THE GREAT NEWFOUNDLAND ADVENTURE: PART 1
A QUEST FOR LA POILE OVERLAND
The crew consisted of Jim and John Newell in “Olive” the Mercedes G-Wagen and Dwight Elliot and I in our trusty Jeep, the “Bad Dog”. Ideally, we wanted to try and push as far in towards La Poile as possible without breaking any of our cardinal rules. From our research, two things seemed abundantly clear. First, there was a very high probability that we would not make it through the bogs that formed the headwaters of the La Poile/Bunker Hill, Garia and Crabbe. Second, if we couldn’t find a quad track to lead us through, we would probably get stopped by either bogs or impenetrable woods as we planned to stay truthful to our “don’t make a mess” rule.
Preparation was paramount when assembling gear and packing the trucks for anywhere between one and two weeks in the backcountry of Newfoundland. Key was keeping the load reasonably light while carrying enough fuel, food and water to last our worst-case scenario. We assumed that given the bogs we would have to negotiate, there probably wouldn’t be any opportunities for taking on clean water once we got out of the Crabbe River valley.
Day One: We had a night crossing booked from North Sydney to Channel Port Aux Basques (PAB) so I had a leisurely start to the day. Jim and John were not that fortunate as they had to do a last-minute re-build on their winch when a quick check determined it was no longer functioning. It turns out that the brushes had seized, but once they were loose, all was well in the world again.
After a very long drive and a stop in Sherbrooke for iced coffees and Panini’s, we finally made it to North Sydney, where we lined up for our ride across Cabot Strait on the MV “Highlanders”. It was 11:00 pm when we got on board so we had a quick drink at the bar and went off to our cabins for a snooze.
The night crossing is an excellent option as long as you can get a cabin. Spending 6-7 hrs in a half-reclined seat is just too much like air travel.
Day 2: “Hamburgers in Paradise”
Our ferry arrived right on schedule at 7:20 am NDT, just in time for breakfast at the St. Christopher Hotel. Once we were working from a solid dietary foundation we headed off to a friends’ place (Austin) to drop off the doors to the Jeep. Thankfully, he saw us coming as we drove right by his house. Leaving the doors behind freed up 110kg of dead weight. Seemed like a good idea in theory and the weather forecast was strangely positive. Heck, what could go wrong, eh?
Austin also lived in La Poile (aka “Little Bay”) so we asked him about access. As with pretty much everyone we spoke to, he was very nice but pretty firm on the idea that not only does no one go there overland without snow, but that it would be impossible.
Not to be deterred, we headed out of town for the hour-long drive to the St. Fintan Irving station. This would be our final fuel stop, which would require:
Dog Food (aka “gas”) - 70L (in tank) - 40L (on rear rack) - 30L (on roof rack) Water - 20L (in Sceptre can) - 15L (as ice in cooler)
Liquids added an additional 150 kg, which more than made up for the missing doors but we would get lighter with time.
Stocked, we found the trailhead, aired down and headed in country. The scenery was spectacular as we travelled along the north side of the valley. We stopped for a quick lunch and continued across to the south side of the valley.
It turns out that Bowater developed this area for logging a couple of decades ago but actual logging operations never took place. This means you drive along very well engineered roadbeds and bridges, and then the road just vanishes into the forest. Needless to say, things got interesting pretty fast.
We made a bit more progress over the next hour but it was clear that we were not going to make the next 10 km required
to make Berteau Hill. With twilight on its way, we backtracked to a level spot and set up camp.
Jim and John got dinner started with Jimmy Buffet playing from the speakers, so we dubbed this “Camp Burgers in Paradise.” Dwight cut down a dead tree and “junked ‘er up”. Quick work with the axe and we had a nice fire to keep the few bugs at bay. Captain Morgan and I made sure no one went thirsty (hydration is very important) and I took up my post guarding the fire.
After a great first day on the trail, we were encouraged to head to bed when a light rain started.
Day Three: “You Can’t get There From Here”
Over night, right on cue, the wind whipped up and the rain hammered in soaking pretty much everything. We made breakfast in some light drizzle. It looked like the day might actually clear so spirits were high in spite of the cold wind, soggy clothes, sleeping bags and gear. Taking the doors off didn’t look like such a great idea any more.
We worked our way through breakfast and packed up the tents during a brief lull in the drizzle. Just to show we knew how to close the barn door after the horse had all bolted... we covered up our gear with the very nice, dry tarp we had stowed in the back of the Jeep.
The sky continued to brighten as we tried to get on a bare ridge to our north, in the hopes that we could get
out onto the hard, rocky barrens to the east. Curiously, we found a screen-grab of Google Earth that was very useful in giving us an overview of the various trails as the printed topography maps did not show most of the smaller trails. It was difficult to get an overview of the surrounding country while just seeing trail info with our GPS. Ideally, having a ruggedized laptop with the area cached in Google Earth would allow you to pick off elevations as well as latitude and longitude.
We found the right trail and worked our way up onto the ridge, only to find ourselves in a small bog on the wrong side of a pond. After getting “Olive” unglued, we walked the small trails to find that they all lead to great shooting nests for duck hunters, but nothing to lead us around the pond. We also found that the area was a strange mix of steep terrain and small bogs. It was all very picturesque, but tough to traverse.
Turning around was an exercise in balance and we worked our way back to the main road. More out of “what the hell” than anything else, we tried a track to the west leading into the Long Range Mountains. It had another branch that may have headed south but the bridge was out of commission and the brook was not crossable without major roadwork, so we continued to curl up to the north while climbing a ridge looking down onto the Highlands River. Great views but the direction and terrain was not going to help us get to La Poile.
The sun was out, the weather was mild and we were getting close to feeding time. We decided to head into the backside of Bill Shears Pond and find a place to camp and re-think our plans. On the way in, we ran into some nice folks in side-by-sides who were very adamant “You’ll never get them rigs in there!” We found this odd in that they were sitting in what amounted to a glorified golf cart on 25-in tires, while we were sitting in a fairly capable truck sitting on 38-in tires. Simply stated... getting in was no real issue. We found a nice, level site looking out over a pond and got to setting up camp. Job one was digging out all the soggy clothes, sleeping bags and gear and getting some sun on them while it was light.
We set up our tents as soon as things got the least bit dry-ish. The next job was dinner. As we were having Italian, the red wine seemed appropriate. We scarfed down a big load of spaghetti with meatballs and spicy Italian sausage and then sat back to enjoy the fire, moonrise and discuss “where-to-now?”
A wiped-out bridge blocked the northern route over a small gorge, the southern route ended in bogs and dense forests. We had failed to find the elusive quad track in country. There was still a desire to make the destination, so we discussed the possibility of the first approach route, which was north from Ilse aux Morts, then east across Garia Brook and then south to La Poile. We decided to head into PAB, camp in a campground, get a hot shower and ask around a bit for advice. We now had purpose and sleep came quickly in anticipation of new scenery.
Rose Blanche, Newfoundland. The end of paved road and the beginning of a great adventure.
“Olive,” the Mercedes G-Wagon tackling one of many obstacles.
When in doubt, go for a walk.
Enjoying a first sunset on the trail.
Route recalculation in analog.
Several trails lead to impassable bogs or rivers.
Camp is set for day two on the trail. After the defeat of the southern route, a campfireside northern route plan is hatched.