Conquering the Big, Lone Mountain

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Apr 21, 2016 1:26 PM

At one moment our feet touched the earth's skeleton, and the next our heads were in the clouds. We found it strangely satisfying to encounter such wide-open spaces, where even GPS devices often couldn't help us find our destination. And just when my husband, Terry, and I thought we had seen it all, the mystery of Gros Morne took our breath away - quite literally. 

Our trek up Gros Morne, the big, lone mountain, was nothing like the typical journeys often portrayed in the movies: romanticized and perfect. There certainly was no yodelling or dancing on our way to the summit, like in The Sound of Music. Terry and I sweated and complained as we hurdled over rocks, sank our hiking boots into mud, and slapped mosquitoes and black flies off our bodies. And although it was only four kilometres to the base of Gros Morne Mountain, it seemed so much longer on this sticky summer afternoon.

Moving through the Arctic-alpine environment, I couldn’t help but think, “There is no way I can finish this trail in this heat.” But then I thought, “Well, I can take one more step.” And I did. Then I told myself, “Ok, just one more.” And again, I did. Then I took one more after that, and then another and another - until eventually I found myself, along with Terry, at the base. 

We rested for a moment, sipped our rationed water and watched an old man make his way down the mountain. How? What? Did he just come from…? No way. Terry and I looked at each other, puzzled. 

When our eyes skimmed over a big warning sign we questioned each other as we considered pressing on: Are we carrying more than one litre of water? Yes. Do we have good, weather-proof jackets? Yes. Wearing hiking boots? Yes. Is the weather looking good? Well, it’s windy and clouds are gathering, but not too bad. Are we feeling physically fit? No, but that old man just came down from there. 

Feeling undeterred, we commenced. “We can do it!” I yelled to Terry. The mountain at its highest point is 806 metres above sea level. Now that doesn’t sound like much. But the climb is over rock and boulders that move under your feet. And at certain points you are exposed to strong gusts of wind. 

However, our efforts were rewarded with breathtaking views around every bend. Every now and then I would stop, balance my body on a boulder and let the beauty sink in before continuing the climb.

My climbing technique was a little different from Terry’s. I primarily traversed my way over the rocks using all fours. In fact, I compared myself to the strange black spiders you see scurrying under the rocks. I was Spiderman - err, woman! Terry stepped over the rocks in a more civilized manner. 

“We’re almost at the top!” I called to my husband below. His face showed an overwhelming sense of relief. But as I twisted around the corner and looked up, I realized the mountain had tricked me. In reality there were many more bends and twists before we would finally reach the summit. Terry straddled the rocks, exhausted. 

About an hour in, we made it to the peak. “Hurrah!” I waved triumphantly. Reaching the summit felt empowering. We looked down at the most panoramic view - the ridges in the Long Range Mountains, the vastness of the sky, and the turquoise-coloured Ten Mile Pond gorge. It was as if there were nothing else on earth. All the trivial problems of the world below were forgotten in that glorious moment.

We snapped a few scenic photos before descending the path that loops around through Ferry Gulch, where the mountain vistas are soul-stirring. The gradual descent through the rugged terrain seemed effortless now. We passed three backcountry campsites that overlooked a peaceful lake rippled only by a baby’s breath of wind. 

It took us around six hours to conquer the mountain and descend to the parking lot, with a total distance hiked of 16.9 km. And the lesson I learned on this trail was that humans, myself included, can endure far more (both physically and mentally) than we might think possible, as long as we don’t give up. - Submitted by Desiree Anstey, Summerside, PEI