Live from the trail #ectthruhike

Check out the current 2017 Thru Hikers that are active on social media (Instagram #ectthruhike).

Purveyors of heavy do-dads and outdoor fashion

Until very recently, I’ve done all of my hiking alone. Over the last year or two, there has been a couple of people that would come along – most often, if I’m particularly lucky, my significant other. But by and large, the vast majority of my mileage has been solo.

On the occasion that I do hike with others, the conversation often gravitates toward gear. There’s not much interesting there – in fact after a few minutes it can become quite the opposite. As soon as the conversation turns away from that however, things can get productive.

The most recent on-trail conversation related to this web site and it’s users. We marveled at how users will ask questions – directly or publicly on social media – that have already been addressed ad-nauseum within these pages. After reading text that was written for a very specific topic, why would one turn around and ask a question that was addressed within that text?

My thought on the subject went thusly: The user simply missed the info – it was likely added after their initial visit. Changes at ECTThruHike.com happen sporadically – often on a weekly basis, but sometimes queued up for months, then suddenly… all over the pages and all-at-once. When a hiker is initially considering a thru hike, they read through the site (hopefully), and over time, a few additional questions come up. Surely they’re unlikely to re-read pages of (dry?) text to see if those answers were missed or added since that first read-through?

Long Story Short – a changelog (or list of revisions) has been added. Since my conversation mate was a software guy, in homage to him the format is very techie-isque and object oriented – it will appear at the bottom of each static page, but only as new updates are applied going forward. New items will appear on the top, and after a few months old items will drop off the bottom.

I’m under no illusions that this will fix the issue we identified during the hike. People will be people. However, at least this way, they have less reason to not inform themselves and the tools to do so effectively.

Rather than get into the most recent updates here and why the changes were made, I’ll just let you check out the bottom of the Equipment Page as an example of this new function. Hopefully the title above will then make sense. 🙂

Intrepid ECT Thru Hikers lay claim to the coastline before McMansions pop-up

Today marks the first time, to the best of my knowledge, that hikers have included Miner’s Path (Topsail Beach / St. Thomas) and Goat Cove Path (St. Phillips / Portugal Cove) in a ECT Thru Hike.

Erika Cleroux and Luc Sylvestre @ Topsail Beach on Sunday June 18, 2017.

Most recently this concept was floated by 2017 hiker Craig Steele. Craig’s revised start date is June 30, but he kicked off the 2017 list last year when indicating his intention to do a northbound thru hike, starting at Cappahayden and ending – not at Portugal Cove, but 14 kilometres on at Topsail Beach. Soon after Craig posted, friends of his and others indicated the same intentions.

Earlier today, prior 2016 Thru Hikers Erika Cleroux and her partner and Yoging-Master-In-Tow Luc Sylvestre started in Topsail Beach and headed north, for an overall-southbound thru hike of some 326 kilometers. Erika and Luc had a rough start last year with their tent nearly taking flight as they camped near the ballfield in Pouch Cove on a very windy Night Number 2, but they’ve come back for more… and intend to be the first to include the unofficial northern trails in a complete thru hike.

Good luck to all the trailblazers!

Printing the Water Report

An aspect of the East Coast Trail that makes it particularly suited to a first time thru hike is the amount of development that can be drawn upon. There is no other trail of it’s length in the region that can boast it’s level of infrastructure, ease of route finding and availability of raw data.

When combined with some of the more unique characteristics of the ECT – specifically the frequency with which the hiker passes through small towns while en route – it’s pretty much unmatched in terms of suitability for a first-time distance hiker. Add equal parts of fitness + lightweight kit (with knowledge and experience for proper use) + a good attitude … and you’ve got an adventure perfectly suited to a distance-hiking novice.

One of the more useful types of data to have on a trip such as this is water source availability. If you’re the type of hiker that wants to minimize pack weight, the Water Report tab in the ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet will be perhaps the most weight-friendly item you’ll carry. Those equipped with a good method of water treatment can conceivably carry as little as 1 litre (or 1 kg / 2lbs 3oz) of water at any given time. Those hydrating at water sources and sleeping near a stream can carry even less if they so choose.

You could of course access this data on your smartphone, if so equipped. While I’m all for using technology to it’s fullest potential, I’ll also readily acknowledge when “going old-school” is better. Having the Water Report at your disposal in printed form can really save screen-on time (and therefore battery) on your phone.

If you’re the type of hiker that wants to minimize pack weight, the Water Report tab in the ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet will be perhaps the most weight-friendly item you’ll carry.

A ready-to-print PDF copy of the Water Report has been linked from the top of the tab. This copy will fit on one double sided page, but for those who’d like to do their own print formatting, the suggested settings are below. Note that you need to print using the Menu from within Google Sheets, not the one for your browser (view image).

Print: Current sheet (with the Water Report tab selected)
Paper Size: Letter (8.5 x 11)
Page Orientation: Landscape
Scale: Fit to Width
Margins: Narrow

Formatting: (select only the following, all optional)
* Document title
* Sheet name
* Current date
* Current time

Row & column headers: (select only the following, optional)
* Repeat frozen rows

Those settings, when combined with the Print: Selected Cells (Column A-Q) & Scale: ~48% can also be used to print the Camping tab on one double sided page. That’s a tonne of data on two pieces of paper.

Re-supply Updates and Sharing the Joy

While driving last weekend to hike my final mysterious non-official southern ECT sections along the coast toward Cape Race, I seized the opportunity to do some research. While a hiking buddy made pit stops for ice cream, I checked out hardware stores and post office locations.

The final post office before Cappahayden is at Fermeuse. It’s tucked away in the most unexpected of spots… on a quiet subdivision side street at the top of a steep hill. At 350 meters off the road route and 28 km from the southern terminus, it’ll probably be of more use to northbounders than southbounders.

During this drive I also passed Dalton’s Home Hardware in Cape Broyle (@ km # 218)… for once while it was actually open. As I expected, Methyl Hydrate is available in the paint department. The real surprise however came at Witless Bay Home Hardware (km # 173). Not only do they have Methyl Hydrate, but also Isobutane Canisters… in a dedicated camping section! It’s expensive @ $12 for a 220g, but it’s a second re-supply option for those using gas (the first being The Outfitters @ km # 96).

20170601_162521_hdr-01

This info has been added to the Spreadsheet and Notes & Tips page.

The #ectthruhike tag has also been suggested by thru hiker Marc Gärtner. We’d better grab it for this real trail before it’s claimed by a theoretical one. This will allow thru hikers to share info online while en-route for a variety of advantages: it will not only allow hikers to publicize themselves and their effort, but also help them identify fellow thru hikers. Sharing in this way also provides great exposure for the trail and serves to inspire next year’s group of thru hikers

Links have also been added to the Thru Hikers 2017 page for two Facebook groups; Hiking the East Coast Trail (preaching to the choir, but local hikers love following along) and Backpacking in Eastern Canada (which has a greater percentage of backpackers as well as people that are unaware of the ECT and the idea of thru hiking it).

Spring Cleaning… Site Updates and Upgrades

For quite some time, it’s been widely known the ECTA has been working on a project to redesign their web site. I’ve heard it said more than once that many usability and structural issues arising from the way the old site evolved – with sections and info added and grafted on to an existing design – would be addressed when this pending updated design went live.

Personally, I’d been holding out hope that much of the functionality contained within ECTThruHike.com would be eclipsed with data provided by the association when this project was complete. As ECTThruHike.com itself has evolved since it went online just over a year ago, an increasing amount of data has been added, often following an inquiry or request from a user.  As a result of this expansion, the site has not only taken more time to maintain, but in fact has been used by a wider range of hikers than originally intended – a testament to the utility of the data. Whether these users be Section Hikers, Slackpackers or Local Recreational & Weekend Backpackers, the focus here remains squarely on Thru Hikers.

As it turns out, the recently unveiled East Coast Trail.com seems to be largely a cosmetic change. While the design is no doubt visually appealing and cohesive, there seems to be little new information added. In particular, the idea of promoting the trail to the thru hiker is noticeably absent, and in fact indirectly discouraged through certain policies.

Of course this is not likely an oversight… but thru hikers should not be deterred or put-off in any way. The omission would most likely be born from a misunderstanding regarding overuse. I would confidently suggest that, amongst all users, the light footed, nature loving and respectful thru hiker is going to be the least likely to have an impact. In reality, there is of course no organization or no individual who has the authority or ability to discourage this particular use. Rest assured that, as a thru hiker, you will be very welcomed by people you meet along the trail.

The Resupply tab in the ever expanding ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet... viewed here on mobile.
The Resupply tab in the ever expanding ECT Thru Hike Spreadsheet… viewed here on mobile.

The idea then that ECTThruHike.com could slowly slide into obsolescence seems to be somewhat flawed.

As a result, I’ve recently done some additions and tweaks… a few things that have been in the pipe for some time.

