On Aug. 22, Karen Penwell and Darrell Sneyd of St. John’s, NL embarked on what they thought was the Green Gardens Trail to wrap up their trip in Gros Morne National Park.
“It was a series of events (and) mishaps that led us down the wrong path, right from the get-go,” said Penwell.
Things first seemed amiss when the trail looked narrow, but they later found an old trail sign and continued.
Down on the shore, they photographed the trail’s famous sheep.
“These wild sheep looked at us almost as if to say, ‘What are you guys doing here?’ Like they weren't expecting us,” said Sneyd.
“At this point, I didn't give two craps about the boat."
Soon, they encountered some trail closure signs with a listed expiration date of June 2019. Penwell wondered about turning around, but Sneyd remembered hearing about maintenance last year and figured the signs had been forgotten.
Penwell was anxious to make a 2 p.m. boat tour, so up they went on stairs covered in undergrowth, which gradually disappeared. Penwell, a runner, almost left Sneyd behind, desperate to find level ground.
“That’s when we got up on the top and realized we had no idea where we were, and we couldn't find the stairs again, they were completely gone,” said Penwell, who was still concerned about the boat tour.
“At this point, I didn't give two craps about the boat,” added Sneyd.
Trekking through undergrowth to the peak of the valley — surprising a moose and calf along the way — they reached signal and phoned Parks Canada with just a 10 per cent battery charge left on their cell phone. While waiting for the responder to reach his office and call back, they also rescheduled the boat tour. Meanwhile, Sneyd worried about being stuck with limited supplies.
First, they were told to go back down to the shore, but with the previous day’s rain and being unable to see below, it was too dangerous. Eventually, after four calls, he figured out their location using GPS and gave a general direction to their rescuers.
The couple began to feel hopeful when the trail came within view from down below, though it took about three hours of bushwhacking and tripping over fallen trees to reach it.
“I was like, ‘Sweet Jesus, there we go … we found a body or something.”
One ominous find was an old femur bone and skull, believed to be from a moose.
“I was like, ‘Sweet Jesus, there we go … we found a body or something,’” said Sneyd. “It was just eerie.”
It took about 40 minutes to reach the car upon meeting the trail. Sneyd almost hugged the first hikers they encountered, giving warnings and receiving quizzical looks.
“He was still convinced at this point that it wasn't us, it was the trail that was the problem,” added Penwell.
It turns out that the brochure they used from their AirBnB was actually dated 2018. In their hurry, they had followed the old trail to the right of their car, and completely missed the new trail on the left.
“Once I saw that, I was like, ‘Yeah, we're idiots. This is totally on us,’” said Sneyd. “We just never looked at the signage. So that's the lesson learned.”
They laugh about it now, but intend to pack more supplies - like a compass, emergency blanket and whistle (in case Penwell “runs away from him again”) - on future hikes.
“Because we'd done the summit the day before, we'd done a lot of hiking the week before, leading up to it, I think we were just a little bit ignorant … obviously, we didn't do our homework enough,” said Penwell.
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