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).

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.

Road Walk Routes Added to Spreadsheet

When managing a project, there are always a number of ideas floating around that can improve the final product. With this site, one such idea was to Identify and Map the Road Walk Routes through communities.

Some of the ECTA Maps already have these Road Walks defined. In real world use though, the problems with the printed format are numerous – the street names are not consistently discernible, the identified routes are out-of-date, and on some maps, the communities don’t appear at all. As such, mapping the road walks is something that I thought may be useful, and would take relatively little time to do – but I never really stopped to consider how useful it would be. So I simply never got around to doing it.

Having just completed a thru hike however, I’ve come to realize the utility of the data. To illustrate, below are two screen captures from GPS routes for the road walk portion of two thru hikes that took place in the last few weeks.

RWB GPS ECT June 2016
Click to Enlarge

For anyone familiar with this section (Silver Mine Head to Father Troy’s), they’ll quickly see where the hikers went wrong. I always thought this data would be useful just to CFA Thru Hikers…. but I was one of those hikers that got off route!

RW GPS ECT June 2016
Click to Enlarge

“But Randy,” I hear you saying “You’re familiar with those community links – how did you manage to go wrong?”

Well, it has to do with your mindset while hiking.  When you’re doing a thru hike, the community road walks are often not a highlight. When you come to the end of a trail, you are jolted out of your zen-like hiking state. All of a sudden, you have to start thinking – about the route, about re-supply, about the next trailhead, etc.. Your hike is no longer a beautiful relaxing walk through the woods – there are streets going in every direction, people, cars, noise, smells…. For someone who’s been spending all their time in the forest, it can be a little off putting. Paying attention to your route through the community is one of many things you have to do when you reach a town, and it’s something that can easily fall by the wayside.

So, long story short… (if that’s possible at this point), the Road Walk Routes have been added to the Spreadsheet. You’ll find them in the first tab, Trail Data, linked from each alternating line.  While hiking and when viewing the Spreadsheet with Google Sheets, it can be accessed very easily in Google Maps – as can been seen in the accompanying video. The route text can also be printed (with or without the map) for those hiking without a mobile device (Menu > Print).

Unofficial ECT: Miner’s Path

Please note: This path is unofficial, unhardened, unsigned and unmapped by the ECTA. It is however marked with flagging tape as indicated and totally manageable for the determined hiker.

Miner’s Path: 5km (aprox.)
Community @ South: Topsail
Community @ North: St. Phillips
Specifically: Topsail Beach Rotary Park to Laurie Road, St. Phillips

Marked @ Ends?: Yes. Pink / Black Ribbons
Marked on Route?: Yes. Most recently, Pink Ribbons

Other Info:
Side trail to viewpoint at Topsail Bluff. Marked with double Pink 0.5km from southern end. Steep climb.

Perfect path for sunset pictures.

This path has ample parking on the southern end, but in general is easy to hike from either direction. It leaves the coast on the northern end when it connects with a few other trails – so you need to be a little more observant of the Pink / Black “trailhead” ribbons and the following few Pink ribbons until you’re sure of the track when starting from the north at Laurie Road.

 

The Quick and Dirty Guide to ECT Trailheads in Transition (and other bits of trouble) Summer 2016

If you’re a Thru Hiker (and in particular a CFA Thru Hiker), you’ll want to make note of these Five potential trouble spots along the length of the East Coast Trail.

The title of “most confusing bit” goes to Cobbler Path South, and it’s Number One, right at the top. All of the top three are difficult to figure out however, as the changes are not yet reflected on the current maps. The hiker may be able to navigate Numbers Four and Five themselves – so those are nothing more than a little nudge in the right direction.

Note the following:

  • This is assuming a Southbound Thru Hike.
  • Green = Trail.
  • Red = Redirects and Trouble Spots.
  • Black = Road Walks.
  • (click on a map to enlarge)

1. Cobbler South.

Image 1: Cobbler South
Image 1: 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. 🙂

2. La Manche Village Path North.

Image 2: La Manche Village Path North
Image 2: 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 3: White Horse North
Image 3: Cape Broyle Head North

3. 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.

