Avalon X-Country Route

 

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Railbed portion of the proposed route, near the end of Section 3, Conception Bay

The Avalon X-Country Route!… the AXCR
(It must be exciting – it has an X and an exclamation mark right in the name!)

The AXCR is a loosely defined route from Cape Race to Topsail Beach via the Avalon Wilderness Reserve on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. The route is summarised in GPS Tracks and Waypoints.

What you will not find on the AXCR: Cutting. Marking. Maintenance. A Path.

What you will find on the AXCR: A frustrating variety of hiking experiences.

Section 1: Cape to Trepassey

As specified in the table, this section is all road. Leaving the lighthouse at Cape Race headed west, the hiker is on gravel road for about 20 km. Upon reaching the community of Portugal Cove South, the road is paved for the next 12 km to Trepassey.

At approximately the halfway point between Cape Race and Portugal Cove South, the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve is home to fossils of the oldest complex life forms found on earth. The Ediacara Biota was believed to be a sea bottom creature that lived some 550 million years ago. Although fossilized variants of this species have been found worldwide, the find at Mistaken Point is believed to be the oldest on record. Tours of the area are by guide only and can be arranged at no cost through the Edge of Avalon Interpretive Centre at Portugal Cove South.

In terms of amenities or resupply, there’s not much along this stretch. It’s a barren coastline – very much exposed to the North Atlantic – an area that is unwelcoming, particularly in windy conditions. There are a few small seasonal restaurants and hotels near the end of this 32 km section @ Trepassey.

Section 2: Avalon Wilderness Reserve (AWR) and Environs

This is rough, unmarked wilderness terrain – there often is no trail. GPS, Map and Compass are suggested. Good maps for this area would be (from south to north) NRC NTS Map Numbers 1 K/14, 1 N/3 and 1 N/6. These topographic maps are at 1:50,000 (~1.25 inch to 1 mile) scale.

Hikers wanting to cross the Avalon Wilderness Reserve are required to obtain an Entry Permit from the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Fortunately, this can be done via email and requests seem to be handled in a very prompt fashion. Include enough information in your initial request and you will likely have a quick resolution: Name, mailing address, telephone number, intention (ex. hiking / backpacking) and the dates which you will be in the area. There are a variety of restrictions for anyone entering the AWR – basically it gets down to the hiker behaving in a respectful way, as they should wherever they go. Be prepared to adhere to LNT Principles and check out the Rules and Regulations for wilderness reserves in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Waypoints through the AWR start in the South and roughly follow a North / NNE direction. The route often utilizes woods roads (Northeast Trail, Horse Chops Road, Frank’s Pond Road, etc.) and other unnamed ATV trails when possible, with intermittent 10 to 20 km periods of bushwhacking and route finding to join these features when no clear path is available. This route was inspired by and closely follows Aaron O’Brien’s hike of the area in Fall of 2012 – read more about that trek @ The Independent. Since this is a protected area, no exact GPS Track will be provided – only Waypoints. Hikers can use this data to assist in navigating – just to point themselves in the correct general direction – and are encouraged to find their own route from one area to the next.

Near the northern end of this section (for approximately 1.2km, Waypoints 525 to 528) the route passes through the Hawke Hills Ecological Reserve, a protected barren alpine region. While no separate permit is required to walk through this area, activities are more restricted than the AWR – neither camping or fires are permitted and the hiker is asked to stay on the existing path. Practice Leave No Trace – leave nothing, take nothing. See the full regulations and other information on this area at the Gov of NL Dept. of Environment and Conservation Hawke Hills Ecological Reserve page.

Section 3: Conception Bay

Upon exiting the AWR and travelling along the Trans Canada Highway, the suggested route again enters the forest for a short period before reaching Holyrood and the railbed portion of the hike. Although the railbed initially closely follows the coast, options for resupply are plentiful – there are grocery stores at Holyrood and Long Pond, with several smaller vendors along the way.

What is this route’s relationship to the East Coast Trail (ECT)?

example-of-total-loop-route
Combining the AXCR with the ECT produces a loop hike of about 530 kilometres

The Short Answer: There isn’t one.

The Long Answer: Those looking for a established, easy-to-follow, picturesque coastal path should first check out the East Coast Trail. Highly recommended.

After you’ve done that, if you want to:

A: Get back to where you started, but don’t want to sully your adventure by riding in a motor car…..

OR

B: Up the ante and hike some barren wilderness (plus some tortuous road)….

Then it’s time to check out the AXCR! Think of it as the ECT’s illogical, illegitimate, wild eyed cousin.

You can find more info below on using this route to connect both ends of the East Coast Trail.

Please Note:
To be serious for just a moment… This suggested route is nothing more than a collection of GPS files – there is no conventional “hiking trail” within this area.

Additional Connector Segments (connecting the ECT via the AXCR).

There are unofficial ECT paths that could conceivably be utilized to connect the AXCR to the ECT in the north and south, allowing the hiker to effectively complete one big continuous loop of about 530 km on the Avalon Peninsula.

While this data is not available here, info on these Connector Segments has been shared via DropBox by Steve “Spongebob” Jackson for both the southern and northern ends (2 files, GPX waypoints, no signup required for download).

Southern Connector Segment: Cappahayden to Cape Race.
Length: 39 km
Rating: Difficult, with bushwacking and several river crossings.

