Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 4: Petty Harbour to St. John’s

This counts as a whale sighting, right?


Be sure to check out parts one, two and three first!

Petty Harbour: After we checked in, made dinner (curry supplied by Shelley) and passed out at 9:30 (which felt late compared to our usual 8-8:30 bedtimes!) We woke the next morning to more rain and a plan: A complete rest day. We had the room in the schedule, so why not? We ate lunch at the restaurant next door, Chafe’s Landing, and watched terrible television. It was delightful. (Day 12: ok) We made arrangements with Shelley to get a ride to the end of Blackhead path, meaning we’d hike 14.5k the next day — in the opposite direction. This made the most sense, because it meant we could walk back to the apartment when we were done, instead of trying to finangle a ride back to Petty Harbour at the end of the day. And we could hike with just day packs! Bliss! Blackhead has about one building, but it has horses, so don’t expect anything here. Bernard pointed out a whale in the harbour before we took off, upping our whale count to two!

Blackhead Path: This path was great. It was one big up and then one big down over 3.7k but gave us great views of Cape Spear and took just over an hour.


Cape Spear lighthouse!

Cape Spear lighthouse!


Cape Spear Path: We spent some time exploring Cape Spear and being impressed with being on the most eastern point in North America before continuing on this 11.5k trail. The first 8k was easy, well-maintained (except for a few tricky river crossings) and gave us great views of all the peaks we have hiked in the past week. After about 8k, the trail changes: it becomes woodsy and there are a few tricky passages as you scramble over rocks. For most of the trail, a woman was following us, so we chatted with her and helped her over the river crossings. This paid off: her husband gave us a ride back to Petty Harbour! (Day 13: 15k)


St. John's!

St. John’s!


Deadman’s Path: The next day, Shelley gave us  ride to the same spot we were dropped off the day before. Deadman’s Path is the final path into St. John’s and it’s rated “difficult” and now we know why. This path encapsulated all the trail terrain we experienced over the past two weeks: shrubs, woods, cliffs, beaches and tricky climbs. Once you hit a difficult to cross beach, there’s a 1k climb to the top. This was our longest climb of the trip, but not the hardest (those were on Cape Broyle Head Path). After that, we walked over lots of shrub and exposed rock, got a view of St. John’s and started a tricky descent into Fort Amherst, where the trail ends. Overall, this trail was unremarkable, decent and difficult, but not particularly memorable. Again, a trail angel (whose name was Bob Angel, I kid you not) ended up behind us for about an hour. We got chatting as we walked into Fort Amherst and he offered us a ride to our hotel. Thanks Bob! (Day 14: 11k)


We did it!

We did it!


St. John’s: This city is TINY, but adorable. It’s so colourful and the harbour is so interesting. I can’t wait to come back during iceberg season. Over the course of the two weeks, JK and I became obsessed with getting pizza at the end of our journey (pizza was our Snapple), but once we were in the city on the prowl for pizza, we couldn’t find it anywhere. We ended up at the Yellow Belly, discovered they had pizza and went all out: pizza and nachos and beer. We also ran into two guys we met on the trail, who were in town for a wedding. Then we walked around town, got ice cream, and headed back to our hotel to watch some design television before passing out early (a habit I still haven’t kicked, despite being home for a few days.)


In sum, while I was disappointed our tent broke, the Harbour House gave us the energy we needed to make these last few days enjoyable — especially since we still managed to hike into St. John’s with our packs, as we always imagined. It was a necessary break. JK was a champ these past few days, as her knee situation was scary, but it all worked out in the end.


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!



Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 3: Burnt Cove to Petty Harbour

The view from the Whale Watcher B&B.

The view from the Whale Watcher B&B.


If you missed them, check out part one and part two of my east coast adventure.

Burnt Cove: Part two ended with me and JK crashing at the Whale Watcher B&B, after a confusing transfer from Flamber Head Path to La Manche Village Path. The La Manche Vilage Path is the only path on the East Coast Trail where the community links count as part of the trail system. Weird. We took the morning off at the B&B to do our laundry and relax. The B&B had an amazing view of the Witless Bay ecological reserve. Around 12:30, we headed out, finishing up the La Manche Trail Path.

Tinkers Point Path: This 5.1k path, connecting Burnt Cove to Tors Cove, was pretty easy and we completed it under two hours. A lot of it was on a cart path.

Tors Cove: This was another teeny community link and it kicked off one of the best paths on the trail — the Tinkers Point Path. This trail was relatively flat and easy and had gorgeous views of the islands off coast. We even saw an island with sheep grazing on it and enjoyed lunch watching waves break over the coast.


Red rock!

Red rock!


Mobile: We came out of Tinkers Point at Mobile, a community link that wasn’t very long, but involved looping up to the highway, then scrambling over a beach to find the entrance to the next path. We didn’t need supplies, so didn’t spend any time finding out what Mobile had to offer. Just before the next trail head, we ran into two surveyors asking about people’s East Coast Trail experience, but we were going the wrong way to be statistically useful! So sad!

