This route follows the highland of the Blow-Me-Down Mountain and Lewis Hills from the Bay of Islands to Port au Port Bay. One of the highlights is that it traverses the highest geographic elevation on Newfoundland Island - a bonus if you are a "peak bagger". I have done all of the trails in Gros Morne National Park, including the famed and over-rated Gros Morne Backcountry route, and can state without equivocation that the Blow-Me-Down/Lewis Hills route is by far the most spectacular and better route. This route is more difficult but more rewarding in many ways. The total distance is approximately 60 kilometers and can be done in 4 days. The route description and estimated times to cover the route are taken from an actual expedition undertaken on August 7- 10, 1995. The writer has done this approximate route three times and has done numerous day-hikes into this region from many entry points. There are no marked trails, no established campsites and probably no other hikers. This is a wilderness area in every sense of the word. The terrain is difficult and challenging. Expert route-finding skills are essential. This route description is not a substitute for navigation and route-finding ability. It is highly recommended that only an expert in map and compass navigation and an experienced backcountry hiker undertake this route. This route is recommended only for the hiker who can navigate and hike the route entirely without this guide. However, such a hiker may reap some benefit from this record of our experience. It is merely a record of our experience on August 7 - 10, 1995. The intervening time has certainly affected changes on the vegetation and terrain. The hiker today, in attempting to follow this guide, will have to make revisions and must be capable of proceeding entirely without it. The purpose of publishing this guide is this: We can all benefit from each others' experience. The prospective hiker may benefit from our experience just as we have from the experience of others who have gone this route before us.
General description: This hike should be attempted only by an experienced backcountry hiker. Expert topographic map reading and compass navigation is required. The waypoints given in this guide can be entered into the data bank of a GPS and followed as a route. Note, of course, that only 3 digits of the east and north coordinates are given. The other three or four digits can be read off the relevant topographic map. There are no marked trails, no established campsites and probably no other hikers. This is a wilderness area in every sense of the word. The terrain is difficult and challenging. Expert route-finding skills are essential. The total distance is approximately 60 kilometers and can be done in 4 days. The estimated times to cover the described route are taken from an actual expedition undertaken on August 7- 10, 1995. It should be noted that the times given in the 'detailed trail guide' are the times we arrived at or departed from particular points. It can be used to give some indication of times needed to cover certain parts of the trail. The terrain varies greatly. You will encounter steep rocky slopes, dry river beds, boreal forest, wet boglands and tundra-like bogs and fens. You may encounter rivers that vary from knee-deep to being uncrossable, depending on local rainfall. Most of the route is over the highlands where the trail is dry and firm, and the scenery is magnificent. Very little is given in this guide to describe the terrain, unless it is particularly difficult, scenic or otherwise remarkable. The joy of discovery is left to the adventurer. Location of Blow-Me-Down Mountains/Lewis Hills: This range of mountains is on the west coast of the island of Newfoundland, southwest of the Bay of Islands and north of St. George's Bay. The highest point on the route described is at 910098, map 12B/16, 2672 feet above sea level. Approximate latitude and longitude are 48º 50' N, 58º 29' W. The starting point of this expedition, grid reference 101350, map 12G/1, is just 4 kilometers beyond Frenchmans Cove, on route 450 west of Corner Brook, on the south shore of the Bay of Islands. It terminates at 798935,(map sheet 12 B/10) 3.5 k in, on the Mine Road, Point au Mal, Port au Port Bay. Topographic maps needed: · Bay of Islands 12G/1 · Georges Lake 12B/16 · Stephenville 12B/10 · Shag Island 12B/15 All references are from Canadian 1:50 000 topographic maps: Available from: · Canada Map Office, Surveys and Mapping Branch, Department of Energy Mines and Resources, Ottawa, Canada, KIA 0E9 Map procurement should be done in advance. Local sources, though usually well stocked, may not have the sheets you require. Gear and equipment suggestions: This 'gear guide' is not exhaustive, because it is assumed that experienced backcountry hikers have their own list of essential equipment, but rather points out some of the necessities dictated by the climate and terrain of this region. A 70 liter+ internal or external frame expedition pack with a well-fitted comfortable suspension system should be sufficient to carry all you need for