ECT Series: Cobblers Path

Cobbler’s Path was one of the first sections of the East Coast Trail I ever did and I kind of forgot about it in my zeal to hike new sections I hadn’t done yet. However, I’m so glad I returned to this trail over the holidays because I remembered very little of it and it’s such a great trail! Cobblers Path is only 5km long and runs from Red Cliff to Outer Cove. There’s a bit of climbing on the Outer Cove side of the trail, but overall, it’s a pretty easy trail that is extremely close to St. John’s.

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My friends Philippa and Justin are avid hikers as well and convinced me and Sean to join them for a hike at the tail end of December. We all met at the parking lot in Red Cliff and started from there. The trailhead has changed in recent years as the area has developed – the old parking lot on Red Cliff Road has been replaced with a new one at Cobblers Crescent. You hike up through the trees from the parking lot to connect with the coastal trail. You can turn right to go down to “Logy Bay Viewpoint”, but it’s a dead-end because one of the crotchety old land owners won’t let the trail pass over the edge of their land, so the association haven’t been able to connect through to the Ocean Sciences Centre and Sugarloaf Path.

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We opted to just continue on towards Outer Cove. It was a classic Newfoundland weather day when we hiked and we got every season in one day. It was pretty cold when we started and there was a bit of snow down on the trail. We opted to wear studs because it was pretty slippery, but most of the covered tree sections didn’t have any snow. It was overcast when we started and we caught glimpses of blue sky overhead as the day progressed. The trail passes by some old graffitied buildings and there is another lookout bunker at Red Cliff that dates back to the war (same as on Sugarloaf and many other sections of the trail). At the same location there’s an excellent view back towards Logy Bay and we had a bit of a photoshoot.

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I have to say, I do think the cliffs on Cobblers Path are some of the most iconic on the East Coast Trail. That might sound a bit random, but I say it because they are visible from so many other sections of the trail. Even though I hadn’t done the trail in about 10 years, I can always identify it from other parts of the trail. The cliff-side has a sharp diagonal slope in this section and the stratigraphy of the rock looks almost perpendicular to the ocean.

After Red Cliff, the trail descends towards Shooting Point Cove and Cobblers Brook – this was the only other part of the trail I could remember from my first visit and I swore it was my favourite section of Cobblers Path. You climb down through the forest and then cross a bit of a meadow area before starting to hike back up towards Outer Cove. On this day, it was really windy and the ocean was looking extremely unforgiving. The waves were crashing up onto the rocks and there was so much wind that it was blowing all of the salt water spray up onto the trail. A little cold, but a beautiful section of coastline.

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I would say the section after Shooting Point Cove is the only challenging part of the trail. You immediately start hiking back up through the trees and it’s a bit of a climb until you poke out at the first viewpoint of Torbay Point. The clouds were breaking up more at this point and there was quite a bit of blue sky overhead, so we crossed our fingers that the sun would come out.

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I thought Shooting Point Cove was my favourite part of the trail, but I must have skipped Torbay Point on my first visit because that quickly replaced Shooting Point as my favourite and I’m sure I would have remembered it. Philippa and Justin didn’t have time to go down the point because they had a scheduled pick-up, but me and Sean had lots of time to kill, so we said goodbye and hurried down the trail.

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“Hurry” is the key word here because the weather was quickly changing again and despite the recent blue sky, we could see a lot of clouds moving in towards the point. I wanted to get some photos at the end of the point and as I ran down towards it, the wind was so strong it literally brought tears to my eyes and I had to shield my face. We got our shots and then started back up towards the main trail as the clouds blew sideways sleet at us. The weather had majorly deteriorated in a matter of 10 minutes and we hid behind some rocks at the trail junction for shelter. We were pretty hungry (or at least I was) and wanted to eat my lunch before we finished the trail.

