Local News

Lew Coty Circumnavigates Baker's Brook Pond
11-01-2019

 

Appalachian Hiker Lew Coty from Vermont is one of the most experienced explorers of Western Newfoundland's backcountry wilderness, having hiked most of the Bay of Islands Ophiolites and Long Range Inlier. One area that stands out for Lew is Bakers Brook Pond, the most inaccessible of Gros Morne National Park's inland fiords. He recently recounted his most memorable trek into the watershed, a circumnativation that included many of its pristine views. This is his story in his own words.

Intro: Gros Morne National Park in Western Newfoundland is home to four inland fjords: Trout River Pond in the southern section; Ten Mile Pond, Bakers Brook Pond, and Western Brook Pond in the northern section. Coming from the states I find the term pond amusing, as all of these are large spectacular lakes that wind through cliff-lined canyons into the interior. The outlet of TRP is accessible by auto. TMP can be viewed from the Gros Morne Mountain Trail, and its outlet lies directly above Eastern Arm Pond, which can be accessed by road over private land. WBP is a major tourist attraction complete with an access road and ferry rides up its entire length. By contrast, BBP lies in seclusion with no access road or even a hiking trail that will take you there. This pristine lake lies out of view to hikers doing the Long Range Traverse, and even remains hidden from the Bakers Brook Falls Trail that comes within 1.5 kilometers of its mouth. The only visible sign of human activity on this expansive lake is a ski cabin hiding a short ways up its southern shore. With no trail to this cabin, getting there in the summer entails a lot of bushwhacking. I suspect the materials to build it must have been sledded there in the winter with snowmobiles.

 

I have trekked into and around this clandestine fjord numerous times. During my initial circumtrek I clung close to the pond so as to not miss any of its ensnaring vistas. In later treks I have swung wider from the rim where the hiking is decidedly easier to negotiate. My initial hike around, which I describe here, remains the most memorable.

 

Preparing for launch: It is the summer of 2008 and I have allowed two weeks off from my demanding construction business to explore the backcountry of Gros Morne Park. I have been intrigued for the past two years by the isolated Bakers Brook Pond for which very little information can be found, and am hell-bent to see for myself what lies up that reclusive fjord. I’ve been waiting patiently for a decent weather break, and as my time here is getting short, I finally see a window for the next two days that seems doable. The forecast is for mostly sunny with possible afternoon thunderstorms on the west side of the island, which is generally where I will be hiking. I hope I can hike around the pond in two days, as it is essential I board the ferry off the island on the third day due to commitments at home that can’t be ignored.

 

Day 1: I begin my trek at Berry Hill, which is a large mound of rock ballooning from the plateau that sits over Rocky Harbour. I start out early on the Bakers Brook Falls Trail, which has the longest board walk across numerous bogs that I have ever seen. There’s enough lumber here to build a community of houses.

 

 

At around three kilometers in, the canyon walls surrounding BBP appear on the horizon. I veer off the trail as I approach Bakers Brook and head east toward the pond, crossing the brook at a shallow section not far below the pond’s outlet. Hiking up onto the ridge that hugs its western shore I get my first glimpse of the fjord that cuts through the highlands to the east. I am thinking there probably aren’t a lot of people who have laid eyes on this striking view, as it’s only WBP and TRP that get all the advertising and attention.

 

 

For two kilometers I traverse grasslands and open forests stunted by moose grazing and insect damage. Coming over one brow I startle a large bull moose out of his morning nap and he doesn’t seem happy about that. A brief stare down ensues to determine who has right-of-way, and we both end up yielding.

 

 

Dropping down to lake level I cross bogs laden with bakeapples, and am bombarded by an irate Yellow Legs guarding her nest.

 

 

I arrive at a delightful sandy beach nearly a kilometer long with brownish-orange colored rocks, and follow moose prints along the waters’ edge taking in the panorama of the meandering fjord ahead.

 

 

From here I ascend a hill of low-lying vegetation filled with the silver trunks of insect killed conifers. Looking down to my right I see a pronounced green peninsula jutting out into the lake.

 

 

On higher ground I begin encountering bands of tuckamore, and feeling pressed for time, I barge through them as best I can rather than trying to find a way around. I eventually emerge onto some open barrens, which quicken my pace. Coming to Grassy Brook I follow it for awhile rather than fight more tuckamore. Climbing the open slope of Green Point Hill becomes a nice break from the increasingly annoying tight growth of spruce and fir.

 

 

The top revives my spirit with glorious views of the fjord below.

