We were on Day 5 of our six day Newfoundland Adventure. Our group was comprised of seven adventurers, all in their 40’s. One adventure guide (me), 5 doctors, and a businessman. Two days ago we had hiked up through the Western Brook Gorge (another story for another day) for what was easily the most spectacular hike of my life, culminating in one of the world’s most fantastic views!
For Day 5 Gros Morne Mountain was on the menu. Three members of the group opted out the night before, as they thought it would be too difficult – it was after all a full day and 16 km round trip, up and down a mountain. One of those three was Rizwan, and he changed his mind at the last minute. Earlier in the day he met a very overweight local Newfoundlander who told him he had done the hike 30 times, so he thought, “hey if he can do it, so can I!”
Being the guide, I was a little concerned. Once you’re half way up the mountain, there really is no turning back, and I wasn’t sure if Rizwan would be able to do it. In the morning however he was determined to go and there was no changing his mind.
The hike up Gros Morne Mountain has five parts. Part One is what they call the ‘gentle section’ – a steady but gentle incline, up stones, steps and through mud for 4 kilometers. Then you reach what I call the point of no return, where the real climb begins. Once you commence this section, there’s no turning back and you have to go the whole way up and around. The reason you can’t turn back is because Part Two is a steep boulder-filled gully that goes up the gut of the mountain, often forcing you onto all fours, and as such is too treacherous to come down.
Part Three is the best part of the hike – the ascent up the last 200 feet to the summit, and the first section of the descent down, with the spectacular views from the top of Bonne Bay, Ten Mile Pond, and mountain top lakes with waterfalls down sheer 2,000 foot cliffs. As a bonus you can run into the local population of Ptarmigans, cute little birds that waddle around the top with an even cuter woot-woot sound.
Part Four is down through the Ferry Gulch, with tricky footing and a lot of boulders. Finally Part Five, which is just Part One in reverse, but because you’re so exhausted from the day, seems to go on forever! The relief when you reach the end is palpable.
We hoisted our backpacks, gulped some water and trail mix, and set off. I put Rizwan in the lead, so that he could set a pace for the group that he was comfortable at. The first ten minutes went smoothly and at a brisk trot, but then he started to slow down. We took a two-minute break, and continued, but noticed that he was slowing down and starting to limp. He stopped abruptly, with sharp pain in his calves and hamstrings. He insisted he was fine, but I was starting to get worried. We were just 15 minutes into Part One. If he was struggling here, I knew it would spell disaster further ahead.
Again he was adamant that he was fine. I understood. He didn’t want to be the one to ruin the hike for everyone, and he didn’t want to fail at this especially since the other guy had done it 30 times. He got up and continued, and reluctantly we followed. I told the rest that we would reassess him in a few minutes. Sure enough, he collapsed in pain just a minute later and was cringing and moaning in agony, with severe pain in his legs. Despite this, his attitude didn’t change, but the rest of us were shaking our heads.
We lay him down and the other three doctors were trying to diagnose him. They recommended Advil (LOL). It was funnier because for the entire trip, anytime anyone had any issue – sprain, sore, aching – their default treatment was to give him Advil, and it became the running joke throughout – five doctors and your only solution to everything is Advil haha.
Dr. Hash (Magic Hands) helped Riz do some stretches and also massaged his calves and muscles – right on the trail! Now this is what I call service! He performed instant on-site physiotherapy and Riz was back on his feet! His pain was 80% gone and he was even more pumped about continuing.
As the group leader, I had to make the call. On the one hand, we couldn’t risk going up the mountain and ending up in a situation where Riz would be unable to walk, turning the hike into a rescue mission. On the other hand, I couldn’t let the others proceed alone either, but I didn’t want them to miss the hike because of one person. Ultimately, team triumphed over individuals. We decided that we would re-assess Riz in 15 minutes. We were still in the early stages of Part 1 and able to turn back if mandated.
We continued again, with Riz in the lead. It seemed that he was suddenly cured, and being unshackled from the pain that had debilitated him mere minutes ago, he exuded even more energy. The going was swift. When we stopped 20 minutes later for another breather, Dr. Magic Hands performed some more physio on Riz, and soon we reached the point of no return. It was decision time – do we continue, or do we return from here? Hash completed a final physio session with Riz. He was looking and feeling much better than he was when we had started the day, and his pain was gone. The collective opinion of the doctors was that he was good! His spirits were up, and we were all relieved, and so the decision to proceed was unanimous. Of course there was still a risk, but it was one we all accepted.
From then on the pace was steady if not fast, and we took ample breaks. I had one eye on the clock, and one on the altimeter. It was my job to keep the group apprised of where we were, how much higher we had to go, and provide the answer to the perennial, “are we there yet?” 😊
It was noon when we started Part 2, well-behind schedule. We had 8 hours of daylight left. I estimated that we needed to summit by 2 pm in order to make it back to the parking lot by 7pm, giving us a one hour buffer before dark.
We reached the top at 2.10 PM. Not bad for a bunch of not-very-fit middle-aged hikers. It was awesome. 2 hours earlier we weren’t even sure we would make the climb, and here we were, at the top of Gros Morne Mountain. The journey spoke to the spirit of teamwork, resilience and overcoming personal challenges. It was a reminder that if you work together, and are surrounded by positivity, even climbing a mountain isn’t unsurmountable.