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In the time it took me to eat my sandwich, the clouds moved down the coast and the sun finally broke through and completely transformed the landscape. It burned off the rest of the clouds in a matter of minutes and I cursed that I now wanted to take all the same photos again in the improved conditions. I held off though because I did quite like the moody cloudy ones we’d already taken and just snapped a few photos of the sun drenched cliffs instead.

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It’s only a short walk out from Torbay Point and Philippa mentioned they visit every year just to hike out to the point – so it’s a great alternative if you’re just looking for a short jaunt with epic views. The trail pops back out on Doran’s Lane, which is filled with more crotchety homeowners, so be careful where you park. In the summer you can park on the right side of Doran’s Lane (not the left), but in the winter there’s no parking on either side due to snow clearing. Personally I think this is a bit bogus, but the town asks you park down at Outer Cove Beach instead.

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In our case, Sean’s family lives in Outer Cove, so we just hoofed it a few extra kilometres to his house and then returned to pick up my car from there. If you don’t want to bring 2 cars or do a return trip, you can also hike back along the highway – it’s quicker that hiking 5k back along the trail, but there’s not much for sidewalks so be cautious. To conclude, I’m thrilled I took the time to return to this trail, it was so much more scenic than I remembered and makes for such a great hike only minutes from my parent’s house! Definitely recommend.

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Mamquam Lake Backpacking Trip

I’m starting to lose count of the number of times I’ve been up the Elfin Lakes trail, but every time has been a very different experience so I keep going back! I’ve day hiked it to the Gargoyles, backpacked up to Opal Cone, snow camped, and taken a group of girl guides up there in very marginal conditions. On the occasion I hiked up to Opal Cone, we’d actually been aiming for Mamquam Lake, but abandoned our pursuit because it was too hot, so I was really keen to make another attempt to get to Mamquam on this trip.

Karen and Grant planned this trip for mid August and invited me to accompany them. An overnight camping pass is required for one of the 35 tent pads, so I quickly booked up one for myself and easily convinced Brandon to join me. He’d been with me on the first failed trip, so it was only fitting. Me, Karen, and Grant took Friday off to hike up and Brandon joined us later in the evening after he got off work. Not something I’d recommend, but he’s very familiar with the trail and he’s a fast hiker.

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I met Karen and Grant downtown and we drove together to the trailhead outside of Squamish. You only need 2WD to get up the road in the summer, but I was a bit surprised at the condition for such a popular hike – it’s seems to have deteriorated quite a bit in the last few years. Parks staff met us on the road on the way up to check our passes and warned us there were a lot of black bear sightings and even one grizzly sighting. There’s a lot of berries on the trail, so make sure to bring spray and a horn if you visit (not bangers though as they present a fire risk).

It was a really dicey forecast for the weekend, so we weren’t really sure what to expect. It had rained on and off on the drive up and it was looking pretty grey when we arrived. We made good time on the old road up to Red Heather hut, but it did start raining pretty early into the hike. It rained solid for about 15 minutes, but then fortunately it slowed down and mostly just drizzled on and off after that.

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We stopped briefly at the hut for a snack and I picked a handful of blueberries before continuing on. The rain had mostly stopped, but the clouds were super low and we knew we weren’t going to get any view, so we took the bike path up. I thought the bike path was in better condition than the hiking path, which often gets muddy, but I learned on the way down it’s been completely redone with crushed rock, so I definitely recommend the hiking path!

We dried off pretty fast after that and made a good pace to the campsite, but unfortunately we didn’t see any views at all. We were clearly right in the cloud and it was super foggy, so there wasn’t much to take photos of on the way in. We didn’t mind though because we were just so happy to be able to put our tents up in dry weather! I had taken my new Gossamer Gear tent for the trip and thanks to Carolyn, executed what is quite possibly her best idea ever and most brilliant tent pad hack! Since my tent is only set up with hiking poles and relies on tension to keep it upright, it’s hard to set up on wooden pads because it relies on being staked. The solution was a pack of 8 tiny wood screws that you could hand screw right into the tent pad! It worked so great and I was thrilled with how easy it was to set up!

