The Long Range Traverse is a demanding 35-kilometer trek in the remote Newfoundland backcountry of Gros Morne National Park. There are no marked or maintained trails on the hike, requiring trekkers to rely on advanced, confident map-and-compass navigation and other backcountry skills. The Long Range adventurer faces steep cliffs, dense "tuckamore" (alpine krummholz), swarming black flies, and roaming moose and caribou, but the intrepid souls who tackle this challenge are richly rewarded with a powerful sense of wildness and some of the most jaw-dropping landscapes to be found anywhere in the world. To preserve the wildness of the Long Range Traverse, permits are required and should be reserved well in advance by contacting Gros Morne National Park.
Because of the remote, undeveloped nature of this hike, Parks Canada requires all Long Range backpackers to complete an extensive preparatory ritual that includes a safety video, an interview with a ranger, and a navigation exam. In the visitor center there is a dedicated mapping table at which all trekkers copy the recommended route onto their own topo map- there are no official trails and, hence, no published trail maps! Allow at least a half day at the ranger station to complete these steps.
Even despite all of these preparations, search-and-rescue teams must extract lost, injured, or otherwise afflicted hikers from the trek every year; consequently, as a final precaution, all groups must carry an emergency personal locator beacon to activate should they run into trouble. After all of this build-up, one leaves for the trailhead with a healthy sense of responsibility for his or her own safety, though hopefully not with too much foreboding.
The trek itself begins with a ferry across stunning Western Brook Pond, a 16-kilometer-long fjord-like freshwater lake that is an artifact of glaciation in the region. After being dropped off on a tiny platform at the far end of the "pond," hikers climb through a dense, difficult-to-navigate forest, past the aptly-named Pissing Mare Falls, to one of the most iconic views in Canada looking back down the ravine. The climb is at times harrowing, particularly after losing one's way, but once onto the plateau the majority of the trek proceeds across rolling, open alpine scrubland and past numerous lakes, ponds, and rivers. In addition to the fabulous scenery, moose, caribou, black bear, coyote, and a variety of bird species including rock ptarmigan make regular appearances on the trail.
Established tent platforms have been constructed at convenient navigation checkpoints to provide metered overnight stops and a place to pitch a tent that is elevated above the soggy turf. However, they are often in low-lying locations by water, which can make for a muggy, buggy night at camp. Experienced, knowledgeable campers can often do better by selecting their own sites that take advantage of terrain features and the soft, spongy vegetation.
The hike concludes after an average of three to four nights afield with a march up the park's eponymous 807-meter Gros Morne Mountain, the "Great Sombre," an imposing purple mound that is unmistakable for many miles in the surrounding landscape. Expansive views from the top give the Long Range hiker a great opportunity for a well-deserved celebration.
While in western Newfoundland, visitors cannot miss the Tablelands, located within Gros Morne National Park but on the opposite side of Rocky Harbour from Gros Morne Mountain. The bright orange slopes of the Tablelands are one of two places on earth where mantle rock has been brought to the surface. The scenic beauty and fascinating geologic history warrant at least a half-day visit plus a meal in charming Bonne Bay. The Tablelands can be accessed by a beautiful drive on NL-431.
For both the Long Range Traverse and the Tablelands, rangers at Gros Morne National Park are very helpful and have comprehensive information packets covering all of the details pertinent to this challenging but rewarding adventure. Additionally, the small towns nearby are tight-knit communities eager to welcome visitors from all over the world.