  • Canada Post Resupply Info. Since the concentration on the ECT seems to continue to be first-time thru hikers, info on Canada Post locations and their proximity to the route has been added to the Spreadsheet.
  • Resupply Strategy. Contains a simple how-to for grocery store / post office food resupply strategy aimed at novice backpackers doing a self-supported hike.
  • Direction of Travel. Info that’s been collected regarding why certain hikers have chosen a specific direction has been added.
  • Transportation. This section has been cleaned up and simplified… now categorized by direction of travel. Detail on flat rates offered by Portugal Cove Taxi to the Bell Island Ferry Terminal (Picco’s Ridge South) have also been included.
  • Connectivity. I’ve been told the section was unnecessarily technical. I don’t really know what that means, so I just deleted some stuff. 🙂
  • New Server. More processing power, faster page load.

The Quick and Dirty Guide to ECT Trailheads in Transition (and other bits of trouble) Spring 2017

It’s time for the pre-season review for thru hikers – our list of things-to-be-aware-of for those getting ready for an end-to-end hike of the East Coast Trail. Only one new problematic addition for 2017… Blowdowns! On the plus side, it looks like it’ll be a banner year for Icebergs. The remainder of tips are from last year and are unchanged… copied verbatim below.

Thru Hikers for 2017 may also find some interesting data in past posts entitled Road Walk Routes Added to (the) Spreadsheet or Aggregate Stats for 2016 ECT Thru Hikers and maybe even Time to Go Home.

Note the following:

  • In terms of direction of travel, these tips generally assume southbound.
  • Green line = Trail.
  • Red line = Redirects and Trouble Spots.
  • Black line = Road Walks.
  • (click on a map to enlarge)
White Horse Path, East Coast Trail, Newfoundland, Canada.
Image 1: Blowdowns on White Horse Path… and that’s before the wind storm!

1. Blowdowns from recent wind storm.

On March 11, winds equivalent to those in a Category 2 Hurricane swept through Newfoundland. Gusts were widely recorded to 160 km/hr and beyond. Vehicles were overturned, houses ripped apart and trees uprooted.  The forest took a beating, and as a result the trail is littered with obstacles. It’s unclear at this time exactly how bad the situation is – not until spring will the ECTA compile this data from the semi-annual custodian reports. It’s safe to say however that it’ll likely be slow going for any early season hikers. In addition to giving yourself a little more time, if you get gear in external pockets strapped in tight and watch out for thieving tree branches, you’ll be fine.

2. Cobbler South.

Image 2: Cobbler South
Image 2: Cobbler South
Due to local residential development, there really is no Southern Trailhead for Cobbler Path. Take the route shown on the image.  It’s marked on the ECTA Map as Old Signal Hill Path, and traveling south, this is easy to find; Go past the communication tower and follow the path down the hill – you’ll hit the road in a few dozen metres. If you’re a bit of a purist, you can follow Cobbler Path to the Southern end (green line), at which point you’ll have to turn around and walk back to the access trail (red) that will bring you to the road (black) and on to the next section, Sugarloaf Path.

For Northbounders, it’s considerably more difficult. You’ll want to stick to Red Cliff Road (important!) until you see the turn-around area / end of the road off in the distance – you’ll round a turn in the road and see a metal gate. This is the really important part… Half way between that turn and the gate, just a few metres before the last house on the right, you’ll notice a tiny, steep path heading into the woods – also on the right – take that as it veers left up the hill through the forest. From this direction, you’ll notice that it’s somewhat overgrown and may doubt the route… Just stick to the path as it veers left. At the top of the hill, head straight past the communication tower and you’ll see an ECTA sign near the cliff – and you’re back on track.

For a visual on this often problematic area check out the southbound video for Cobbler (starts at 13m 10s).

3. La Manche Village Path North.

Image 3: La Manche Village Path North
Image 3: La Manche Village Path North

In the past, this path had about 3km of asphalt road walk that was considered part of the trail – which always puzzled me. Luckily, it apparently puzzled someone at the ECTA too, because the trailhead has now been moved (from 1, as indicated on the image) to where the asphalt and double track stops (to 2). This is a welcome change – and it’s the same route as always for the hiker. Not so much confusing as it is something of which you want to be aware – if you’re following the current map, the trailhead is not where you’d expect it – it’s actually just over 4km on.

Image 4: White Horse North
Image 4: Cape Broyle Head North

4. Cape Broyle Head North.

Simple change for Cape Broyle Head… Likely a dispute with a landowner. The trailhead has moved down the rocky beach a few dozen metres. As the paved road that you’ve followed off the highway passes a turn-around and reduces to double track, follow it to the coast and rock hop a bit until you see a colourful rope hanging along with some flagging tape. This is easy to find, as long as you’re aware of it.

