ECT Series: Motion Path Backpacking Trip

The last few years I’ve been home I’ve brought all my camping gear with me in hopes of getting in an overnight on the East Coast Trail. Last year I was finally successful with Cape Broyle Head Trail and this year we were lucky enough to hike Motion Path overnight!

I feel like a broken record, but this may be one of my all time favourite sections! It’s definitely up there with the Spout and since they share the same coastline I hope to one day do them back to back. Together Motion Path and The Spout make up ~31km of continuous coastline between Petty Harbour and Bay Bulls – this is the longest uninterrupted stretch on the entire trail and there are two campsites, one on each path. I’m assuming they’ve been broken up into 2 trails due to the length, with Shoal Bay Road delineating between them. Shoal Bay Road is an old overgrown ATV road that runs from the Goulds to the midpoint of the trails. It’s not considered official ECT, so it adds ~7km to whichever hike you’re doing.

20220617_163721

We didn’t have enough time to do the whole thing, so we just did Motion Path, which runs from Shoal Bay Road to Petty Harbour, totaling ~21km. I went with Emily and because she’s working all week, we only had one shot at the trail and prayed the weather would cooperate. She worked until 3pm on Friday and then we picked her up and our Dad dropped us off at the entrance to Shoal Bay Road in the Goulds. We’ve both done Shoal Bay Road before when we day hiked The Spout and Emily has also done Motion Path as an overnight once before. So we knew what to expect with Shoal Bay Road. It’s completely in the woods with a lot of loose gravel and water ponding. It’s not difficult, but 7km of boring access road does feel like a slog. It’s usually very wet, but it hadn’t rained all week, so it was pretty dry and we only had to detour around large puddles twice.

20220617_181554

It was a really nice day and the sun was shining as we set out on the trail. It was around 4pm when we started and it took us about an hour and a half to reach the coast. It started to cloud over along the way and we could see the fog hanging out offshore as we started the 2km of coastal trail to the campsite at Miner’s Point. This section wasn’t particularly scenic, but we did see a few waterfalls and get some nice views looking north towards Heart’s Point.

It was a really nice day and the sun was shining as we set out on the trail. It was around 4pm when we started and it took us about an hour and a half to reach the coast. It started to cloud over along the way and we could see the fog hanging out offshore as we started the 2km of coastal trail to the campsite at Miner’s Point. This section wasn’t particularly scenic, but we did see a few waterfalls and get some nice views looking north towards Heart’s Point.

PSX_20220629_225641

It took us another hour to get to the campsite and we strolled into the sheltered birch forest where it’s located around 6:30pm. We fully expected to be the only people camping there, but there were two guys already set up and another couple showed up shortly after up – so pretty busy for the ECT! There is one premium camping spot, which the guys had snagged, but it’s pretty slim pickings after that. A lot of the ECT campsites have tent pads, but Miner’s Point just has some flat grassy spots. We counted 5 or 6 of them, but they were all pretty small and bumpy except for the one good one. Fortunately it was grassy though, so it made for a soft bed!

PSX_20220628_140452

We picked the best place to pitch the tent and then spent the rest of the night taking it easy and making supper. The fog rolled in really thick right after we arrived, but the wind kept changing direction and sent it rolling in and out of the campsite. When it was sunny, it was quite nice with the birch trees. There is a small stream running through the campsite, but it’s definitely not the best water source and I could see it running dry if there was a particular dry spell (although that’s pretty rare in NL). We were able to find one section that was running decent, but you definitely need a filter. If you continue on towards motion point, you will cross some better sources.

PSX_20220630_174803

It took us a little while to get warm overnight with the fog and we must have been on a slope because we woke up with both of us bunched to one side of the tent. It was an early wake up call because the sun was out in full force in the morning and it felt like we were being cooked inside the tent! I woke up at 6:30am and opened up the vestibules to get some air flowing, but we were both up and making breakfast shortly after 7am.

I haven’t done much overnighting in Newfoundland, but Emily would agree with me in saying we’ve never had such a warm morning on the trail in Newfoundland! There wasn’t any wind in the trees and the sun was shining right down on us, so I immediately put on shorts and sunscreen. Unfortunately the lack of wind also brought the flies, so it gave us the motivation for a quick breakfast and pack-up. We were all done and ready to hike at 8:30am, which must be a new record for us.

20220618_103133

Our plan for the rest of the day was to hike the 11.5km back along Motion Path to Petty Harbour. You leave the birch forest and then pretty much the entire rest of the hike is exposed along the coast. It would be brutal in the rain, but on a sunny day like we had, it was an absolute dream! 11.5km of unbroken coastal views!

I can see this trail being a bit challenging as a day hike due to the length, but as an overnight it makes for a really great day of hiking. There’s a few short climbs, but overall it’s an easy trail, you just need extra time to accommodate photographing all the amazing views along the way! There’s a few water sources right after the campsite and then you start climbing up towards Heart’s Point. From there you can see all the way back to the lighthouse in Bay Bulls and the trail undulates up and down once you get to the top of the bluff.

PSX_20220705_103940

My favourite part of the trail is coming down from Heart’s Point towards Lower Cove – you can see all the way out to Motion Point and it is really cool to see the ponds sitting so close to the ocean. On a nice day, I would love to try swimming in Lower Pond, but even though it was sunny, it was quite windy and we would get cold whenever we stopped (though it was comfortable in shorts when we were moving). The trail loops right around Motion Head and we were super enthused to hear some whales surfacing when we stopped for a snack break!

It took us a little while to find them, but we could see several offshore, which meant the caplin had finally arrived. I wasn’t expecting to see whales in mid-June, so I felt lucky to see them just as they arrived and I was getting ready to leave. Right before we hit Lower Cove Head we were treated to a real show! The trail descends pretty close to the water in this section and there just so happened to be a few whales fishing right off the coast! We think they were minke whales and saw a mama and calf from a very close distance!

VideoCapture_20220715-103723

We passed 2 other hikers going in the other direction around Motion Head and anther trio close to the end of the trail, otherwise we didn’t see anyone else on the trail on day. We made pretty slow progress in the morning, but picked up the pace around Motion Head, where the trail is really flat and easy. At Motion Head we had the privilege of seeing a humpback whale breaching way off in the distance, but after we turned the corner towards Petty Harbour we didn’t see any more whales and the weather started to shift.

20220618_105902

The day had started out with blue skies and not a cloud to be seen, but things don’t often stay that way in Newfoundland and the clouds were blowing in over the trail. We still weren’t too concerned as we continued along Motion Bay and stopped for lunch at Merrymeeting Point. Unfortunately the wind was picking up, so it was chilly and we made it a quick break before starting the last climb into Petty Harbour. We made pretty quick time on the hike up because some pretty ugly looking rain clouds were rolling in and we quickly alerted Dad to come and pick us up before the rain began.

If you’re not used to climbing, this is definitely the most challenging part of the trail. The trail ascends about 120m up over the head, where there’s a short flat section and the final descent into Petty Harbour. It’s a bit steeper on the Petty Harbour side and more gradual going out towards Motion Head if that influences your decision about which direction to hike the trail. We didn’t like the steep drop into Petty Harbour, but it is very short and only took us about 10 minutes. It did start to drizzle as we were descending, but it was only a small amount of rain. Normally that wouldn’t both me, but I had a flight back to Vancouver early the next morning and didn’t want wet gear, so I put on my pack cover and hurried down the trail.

20220618_122848

We hit Petty Harbour after 4 hours of hiking and only had to wait 5 minutes for Dad to pick us up. The rain picked up right after we finished and it was a good reminder how quickly the weather can change! But lucky for us, we were dry at home after an excellent overnight trip. I’m so glad I got to squeeze this trail in and hope to return one day and do the entire section from Petty Harbour to Bay Bulls. It’s a bit on the long side for a day hike, but if you’re looking to try overnighting, this is a great trail! Super scenic and not too difficult, I’d recommend.

20220618_124003

Ski Resort Series: Lake Louise

Lake Louise was undoubtedly the most popular of the Banff resorts when we visited. I suspect it draws the most tourists because of its association with the famous lake, as well as it also attracts a lot of locals to its open alpine skiing and back bowls. Plus, the awesome views of the surrounding mountains don’t hurt!

Lake Louise is about a 45 minute drive from Banff, so it is the furthest, though I regularly drive 2 hours to Whistler each way in a single day, so I didn’t find the drive too bad. There are some accommodations in Lake Louise if you’re just there to ski and want to stay nearby, but then I think your restaurant choices would be a lot more limited than if you stayed in Banff.

20220302_094401

Of the three resorts, I found Lake Louise had the most confusing parking. Norquay and Sunshine have straightforward massive lots, but Lake Louise has several smaller lots and several sections of the lot are allocated specifically for VIPs or pay parking. Clearly we weren’t VIPs and we didn’t want to pay, so we ended up parking in the road parking – it wasn’t a long walk to the resort, but the longest of the 3 resorts and we were annoyed to walk past the huge empty VIP lot right next to the lodge.

Lake Louise had a pretty different set-up than Sunshine. At Sunshine, I found a lot of the lifts went to the same locations but had different bases from which to board at the bottom. Whereas at Lake Louise, a lot of the lifts left from the same central area at the bottom and went to different parts of the mountain, which I think is a bit preferable. The main difference is that the Lake Louise base is at the same elevation as the highway, whereas at Sunshine you take a gondola up to the base and at Norquay you drive several switchbacks up the mountain. As a result, I found the ski conditions at Lake Louise were unfortunately, the worst of the 3 mountains.

PSX_20220304_220921

It’s partially because of the weather and timing of when we visited that we didn’t get any powder, but overall, I found Louise to be icier because it’s a lower elevation mountain. I also found the runs to be more confusing because it’s a lot of alpine, so there’s not really any discernible runs in a lot of locations. In some ways I really liked that because you could really ski wherever you wanted, but it also made it hard to figure out where you were and we ended up going down a few more advanced runs because we got lost. Not that big a deal, but since it was an icy day, it wasn’t the best conditions for challenging yourself.

So it was a bit of a rough start as we figured out the mountain, but we did still have a good time. We started off on Glacier chair and did a few runs on the Top of the World chair before going up Summit chair once to see the view from the highest point. I liked this area, but it’s where we kept making mistakes and ended up down a gully a few times. One of the biggest attractions at Lake Louise is the back bowls, which is pretty much just all free black run skiing. My biggest regret is that we didn’t ski the back bowl in the morning when we had fresh legs and decent visibility. We were a little bit intimidated by it and there’s so much to explore, so we decided to save it for later.

PSX_20220304_222706

After a few runs up at the top we switched over to the Grizzly gondola and explored around some of the bottom part of the mountain. Lake Louise is deceivingly large. Sunshine Village felt large because the lifts are spread out and there’s so many different areas, whereas Lake Louise is more concentrated, but still has a lot of runs, many of which I think are longer than at Sunshine. We didn’t do as many runs in the morning, mostly because it was just taking us longer to do each run.

We had decided to buy lunch at Lake Louise, which was a good decision because packed lunches aren’t allowed in the Lodge of Ten Peaks (though you can eat them at Whiskeyjack Lodge). The nice thing about Louise was that there were several lodges, I don’t know how busy it was over at Temple Lodge, but we found Lodge of Ten Peaks to be a lot less crowded than at Sunshine.

20220302_143543

In the afternoon we made our way over towards the backside of the mountain to get the areas we hadn’t yet explored. We did a few runs on Ptarmigan chair and a few on Larch chair. I ended up really liking the Larch area, likely because it had some easier runs, or maybe because they are more well defined. I think I would really like Lake Louise if I got to ski it more often, but because I only had one day, I wanted to get a lot a variety and in the alpine, I guess I felt like I was just skiing the same thing run after run. It’s why it’s nice to have more than one day at a ski resort, because you get to try everything on the first day, and then return to areas you liked or try things you missed on the second day.

Emily wasn’t really keen to do the back bowls at all, but like Goat Mountain at Sunshine, I still really wanted to tackle every part of the mountain, so I convinced her to do one run with me. We got to scope it out a bit more on the Paradise chair, which runs up the back of the mountain, and I think on a good powder day I would be pretty comfortable skiing in the back bowl (at least in the area under Paradise chair, which is black diamonds as opposed to double blacks). Unfortunately, our mistake was waiting too late in the day. We took the one easy run down the back bowl, but it had really bad flat light when we did it and we felt like we were skiing blind, so we weren’t inclined to try a second run, hence why I say I wish we’d done it in the morning.

20220302_130648

Anyways, sometimes you live and learn. We still ended up having a great time at Lake Louise and surprisingly Emily liked it more than me. I can’t really pinpoint why, but of the three, Lake Louise was probably my least favourite. I may get slammed for that because not a lot of people seem to like Norquay, so I’m inclined to blame the weather on this occasion (we got some great powder at Norquay). In any case, I won’t be too quick to judge it and I would definitely return to try it again and properly ski the back bowl. Overall I think it might just be the vibe that I got from Lake Louise. It was more crowded and seemed a bit more elitist than the others, so I’d be just as happy to ski at Sunshine or Norquay as well. Either way, it’s definitely an iconic resort.

20220302_094500