Cliff Falls. It was on our way to the north side of the mountain that the fog started to roll in. It had been rolling in and out on this side all morning, but this time it was unrelenting.
Dave showed me a caribou run on the northeast side of the mountain at a clump of trees where ptarmigan are often seen. There we found a child's time capsule. I wished I'd had a memento I felt I could part with to leave in the case.
We continued along the trail where we saw an arctic hare. It was quite tame and Dave got within seven feet of it. I took video and pictures while the hare ignored us and continued munching on lichen.
The fog, quite thick by this time, obscured our view of Ten Mile Pond. But Dave could show me the area where the two aforementioned men met their untimely deaths. One incident occurred in the mid-1990s and the other, about seven years ago. The conditions at the time of each incident were quite foggy and the men were hiking alone. It can't be stressed enough: Never hike alone unless you are intimately familiar with the trail and its characteristics. Fog can roll in and out quite quickly.
By now we were completely hemmed in by fog. I could smell it. I never knew fog had a smell, but it does. It is a sweet, faintly acidic odour that stings the nostrils.
Continuing through this haze, we encountered a family of partridges - a mother and her baby chicks. Then just before our descent, I learned how one can become quickly disoriented. I almost took a detour onto a caribou trail that intersected our hiking trail. Fortunately I had Dave with me and he got me back on the right path.
The rain began, quite heavily at first, then it stopped and started again. But it didn't deter the camper we met on his way to Ferry Gulch for the night. Wearing no shirt, he was dressed for the weather!
Near the end, the fog lifted long enough for me to get one last picture of the rock gully before we hiked quickly to the van. Our time from start to finish was 6.5 hours, which is about average for a first time on the trail. In addition to photos I brought back some extra information that other first timers might find useful, courtesy of my pedometer: