Newfoundland Homecoming

I haven’t had any opportunities for travel lately (obviously), so I figured I would write about my trip home in late July/early August. I grew up in Newfoundland, so going home is more about visiting with my family than activities, but I’ve become a lot more enthusiastic about getting out hiking while I’m home over the past few years and ended up having a great time exploring while I was back!

I always catch the overnight flight when I fly back to St. John’s, so Seth dropped me at the airport for my 11pm flight late in the evening. It’s definitely not fun flying post pandemic (but really, was it fun flying pre-pandemic either?), but fortunately I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me on either flight and the airlines are really strict about mask usage, so it wasn’t too bad and I slept through most of the flight. I had a quick stopover in Montreal and arrived in St. John’s around noon. My parents did a quick drive by to pick me up and I was so happy to finally be home for the first time in 2 years!

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Even though it would be really easy to take a nap, I always force myself to stay awake the first day to help get used to the time difference. Mom made me some homemade cod chowder and my friend Gill dropped by so that I could meet her 2 month old baby, Leo. I quickly caught up with Emily, but she was going camping with her friends for the weekend, so me and my parents decided to go for a short hike along the Signal Hill trail to close out the day. Signal Hill is a huge tourist attraction in St. John’s as the location of the first transatlantic radio signal, but really it’s just popular for the views. It makes for a great urban hike and you can often spot whales up there, so the locals love it just as much as the tourists. Unfortunately it was super foggy when we went visited, but it still made for some cool photos of the city and harbour shrouded in fog.

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The rest of the weekend was all about catching up with family and friends. It was a little surreal finally being home. Newfoundland had super strict border entry regulations during COVID that required all visitors to isolate for 2 weeks upon entry. They modified the restrictions in July so that fully vaccinated travelers could visit without having to isolate. While Newfoundland has still had a few outbreaks over the past year, cases have been limited in comparison to many other places and while I was home, there was virtually no COVID there and everyone was just carrying on with their lives mostly like normal. It was so wonderful to spend time with so many different people and to be able to hug my loved ones. It didn’t take long for it to feel like normal again, but initially it was a little bit surreal.

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In between catching up with friends I still managed to cram in a lot of hiking. Me and Mom went out to Cape Spear to look for whales, another popular tourist attraction because it is the most Easterly point in North America. We hiked 5km out to North Head, where we had a snack, but sadly didn’t see any whales. However, on the way back, we found two hanging out feeding along the cliffside and ended up watching one of them for the better part of a half hour! The fish must have been pretty shallow because it only dove once and was super active in one spot near the surface. We saw it breach several times and it waved at us a lot, so it ended up being a very successful trip! We think it was a humpback whale based on size. The most common whales in NL are humpback and minke, it can be hard to tell them apart, but minke are smaller.

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Over the years I’ve been working on hiking the entire East Coast Trail, which is a 300km long section trail that runs the entire eastern coast of the Avalon Peninsula. I made good progress on the trail when I was home because most of my friends were working during the day, so I would just go off hiking on my own. But Mom is semi-retired and Sean was finishing up his education degree, so one week day we decided to go hiking together. We ended up doing the Sugarloaf trail, which runs from Logy Bay to Quidi Vidi. I had done this section years ago with Seth, but on a very cloudy day, so it felt like a totally new hike on this occasion. It was cloudy when we started, but it ended up clearing into a gorgeous day and we had a picnic lunch at the halfway point and saw more whales playing around in the shallows. There were several boats out fishing though and they didn’t look too pleased at the whales eating all their catch! We were thrilled to find the ice cream truck open in Quidi Vidi when we finished the hike and ended with a cold treat.

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During the first week home I also did a few solo hikes, the goal with these was to do new sections of the trail. I went for a short hike from Middle Cove to Torbay along the Silver Mine Head Path, which is less than 5km round trip and actually very scenic for such a short hike. I ended with a swim at Middle Cove Beach. Growing up I would never swim in the ocean. The North Atlantic is known for being very unforgiving with big waves and riptides, as well as it’s very cold. It seemed warmer to me than I remembered growing up, so I guess all those freezing cold alpine lakes have increased my tolerance. I don’t recommend swimming in NL unless you know what you’re doing, but there are some safer places if you want to dip your toes.

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I also did Stiles Cove Path, which I wanted to do as a one-way trip as it’s 15km long. Mom dropped me off in Flatrock on her lunch break and it took me about 5 hours to hike north to Pouch Cove. I loved this trail! First of all, it was a week day, so I was one of the only people on it, and it had so many gorgeous views! The weather was pretty classic Newfoundland when I was home, in that it was constantly changing from rain, to clouds, to sun. The forecast called for rain almost my entire first week home, but while it was cloudy most of the week, it didn’t end up raining very much.

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Mom was convinced I was going to get rained on when I did Stiles Cove, but the weather gradually improved throughout the day until it was a beautiful blue sky, sunny day! The reason I liked Stiles Cove so much was the variation in topography. It meandered both through the trees and along the open coast. Again, I stumbled upon a bunch of whales and hung out around one viewpoint for 20 minutes watching 4 whales fishing. I saw one of them breach, which makes it seem like more of a common occurrence than it is, as well as I saw a few whale tails while they were diving. About 3km before the end, the trail goes down to a beach at Shoe Cove, which is very sheltered, so I decided to go for another swim before meeting Dad at the end of the trail for pick up. The completion of this trail meant I have now hiked the entire trail continuous from the tip of Cape St. Frances all the way to Maddox Cove, approximately 80km.

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Conveniently the Olympics were on throughout the entirety of my trip, so I stayed up late watching events at night and then had some pretty lazy mornings getting caught up. I don’t have cable in BC, but Dad has some 800 channels, so my timing was great. I’ve been pretty obsessed with the women’s soccer team ever since I attended FIFA when it was held in Vancouver, so I made sure to watch all their games while I was home (which obviously had a very exciting ending!). Then towards the end of the week I prepared for a short family trip out to Twillingate to visit my Nan – to be covered in my next post!

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Mount Assiniboine Backpacking Trip: Part III

One of the great things about this trip was that after our strenuous 2 day hike to arrive at the campsite (Part I and Part II), we had 3 nights there it which to enjoy it. After the incident on Day 2, it was a relief to know we didn’t have to get up early and carry our big packs anywhere.

We had big plans to sleep in, but it was still the middle of a heat wave and the sun had big plans to cook us. The previous 2 days had been around 32 degrees, but on Days 3 and 4 it went up to a whopping 36 degrees! I can only imagine how hot it must have been in town when it was so hot up in the mountains. I’ve rarely experienced 36 degree temperatures anywhere, and definitely never at elevation.

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So the sun woke us up at 7:30am and there was really no avoiding it. As soon as it hits your tent it totally bakes you. Brandon tried to block it out by putting his sleeping bag over the tent, but we eventually had to admit defeat and got up. We had a lazy breakfast at the cooking shelter and made friends with the other campers. Because of grizzly bears you’re not allowed to do any cooking by your tent at Magog Lake. There’s a large cooking area with lots of picnic tables and a covered shelter, so we did all our cooking in the shade of the shelter and stored our smellies at the bear cache.

The result of this setup is that it forces all the campers into proximity with one another. Not really the best scenario for COVID, but it made for a really great vibe at the campsite. Everyone was super friendly and I loved swapping stories with the other campers and getting advice on the trails everyone had already done. Everyone was suffering from the heat, though people were still doing some pretty big hikes during the day. Brandon and I took it easy all morning and I mostly wrote in my journal and ate snacks. Shortly before noon we finally packed ourselves a day pack and went to do a bit of exploring.

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While other campers were suffering through the heat hiking up to Wonder Pass and the Nub, we decided to have a lake day. There are 4 lakes close to the campsite and I made it my mission to swim in all of them. We started with Sunburst Lake, which we heard was the best swimming lake. Since everyone else was out exploring, we had it to ourselves for a full 2 hours. It has a gorgeous view looking back at Mount Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountain and we went for a swim and then took our thermarests out into the lake to relax. I was a little bit nervous to take my expensive thermarest in the water, but I figured YOLO and it ended up being totally fine!

We wanted to take a nap, but unfortunately it was a bit too buggy for sleeping, so eventually we packed up and continued on. Cerulean Lake was next on the list. It’s bigger than Sunburst and a bit more scenic, but also colder, so we just did a quick dip in and out of that one. Brandon convinced me to go 1km further to Elizabeth Lake – I wasn’t really digging it because it was uphill, but we did it anyways. Elizabeth Lake was also very scenic and sits right at the base of the Nub (the peak everyone hikes up to get the killer view of Assiniboine and Sunburst Mountains). The water at Elizabeth wasn’t the nicest (it looked a little stagnant), but I was on a mission to swim in all the lakes at this point, so I swam in it anyways. It was the warmest of all the lakes, but had a lot of algae, so it was a quick dip. (although it looks awesome in the photo below!)

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After that we went back to the campground to have an early dinner. Brandon was feeling really tired and wanted a power nap, so he went back to the tent for a little while, which got a bit more shady in late afternoon. I did some journaling and chatted with the other campers. I spoke to a group of women that had done a sunset hike up to the Nublet the evening before and decided that would be a good option for us. We really didn’t want to hike up the Nub in the hot weather, so a sunset hike when it was cooler was a good alternative. The Nub has 3 lookouts. The first is called the Niblet, 2nd is the Nublet, and final is the Nub. The women told me the Nub was a lot of work for the same view and that they were just as happy with the scene from the Nublet, so it was an easy decision for us to just skip the Nub given the conditions.

We had dinner and then started our hike around 7pm. It was such a good decision! It was still a bit hot hiking up to the Niblet, but after that it cooled off a lot and there was a really nice breeze going up to the Nublet. It is still a pretty big hike up to the Nublet, there is some scree and scrambling, but it was the first time on the trip I’d felt truly energized! The wind gave me life and it got rid of the mosquitoes, it was the best feeling! Plus a few clouds had moved in and they really set the scene and provided us with hope of cooler weather, or at least some sun shade.

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We got to the Nublet about a half hour before sunset and only had to share the peak with one other group. In general, the lack of people was one of my favourite parts about Assiniboine. The campground was half empty because of the heat and because it’s so hard to get into the park, we had most attractions completely to ourselves. We ran around the Nublet taking photos from every angle before settling in to watch Assiniboine and Sunburst light up red. The sun actually sets on the opposite horizon from these mountains, but the orange glow from the sunset completely illuminates the Sunburst and Assiniboine, it’s magical!

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It was close to solstice, so we had long sunsets and long daylight hours. We stuck around almost until 10pm before deciding to head back down. We had lots of light in which to do the scramble and even the forested section was still pretty illuminated. I don’t love hiking at this time of day though because it makes me nervous of bears, so I sang most of the way down. Fortunately we only needed to use our headlamps for the last 10 minutes of the hike and got back to our tent just before 11pm.

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The next day the clouds had entirely disappeared and we had another slow, hot day. We got started a bit earlier in the morning and went for a walk up to the lodge. This proved very hot, so we took a break at a little waterfall that had a small breeze coming off it. Unfortunately, the hotter it got, the worse the mosquitoes got. I’m decent at just ignoring them, but they were driving Brandon absolutely nuts. We continued down to Magog Lake hoping there would be a good breeze since it’s the largest lake and has all the glaciers feeding it.

There was a really nice breeze down there, so blessedly no bugs, but also absolutely no shade. Fortunately I still had the tarp, so we set it up along the shore and enjoyed a few hours resting away from the bugs and sun. I thought Magog Lake would be really cold, but it actually wasn’t that bad and even Brandon went for a swim in the lake. One of the other campers had told us there was a small sandy part of beach at the opposite end of the lake, so eventually we packed up and headed that way.

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A lot of the campers that had been at Magog when we arrived were starting to move out and new campers were arriving, so we got some word of the outside world. Apparently the lodge had noted our heat stroke incident in its trail report, so hopefully other people learned from our mistakes. We found the sandy part of the beach. It’s not a fine sand, more a coarse rocky grain, but definitely more comfortable than the large jagged rocks in other areas. The only downside was there wasn’t as much of a breeze. We set the tarp up again, but the bugs had returned, so we made several forays in and out of the water to try and avoid them.

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We planned for an early night since we had to start backpacking again the next day, but it was too early for bed when we finished our dinner, so we scoured the GPS for a good after-dinner walk. We found one that hikes out around the far edge of Magog Lake. It’s the start of the wilderness route to Hinde Hut and has a ton of signs warning about the difficulty of the route, but if you just follow the first kilometre, it’s really nice. It takes you right to the back of Assiniboine Lake and gives you a close-up view of the mountain and glaciers. We couldn’t figure out how anyone could possibly continue up to the hut from that angle though and we figured it must be a rock climbing route because it looked very intense!

We went to bed before the sun had even set because we planned to get up at 5am the next day to avoid the heat. Reports from the outside were that it was supposed to start cooling down, but it would still be low 30’s the following day. We crossed our fingers for some rain or clouds and went to sleep. Here’s a few other photo highlights! Click for Part IV.

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Cheakamus Lake Backpacking Trip

After two May Long weekend trips to Lindeman Lake, we decided to try Cheakamus Lake in 2019. Our group continued to grow and this time we had 11 people join us for the adventure!

The one challenge with going to Cheakamus Lake is that it’s in Garibaldi Park, which means you have to reserve the campsites in advance. There are two sites to choose from, the bigger Cheakamus Lake Campsite at the head of the lake, or the smaller Singing Creek Campsite in the middle of the lake. Both campgrounds are really nice. The sites at Cheakamus Lake are more isolated and are spread out along the lakefront, so if you’re only booking one site, I’d recommend here as it’s a lot more private. At Singing Creek, there’s a lovely beach on which to hang out, but the sites are all clustered together in the woods, so it was prefect for as a large group! Several groups day hiked into the beach throughout the weekend, but otherwise we were the only ones who camped there overnight.

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We met at the trailhead on Saturday morning and started hiking together, though with so many of us, we quickly became scattered along the trail. It’s 4km to the first site and then another 4km to the second site. It’s mostly flat along the trail, so it’s a great hike for early in the season, and for beginners. Since it was an easier trail, I finally convinced Seth to join us for the weekend and Megan third wheeled with us in the tent.

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We took a short break at the first site, but otherwise had a steady pace to the end of the trail. I think it took us about 2.5 hours to make the trek. We set up tents among the trees and spent the rest of the day lounging on the beach. The weather forecast had been a bit mixed and the first day was supposed to be the best, so we decided to make a go for our annual May swim in the lake! Me and Carolyn were the first to make a quick dive in and out of the water and about half of the group joined us. Steve made a half hearted run up to his knees and then turned immediately turned back without regret, whereas Seth’s approach was to prolong the agony with a slow wade in. Me and Emily went for a second swim the following day, but no one was quite so dedicated to swimming as Lien. He must have been in and out of the frigid water at least 3-4 times throughout the weekend!

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Cheakamus Lake was a cool place, but the downside is that once you get to Singing Creek, there’s not really anywhere else to explore. We had a whole day to kill on Sunday, so most of us slept in, although some more than others (looking at you Meg). Carolyn and Tiiu took us by surprise by deciding to get up and go trail running up towards Helm Creek after breakfast. Carolyn came over to give me her trip plan in case they didn’t return (to which Steve was a little offended, but eventually agreed he’d rather not assume any responsibility in Carolyn’s rescue if things went awry).

But I had to laugh at Carolyn when she told me they were going to go up towards Helm Creek and Black Tusk. Before leaving she asked me whether I thought there would be snow on the trail, to which I needed only to point across the lake to where you could clearly see the snow atop the mountain to answer the question. She looked a little abashed and just agreed they’d turn around when they hit the snow.

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I was a little disappointed not to have been invited on this outing (I mean, why would I, I’m not a trail runner), so I decided to rally the troops for a little bushwacking. It did look as if the trail continued further up the lake into the woods, so we decided to follow it. The trail deteriorated pretty fast and while it was in no way a reliable or groomed trail, it was still there, so we continued on up the lake through the trees. It did involve a bit of wayfinding, but we just made sure to stick close to the shoreline and track our progress on my GPS.

From our beach, you can see another bigger beach at the end of the lake, and I was determined to get there. The closer we got to the end of the lake, the trail turned into more of an animal path before finally disappearing altogether. We continued on for a bit, but eventually had to conclude that there was a marsh standing between us at the beach at the foot of the lake. We did make it all the way to the end of the lake, but there was simply no way (that we could find) across the bog, so we decided to turn back.

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Meg slept through this little adventure and Brandon made the trek all the way back to his car in search of warmer bedding (apparently it’d been a cold night). We returned sometime after lunch and Carolyn and Tiiu reappeared mid afternoon. We went for another swim and then played a few games of crib (of course Steve had brought a travel size board in his bag of wonders).

We’d been expecting rain, but it continued to hold off. We set up a few tarps in the woods just in case, which was an even more effective way to keep the rain away because after that it never materialized at all! We enjoyed a smorgasbord of dinners over the two days. I teamed up with Brandon and he made us thai chicken curry the first night, followed by my potato chili and apple crumble the second night. Emily had spaghetti, which involved an entire can of tomato sauce (so heavy!) and Carolyn, Tiiu, Meg, and Steve teamed up to make a pretty fancy looking charcuterie board.

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Our May Long weekend trip is always centered on sharing and comradery, so I loved just hanging out on the beach and taking it easy with my friends, something that seems even more special after a year of Covid isolation. I spent a lot of time chilling in the hammock and felt especially lucky to be accompanied by both Seth and Emily on this trip. We were treated to a particularly lovely sunset over the lake on the first evening and then hit the sack early after that.

On Monday we packed up and headed back out the trail. It rained on me, Seth, and Lien for no more than 10 minutes, and it seemed to have been pretty localized as no one else reported seeing rain at all. so overall it was another successful trip and I’d definitely recommend it as a great backpacking trip for beginners!

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