4. White Horse North / Biscan North.

Image 4: White Horse to Biscan
Image 4: White Horse to Biscan
Surely you’re not going to skip White Horse? You’d be missing so much!  The official maps are not yet published for these 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 – now it’s where you turn South, and keep on going!). Note that draft maps are available from the ECTA office – the path is 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”.

5. Sugarloaf South to Deadman’s Bay North.

(route through St. John’s – aka where to find that footbridge).

Image 5: Route through St. John's
Image 5: Route through St. John’s

Pretty self explanatory. Points of interest here are (1) Sugarloaf South, (2) Dominion Memorial Market – food – and (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 Path North. There are many places to load up on calories between 2 and 4, but not much after that… Not until you get to Petty Harbour and Bay Bulls.

Lightweight Cooking with Grocery Store Trail Food

8 minutes + 1 cup of milk...? Well, we'll see about that.
8 minutes + 1 cup of milk…? Well, we’ll see about that.

Deciding what type of Stove System to use for meal preparation on an ECT Thru Hike has some unique challenges – challenges that are closely related to your Food Resupply options.

You can resupply at grocery stores on route – you’ll pass one either on trail, or very close to the trail, about every 60km or less – there’s a tab in the Spreadsheet covering Resupply. You could also resupply via maildrops that you’ve prepared / packaged / sent before hitting the trail. With post office hours being more limited than grocery stores, and the sheer amount of planning and work that goes into maildrops, you may be better off just sticking to the on trail sources. In terms of specialized backpacking food, your options are even more limited – you’ll walk past just one retailer that carries these meals on route – The Outfitters on Water Street in St. John’s.

In terms of other longer trails, the techniques practiced are a combination of on route and maildrop resupply – prepackaged dehydrated backpacker food is rarely used as a long term solution for someone who will be on a trail for weeks or months. For this article, we’ll assume that grocery store resupply is one of the better options for a self supported thru hiker. The question then turns to Stove Systems – how will you actually prepare the food?

Perhaps the most common stove systems in use by backpackers today are ones based on the isobutane canister – used with small stoves such as the MSR Pocket Rocket for example. Unfortunately, you’ll walk past just one store on route that carries isobutane canisters – again, its The Outfitters on Water Street in St. John’s. Another problem with canister stoves is the weight of the canister itself – 13oz full, but more importantly about 5oz empty. If you’re stuck with one or two empty canisters, that’s a lot of dead weight.

Alcohol Stoves are by far the lightest and the easiest stoves for which to find fuel along the length of the trail. There are at least two stores that carry Methyl Hydrate that you’ll walk right past, and many more with various other usable denatured alcohols on or slightly off trail.  The main drawback with these stoves is the lack of flame control – they’re really only designed for boiling water. As such, for warm meals, you’d have to carry dehydrated backpacker food – or other boil only options – from your starting point all the way to St. John’s, then resupply there for the rest of the trail.

You’ll find a breakdown on all types of modern backpacking stoves at the ECT Thru Hike Equipment page. There’s a link to simple DIY instructions for making your own alcohol stove, along with details on lesser used options such as solid fuel and liquid fuel stoves, plus info on Cook Sets.

It’s also worth noting that, like most things “lightweight”, alcohol stoves require more skill and care for safe and effective use. If you’re not going to devote some effort and practice to proper use of this system before hitting the trail, then you’re really better off just sticking to a fool proof (and heavier) isobutane based system. See the Alcohol Stove section of the Equipment page for more info.

I’ve struggled with this food / fuel resupply and weight problem myself, and have developed my own technique to prepare what is perhaps the most common and widely available food for the distance hiker – precooked pasta or rice sides (such as the Knorr Brand sides) – on an alcohol stove, all while using a minimum amount of fuel. In a nutshell, the technique involves 3 steps…. presoak the pasta or rice in cold water, quickly bring it to a boil over the intense flame, then remove / cover allowing it to cool while cooking naturally finishes.