Beaches Path: This was another easy, enjoyable path. The trail was still tricky and narrow, but in a way that makes hiking enjoyable, not terrifying. The path is well-named, as there were lots of beaches we could access (for viewing, NOT swimming) and towards the end of the trail, we found a great camping spot by a beach and a river and set up for the night. (Day 8: 13k)


River crossing!

River crossing!


Witless Bay: Our camp site was only a kilometre from town, so we were done by 9:30 and got breakfast at the Irish Loop Cafe. Witless Bay felt gigantic compared to the previous towns. As we walked through town, a woman stopped and offered to give us a ride to the trail head, which we happily accepted. She saved us about an hour of hiking!

Mickeleens Path: This was another path that was surprisingly pretty and surprising easy — they all kind of blur together, these three days paths. We were in high spirits these three days and kicked out the kilometres rather quickly.

Bay Bulls: Way back when, we had dreams of kayaking in Bay Bulls. We threw this plan out the window when we realized how tired we were and that rain was coming and we wanted to be done the tricky 16.3k Spout Path before the rain came. Instead, we hunted for the Foodland, stocked up on supplies and walked the long community link to the Spout Path head, as we knew the next day was going to be a long one: the Spout Path is a long and difficult trail. We camped in the Spout Path parking lot. (Day 9: 16k)

Spout Path: The first 6k of this path is amazing. We saw a whale and had ocean views the entire time. The next 5k is horrible, a throwback to the difficult, hilly trails of our early days of hiking. JK’s knee went ballistic on this trail too, so instead of finishing the entire trail, we chose to camp at the Little Bald Head campsite about 11k in. The weather was great, so we spent the afternoon reading and stretching and freaking out about JK’s knee, which she stretched and acuballed and rested like a champ. (Day 10: 11k) Overnight, that’s when our trip hit possibly it’s lowest point yet. (Well, it contends with the Flamber Head  rainy day. Rain is a hiking evil.) The rain, which was supposed to come at noon, came at 3am. And it filled our tent, because we failed to secure it to the tent platform properly. Then, when we tried to move our tent at 7am, in an attempt to salvage a few more hours of sleep and a dry place to wait the rain out, our tent pole broke. We had no choice: we had to hike to Petty Harbour, 11k farther than our plans for that day (we originally wanted to hike the 7k to Miner’s Point Campsite once the rain let up), with our fingers crossed a B&B would have room for us that night. Once we committed, it was okay. JK powered through some serious pain and despite the terrible weather and change of plan, it was obvious how pretty the rest of the Spout Path was. The Spout itself was pretty cool and I’m disappointed we didn’t get to enjoy it more thoroughly.

Motion Path: Why the Spout Path and Motion Path are broken up, I will never know. There’s a 6k “access trail” where these two trails meet, but why walk 6k on a crappy cart path when you can just hike a few extra kilometres? Who knows?! When we reached the cart path, it wasn’t raining at the moment and JK felt pretty good, so we chose to power on. Here’s the thing about the 13.5k Motion Path: had I hiked it under different circumstances, it would probably be my favourite path. I loved the views and the terrain, which is all open and shrubby. There are a lot of climbs and descents, but they added interest to the day, not fear. Around our 5th hour of hiking, it started to POUR. JK and I got soaked. We tried to keep our energy up and took our time. The last few kilometres were cold, brutal and took forever: there’s a huge ascent, then a very tricky descent, which we couldn’t assess properly because the fog hid everything ahead of us. We had no idea how far were were from town or what was ahead of us, but we kept climbing. We had no choice.


Petty Harbour, the day after the rain.

Petty Harbour, the day after the rain.


Petty Harbour: We arrived in Petty Harbour soaked and exhausted. Petty Harbour is gorgeous, though. We called all three places to stay here and only Harbour House had room — but they also had a three night minimum. Given that our tent was broken, we didn’t have a choice. We said yes. I’m so glad we did. Our one-bedroom apartment was $135 a night, was in the centre of town and came with two lovely owners, Shelley and Bernard, who brought us groceries and offered to drive us to the trail heads once we figured out our plan for the rest of our trip. Amazing. (Day 11: 18k)


In sum, while we had struggles during these four days, these are the paths and towns I’d recommend others to do. We met a lot of people on the trail doing Petty Harbour to Bay Bulls as a weekend trip. That makes sense to me — you get the two best trails of the East Coast Trail (Spout Path and Motion Path), two interesting towns to explore, and two dedicated camp sites you can rest at.


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!



Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 2: Calvert to Burnt Cove

Pretending I am in a Newfoundland tourist ad.

Pretending I am in a Newfoundland tourist ad.

Check out part one of my east coast adventure (Cappahayden to Calvert) here.

 Calvert: Part one ended with us camping in a church parking lot, exhausted and low on water. Our first priority the next morning was to find water. The fishing wharves were nearby, so we asked the first person we saw where we could get water. Apparently, our only option was to knock on someone’s door, but this lovely fisherman drove us to his house (which was near the trail head!) and let us fill our water bottles before our big day of hiking. He had a thick accent and remembered Newfoundland “before Confederation” and was generally delightful. We never got his name.





