Far: Newfoundland, New Routes, and Exploration
This article first appeared in The Alpine Briefs, a newsletter from the editors of the American Alpine Journal
By Sarah Garlick, North Conway, NH; photos © Sarah Garlick and Kirsten Kremer
“What about Newfoundland?” I asked, spinning around on the bar stool to face Janet and Kirsten. “Aren’t there granite walls rising right out of the ocean?”
Janet Bergman, Kirsten Kremer, and I were sitting in my kitchen in North Conway, a few beer bottles and an old grade-school globe on the dark Formica counter between us. Kirsten was visiting from Alaska, and we were hashing out plans for our next climbing trip. Spinning the dusty globe to North America, I recalled vague images from a Climbing magazine article about Newfoundland: a climber run-out on a wind-blasted face; a steep rappel over gray ocean. And I remembered impressions from a novel placed there: the tiny, isolated towns; the bedrock landscape. And always, I thought, there were storms.
“I’ve heard it’s pretty wild,” I said.
A year later, the three of us loaded my 1991 Toyota van with two and a half weeks worth of food and enough gear to handle big aid lines, blank granite slabs, and fifth-class traverses—all of which we’d been told we could encounter. But, like any good trip, the first crux would be just getting there.
We drove 15 hours straight from New Hampshire to the tip of Nova Scotia, making the overnight ferry by less than 30 minutes. The ferryboat had eight floors and accommodated more than a hundred vehicles—even tractor trailers. Lucky for us, there was also a bar.
We landed on “The Rock” at dawn the next day and pushed the van for one more sprint to link another ferry leaving from Burgeo, a town literally at road’s end. Here, a few nice ferrymen Saran-wrapped a pallet of our gear and loaded it into the ship’s hold for a six-hour ride up the coast.
Our destination was François, population 113, a remote fishing village that dates as far back as the 1700s. We were greeted by George and Nancy Durnford, who hosted some of the first climbers to visit François in the 1990s. The next morning, George Durnford and George Fudge, captain of the intrepid Royal Oak, took us on a boat tour of the cliffs.
The Georges dropped us off on a small beach in Chaleur Bay, the only fjord in the region that had not yet been explored by climbers. A little sand spit sat at the mouth of a freshwater stream and provided the only flat terrain around. Two miles of unclimbed granite cliffs stretched before us.
“I feel like I’m in a dreamland,” Kirsten said. “Is this even real?”
For the next two weeks, we paddled around the fjord in a little plastic rowboat; we crawled up 50° slopes of fern and moss; we climbed gorgeous, virgin cracks and crumbly, flakey horror-shows; and we ate tons and tons of wild blueberries. In the end, we established three complete new routes and one partial route, about 20 pitches in all. The rock was unbelievably climbable: We sent all of our routes on-sight and free, mostly in the 5.10+ range. And the famous Newfoundland weather? Well, a storm did come, the last day. The ferry bucked and swayed in the storm surf as we pulled out of François into the open Atlantic.
Janet, Sarah, and Kirsten thank the following companies for supporting this trip: Mountain Hardwear, Outdoor Research, La Sportiva, Sterling Rope Company, and Sea to Summit. We are also thankful to Joe and Karen Terravecchia for helping organize the trip, as well as the kind and generous people of François, especially George and Nancy Durnford, and George and Doris Fudge.