four days. A sleeping bag rated at least -5ºC is recommended if you are a cold sleeper. Summertime temperatures can dip low at night in the mountains. Depending on the season, the amount of clothing you need will vary. Be prepared to dress warmly. Determine the weather forecast before departure, and act accordingly. During any season, dress for the current weather conditions. However, be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. Waterproof raingear is essential. Weather conditions, which can include high wind and rain, can change suddenly and dramatically. A walking staff should be among your list of essential equipment. It can be a great third leg when fording a stream or negotiating a boulder slope. A pair of sturdy, waterproof hiking boots would be acceptable footwear. Even though most of the route is dry, early morning dew and boggy areas can be wet. If your menu includes hot meals, then a lightweight backpacking stove is necessary. Firewood cannot be found in the barren highlands, and in the fragile mountain environment, a campfire would leave an unsightly scar. Some of the tuckamore groves, though small and stunted, have been living for a hundred years. Tearing off limbs for the indulgence of a momentary pleasure, is an unthinkable invasion, which would take a century to heal. Drinking water is plentiful and easily obtained. Keep your supply topped up at every opportunity. There are animals and maybe other humans present. Filtering or otherwise purifying your drinking water is a good idea. Wildlife: Animal encounters are almost certain. Moose, caribou, black bears, foxes, coyotes, snowshoe hare and arctic hare are among the most common animals. Numerous species of birds also live in these mountains. Most encounters involve just a glimpse of the fleeing animal. All necessary precautions should be taken to avoid an unpleasant encounter. Snakes cannot be found anywhere on the island of Newfoundland. Mosquitos, blackflies, stouts, wasps, hornets and bees may be encountered, depending on the season. July may be the worst time for blackflies. Minimum environmental impact policy: It is recommended that hikers observe a minimum environmental impact policy. Avoid open fires and leave wildflowers for others to enjoy. Be aware that wild animals and natural areas can be hazardous. Caution and prudence are recommended when route options are being considered. Carry out whatever you carry in.
Detailed route guide: DAY I Turn left off the highway onto a gravel parking lot. Here's where a trail begins.(7:40 a.m.) Keep your camera and binoculars ready. The Blow-Me-Down Mountains are continuously in view along this section of trail. It generally follows Blow-Me-Down Brook for about 5 k to the mouth of the canyon. The trail follows a compass bearing of 154º. After about 4k, the trail becomes less distinct, stay on the right bank and follow it into the narrow mouth of the canyon (grid reference 120301).(9:30 a.m.) Here's a good place to take a break. The view up the canyon is magnificent. The brown peridotite walls of the canyon rise to about 1600 feet on either side. Continuing, on a compass bearing of 263º up the bottom of the canyon, an hour's walk will bring you to a small stream of water tumbling down the cliff (grid reference 105297).(10:33 a.m.) You may want to water up here. This is the last water you will see for several kilometers. Your objective now should be to climb out of the canyon. Follow the contour along the slope from the waterhole to a point at grid reference 100298. Zigzag up the shoulder, following a switchback slope that you can comfortably manage, compass bearing 186º. Pick your route carefully. The shattered rocks on the slope are unstable at best. The utmost caution is advised. Less than an hour and a quarter of strenuous climbing and you are out of the canyon, elevation 1600'.(11:45 a.m.) It's time for a rest and a lunch stop as you reach grid reference 098290. The view of Blow-Me-Down canyon from here is inspiring! About 1.5 k away, compass bearing 304º, Blow-Me-Down Brook cascades into the canyon. (12:36 p.m.) Set a compass bearing of 184º. You continue to climb, with the canyon on the right, for about 3k. The route follows the canyon to where it gives way to the bogland. (1:21 p.m.)You now move onto another map sheet, 12B/16, at grid reference 095263, elevation 2000'. Take a compass bearing of 208º, to grid reference 075221, the northeast arm of Simms Brook Canyon, 4k away. The route now takes you over a fascinating wetland of string bogs and alpine fens. You may encounter nesting Canada Geese or spot any one of a number of marsh birds that favor this wet alpine environment. Choose your steps carefully to avoid trampling the fragile vegetation. Keep an eye on your compass, the many "flashetts" (small ponds) will force you to take a zigzag route. Within three kilometers, your route will begin to slope down toward the northeast arm of Simms Brook Canyon. Upon reaching the ravine at grid reference 075221, choose your crossing place carefully.