Cape Broyle Head Path: This path (which is 18.3km) was the WORST. There’s no other way to describe it. We have taken to calling it the “conifer clusterfuck” because for several kilometres, we were pushing past fir branches, unable to see the trail or what lay beneath the trees. Often, it was tree roots or rocks or some combination of both. I wore my sunglasses, not to protect them my eyes from the sun, but to prevent branches from poking me in the eyeball. This trail is in desperate need of some TLC. We stopped at the Long Will camping site en route (about 11k in) for the night. It took us seven hours to hike 11 kilometres, that’s how difficult and mind boggling the trail was. There weren’t a lot of great views, either, the trail was mostly inland. However, it was the first time we saw other hikers — a group of 30 kids were doing some weekend hiking education class and we shared the campground with them. (Day 5 total: 13k). The next day, we continued beating our way through the trees, scrambling over rocks and doing dangerous ups and downs. We ran into a guy doing the trail the other way and he confirmed that Cape Broyle Head “sucks” but promised us it would get better from here. We had faith.

(Note: just don’t do this path. It really sucks. We had great weather and felt relatively refreshed and even in ideal conditions, I don’t think it’s worth it. The conditions are too dangerous and the pay-off isn’t there.)


Our Cape Broyle campsite. Don't mistake the look on my faith for contemplation -- it's pure exhaustion.

Our Cape Broyle campsite, after we completed the trail. Don’t mistake the look on my faith for contemplation — it’s pure exhaustion.


Cape Broyle: And it did get better: a giant grocery store (well, it felt giant) greeted us just a few minutes from the trail head. We stocked up on groceries, disposed of garbage, picked up drugs (at this point, I had developed a head cold) and were, in general, just grateful to buy Skittles and ice cream and Gatorade. We splurged. Then we walked further into town and came upon a restaurant, the Riverside. We had lunch there, which wasn’t all that great, but I didn’t care. We had tables, chairs and a place to charge our phones (although, I didn’t get reception at all during this trip, so charging my phone was probably a waste of time.) Refueled, we walked to the end of town (which took forever and involved a pit stop at Home Hardware  so I could buy the world’s largest air mattress. This town has a hardware store! It is basically heaven) and set up camp around 4pm (Day 6 total: 18k). This was possibly our best campsite of the trip: it was sunny and calm and had a great view and I spent several hours napping and reading Night Film by Marisha Pessl and living the life I expected I’d live on the entire trip, not just for a few fleeting hours.




Brigus Head Path: This was the path where we felt things would turn around. It was a “moderate”  6.5k and we powered through in a couple hours, saw a handful of other hikers and, in general, really enjoyed the morning. It had challenging elements, but was the clearest, best maintained path we’d seen yet.

Brigus South: This was the best community link of all, mainly because it was pretty and was less than 500 metres long. We ate lunch at a picnic table by the ocean.





Flamber Head Path: And this is where Day 7 went straight to hell. Flamber Head Path is  14.5k of “difficult” trail. And it was difficult — we did quite a bit of bouldering and climbing. I fell twice, jamming my knee the first time and bruising my sacrum the second. (It’s been a week and both still hurt.) But what made the day a bad one was that rain was coming and we really didn’t want to be scrambling over wet rocks. When we reached the camp site, Roaring Cove, where we planned to stay at for the night, at 1:30 in the afternoon, we knew what we had to do. We had to keep going to try to beat the rain. It was supposed to come at 7pm. It came at 3pm. I spent the entire rainy afternoon terrified I was going to slip and fall or that the wind would blow me over. The trail was beautiful — mossy landscapes overlooking imposing cliff faces — but I couldn’t enjoy it. I wanted to be done and be safe. When the trail ended at La Manche Village (above), we were disappointed for a bunch of reasons: everything was wet, there were no interpretative signs explaining what the village was, and we still had to hike at least 2k to get anywhere. This trail ends, literally, in the middle of nowhere. Somehow, I managed to convince JK to push on, with the belief there would be space at a hotel in town that night. There was. 2k turned into 5k when where we wanted to stay, the Whale Watcher B&B, was not right by the trail head. But it was bright and cheery and warm. It had food we could eat, beds we could sleep in, and a washer and dryer we could use. (Apologies to our fellow guests for the rank smell we brought inside with us.) It was a magical, wonderful place and for $99 a night, I highly recommend it to any aspiring East Coast Trail hikers. It saved us, in more ways than one. (Day 7 total: 25k)


In sum, I’d say the second part of our trip had some of the highest highs and lowest lows we experienced. We saw some of the best trails and some of the worst, had loads of energy and felt completely depleted. These three days probably encapsulate the entire trip better than any other. And they proved that there is nothing better than emerging from the wilderness to civilization, whether it’s a roadside grocery store or teeny B&B with room for two more.

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!



Hiking the East Coast Trail, Part 1: Cappahayden to Calvert

The beginning! We had so much energy and hope.

The beginning! We had so much energy and hope.

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.

Berry Head!

Berry Head!

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!