The complete cook system can weigh from just 4 to 6oz, depending on the pot size and if a dedicated windscreen is used – at the lighter end it’s just the aluminum can burner, a small titanium pot and foil tray. This single meal uses about 30ml of fuel, which weighs about 0.6oz. In short, the following process utilizes:

– The most common Food available along the length of the trail.
– The easiest to find Fuel available along the length of the trail.
– and the lightest Stove.

The meal used in this example and in the photo is an 8 minute Pasta side – the type of thing you’ll find in many flavor varieties even at the smaller grocery stores. The process works equally well with Rice sides.

  1. Pour the package contents into your pot and add water. Forget about the package instructions – add just enough water to cover the package contents – we’re trying to minimize fuel usage in this step. Let that sit for 10 minutes, perhaps while you setup your shelter. After 10 minutes, give it a good stir. At this point you may want to add a little more water… basically you want the contents to be immersed before you start cooking.
  2. Add about 30ml of fuel to the burner and light. Once the flame stabilizes, place the pot on, and keep stirring while scraping the bottom… paying particular attention to the perimeter. When you’re not stirring, cover the pot with your lid / tin foil. This takes about 4 minutes, and pretty much needs your full attention, as these alcohol stoves have just one setting when lit – full inferno. Note that the food will burn and stick to your pot if you leave it for more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time.
  3. The flame will go out after about 4 minutes. Place the pot aside and cover the top with lid / tin foil. If using foil, place something on top – your spoon perhaps – or the foil will blow away and the food won’t finish cooking. After about another 5 minutes, it’s time to eat.

Note that this makes an al dente meal, but it’s also facile da trasportare. 🙂  If you’d like your resulting “dish” to be a little more cooked through / softer, add about 10ml more fuel (for a total of 40ml) before lighting your burner. Depending on environmental conditions, 40ml will burn for about 5 minutes. Never, never, ever add fuel to a lit alcohol stove.

The only problem with perfecting this type of thing during a day off / at home is… now I have to eat it.

Should I hike Picco’s Ridge and White Horse?

This information is current as of February 2016.

White Horse Path, East Coast Trail, Newfoundland, Canada.
P1: At center frame, the descent on White Horse Path. Look close for the marker atop the hill.

The Picco’s Ridge and White Horse Paths that go from Portugal Cove to Cape Saint Francis were added to the East Coast Trail’s Path Details page recently. However the paths are still labeled “undeveloped” – perhaps giving the day hiker pause, and the thru hiker an easy out in deciding if they want to walk them. While I’ve included data and photos online from these new sections, it’s not really possible to discern from those resources how they differ from more established parts of the trail. The videos on YouTube of course give ample detail in this respect, but they also require a certain commitment of time to view – so I’ve attempted here to be more concise in my comparison between these new sections and other parts of the ECT.

When hiking these paths in the shoulder season (shorter days / less daylight) or when the weather is windy or wet (when conditions can deteriorate more rapidly on a path lacking assistive structures like stairs, boardwalks and bridges) it’s easy for an uninformed or unprepared hiker to get in an uncomfortable or even dangerous situation.

Rather than discuss both paths at once, I’ll draw a distinction between the older paths and White Horse, then compare that to Picco’s Ridge.

White Horse Path

Leaving the town of Bauline – which geographically is approximately in the middle of the new paths – and heading north, White Horse has some steep muddy inclines that can be slippery in wet conditions. After the first few kilometers, you’ll notice an increasing number of blowdowns and decaying trees – as you move north these become even more plentiful. There are a few small to medium size streams that can be rock hopped, and some muddy sections that may – or may not – have embedded logs to ease your crossing.

White Horse Path, East Coast Trail, Newfoundland, Canada.
P2: A gully crossing appears in wet conditions.

