Lord of Your Own Fjord

Arctic pleasures in Newfoundland's wet and wild Gros Morne National Park

Jul 1, 2002
Outside Magazine
Access & Resources: Gros Morne

Gros Morne National Park is open year-round. But to protect rock ptarmigan, arctic hare, and other sensitive species, access to Gros Morne mountain is closed from mid-May to late June. For park information, call 709-458-2417; www.parkscanada.gc.ca/grosmorne. For outfitted hiking and sea-kayaking trips, call Gros Morne Adventures (800-685-4624; www.grosmorneadventures.com).

Beachfront seclusion along Newfoundland's Gros Morne National Park

WE HAD SET UP CAMP at dusk and gone in search of water when both of our flashlights went dead. Anywhere else, this would have been a mundane enough incident, but we were in western Newfoundland, where the spruce forest blotted out the remaining light like death itself. Our situation felt forbidding. It felt Arctic.

Forbidding had not been part of the plan. My boyfriend and I had come to 772-square-mile Gros Morne National Park strictly to relax, and that afternoon we'd loaded up on chocolate chips and declared our desire to spend four days toodling around the slopes of Gros Morne, Newfoundland's second-highest peak and the park's centerpiece. We chose the well-marked James Callaghan Trail, a ten-mile round-trip.

After less than an hour of stumbling through the dark, Gros Morne served us its first bit of odd grace: A man carrying a flashlight, a cooler, and an umbrella came whistling toward us. He gave us his spare batteries and disappeared into the blackness.

The next day, we continued into the waist-high mosaic of springy conifers locally called tuckamore. The place was strung with lakes. Lakes fringed with raspberry and blueberry bushes. Lakes with moose thrashing and bellowing in the shallows. Lakes with woodland caribou grazing quietly on the shore like the polite Canadians they are.

We climbed the rocky trail toward the shoulder of 2,644-foot Gros Morne and entered a misplaced slice of the Arctic. The frigid currents off Newfoundland keep temperatures low enough that animal residents of intemperate spots like Baffin Island make this their southernmost home. An arctic hare the size of a collie hurtled toward me. Clearing the shoulder, we saw the park's famous Long Range: green-topped plateaus edged by cliffs that plunge 2,000 feet into deep-blue freshwater fjords. Although some of these waterways are ten miles long and 500 feet deep, park officials are quick to point out they aren't technically fjords, because their water isn't salty.

On the mountain's cloud-shrouded uppermost reaches, the mood was funereal. While the rest of the Long Range is gray granite and gneiss, Gros Morne is rose-colored quartzite. The light was pink and ancient, somehow dim and bright at the same time. The cairns marking the trail looked like early Christian crosses. We crunched slowly across the rock, as awed and quiet as monks.