(3:49 p.m.) We didn't name this ravine "Ominous Gulch" for nothing! Before leaving Ominous Gulch, water up. Water is scarce until you get to Simms Brook Canyon. (4:42 p.m.)Take a compass bearing of 270º to the top of the hill at grid reference 056220, elevation 1950'. From the top of the hill the bearing to Simms Canyon is 233º. The route is much drier now and an hour's hiking should take you from Ominous Gulch to the edge of Simms Canyon, grid reference 049215.(5:39 p.m.) Another notable view! Across the canyon, compass bearing 272º, a little stream descends the 1 000 foot canyon wall in a series of spectacular leaps. (5:55 p.m.)From here you may begin the descent to the canyon floor and the first campsite. Proceed carefully. The slope, though steep, is manageable. Keep away from the gully on the left, and upon reaching the bottom,(6:25 p.m.) a suitable site to pitch a tent can be found to the right of the gully near 044217. Avoid camping on the dry riverbed. As tempting as it may be, it is a recipe for disaster! This area is subject to flash flooding following heavy rain. The canyon walls act as a huge funnel, sending all the rainwater into the narrow stream bed at the bottom, changing a pleasant trickle into a raging torrent within minutes! You may find that the water of Simms Brook, which has percolated through several kilometers of sand and gravel, is surprisingly, though pleasantly, cool! This site is an excellent spot to spend a few days exploring the canyon. The way out, if you wish to continue on to the Lewis Hills, is to follow the stream through the canyon. DAY II To reach the Serpentine River from here, continue on out to the canyon mouth. (8:00 a.m.) The route for the next 2 k is along the river bank between the 1200' canyon walls. As you leave the campsite behind, the gravel canyon floor gives way to huge boulders in a narrow gorge. Pick your way carefully. Stay on the left side of the stream until you reach the 500 foot contour 040195, (9:15 a.m.) The stream flows to the left of the small hill, compass bearing 249º. Your route is to the right of the hill, bearing 254º, 021189. The route gradually angles to the right, away from Simms Brook, following moose trails and open bogs, and is very wet. (10.30 a.m.) From the edge of the ridge you may get a glimpse of the Serpentine River, your crossing place is at 010180, compass bearing 227º. Some of the biggest black bears in the province live in this valley. Time to shake the bear bells! Chances are, if they hear you or see you, you may not see them. From this ridge you also get a view of the Lewis Hills. Your objective is to gain entrance through the mouth of the canyon, Jack's Canyon, compass bearing 227º, the same direction as your river crossing. A distinct moose trail will take you down off the ridge to the open bog at 018187. Upon entering the forest across the bog, follow a compass bearing of 227º to the river. (11:35 a.m.) Take a much needed break here on the river bank. If the water is low, gravel bars should be exposed along the inside of the river's curves. Crossing should not pose much of a problem. If, however the river is high, wading may be hazardous. One possible alternative is to hike to the river's egress at Serpentine Lake. To do so, pick a route away from the river, through the woods at a compass bearing of 84º to Simms Brook. Follow it to the lake. You may find a sport fisherman there who can be convinced to ferry you across the river, preferably to a point on your original route. Having crossed the river (1:37 p.m.) set a compass bearing of 236º through the forest to a small bog at 000173 From the bog, follow the same compass bearing over a low ridge and into the mouth of Jack's Canyon. (2:30 p.m.) Follow Jack's Brook up the canyon, keeping high on the bank to the left. Upon reaching the bowl at 985164 (3:53 p.m.) set a course to the right 330º. Follow the tiny rivulet among the mossy boulders through the pass at 981169. (4:45 p.m.)At the top you should be looking down onto several small ponds. Continue on down and keep the largest pond on your left. You are in peridotite country again, and the vegetation disappears. Follow the side of the pond to its egress at 976173, there you will find a perfect campsite on a level grassy bank. (5:14 p.m.) This site is also an excellent place to spend a few days exploring. Within a one kilometer radius to the northwest, east and south, are spectacular views across canyons and wooded valleys. DAY III (8:23 a.m.) The route from here may be a matter of personal preference. The landscape is wide open. There are no trees, in fact there is not much vegetation of any kind. Rope Cove Canyon is the next major landmark. The best route from your campsite is a compass bearing of 278º which takes you between Bud's Ponds at 968173. (9:33 a.m.) Watering up is advised before leaving the ponds. A compass bearing of 224º will bring you to the third Bud's Pond. Walking around the pond to the right or left will bring you to a little cataract 959163. Water up. (10:15 a.m.) A course of 230º, for 2 kilometers and you are at the edge of Rope Cove Canyon, 944148. (11:06 a.m.)A good place for a lunch stop with a view'. The canyon at this point is about 1000'deep. The view is breathtaking. Leaving Rope Cove Canyon, (12:26 p.m.) continue around to the south. At 940135 set a course of 204º, for the next 3 k, to a point at 927106. As you leave Rope Cove Canyon behind the terrain slopes downward a little. To the south east is the beginning of the Fox Island River valley. For about one kilometer your route steadily climbs from 1850'to 2300'. For about a kilometer the route is over a wetland of bogs and fens, descending into another tributary of Fox Island river at 927106, (3:02 p.m.). Cabox, the highest elevation on Newfoundland island, is in view ( compass bearing approx. 