THE GREAT NEW­FOUND­LAND AD­VEN­TURE: PART 1

A QUEST FOR LA POILE OVERLAND

4WDrive - - Contents -

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.

Words and pho­tos by John Volc

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.

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