For a visual, check out the video for Cape Broyle Head Path (starts at 2m 20s).

5. White Horse North / Biscan North.

Image 5: White Horse to Biscan
Image 5: White Horse to Biscan
Surely you’re not going to skip White Horse and Picco’s Ridge? You’d be missing so much!  The official maps are not yet published for these two new paths, so just FYI, here’s the linking route between the new trailhead and the old trailhead (what was the old Northern Terminus of the ECT). Note that draft maps are available online and from the ECTA office – the paths are signed, but unhardened. I’ve hiked these trails several times and personally, I think they’re extremely beautiful, unique along the ECT, and a blast to hike “as is”.

6. Sugarloaf South to Deadman’s Bay North.

This is basically just an explanation of the route through St. John’s – mainly where to find a footbridge that’ll save you nearly 2km of road walking. For a deeper explanation and visual on the bridge, check out the Deadman’s Bay video (starts at 2m 40s).

Image 6: Route through St. John's
Image 6: Route through St. John’s

The image for this one is pretty self explanatory. Points of interest are (1) Sugarloaf South Trailhead, (2) Dominion Memorial Market (a large modern grocery store… with a kitchen and pre-cooked food!), (3) the Outfitters (equipment… for resupply), (4) the all important Footbridge that cuts off about 1.5km of road walking and (5) Deadman’s Bay North Trailhead. There are many places to load up on calories between 2 and 4, but not much after that… Not until you get to the next (relatively smaller) supermarket @ Bay Bulls.

Video and the ECT

IMG_20140802_140240~2Over the last year there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of video published online focused on the East Coast Trail. The videos linked from this site are just one option – they’re a great way to research the trail from afar for those planning to hike either the whole trail or sections.  Strictly speaking, those videos are not entertaining though – if you don’t have a certain level of commitment to research the trail, they can be too involved. Put simply, for most people, they’re a little boring.

Unfortunately, for people looking for a quick, fun take on the trail, it can be difficult to find footage. If you’ve used YouTube’s text search extensively, you may know what I mean – its search function is somewhat behind-the-times when it comes to finding specific content. Frankly, unless one is adept at using the advanced search features, I’d go so far as to say that their search algorithms range from being not user friendly to down right abysmal. When considering the amount of content they’re curating and how Search relates to – and in fact plays a central role in – a user finding what they’re looking for, it’s surprising how ineffective the function can be.

Here are a few highlights of content that has been published during the last year by thru hikers and section hikers.

Please note: When YouTube publishers use commercially available music in their videos, they will likely be saddled with restrictions on how / where the video can be viewed. As such, some of the video below may not be available to you depending on the device you’re using. Generally speaking, all videos will be available on a conventional computer.

East Coast Trail Newfoundland Thru Hike 2016 by Eric Moll
Eric hiked from Cappahayden to Portugal Cove in September 2016.

East Coast Trail Thru Hike by Charlotte Huebner
Charlotte and Stéphanie did Cappahayden to Cape Saint Francis in July 2016.

ECT “300 Kilometers of Newfoundland” Extended Edition by Kris Mutafov
Kris and Bradley did Cappahayden to Cape Saint Francis in June 2015. The original version of this video is still available.

Just point me to the data please

One of the really cool things about having info online on the ECT is the connection it allows me to have with those who come to Newfoundland from elsewhere to do a thru hike.

Thru Hiker Eric Moll at Brock's Pond near the end of his northbound hike in Sept 2016.
Thru Hiker Hiker Eric Moll at Brock’s Pond near the end of his northbound hike in Sept 2016.

Most often these hikers will have a few questions and contact me well in advance of their start date. I really look forward to this interaction as it allows me to quickly incorporate any previously unasked questions into the site – the idea being that eventually the online info will be so complete that every possible question will be answered. Thru hikers, as a pretty independent breed by definition, ideally will be able to take the raw data and run with it.

I’m of the opinion that this trail in particular is best suited to first time thru hikers though – people who may have a few more questions than your average seasoned hiker.

Even though ECTThruHike.com is not yet a year old, I’ve already been in touch with a couple of people who were able to complete a hike and check in after-the-fact.

Eric Moll is one such hiker who checked in yesterday after doing the ECT northbound in mid-September. He’s posted a YouTube video highlighting his hike, but he’s also posted a trip report to his blog with some strikingly beautiful photos. Also check out his west coast hike for some dramatic photos and a video from the burgeoning IAT-NL.

Eric’s Hikes Newfoundland 2016 Blog / Trip Report – IAT-NL Section and ECT.
Eric’s YouTube Channel – Includes footage from those hikes and others in the US and Canada.