I don’t know if the locals warn every tourist they see, but many definitely warned me: Gros Morne Mountain (James Callaghan) Trail is incredibly challenging to hike. For my skill level, I’d say they were right. That said, and maybe it’s already implicit when viewing photos taken at the top of the mountain, completing the hike is incredibly worthwhile, too.
I got into hiking when I moved to Halifax in 2015. I was (and still am) a little obese, but I have decent amount of stamina and strength. I hiked regularly before doing this. The journey reminded me of the trail at Cape Split Provincial Park Reserve because it seemed to go on forever. It also felt similar, at times, to the intensity of hiking up the Grouse Grind. Gros Morne Mountain Trail is not something you should attempt to do without time, prior thought, and some hiking skills.
According to Parks Canada’s website, the 16-kilometre round-trip trail reaches a height of 806 metres, and it takes between six and eight hours to complete. I stopped many times to shoot photos and videos (above) of the trail, and I finished it in about seven hours.
(If you’re visiting the Gros Morne National Park and you’re unsure if you can handle this hike, the Green Gardens Trail is another option. It’s about an hour’s drive away. It’s a little grueling but shorter, less intense, and also quite beautiful.)
The hike begins
My journey started at approximately 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2017. There were about 25 cars in the parking lot at that point. I was told by several people in the tourism industry that the summer rush had already finished in the area. I came across fellow hikers about every 15 minutes on the trail.
The entrance area includes a map (photo above), the usual warnings, and toilets. There is one outhouse about a quarter of the way in and another around the mid-way mark. There are a few lookouts and exhibits.
The trail is shaped kind of like a traditional balloon tied to a string. The first quarter (or so) of the hike is the string, which hikers have to complete again at the end to get back to the the parking lot. The string portion is a relatively standard hike.
Eventually, I got to a place many people told me about: Decision Point. This is where the string connects to the balloon. It’s called Decision Point because it’s supposed to be where you decide to either continue the hike or go back. The next major chunk of the trail (the gully) is much steeper, and there are lots of rocks that shift around when you step on them. The signs warn hikers not to descend that path, only go up.
A lot of the hike to Decision Point was uphill. I definitely built up a sweat and was tired, but that didn’t compare to the difficulty right ahead.
This is the most grueling part of the trail. The gully is made up of lots and lots of rocks. Many were small enough for me to occasionally slide slightly. It’s almost entirely uphill. I found myself taking many breaks. Closer to the end, I stopped to catch my breath every 30 feet or so.
The views were already lovely from halfway up. The trail twists at the top, so just as I thought I turned the final corner, there was another. It was brutal but doable.
For me, the key was to take my time. Even if I had to stop on many occasions, I knew I’d get to the top eventually.
The gully leads to the top of the mountain, which is identifiable thanks to a vandalized, “Gros Morne Summit” sign. A lot of people ate lunch there and, of course, took selfies. To my surprise, I had cellphone reception for a lot of the hike so far, not so much on the other side of the mountain.
It was about 20 C that day. I brought a sweater jacket because people said it’s colder at the top. It was a bit colder, but I only wore a t-shirt for the entire hike. I tolerate cold better than most people, though.
A relatively short walk away is the other side of Gros Morne Mountain, overlooking Ten Mile Pond. That’s where people took the most photos.
One person I spoke with here told me she had done this hike several times, and this was the first time the weather was decent enough for her to see so far.
It’s all downhill from here
Well, downhill for a lot it, anyway.
People told me that the portion of the trail beyond the summit is more difficult than expected, and I found that to be somewhat true. It’s far less intense than the climb, but I found that I had to pay a lot of attention in some parts to avoid tripping or sliding on things. There’s also a section that I had to walk across (photo below) that had the same kind of unstable terrain as the gully.
I drink a lot of water, probably more than most people. I took three litres of it on this hike, thinking that that would be enough. It wasn’t. I had to ration my supply after the summit. I probably should have brought five litres.
On the east end of the trail, there’s a campsite next to a pond. A sign says the water isn’t potable (it needs to be boiled to be safe to drink). There’s also an outhouse in the area; it was as gross as I expected it to be.
The rest of the trail back to Decision Point was a bit muddy but otherwise uneventful. I didn’t see any animals throughout the entire journey. I was back at entrance by about 4:30 p.m.
The Gros Morne Mountain Trail was described to me by locals as the hike to go on. I found it hard to walk for a couple of days after, but it was an enjoyable experience. I’m proud that I was able to do this.
Know before you go
A lot of journey is directly exposed to sunlight, so it might be wise to pack sunscreen.
Unless you’re planning on camping there, you probably don’t want to want to be on the trail at night, so make sure you know when the sun is supposed to set; plan accordingly.
There were only a few times times I took the wrong path; the trail is mostly straight forward, and there are trail markers.
Water. Take lots of it. Snacks, too.
Something I do if I’m going on a hike, especially if there’s no cell reception on it and I’m going solo, is let someone know where I’m going and when I should be back. I’d recommend doing the same.
My calves hurt for days after the hike. That might happen to you, too, so you might want to take that into consideration when planning other things to do afterward.