Apparently it's called 'mizzle' - a mix of mist and drizzle - but whatever the name it seems to be the dominant weather pattern here, on the easternmost piece of rock in North America. Although F definitely has her objections I actually kind of like it. It's much more comfortable for hiking with a heavy pack than hot sun, and it even keeps the bugs down somewhat. We saw a lot of mizzle on our trip, along with hot sun, a few icebergs, some world-class scenery, and more whales than I've seen in the rest of my life combined (by at least an order of magnitude, and despite living on the west coast for the past 14 years, with three month-long kayak-based trips in there).
For our daughter F, aged 5, it would also be the longest hiking trip she's done by a wide margin. 75 km over 10 days / 9 nights, with 8 of those nights in a tent. Of course, the same could be said for our almost 2 year old N... but she was carried for substantial portions of the trip. That, combined with Line being 5 months pregnant, made us wonder if we'd actually complete the trip at all... but with the help of another family (Scott and Sandra who have a 7 year old, E, and a 4 year old, H, of thier own) we decided to keep with our plans and at least attempt it, even once we knew kid #3 was on the way.
We arrived in St John's the day before Canada Day, with just enough time to see the city as well as pick up some fuel and perishables before everybody closed shop for the stat holiday. During the planning stages I was keen to just start hiking right away, but as our jetlagged family celebrated Canada Day in a community centre with rain just pouring down outside I was happy we ultimately decided on the buffer day.
The trip started with a cab ride to Cape Spear, the true easternmost point in North America. We donned our rain gear for the driving mizzle and set about looking at the lighthouse, old gun placements, and interpretive signs before starting south along the trail proper. The kids liked the period costumes, but I was mostly interested in how the foghorn seemed to echo back to us from the sea. You could actually hear the blast rolling off into the distance. Sandra hypothesized that it was echoing off the water droplets, and I think she's probably right.
The terrain immediately felt familiar - with the tuckamore (low stunted conifers that look just like krumholz) and heathery slopes dotted with rocks it seemed just like the sub-alpine terrain back home in SW BC. The only difference being that we were actually at sea level, and there were no craggy peaks above us. But in the mizzle and fog you couldn't really see the ocean, or that there were no peaks. There was no shortage of bogs either; the trail was pretty wet, and by mid-day I'd already soaked my shoes and was hiking in crocs. E hiked like a champ for the full 9 km, and even carried his own sleeping bag. F and H slowed down near the end of the day, but did make it in the end. N hiked herself a bit, but spent most of the time in the carrier.
Shortly before reaching camp we saw our first iceberg looming out of the fog. We had a tough time finding "the" campsite, but eventually settled on a somewhat level patch of heather resting atop a cliffy point that protruded out into the Atlantic (47.4727, -52.6820). The setting was stellar, but the half-meter deep heather made the interior of the tent seem like a half-deflated bouncy castle. Comfortable, but difficult to keep your gear organized.
The next day we hiked through Petty Harbour and checked out the awesome "mini aquarium" there. It's really set up well for kids, with a variety of local specimens and even a "touch tank" where the kids can pick up starfish, hermit crabs, snails, and the like. Line had also arranged in advance to have a food stash there. It was pretty luxurious to only be carrying 1 day's worth of food for the first day, but now we loaded up with 4 days of food since we'd be entering a long leg without any towns. Since Line was pregnant I had most of the equipment and used the standard "fill the pack entirely with food, and then strap all the equipment on the outside" method of packing familiar to me from my expedition days... fortunately at this point in my life "the equipment" mostly consists of a tent.
The hike for the day consisted of going over "the big hill". F took off with E and H, where they proclaimed themselves to be "super-claw cheetahs" and ran to the front of the pack. I basically didn't see them again until camp, as with Nova and all the stuff I (for real) couldn't keep up with them. Camp that evening was a dry patch of heather surrounded by bog (47.4444, -52.6802). One of the nice things about all the bog was getting the chance to see different kinds of carnivorous plants. Sundew and Purple Pitcher Plant (which is actually Newfoundlands official flower!). But is was another camp of drinking bog water.
The next morning F declared herself to be sick. She did seem a little off... but it was hard to tell if she really wasn't feeling well enough to hike. We thought we'd need to bail, but Sandra offered to carry our tent, and Scott offered to carry N. This let me carry Line's pack (strapped to the back of my pack) and Line could carry F. I think it was hard for Scott and Sandra's daughter, H, to see F being carried while she had to hike herself; there were some tears and she had trouble leaving camp. F asked "What if daddy gets sick too?"; "I don't think you've got the kind of sickness you have to worry about daddy catching." was our answer. We did have fears, however, that there might be a full-on outbreak of "observational disease transmission" amongst the children, resulting in everybody demanding to be carried (and a possible publication in the medical literature)... but H is a trooper, started hiking, and the outbreak never materialized. F did end up hiking on and off during the morning, and hiked most of the afternoon too. By the end of the day she was pretty energetic, but we made sure to restrict candy intake ("sugar upsets the stomach") as well as boisterous play "to make sure she could save her energy for hiking the next day"... but also to make sure she didn't learn to just declare herself sick such that we'd have to carry her the whole way.
