On the morning of September 19 at about half past seven I crawled out of my tent. The air was calm. A light mist was rising off Northwest Pond. By around ten o’clock I had broken camp and was on my way again. My plan was to follow the backbone of the Northwest Brook watershed as far as the end of Horse Chops Road. There I would camp for the night.
I set a bearing north, aiming to pass along the west side of Big Pond Under the Hill. On the way I saw two moose: a cow and her calf. They smelled me before I got close and promptly disappeared. The wind was from the south that day so my scent was bound to waft before me as a warning to all creatures.
My next bearing brought me to the top of a ridge. The view from there was expansive. The surrounding land was utterly barren, studded with rocky ridges and knolls. I thought that this must be the most beautiful area of the Avalon wilderness that I had ever seen. The landscape was so remarkably open, so laid bare.
After resting on the ridge awhile, I set a bearing for the north end of Three Corner Pond. At around noon I forded the river there so as to be on the east side of the Northwest Brook watershed. I figured the terrain on that side would make for easier walking. The river was a sparkling stream of blue studded with many boulders. After that I walked to a pond immediately to the west of Little Juniper Break, along the way spying a lone male caribou sporting a large rack of antlers. Being upwind from me, he couldn’t smell me, so we both lingered awhile.
At this pond I stopped for lunch. While eating I gazed over at the neat little hills that comprise Little Juniper Break. I remembered the time five years previous when I had walked over those hills and crossed a stream between two ponds. It appeared as if nothing had changed here in the intervening years. It seemed almost possible that I might see my old self coming over those hills again.
From there I continued north, following some scattered gullies. Now I was following pretty much the exact route I had taken five years ago. I encountered waterfowl and wading birds in some abundance. To my surprise I had a clear view to the east as far as the Butterpots near Fermeuse. Two of the recently installed windmills in that area were visible. I was amazed to have a glimpse of civilization.
In the vicinity of North Pond, at the northern extremity of the Northwest Brook watershed, I came upon a group of seven caribou. There was one male, impressively antlered, with what looked like a harem of five females, one of which had a calf. The male and his harem were occupying a ridge. I watched them from a distance. They smelled me as I got closer and eventually ran off. When I reached the ridge where they had been I saw below me – on the shore of North Pond – the mother and calf, now separated from the others. Without hesitation she led the calf to the water and they swam to the other shore, the calf’s little white tail sticking straight up in the air the whole way across. I had never seen caribou swimming before so I was delighted with this encounter. Of all the animals in the Avalon wilderness, I enjoy seeing the caribou most of all, since their population has suffered such a serious decline. It was especially nice to see several of them together, since the last two times I saw caribou in the Avalon wilderness I saw only solitary animals that looked weak and abandoned.
The dead end of a dead end road
At that point I was finally getting near Horse Chops Road. I was tired and wanted to find a camping place pronto. First I had to find the road, and in order to do that I had to make my way through a patch of dense woods. I tried a number of moose and caribou trails to no avail. Finally I found one that moved me in the right direction. Soon I saw a break in the trees which, to my relief, turned out to be the road.
I had started walking west along the narrow and infrequently used dirt road when a partridge suddenly and loudly flapped its wings and flew away. It gave me quite a scare. I was feeling a bit on edge due to exhaustion, as well as a little nervous about going to the end of Horse Chops Road.
I find there’s something horribly desolate about the end of Horse Chops Road. It terminates at the south end of Stage Pond where a stone and earthwork dam was built in the 1950s. The dam is raised quite high above North Pond, so the water that now gathers in Stage Pond must have previously flowed south into the Northwest Brook water system. Presently it flows north toward the hydroelectric stations at Cape Broyle. There’s also a scarred and gravely island in Stage Pond near the dam. It looks like the upper portion of what was once a gravel pit, peeking its crescent-shaped rim above the surface of the reservoir. It all makes for a pretty ugly scene. This kind of rudely abandoned industrial worksite, marring an otherwise gorgeous wilderness, tends to unsettle me.
I had little choice but to camp right next to the dam. This campsite was definitely not as pleasant as the beach at Northwest Pond. Man-made reservoirs always seem to me rather lifeless in comparison with natural bodies of water. Despite the ugliness of the place, I was glad to have a spot to eat and rest. With the sun setting, I quickly did my evening stretches, set up the tent, and made supper: another burger, with couscous and veggies this time, and half an avocado sprinkled with salt. A robin visited me while I made supper.
That evening the wind changed: cloud and fog started coming in from the southeast. The air became cold. I figured if it remained foggy the next day, it would be best take the road. I’d been hoping to explore the west side of Stage Pond and Blackwoods Pond, but by the looks of it there would be a lot of tuckamore along that route. I left the final decision till morning and fell asleep to the sound of loons.