 

 

Storm clouds ahead become a concern as I head east towards Bullet Pond. Thunder storms soon engulf me, which is scary when I’m in an exposed location, and I start asking myself what the hell I am doing up here all alone.

 

 

Most fortunately they are short lived, and the sun soon pokes out again triggering ephemeral bursts of dwarf rainbows. I have other problems: hordes of black flies made worse by the rain, and countless bands of tuckamore that always seem to be in my way heading east. I look longingly at the open rocky barrens of the Big Level that float teasingly above me to the north.


As the afternoon wears on, and the light begins fading I start loosing hope of completing this mission by tomorrow. Although I am at the upper end of the pond, there are still five kilometers to go before reaching the halfway point at the lower end of Bakers Brook Middle Pond where the gentler terrain will allow me to cross back over to the south rim. I am considering turning around to head back, but in the distance I keep getting glimpses through the mist of a bewitching lake cradled by steep rocky outcroppings that I soon dub Crater Lake. This has to be checked out even if it means I will miss my ferry reservation. I struggle to get there before dark and set up tent at the base of those sloping rock ledges that enfold the waters of this enchanting lake. Exhausted, I fall asleep instantly.

 

 

Day 2: I awake at the break of dawn, refreshed and somehow convinced I will finish the trek today even though it is only 40% complete. I set out like a rabbit over smooth rocky slabs and proceed quickly through the amiable Birch Rine Woods (no idea how this pygmy forest got that name) on the way to Middle Pond. I soon come to a large rock mound looking like Berry Hill, and it’s hard to know which side to hike around. Not wanting to waste time deciding, I impulsively go left which luckily leads me through open forests of larger trees.

 

 

I supplement my rushed breakfast with the high bush blueberries I find there.

 

 

The Middle Pond soon comes into view

 

 

and I quickly decide to take a shortcut through a small notch that will bring me to Bakers Brook below the pond, faster. This notch starts out quite pleasantly but quickly narrows into a slot canyon with high rock walls on both sides. I am determined to get through and at one point, coming to an eight foot drop, I have to throw my pack down and jump.

 

 

Approaching BB I realize the excitement has just begun. Looking upstream I can see only a succession of waterfalls, and the view downstream is a tumbling cascade.

 

 

By the grace of god there is a small ledge in between, where the river narrows down, that allows me to safely jump across to the other side.

 

 

Thankfully the climb up from there is uneventful through a mature forest, and I am soon on the south rim heading back west. I ascend and begin traversing a long exposed ridge that parallels BBP and affords captivating views of the canyon below.

 

 

This ridge is interrupted abruptly at a cutout that looks a little like the Devil’s Bite further north above Parson’s Pond. I descend here heading west, skirting a few ponds, and begin climbing onto the barren Rocky Harbour Hills highlands.

 

 

As I crest over the shoulder of this plateau a movement of antlers catches my attention. A herd of caribou is soon in my way with a few big males in front who eye me suspiciously. We study each other trying to determine if the other is going to be trouble. Caribou aren’t nearly as large or intimidating as moose, and I proceed ahead not wanting to relax the stellar pace I have kept all day. As I hike, the big males begin circling me and continue to do so for the better part of a kilometer. At first it makes me tense but I soon relax, feeling like I’m the center of attraction in a circus. I will never forget the image of those handsome animals silhouetted against the ocean waves crashing on the jagged Rocky Harbour coastline so far below.

 

I continue over the crest of the hills where the action morphs from hiking rocky barrens to tiptoeing over crushed boulders, to gliding over rolling grasslands, with no apparent pattern. The weather is also morphing from sun to clouds and everything in between. Though brief showers pass through, they all seem to bypass me and the harsh thunderstorms of yesterday are in remission.

 

 

To my left I can see a bit of Ten Mile Pond with Gros Morne Mountain looming over.

 

 

To my right the green peninsula of lower BBP, a few thousand feet lower, welcomes me back

 

 

and to my delight the home base of Berry Hill begins to show itself straight ahead, barely silhouetted on the western horizon against the Gulf of St Lawrence.

 

 

Descending from the hills I jostle through one last band of tuckamore before finding linked moose trails that lead me to the lower grasslands. As dusk settles in I happily hop back onto my old friend the boardwalk, and finally in a worry-free state of mind coast back to start without the need of my headlamp.

 

Happy ending: Yes, the stars align and I make it to the ferry on time!

 

Bakers Brook Map
Map of Bakers Brook Pond Circumtrek (Click to enlarge)