232º) as you ascend. Take a compass bearing on Cabox, 910097, walk straight toward it. You will find that the landscape has changed somewhat. The irregular rocky outcrops and numerous small lakes make going in a straight line impossible. Keep Cabox in view. The last 500 m to the summit, on this side, involves negotiating some wet and slippery slopes.(4:30 p.m.) The top of Cabox is characterized by a field of shattered boulders. A low cairn marks the top, and a brass plug is the official mark. The view from Cabox, on a clear day, is a magnificent 360º panorama. Look around carefully, arctic hare have been seen on this mountain, and caribou also inhabit these barren slopes. Today's campsite is at 900058. The compass bearing from Cabox is 195º, just over 4 k. As you leave Cabox, head directly south to the 'round hill' 910084, about 1 k distant. From the 'round hill' pick your route to the west of a direct line to the campsite, 232º, in order to avoid the wetlands. Good camping sites can be found in a little green valley at 900058. Follow the stream. During the driest part of the year, you may camp on the level grassy banks between the courses of this tiny braided stream. (6:10 p.m.) This location would make an excellent base camp from which to explore the surrounding countryside. The butte to the east is surrounded by canyons, and the view from the end, 922040, is indescribable. Just a few meters from this campsite is the rim of a gorge we call Travertine Canyon. Caribou may be seen grazing the green hillsides, or seeking relief from summer heat on last winter's lingering snow. Arctic hare and ptarmigan live among the boulders and bonsai of this alpine environment. DAY IV The route takes you onto another map, sheet 12B/15 Shag Island. (7:55 a.m.) The first step on this final day is to take a bearing, 223º, to the hilltop at 894052. From there the route to Big Level follows two legs, in order to avoid losing altitude unnecessarily. Leg one, one kilometer, on a bearing of 213º, takes you to 888043, in the vicinity of several small ponds, at altitude 2250'. The second leg, two kilometers, on a bearing of 178º, takes you to Big Level, altitude 2474'. (10:04 a.m.) An alternate route to Big Level is to head directly south from the campsite and follow the canyon rim for about 2 k to the small pond at 894037. From there the bearing to Big Level is 196º. The advantage of this route is the scenery along the canyon rim, but the gradient is a little steeper as you leave the valley. As you descend Big Level, an increase in the growth of tuckamore is evident. The bearing to Rabbit Hill, 872003, is 224º, but to avoid the tuckamore, follow a bearing of 207º for the first kilometer. A clear route will become more apparent, and the last kilometer along the edge of the hill is relatively free of obstacles. Moose have been frequently sighted in this habitat. Keep an eye out. The route takes you onto another map, sheet 12B/10 Stephenville. (11:00 a.m.) From Rabbit Hill, a good place to stop for a break, you get a good view of Cache Valley. The vegetation in this valley is particularly thick. It is important to be able to find the route down.(1:00 p.m.) Begin your descent on a bearing of 313º and along the ridge to 858003. At a bearing of 244º from the end of the ridge the trail is visible in the valley below, but the place where it leaves the hill is difficult to find. There have been markers such as small rocks piled upon each other and even a bleached moose antler showing the trail, but no real effort to mark the trail has been made to date. Some time spent looking for the trail is worthwhile. The tuckamore in the valley is almost impenetrable otherwise. Once on the trail follow it to where it crosses a small stream and intersects with Mine Road 853001 near several small cabins.(1:49 p.m.). The 10 kilometer trudge out the Mine Road, to the south and west, is all that remains of this expedition. Since this is a heavily forested area, the road is the only viable option. Fox Island River needs to be crossed at 808943. (4:20 p.m.) During the summer months, unless there's been recent heavy rainfall, it can be waded. Sometimes there are small boats pulled up on either side, used by local cabin owners, hunters and fishermen. Two more kilometers over the crooked muddy road and the expedition is over. Hopefully your vehicle is there to meet you.(5:25 p.m.)
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