Northern Connector Segment: Topsail to Portugal Cove.
Length: 15 km
Rating: Easy, marked path and asphalt.

Proposed: The Avalon Loop Trail – The ALT!

2016-07-19-00-17-45For the last few months I’ve been slowly working on the idea of connecting the East Coast Trail to a south / north route through the Avalon Wilderness Reserve on Newfoundland’s east coast. A few weeks ago I asked for input from anyone who may be familiar with any existing trails in a few problem areas, most specifically the area from Hawke Hills to Topsail Beach. Now I’m happy to say those areas have largely been figured out.

Thanks to Jason Edwards, Ken Hooky and Isaac Edgecombe. And of course special thanks to Aaron O’Brien for his Avalon Wilderness Reserve articles in The Independent.

I’m still very far away from finding the time to hike this route, but I would like to have the non-ECT sections defined (in GPS waypoints and tracks) and available online within a year.

Here’s the break-down:

– East Coast Trail = 314 km
– Unofficial ECT North and South = 54 km
– Proposed Route Cape Race to Topsail Beach = ~200 km

The route is comprised of the East Coast Trail, single track, double track (ATV trails, coastal gravel road), trailway and of course some route finding in the Avalon Wilderness Reserve and south of Holyrood.

And the most important bit for hikers….
If the proposed route works out, there will be under 19 km of asphalt road walking in the 254 km non-ECT section. When combined with the ECT, that brings the total for asphalt road walking in the 570 km to just 11%.

Totals:

– Proposed Route Total = ~570 km
– Asphalt Road = ~61.5 km
– Percentage Road Walking = 11%

Other Routes in Newfoundland

The International Appalachian Trail extends across the west coast of Newfoundland from south to north. As of the time of this writing (Fall 2016), much of the trail follows the Trans Canada Trail (former railbed), paved roads, ATV trails and logging roads. This is a work in progress and some information is available online from the folks at International Appalachian Trail Newfoundland & Labrador.

There are also many loosely defined routes on Newfoundland’s west coast listed on Clarence Pelley’s site; Cormack Expeditions. I’m unable to discern if some of these routes are in fact also the IAT-NL. In any case, Clarence details several routes ranging from 3 to 55 kilometers in length. Note that these all appear to be trackless backcountry treks – no trail, but route finding with the assistance of detailed text – so navigation skills are required.

Outport Trail

This trail has potential to become a “Linear, end to end” trek that could be accessed at both ends.

img_20160904_125636982_hdr-01Currently (Fall 2016), the trail is 15 km in length (one way, or 30 km return). The hiker leaves Newman Sound Campground and travels on hardened, easy to follow path as far as South Broad Cove. Upon reaching this point, the park staff suggest that hikers turn around and return the way which they came. When including the viewpoint side trail to the Mt. Stamford lookout (on route at about km # 10 – between 2 to 3 km round trip) the total is about 33 km.

In the past, the path continued along the coast as far as Park Harbour at approximately 24 km. This section of the trail from 15 km to 24 km is overgrown and unmaintained. Some route finding would be required.

Beyond Park Harbour at 24km, experienced hikers could conceivably do some off trail route finding, turning south to continue along the coast to Charlottetown. To my knowledge, no trail exists in this area. This would produce an “end to end” hike of somewhere around 50 to 60 km, with about 35 km or more of that being “off-trail” route finding with map / compass / GPS. A suggested topo map for this area would be NRC NTS Map Number 2-C/12 (1:50,000 scale).

East Coast Trail

ect-general-route-overviewThis trail follows the coastline for about 312 km on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland. Along its length, the trail is comprised of shorter forest paths ranging from about 3 to a combined 30 km in length (2 to 19 miles). Generally, these paths link small coastal fishing communities.

At approximately the half way point, the trail also passes directly through the City of St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland and the oldest city in North America (population of approximately 250,000 including metro area). Just south of St. John’s the trail passes the most easterly point in North American @ Cape Spear.

From the perspective of a thru hiker, the most advantageous aspect of a hike on this trail is unique – there are no fees, permits or paperwork of any kind to arrange a hike of this trail. To my knowledge, there is no other path in Eastern Canada of this length and with this level of development that can make such a claim.

The paths of the East Coast Trail are easy to follow – generally well marked, cut and hardened. It’s worth noting, however, that the trail follows the coastline so closely that it has many sudden, steep elevation changes and can even at times be dangerous – particularly when winds sweep off the Atlantic Ocean. The coast of this region consists largely of high, steep cliffs, making the views at each turn truly dramatic. With this terrain there are precious few flat, easy-to-hike sections.

Trailheads for each individual path are generally found at the outskirts of each community. Each individual trailhead sign generally lists the distance to the other end of that path. There is no indication of the length of the trail as a whole on these signs, as much of the usage to date is by day hikers and hikers doing partial sections. As such, there is also no indication at each end of the trail that the hiker has reached a terminus.

While hiking the Community Link routes, thru hikers will have a short walk on small, quiet community side streets of a few kilometers (usually just 2 or 3 km, with the longest being 8 km) before reaching the next trailhead. Currently, the ECT is 78% forest walking, and 22% community / road walking. These community road walks can at times be confusing – they are unmarked. To assist with this, there is unofficial, user-generated content available at ECTThruHike.com in the form of a spreadsheet that links to Google Map Routes for each road walk. A full set of detailed maps for each individual path are available directly from the East Coast Trail Association.