We made it to camp at Miner Point - the first official campsite of the trip (47.4056, -52.7052). When I came back to the tent and told F about the roofless outhouse she demanded to go see it, so we went on a short expedition. Of course (?) she wanted to sit on it... and then pooped, but we didn't have any toilet paper so I ended up carrying her, bum to the wind, back to camp. Back in the tent everything except our carefully-tended sleeping bags was either damp or wet. A chandelier of wet socks, pants, and underwear dangled from the "attic" at the top of the tent, filling the air with a rich bouquet of hiking scents.
Somehow, overnight, things managed to dry out a bit. We also started to see a lot of whales. I saw more whales in one day than I have in my whole life living on the BC coast (which includes a number of kayak-based trips over a month in length). Fenya hiked the whole day, and even carried her own pack for most of it, so she's feeling better. Nova is actually doing a fair amount of hiking too. Of course, she doesn't hike all that fast... but it is nice to put her down and rest my back/neck occasionally. She insists that she wears her "dinosaur pack-kack" (which has a dinosaur pattern and little spikes) almost all of the time now, even sitting on my shoulders.
Shortly before camp we came to a very unique wave-powered geyser known as "The Spout". We had actually noticed it well in advance, as you can see it from parts of the trail to the North and it is unmistakable, even at a distance. It was very impressive. Somehow water from a river flows down a hole in the cliffs to the ocean below. Fairly regularly, presumably powered by the waves, water erupts back out of the hole just like a geyser (only, unlike a geyser, you don't need to wait around for hours just to see it a few times... and it's not scalding hot so you can get up close - double bonus). We decided to cook dinner there, since it was an excellent spot to watch this unique quirk of the landscape as well as numerous whales. A challenge was issued to capture the kids, a surfacing whale, and The Spout erupting, all in the same photo... and Line succeeded! There was also an iceberg visible from our location, but the angle just didn't really exist to capture it at the same time.
We came to another official campsite at Little Bald Head (47.3627, -52.7287); this one even had tent platforms! The kids claimed one of the platforms as a play area, and started investigating the adhesion properties of tree-sap and charcoal to human skin. After I returned from setting up our tent I noticed a squirrel investigating Scott and Sandra's bear-proof food bag, which was sitting directly behind the kids. I failed to get a picture, though, because the squirrel moved when it saw me see it. Later, in a panic, that same squirrel would do a matrix-style running jump off of F's leg; she thought that was cool. The lay of the forest here seemed much different, with tall regular-shaped trees, and it even seemed like it might be dry sometimes. The climate had clearly changed in a short distance, probably just because we're no longer the furthest thing East on all of North America. We even managed to dry some things.
In the morning Scott and Sandra awoke to find that the squirrel had returned to their food bag in the night and chewed right through it. They are bear-proof, not rodent-proof. Fortunately the only casualties were the corners of a few chocolate bars and some jelly beans; no additional "jelly beans" were deposited in the bag by the squirrel. I was still unable to convince them to just leave their food in the middle of their tent (not the vestibule, and especially not pressed up against the outside of their tent, where a rodent might chew through their tent itself). Their bear-safe hiking skills are just too ingrained after a lifetime of trips through bear-country. That, and I think they are hesitant to put their tent in the washing machine after the trip (which I regularly do).
Later on the hike we came across another highlight - a complete moose skull and various other moose-related bones, just off the trail! We stop for a snack and play break with the bones. Just as we'd finished packing up and were about to leave F declared that she needed to pee, then upgraded it to a poo. Everybody hiked on while F sat on the potty and Line and I waited. And waited. This can be a bit of a recurring theme for us, and is actually quite trying. We know F hikes better with other kids, but are now stuck watching her (and our) chances of that evaporate as she takes forever sitting there waiting for her poop. Of course, in F's defence, it is rather hard to poo when you've got two people standing there waiting for you, telling you to hurry up and poo already. We promise ourselves to try and encourage that poo attempts happen at the beginning of break time next time.
As we hike on there are just so many whales. We eventually stop looking out to sea when we hear a whale spout because, at some point, you've just got to get some hiking done and can't watch every whale that comes along. N was very excited to watch them all, though, and would often point them out from my shoulders. This was the first day (of many) she refused to nap; this may have been related to the whales. During one of our snack breaks a couple of whales pass by just barely off shore, so close we could even watch them underwater.