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Side note: for those of you who care, I’m still testing out my Gossamer Gear tent and assessing whether the single-walled design and subsequent condensation build-up on the inside are something I can deal with. On the first morning the tent was absolutely drenched, but so was Karen and Grant’s normal tent, whereas the second night it held up very well in the wind and rain and had minimal condensation in the morning. So I guess it is super dependent on weather conditions and I’m slowly learning how to deal with it.

Overall it took us just over 3 hours to do the 11km hike up to the hut. It was after 5pm when we arrived so we went to the cookhut to make dinner after setting up our bedrolls. Because of the extreme high risk of wildfires, BC Parks is requiring all cooking to be done in the shelter. While I agree this is prudent, I’m a little annoyed that they closed the sleeping hut for the season because of covid. I get you don’t want people sleeping there, but eliminating access to it and then forcing everyone to cook inside one tiny cook hut while it is still a pandemic seems counterproductive. Anyways, how busy the hut was varied and fortunately it wasn’t busy on Friday night. Despite all the tent pads being sold out, only about half were actually in use, so I think BC Parks booking system and cancellation policy could use a little updating too.

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Anyways, that’s my rant for this post. We had a real treat during dinner when the clouds finally started to break up and give us a view! At first we’d just get the odd glimpse of a mountain through a hole in the clouds, but eventually they broke up completely and we got the most beautiful cloud inversion down into the valley! We hung out and watched the sun set over the mountains before returning to Karen and Grant’s tent for a few rounds of cards while waiting for Brandon to show up. Fortunately he arrived shortly before 10pm and we quickly hit the sack in preparation for an early rise the next morning.

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Day 2 was pretty unreal. Karen and Grant woke up at 6am and the sky was completely void of clouds and they were all sitting down in the valley. But when I got up at 7am the entire campsite was shrouded in fog. It cleared out again during our breakfast, but by the time we departed the campsite, it had rolled it once more. So we figured it was just going to be one of those days where you never know what you’re going to get and just have to hope for the best. At least we didn’t have to battle the heat!

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Like I said, this was my second time on the trail to Opal Cone. Overall the entire trail from the parking lot to Mamquam isn’t particularly difficult. It’s not technical at all, but the trail has a lot of cobble sized rocks, so it does get tiring on the ankles and feet after a while. The trail meanders up and down for the first couple kilometres and then it drops down to the river at the base of Mount Garibaldi before climbing slowly back up the side of Opal Cone. There’s a lot of ascent, but it’s very gradual, so it’s not a bad trail for newer hikers. We couldn’t see Mount Garibaldi or Opal Cone on this hike, but we worked our way up the side of the mountain until we eventually reached the trail branch for the Opal Cone summit.

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We’d planned to go up to the cone, but it was still very foggy and we could tell based on the elevation of the clouds that it would be cloudy at the top, so we decided to continue on and hope for the best on the way back. Karen and Grant had initially been thinking they might only go as far as Opal Cone (which is 6.5km one way), but everyone was feeling good, so we continued down into the glacial flat as a group. I don’t know if glacial flat is the correct term, but that’s what it looks like to me. There’s a big glacier behind Opal Cone that melts into a lake surrounded by rocky moraines from the historical glaciers. The whole area is really one big volcanic desert, with lots of dust and little vegetation, it can be brutal on a hot day.

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The other side of the glacial lake was as far as Brandon and I made it on our last trip, so we were now moving into new territory. It was almost as if the weather knew it and as soon as we started making our way into the next valley, the clouds lifted and a few streaks of sun shone through. It never lifted off completely, but we were rewarded with some beautiful dusty views looking down the valley. There were several wash outs along the trail, 2 were before Opal Cone, but the most difficult one is on the way to Rampart Ponds (pictured below), which is the next campsite on the trail, located between Opal and Mamquam Lake.

