Hiking the Rock
You can start hiking the Rock from any hotel in downtown St. John’s. On my first afternoon, I set off for Signal Hill. It is Canada’s 2nd largest historical park and offers spectacular (I’m going to use that word a lot) views of the city, the harbour, the Narrows and the ocean. A number of interpretive panels along the trail provide information on history, climate and geography. You can also check out Cabot Tower which was built in 1897 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of John Cabot's discovery of Newfoundland, and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. In 1901, Marconi received the first trans-Atlantic wireless message at a position near the tower, the letter "S" in Morse Code sent from Cornwall, England. From the top I followed a winding trail down past views of icebergs, a precarious section of fixed chain and finally through the Battery, a fishing village perched on the slopes below Signal Hill.
The next day I rented a bike and hit the road for Cape Spear, a 15 km ride with some challenging hills. Walking along the coast trail here, I came to a viewpoint and got a closer look at the iceberg I’d seen the day before from Signal Hill. Cape Spear is also a national historic site and is the most easterly place in North America. From there Vancouver is almost twice as far away as Ireland. The light house became operational in 1836. It is now a small museum and well worth the admission fee to tour the exhibits. You can hike up or down the coast from here, Maddox Cove and Petty Harbour being popular destinations, a 3-4 hour excursion.
Those two outings were mere preliminaries for the next day when I joined up with members of the East Coast Trail Association (ECTA) for a 14 kilometer hike along the Flamber Head Path.
Paul Thorburn picked me up at my hotel (talk about service) and we drove out the Avalon Peninsula to the trail head. On the way, Paul filled me in on the ECTA. The 700+ members of the East Coast Trail Association have built and maintain a network of 400 K of trails along the East Coast of Newfoundland. There are organized day hikes along sections of the trail each weekend during the season, some only 6K but some as long as 32K. Up to 40 people may show up for an outing. The association sells maps, collects membership dues and receives government grants to fund its operations.
It is possible to through hike the southern 200K of the trail. The bed and breakfast association will arrange to pick you up and drop you off each day at the trail points and, of course, provide you with a bed and breakfast. If you want to tent, there are designated campsites with outhouses and tent platforms along some sections. Another alternative, if you really want your cake and eat it too, is to hike with only your day pack and arrange to be supplied with camping gear and food by boat!
Our group for the day numbered 26 with people ranging in age from their early 20’s to retirees. Each outing has a hike leader who, before beginning, reviews the route, ensures everyone signs a waiver and assigns a sweep. Since my ride Paul volunteered to sweep, we brought up the rear of the entourage.
From the small coastal village of Bauline, we followed a road that went up and up. The road eventually turned into a cart path traditionally used to service a costal village. The path gave us our first views of the ocean, islands and distant headlands. The trails are maintained by laying footstones wherever possible and using untreated word for plankways and stairs.
We soon came to the abandoned seaside village of LaManche which featured the ruins of old foundations and a recently constructed 50 metre foot bridge. From there the “built” trail began and we continued along the headlands with sweeping views of the coast. It is possible at times to see icebergs, whales, seals, several birds species, moose, fox and caribou.
We stopped for lunch a Flambert Head with a spectacular iceberg as a backdrop. Then we carried on past the water fall at the Keys and the campsite at Roaring Cove finally winding our way into a large bay and the village of Brigus south. All told we spent about 6 hours on the trail.
So I had my fill of scenic wonder, a challenging hike and great company. Certainly comparable to my hiking experiences out here on the West Coast. On the drive back to St. John’s Paul lamented that t’was a shame I hadn’t come for the week that they hiked to the Spout, a wave driven geyser that is truly spectacular. As well I was advised that on my next visit to The Rock I should spend more time and take in the trails of the West Coast fiords which, truth be told, (you guessed it) are spectacular.