In case you’re curious, there were many highlights to the hike beyond this point. Ultimately, we reached the parking lot at 7.10 PM. On target. Pat on the back. Well done Team Epic.
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There’s something funny about the list of places I want to go and things I want to do – it keeps growing – every time I cross something off, two or three new ones take its place. That’s the adventurer DNA. My buddy Ahmed had traveled to a number of countries, but mostly in rich tourist mode. He had tourist DNA. Time to convert him I thought. We decided to go to Costa Rica and I told him he could leave all the planning to me. A few weeks before departure he called me to ask the details, to which I replied, “dude, just trust me.”
“Just trust me, don’t worry.” He thought for a second, and then said, “okay!” and we agreed to meet on departure day. Enroute to Costa Rica, he asked what hotels I had booked, to which I calmly replied that I hadn’t. Shock. I told him we would stay with Felipé, a local I had never met and didn’t know. More shock.
I had connected with him on couchsurfing.com just two weeks prior, and he didn’t look like a serial killer, so I thought why not. He even offered to meet us at the airport. Ahmed was starting to feel like the whole ‘trust me’ business wasn’t a good idea. A little late for that sentiment Chuck. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a knife,” I reassured him. All he could say was, “you’re crazy.”
People are inherently good. I told Ahmed to look out for a ‘Malaysian-looking guy’ and I gave him a shout when we spotted him. We hugged like brothers and he laid out the options – “I don’t live far, so we can take the bus, taxi, or we can walk.” Walk sounds cool. To me, travel is about experiencing everything local. By this time Ahmed had resigned himself to his fate, and when asked if he was good to walk he just shrugged. I had been teaching myself Spanish for the past month and tried to practice it with Felipé, but I had to remind him to switch back to English when he started yammering off to me like a local. Ahmed meanwhile was contemplating the fact that, “I’ve never walked out of an airport in my life.”
“¡Mi casa es su casa!,” exclaimed Felipé as he welcomed us into his home. We dropped our bags and went out for some traditional food – casado – and spent the evening sharing travel stories and discussing culture. It was an unforgettable introduction to couch-surfing. The next morning we rose with the sun and Felipé made us breakfast. We had planned on going into the city center to catch the public bus to Monteverde, but he knew of a spot on the highway near his house where the bus stopped. We grabbed our backpacks and hiked behind him through the quiet back streets. Another first, and not your ordinary ‘tourist’ experience. I always seek unique experiences, and so far Costa Rica, and Felipé, was delivering.
We did the superman zipline and tarzan jump (that’s a whole OTHER story) and went to Arenal the next morning…. by horseback. Who needs buses when you’ve got steeds? From the hostel we stayed at a van took us to the meetup point, where an amigo showed up with three horses and three pineapples. We crossed streams and trotted through wilderness till we came to a beautiful pass where we got our first vista of the Arenal volcano and enjoyed the juicy pinaepples. But what about the nuts? Well, Ahmed was still struggling to stop his horse and ‘whoa whoa’ wasn’t really working. It liked to keep up with mine so it wasn’t much of a problem… until I decided to gallop. I adopted a racer stance and his horse started to gallop alongside, and as we gained speed, Ahmed, in his not-so-racer like stance, started bouncing clumsily in his saddle… hence the title of this article. Needless to say, it was too funny.
Our host in Arenal was Arturo (another couch host), but he was at work when we got there, so he just gave us the keys to his place and told his friend to drop us there. Who does that? He also guided us to a hidden waterfall nearby. It was a half hour hike down through the forest, and when we finally reached it I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. We swam in the natural pool as the 200 foot waterfall roared and poured into it, and relaxed in natural hot springs later that evening, another local secret courtesy of Arturo. We spent two night’s at his place and I cherish the time I spent sitting with him under the stars talking about life and his reverence for the volcano. You could never get this experience in a hotel.
Day 2 in Arenal was intense – white water rafting on the Balsa river and rappelling down a canyon with waterfalls. We left for Hermosa the next day but got dropped off in Brasilito instead. Instead of worrying, we just bought some quesadillas and fresh juice and enjoyed lounging on the beach looking out at the Pacific. Eventually we got to Hermosa, scuba dived and snorkeled, and rented a car and drove to Manuel Antonio. The whole town is practically etched along a cliff overlooking the ocean, with a twisty road carved through the middle and culminating in a national wildlife preserve.
We stayed at the aptly named Jungle Beach hotel and got terrorized by a wild turkey that didn’t want us to get in or out of the car. The monkeys in the park were much friendlier though, and the iguanas just didn’t care. Our backcountry ATV ride, culminating at a local’s house for lunch, was another highlight.
I think the mission was accomplished. As we were flying back home, Ahmed proudly beamed, “these were the seven most adventurous days of my life.”
Pura Vida. I’d do it all over again.
Overwhelmed with business-related pressures at home, I just needed to cool off for a few days. So I convinced my cousin Fahad to meet up with me in Dublin for the weekend, and see what happens.
Not too much happened, but we did end up driving around the entire country in a day and a half.
To be continued....