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My favourite part of this valley was the river that runs through the center. When you cross over it, the bridge is actually located at the merging of two rivers. The main river is incredibly chalky and silty, while the other is beautiful clear freshwater. So we stopped here to replenish our water bladders before climbing the last pass up to the campsite. You arrive at the campsite pretty much as soon as you crest the pass and there are several tent pads and ponds. I figured this would be my last trip to Elfin if I made it to Mamquam, but now me and Brandon are determined to return once more and stay at Rampart Ponds! Although I’d caution against it on a particularly hot day since there’s absolutely zero shade to be found.

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From Rampart Ponds, you continue up another few minutes to the top of the pass, where you have the most incredible 360 degree view of Opal Cone and Mount Garibaldi on one side (on a clear day) and a view down to Mamquam Lake on the other. Rampart Ponds is 3.5km from Opal Cone and it’s a final 1.5km to Mamquam. The only problem is it’s a pretty big descent to get down to Mamquam, so even though it sounds short, it’s a big climb on the return trip.

Either way, we were so close we were determined to get there for lunch. We trundled on and I really enjoyed this section of the trail. It was still cloudy, but they had lifted up a bit and me and Karen both loved the terrain. Everything we’d hiked that morning had been desert, but the hike down to Mamquam is proper alpine greenery and meadows, so it made for a nice change of pace. We arrived shortly after 1pm to grumbling tummies.

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As much as I wanted to eat my lunch, I’d been struck by the urge to swim and knew if I didn’t do it right away, I wouldn’t do it at all. It was not a warm day. I hiked in pants all day and while I only wore a t-shirt, it was chilly when you weren’t moving. So I stripped down to my swimsuit and went in. It’s a beautiful large lake with sloping mountain walls, but it’s very shallow at the foot of the lake. Fortunately, it’s also pretty sandy, so even though I had to walk out a fair way without shoes, it wasn’t painful. At first it felt cold, but I warmed up really quick because the water was actually warmer than the air. I convinced Grant and Brandon to join me and I ended up swimming for the better part of 15-20 minutes, which is substantially longer than I can usually stand to swim in alpine lakes. After I got out I got cold fast though. So I quickly bundled up in my puffy. Surprisingly the guys never got cold and it made for a funny contrast with me in my puffy while they ate their lunches shirtless.

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We really enjoyed the lake, especially because we were the only people there. In general, we didn’t see a lot of people while hiking and Rampart Ponds had actually been completely empty when we hiked through. The slog back up out of the valley wasn’t as bad as I anticipated. The forest was filled will blueberries, so we all did some picking and snacking on the way up.

After that though it was a pretty long slog back. I didn’t mind the hike back to Opal Cone too much, me and Brandon mostly fantasized about where we would explore on our next trip, but the section from Opal back to Elfin was brutal. Opal was clouded in again on our return, so we skipped it, which I don’t regret. My feet were pounding by the time we got there, so we just did our best to get to Elfin. In total it was 22km of hiking, which is a lot to do in one day and the most I’ve done this season. We were all starving when we got back and happily settled in to have our supper.

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We crammed ourselves into Karen and Grant’s tent for a few games of cards before bed, but we were all exhausted, so we called it shortly before 10pm. Unfortunately, it started pouring just as we finished. We didn’t know how long it would last, so we all ran around like banshees trying to do our nightly routines and get in our tents… only for the rain to stop about 10 minutes after we were done. If only we’d played one more round of cards we would have missed it.

Everything was wet in the morning, but the tents actually dried out pretty good before we packed them and nothing was too wet when we took down camp. It was a brisk morning and we all kept our rain jackets on for the return hike. In general the clouds were higher on the way back than the way in and we did catch a glimpse of some views. There’s more uphill on the way back than I remember, but nothing too bad. Once we reached the Red Heather Hut we totally powered down the last 5km and back to the car. We finished with pizza and beer at Backcountry Brewing, which is quickly becoming our new tradition!

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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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