Tales from TrailPeak.com, Part Three.
Friday: L'Anse Au Clair to Forteau (15km)
Following an ancient coastline where some of the oldest rocks on earth which sit in contrast to the pillow soft vegetation (crowberry/blackberry) underfoot, you are just feet away from the sea on low cliffs (30 feet) over a rugged rocky shoreline. The route follows a mostly flat benchland with a ridge-line and fascinating rock display above you to the right. The ancient footpath that linked communities is now a hiker's dream, we saw no one else on the trail other than two grad students from Scotland coming from Forteau to look for ancient rock, they told us this is some of the oldest rock on earth with ancient life forms in it. We saw two old sleds (they used dogsleds as taxis in winter), and a few wrecked items down on the rocks, the path follows the ledge closely and we enjoyed being one of the few to hike this pristine seashore route. At the end, a glorious waterfall, and a beach walk, it's all written up in detail on trailpeak.com complete with downloadable GPS / images. About 5 hours of hiking (with lots of picture taking), complete with porpoises, marmots, and very few bugs thanks to the breeze on the shore.
Saturday: Forteau to Point Amour Lighthouse (6km)
We were excited to wake up and do this relatively short hike from English Point (parking area and trailhead) to the historic Point Amour lighthouse, the tallest in Atlantic Canada. Again following the ancient footpath under cliffs, the narrower path was enjoyable once the highway dropped from sight. We were alone again, the sea, the cliffs, the crowberry soft footing, and even though overgrown with new crowberry, clearly we were following an ancient route worn in over the last few hundred years. Why go to Stonehenge when you can feel a primordial connection here? We finished with a beach walk then a short access road walk to the historic lighthouse, magnificent in its size and presence over the rough shoreline. The 1922 wreck of one of Britain's most important warships lies at this point, since demolished by the British, likely out of embarrassment for running aground, the wreck proves that these are challenging waters with fog, icebergs, and swift current. Sunset at the lighthouse allowed for some fantastic pictures, we had the whole area to ourselves and wondered what it would be like to be a lighthouse keeper. This is a must see hiker's stopover. We felt a certain pride in walking into this important national historic site.
Sunday: 3 trail segments i) Battery Trails ii) Capstan Island to West St. Modeste iii) West St. Modeste to Pinware.
We woke up to a fogged in day, not uncommon in these parts. Bonnie Goudie was our guide for the battery trail segment, which started out with a good climb up the Battery from the trail-head (see TrailPeak for maps / GPS). The Battery (named after WWII gun placement as U-boats used to ply the waters of the straight of Belle Isle), is the highest point of land in the region, with magnificent views. This leg of the footpath is still under development, and may undergo some re-routing closer to the cliffs (instead of forest), which we eventually did get to. By that time, the fog had lifted somewhat and the views down to L'Anse Au Loup were fantastic, the winds howling up top, the old pole path and berry picking trail just a few feet from the cliffs. A plaque commemorating a dramatic rescue on the cliffs tells how a local fisherman (our guides Grandfather) was the one to bravely offer to descend the cliffs to assist a woman in the overnight rescue who had fallen while berry picking.
These two legs start and end at parking locations and can be done by anyone with relative ease from the trailheads at road. We really enjoyed these two legs, both similarly constructed and designed by Stewart Pike. Both trails weave and dip along the shoreline, over barrens, up some hills for vantage points, down to the rocks, but always in close range to the shore, your senses are overloaded by the magnificent scenery, crashing waves, and, close-up views. Stewart has done a remarkable job on this trail. It's well designed and easy to follow. Sections of scraped rock, crowberry, signage, logos, and crushed rock make this path a pleasure. Our local guide Bob Hancock provided lots of local history, and, we even saw a seal having a nap on the beach towards the end of the hike. All the details can be found on www.trailpeak.com, just search for the hikes, or check back here later for the posted links. Agnes Pike, mayor of West St. Modeste, has spearheaded the local trail building efforts and provided a wonderful story on local history related to the footpath (see below) and if you stay at the Oceanview resort, which is close to several local trails, you can meet Agnes and ask about local heritage and history and the way of life when the footpath was the only way to get from community to community. We really enjoyed our stay at the Oceanview and extended our stay make this our basecamp for a few days. I may re-send this later with some names, and links to the TrailPeak trail write-ups. Images to follow also, but I'll look for a few now.
Interview with Mayor of West St. Modeste -- Champion of local trails and footpath restoration
Mayor of West St. Modeste Agnes Pike grew up at L'Anse au Diable - near the Battery, which form the high cliffs and plateau where the footpath meanders past L'Anse Au Loup. She'd come out of school in the evenings as a young girl, go to the top of the hill, where the "pole path" was, taking a berry sack for the patridge berries close to the cliffs. Bakeapple's grow best in the marshes up on the Battery, and are a local favourite. Note: Hikers can pick and taste Bakeapples today and the yellow ones are ripest.
Agnes tells how "the whole route from Red Bay down the coast followed the pole path", these early telegraph poles being located on the original footpath. "What way did you come" would be most often be answered with, "I came the pole path" in the 1930s and 1940s. Dogsled teams were used in the winter, which often followed more direct lines, one of which was called the "snowball" run which went up and over the Battery and into the L'Anse au Loup valley. Since the bays were frozen in winter, this often formed part of the route. In 1964, Agnes came across in with a dog sled team in a coach box wrapped in blankets from Blanc Sablon to L'Anse au Diable in the winter when the highway was closed.
"In those days before the highway the footpath was the only way" says Agnes. "Coastal communities were all on the water, where the highway exists now was bush in the old days. Along the seashore was life" Agnes says. Sunday morning her father would go in the boat and steam along to Pinware where all the kids got out of the boat and went to Church. At "10 or 11 years old" she would walk to West St. Modeste every week with her Grandmother. There was no grocery store where they lived, so they'd walk and jump the brooks, lugging bought items such as cheese, tins of fruit, and canned cream. Otherwise the family made everything. In terms of outdoor gear, there was no Mountain Equipment Co-op or REI , so when dad needed to go hunting, "Grandmother would cut the pattern for the canvas tent, Mom would sew it and three hours later a tent was made" says Mayor Agnes Pike, "and he was ready to go". They slept on deerskins and spruce boughs.
Moreover at Christmas, they went from Community to Community to celebrate, and would go to the "time" (dance) in L'Anse au Loup by sled team. This was no five minute drive, they'd sled over, dance all night and party till three a.m. (stepdance) then take the dogsled team home.
"When we grew up it was so simple" Agnes said. Agnes managed fish plants from 1974 to 1992, and has recently restored the old fishing village below her hotel, and, championed the building of the hike up Bouqet's hill for the view, and the local legs of the Pioneer footpath. She invites visitors to come hike the footpath, experience the dramatic coastline, chat with her, and get a glimpse into the way of life built on the sea.