At camp in Freshwater Cove (47.3178, -52.7477) we run into another family of locals. They confirm that the "loud blowhole whales" are humpbacks, and the quiet ones are minke, and it's normal to see lots whales this time of year. They also supplied a pre-made campfire and N had her very first roasted marshmallow. All the kids' metabolisms are in full swing by this point, and Line and I are running low on food as a result; fortunately our kids were keen on the other family's leftovers, leave Line and I to consume all our "mashed potato icebergs in a sea of bearnaise sauce" on our own. There is a lot less bog here - we had our first camp with crystal-clear water, and I even kept my boots dry all day. There are a lot of biting flies, though. N especially is being eaten, but it doesn't seem to bother her.
The next day, hiking into Bay Bulls and our first stay under a roof for a while, started out rainy but became sunny and hot. I actually missed the mist, as it was quite warm. F hiked in her underwear. Just outside of town we saw somebody's well labelled food cache totally chewed apart and littered everywhere by animals. If you are going to cache food you probably need something more robust than a cardboard box, even if not in bear country.
Arriving at the Airbnb was a physical but not mental rest - we needed to wash the kids, ourselves, and the clothes. Scott and I went grocery shopping and I was reminded of the resupply scene from Das
Boot, where they are carrying bananas and the like down into the ship and cramming fresh fruit into every nook and cranny. We got back and chopped up the fruit and veggies for snacks while we cooked dinner. This kids simply devoured all the produce, leaving the adults happy that they were listening to their bodies' demand for nutrients, but disappointed that there wasn't any left for us.
The next day we packed our things and squeezed in a whale watching tour before we continued our hike out of town. This let us see yet more (or, probably, the same) humpbacks, even closer. Line thought she recognized the mom and calf. Also we saw tons of birds, including puffins - the last box Sandra wanted to check. I was surprised to learn that puffins just live out in the middle of the ocean when not nesting. It was downright hot leaving town; better once we left the asphalt, but F still hiked in her underwear and I couldn't blame her. We later watched the tour boat sail by from on top of the cliffs at our camp site (47.2963, -52.7772), just outside of town. We had to hike for water, but it was a nice spot.
During the night the wind blew up, causing me to batten down the hatches due to our exposed position, but the wind never really came. We rose early the next morning for our longest day - 12km. Much of this was through town of Witless Bay, so there was an ice cream stop, which was good for morale. Overall the kids did great - we made it to camp at Camel Beach (47.2531, -52.8040) with some complaining and foot-dragging, but overall not too bad. The kids ate a lot. This was our first camp where we weren't separated from the ocean by a sketchy or impassible cliff, and the shore wasn't a bit of jagged rock being pounded by waves. I actually went for dip! It felt so good to be (relatively) clean. F danced around in her underwear holding some kelp, declared herself to be the queen of the ocean, and started signing a song about it to the tune of "For the First Time in Forever". I went to bed feeling a bit sad that the trip will be over soon, but thankful for the experience with my family. Our youngest, N, 2, and Scott and Sandra's oldest, E, 7, have started wishing each other goodnight and goodmorning through the tent walls. E even invited her over to his tent; N just said "ok", opened our tent, and walked over, without even asking.
Since the forecast was for rainy later in the day we got up earlier, and did manage to hike for two hours before it hit. Then it was back to the standard cold and wet. F had some major rain-related meltdowns, and abandoned her pack, but I waited it out with her and she did eventually go back for it. Many complaints were about the "hole" in her jacket which supposedly let all the water in; she even claimed we might as well just throw it away... Line and I were confused, but eventually figured out she meant the hole where her head comes out (which is well covered by her hood, btw, and ultimately it was actually just some hair poking out that had gotten wet). We had a tough time hiding our laughter and trying to remain serious... Once F caught up to N, though, the fun began and they were running and splashing in puddles - the way it should be. The hiking brought us through another community, Mobile Bay, but this one had no ice cream available. It seemed like a full-on storm might blow in overnight, so we actually backtracked and camped in the woods (47.2314, -52.8260). Both tents were touching trees on all sides, but we managed to cram them into the forest.
Spirits were shockingly high in camp, though, once we had some tarps set up. N hoped on a backpack and started yelling about how she was riding motorcycle, while E and F cheered her on. Simultaneously F was dancing for all she's worth, burning enough calories that she only needed a long-sleeved T-shirt while the rest of us felt freezing cold wrapped up in primaloft. Stuff like this went on for hours. What a difference a tarp makes.
The final day was a short hike to Tors Cove, where we stopped by the bookstore Running the Goat. In addition to selling "regular" local books, the curator there has all these old printing presses which she uses to typeset and print books which she then binds by hand. This kids and I both thought it was really cool. Then back to civilization - cell phones, cab rides, and other logistics - time to get back to St. Johns, and sort things out in town.
We weren't sure we were going to make it at all, but in the end I think everybody had a good time. There were some challenges, of course, but we have those at home too. Once more I was a sad for the trip to be over, happy that it happened, and thankful for the experience.
Say Nuth Khaw Yum
Discovery Islands Bike loop
East Coast Trail
Recent tips and thought
Pandemic pondering and wandering
Tweaking our haul-a-day
Making kids crampons
Digging a snowcave
Make a kid towing harness