JK and I got back yesterday, after 14 days of hiking the East Coast Trail in Newfoundland. It was a long trip, filled with highs and lows of the emotional, physical and literal kind. To keep this recap manageable, I’m breaking the trip up into four parts: Cappahayden to Calvert, Calvert to Burnt Cove, Burnt Cove to Petty Harbour and Petty Harbour to St. John’s. And I did’t keep a journal (I had to throw it out, Cheryl Strayed-style to lighten my pack) so if I get any details wrong, hopefully JK can correct them in the comments. I’ve also estimated our daily walking totals, which includes backtracking and mistakes we made along the way.
First up: Cappahayden to Calvert!
Getting there: We flew in late on Saturday, August 3rd and stayed at the dorms in Memorial University. Southern Shore Taxi came recommended by the trail association and on Sunday morning, $220 got us a ride from MUN to Canadian Tire to pick up camping fuel, Dominion to pick up fresh fruit and bagels and down to Cappahayden to begin our adventure!
Island Meadow Path: We were on the trail by 12:30. The first path was the Island Meadow Path (10.1k), ranked moderate by the ECTA maps we bought. We powered through this trail easily. It felt like a solid starter trail, not too hard, not too long and not too dangerous.
Renews: We took a break in Renews to stretch before powering through town. Renews has nothing — we saw what might have been a convenience store, but it was closed. About halfway through town, it started to pour. We decided to hike as far past the town as we could and find a camp site for the night if/when the rain let up.
Bear Cove Point Path: We camped on this 11.6k path about 2k in (Day 1 total: 17k), after scrambling over some wet cliff faces — the first of many times I thought we could possibly plunge to our deaths. Finding a decent campsite on this trail was tough, as it went through a lot of dense, uneven forest. We camped, completely wet, and woke up in the morning to more rain. Our Day 2 plan was to finish this path and see about getting dry when we got to the next down. The path continued to be muddy, dense, hilly and uneven — more than once we asked “THIS is moderate?” We emerged around noon, soaking wet, in Kingman’s Cove, where we encountered our first trail angels — Jenny, Don and Eileen.
Kingsman’s Cove/Fermeuse/Port Kirwan: There IS a convenience store in town, but we didn’t need to go to it, thanks to Jenny! We emerged from the trail just as they were getting home from an adventure of their own, took pity on us and invited us inside to dry off and have some tea. Tea turned into lunch, which turned into dinner, and when the rain wasn’t letting up, turned into an invitation to stay overnight. Everything we owned was soaked, so this was so, so, so appreciated. (Day 2 total: 10k) The next morning, Jenny filled us up on her son’s power porridge and even drove us to the next trail marker! This was an amazing turn of events and I can’t thank Jenny enough for the warm food, bed and great company.
Spurwink Island Path: Our third day began with perfect hiking weather, which was good because we had a big day ahead of us: we wanted to get to Aquaforte and camp there for the night. Spurwink Island Path (17.1k)was the first “difficult” path on our trek and difficult it was — the trail was very up and down, was wet from all the rain and was hard to navigate. When we weren’t in the woods, we were hacking our way through bushes. The ECTA markers (white triangles) aren’t as frequent as they should be, but someone — smartly, thankfully — posted neon tape more frequently. This trail went inland a lot, but it had enough highlights (Berry Head, Bald Head) to make it almost worthwhile.
Mudder Wet Path: Spurwink Island Path ends near a highway, but there were a lot of clearings for decent camping. We were low on water and it was too early to stop, so Mudder Wet Path (2.9k) was next on our list. The “easy” ranking this trail gets is a LIE. It involved a high climb and hacking our way through more bushes (there are a billion blueberries in Newfoundland — I recommend picking to save berries on any trip. We had blueberries in our oatmeal almost every morning). It didn’t help we were exhausted from our long day.
Aquaforte: Aquaforte is teeny. When we realized how small it was, we collapsed in a field across from the house. (Day 3 total: 20k) The family in the house saw this and invited us in — we filled up our water bottles, took a quick shower and got permission to camp in their field. The next day, when walking through town, we found a convenience store and bought a Gatorade. It was magical and delicious. We missed the trail head and ended up walking about a kilometre past it before we realized what we did — let’s pretend we were just making up for the kilometres we missed thanks to Jenny’s ride.
Sounding Hills Path: This 5.5k path was less up and down than others, but the conditions still sucked — narrow pathways, mud everywhere, exposed cliffs and high shrubs made it an adventure.
Ferryland: Ferryland is the first town with stuff. There was a Foodland, a few B&Bs, a tea room and picnics at the island (which we didn’t get to do because you need to make reservations months in advance). We had lunch at the tea room — it was okay — and filled up our water bottles. We were confused as to where the Foodland was (it was before the trail) and didn’t want to climb a giant hill, so even though the next trail started right by the tea room, we opted to keep walking through town in an attempt to find amenities and shorten our day. When we realized we were 2k PAST the Foodland, we had to backtrack. Which we did. But the fresh fruit we acquired was worth it. I think.
Caplin Bay Path: This “easy” 5.2k path was confusing and a waste of time. Some of it is in Ferryland, some of it takes you through the woods along the highway and some of it we could not find. It got so confusing around the school and the cemetery that we said screw it and walked on the highway for a bit. When we found the trail again, the 2k of trail we did end up doing wasn’t worth it — there were no ocean views and a huge climb at the end.
Calvert: When we finished the Caplin Bay Path, we were exhausted. The hiking wasn’t the most challenging, but we were super low on energy. (I don’t think we were eating enough and had yet to reconcile our expectations with reality.) We just wanted to find some water and a place to camp. Calvert is another town with no amenities (stock up in Ferryland!) and we ended up camping in a church parking lot because the thought of hiking 4 more kilometres to the trailhead seemed overwhelming (Day 4 total: 15k).
In sum, the first four days were wet and tiring and lacked basic amenities to keep our hopes and energy up. We didn’t hike as far as we originally planned on ANY of the days. The the trails were in rough shape and the views were too few and far in-between to make these muddy slogs worth it. We also didn’t see ANY other hikers in these first few days, and felt very isolated. However, Jenny and her family saved the day, kept us dry and filled with hope that the rest of the trip would be filled with magical moments.
Tomorrow, check back for the recap of Calvert to Burnt Cove.
We’re raising money for the Nature Conservancy of Canada — the hike may be over, but the fundraising isn’t. There’s still time to donate! You can donate to our campaign here. And if you’ve already donated — thank you!