Much of the southern half of this path travels through forested valleys and peaks. At approximately half way, the path gains elevation, then suddenly drops off the edge of a very steep hill (P1). As you switchback down, there is an abundance of mud and decaying trees – it can be difficult to get a firm footing or handhold. While this steep area is not directly above the ocean, upon losing footing the hiker would certainly suffer significant injuries that would prevent them from completing the path. In my estimation, this currently is the most difficult part of the ECT.

The path is fairly well defined and cut for much of the southern half. During warmer months when vegetation is in full bloom, the route can be difficult to see and the hiker has to carefully look for ribbons (usually pink / black) tied to distant – occasionally even fallen – trees (P4).

When nearing half way, the surroundings become more wild and undisturbed – this being among the most remote areas through which the ECT passes. It’s defined by very old decaying forest, long stretches of bog, and in wet conditions, small gullies that have to be crossed or circumnavigated (P2).

White Horse Path, East Coast Trail, Newfoundland, Canada.
P3: In wet conditions, these paths are muddy in areas that would otherwise have a boardwalk.

The northern half begins as you travel primarily on long stretches of bedrock ridge, exposed to the coast. The views in either direction, but particularly to the south, are spectacular. In windy conditions, this area can be treacherous – as gusts sweep up from Conception Bay it can be difficult to stay on the path in winds of just 70-80 kph – especially true for those carrying extra weight in a backpack. It can be difficult to find the path in barren parts of this northern section, and particularly difficult in fog or snow.

As the path nears Big Cove and Cape Saint Francis, it descends several times to the coastline while remaining exposed. It continues near the coast for a short time at Big Cove before several quick steep assents / descents as you approach Cape Saint Francis. Within 3km of the northern trailhead there’s an extended forested ridge-walk offering glimpses of both sides of the coast.  A couple of more ascents and descents, one more exposed rocky knoll for good measure, and you reach the end. At this point you’ve either reached your SUV, have an additional 4+ km of gravel road walking to Pouch Cove (not easily passable in a car), or 7+ km for a comparatively easy hike running roughly parallel to the gravel road on Biscan Cove Path – during which you really start to appreciate what it means for a path to be hardened.

White Horse vs. hardened ECT

The challenges of these paths are different than other sections of the ECT in that the hiker is on their own – with the exception of the first 5km of Picco’s Ridge leaving Portugal Cove, there is as yet no buffer between the hiker and the harsh aspects of nature that the assistive structures normally provide (P3). When you are hiking on comparatively long ECT paths such as Stiles Cove or Motion / Spout, you speed along these areas without thought as to why the structure is in place – or even what you’re crossing. In contrast, when hiking White Horse, these areas are slow and difficult to navigate.

White Horse Path, East Coast Trail, Newfoundland, Canada.
P4: That’s White Horse Path. Click to enlarge and look for the ribbons.

White Horse vs. Picco’s Ridge

White Horse at 17.5km is the longer of these two new sections.  Picco’s Ridge however, at just 14.5km, is comparable in terms of difficulty. After the first 5 hardened kilometers, Picco’s Ridge becomes a wilderness hike. Primarily the differences are:

  1. There are several more of those steep, often muddy hillside descents (followed by ascents) that you encounter basically only once at the half-way point of White Horse. Although they are not quite as steep or nearly as exposed, they are very treacherous in wet conditions.
  2. There are more streams to cross, including the largest on this 30+km of coastline at Brocks Pond.
  3. There are fewer long exposed sections, although Picco’s Ridge itself is among the highest points on the ECT and can be difficult to pass when windy.
  4. There are fewer blowdowns and, more importantly, leaners on Picco’s Ridge than there is on White Horse (P4).

Should I hike them?

In terms of making a decision to hike these trails, it’s simply a matter of building your endurance and adjusting your expectations – if you’re accustomed to other parts of the ECT, you have to be ready for both a physical and mental challenge. If you’re unsure about your decision, you can get a good sample of what to expect by first hiking the Cape Broyle Head Path – it has several stream crossings and an extended area of muddy, unhardened path that can give the hiker a small taste of what to currently expect (Spring 2016) on these newer trails.