First December Trek of the IATNL Lewis Hills and Blow-Me-Down Mountain Trails
Beginning December 5, Ottawa-area adventurers Mike Bergeron and David Burnford made a 6 day/5 night early winter trek across the Lewis Hills and Blow-Me-Down Mountains. The first December attempt of this IAT route was made under less than ideal weather conditions, and was supported by the IATNL, which supplied maps, GPS, satellite phone, and ground transportation to the trailheads.
The adventure began Sunday morning when Mike and David dropped their car off at the Copper Mine To Cape Trail parking lot, and were then driven to the Lewis Hills Trail Cold Brook Road trailhead by IAT President Paul Wylezol, who accompanied them to Fox Island River.
After crossing the cold knee-deep river, the two disappeared up through a nameless valley carved through the Lewis Hills' eastern peridotite mantle. This rusty metamorphic rock from the earth's interior extends from the southeastern Lewis Hills north to Blow Me Down Brook, then reappears on the south side of the North Arm Hills and the Tablelands in Gros Morne National Park.
With December daylight ending before 5:00pm, Mike and David set up camp on the eastern edge of the Hills, and set out for the Cabox - Newfoundland's highest point at 814 meters (2,670 feet) - early on Day Two.
(l-r) Mike Bergeron and David Burnford at Cabox
After reaching Cabox, the two set out for scenic Molly Ann Gulch on the western side of the Hills, adorned with its late fall /early winter palette. There they set up an early Camp Two, amid high wet winds of over 100kms (60 miles) per hour.
Day Three began by crossing the barren high-country northeast of Molly Ann Gulch, before decending the grassy pond-pocked slopes above the inside of Rope Cove Canyon.
Once past the canyon, the sun reappeared and accompanied Mike and David on their descent off the Hills through Red Rocky Gulch.
Camp Three was set up near the outside entrance to the gulch, not far from the Blue Brook Access Trail off Serpentine logging road.
Day Four began with a good view of Serpentine Lake, before crossing Blue Brook and Serpentive River on their way to Camp 4, near the entrance to Simms Gulch.
During Night 4 while Mike was nestled all snug in his bed - with visions of sugar plums dancing in his head - David must have been dreaming of a White Christmas, as Day Five awoke with a blanket of fresh snow.
Given the rocky Simms Gulch terrain the two were about to enter, a new challenge was about to begin!
But after trekking across a peridotite "scree glacier" and climbing up the back of Simms, the two were rewarded with a spectacularly detailed mountain and valley view.
Camp 5 was set up in a gully above Simms Gulch, within a good Day's 6 hike of the finish. Picking up the Blow-Me-Down Mountain Trail after crossing the snow-covered barrens, Mike and David were greeted by a pair of moose, before exiting their adventure via Copper Mine to Cape Trail.
Though they were a little wet, tired and hungry, they achieved their lofty objective, while becoming the first to complete a winter trek of the Lewis Hills and Blow-Me-Down Mountain Trails.
The IATNL congratulates Mike and David on their precedent setting trek. They exemplified the best in backcountry hiking, and are good standard bearers for outdoor adventure and determination.
Said David, "the trek was great! It was the challenge we were looking for. Although we love exploring the provincial and national parks, we wanted a break from the wide, groomed trails that loop around a short circuit. Lucky we got in contact with the folks at IATNL who helped us access the rugged Newfoundland landscape. The Lewis Hills and Blow Me Down Mountains offer exceptional scenery, unique in Canada and probably most of the world. Without being too technical, the route gets your heart pumping. In early December, one should keep a keen eye on the weather, especially for wind warnings or rain storms. Be prepared for several stream crossings and wet terrain if the ground hasn't frozen yet, and be sure you're comfortable orienteering with a GPS and a compass. On a year with a little more snow and a little more sun, the hills would make an awesome snowshoe trek. The route avoids excessive zig-zags and short up-and-downs. Instead, it offers a perfect combination of steady climbs and descents, as well as a rolling plateau to explore."
Added Mike, "this trek turned out to be everything I didn't realize I wanted. I am so happy to have experienced and pushed through weather conditions which would have ordinarily put a stop to any of my previous camping endeavors. High winds, dense fog, rain, cold, white-outs and darkness were each a challenge in their own right. Add the barren terrain, knee-high river crossings, vast expanses and unknown territory, and you get a trek that I will always remember.
I am very grateful to have shared this adventure with Dave. We kept each other level-headed even in the most difficult situations. It took our combined tenacity and craziness to make it to the end. If you were to ask me to do it all over again in those conditions... I definitely would. :o) This trip has opened my eyes to a whole other side of NL. I look forward to heading back on the Appalachian Trail in NL to take in all the wonderful landscapes in all seasons. In summary, it was awesome!"