The UltramaTrex is the trail route spine of Cabox Geopark which traverses the “ultramafic” sections of the four Bay of Islands Ophiolite Massifs.  It extends from Winterhouse Brook in Gros Morne National Park in the north to Fox Island River east of the Lewis Hills in the south.  Between the two northern massifs (Table Mountain and North Arm) and the two southern massifs (Blow Me Down and Lewis Hills) is the Bay of Islands, which must be crossed by boat between Stowbridges (aka Stone Brook) and Frenchman’s Cove, or between Stowbridges and Cox’s Cove, then by ground transportation to Frenchman’s Cove. 

The UltramaTrex is approximately 145 kilometers (90 miles) in length and is divided into four stages, one for each of the four ophiolites.   The stages can be completed individually, in pairs (northern and southern), or together as a single trek.  In total, the UltramaTrex requires 6 – 8 days to complete.


Stage One – Table Mountain Massif – is approximately 22 kilometers (13.5 miles) in length and can be completed in approximately 10 hours, 10.5 hours to the Trout River Pond campground.   From the start at 150 meters (492 feet) above sea level at Winterhouse Brook, the trek climbs up through an ultramafic gulch – or canyon – composed primarily of peridotite from the earth’s mantle that was carried to the surface by tectonic forces during the closing of the Iapetus Ocean approximately 450 million years ago.   

 

Once at the top (approx. 710 meters (2,330 feet)) the panoramic view spans the top of the barren plateau to the distant town of Woody Point in the background through the gulch. 

The route across the plateau is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) to the back of Fox Point Gulch, with an unexpected stroll across sub-arctic grasslands.

 

The view south from the back of the gulch includes Trout River Pond and the top of the Elephant, which overlooks the Narrows between the inner and outer sections of pond.

 

The descent to the canyon floor is down a short scree field in a narrow gully.   Immediately at left is a 130 meter (400 ft) impassable waterfalls that drains the plateau and the remaining winter snow and ice that fills the shady depressions.

 

From here it’s an easy 2 km stroll out of the gulch, past a winding cascade that turns east and empties into Trout River Pond.

After crossing the shallow stream, it is now just an easy 7 km (4 mile) stroll along a park trail to the wharf at the end of the pond.  Another 2 kms on gravel road will take hikers to an ideal campground within striking distance of the Elephant.

 

Stage Two – North Arm Ophiolite – is the longest stage at approximately 52 kilometers (32 miles) and can be completed in 2 to 3 days, depending on month and fitness.   From the start at 30 meters (98 feet) elevation near Trout River Pond campground, the route follows an ATV trail for approx 5 kilometers (3 miles) before climbing up the side of the Elephant to a height of 400 meters (1,310 feet).

 

The plateau on top of the Elephant’s Head provides fantastic views of Table Mountain Massif (i.e., the Tablelands) and Trout River Pond, all the way to the town of Trout River.

 

On day two, the trek follows a series of mountaintop valleys that drain a number of large lakes, ponds and wetlands. 

 

This is some of the most remote backcountry in Western Newfoundland, where it is much more likely to encounter a moose, caribou, arctic hare or black bear than a two-legged backpacker.  But have no fear, like other friendly Newfoundlanders, the black bears here are quite harmless and more likely to run off in the opposite direction than approach with curiosity.

 

An ideal place to camp is above upper Liverpool Brook, near a series of beautiful waterfalls that enter and flow down the river from various directions.  

 

On day three the route rises to a rocky peridotite plateau at 650 meters (2,133 feet), not an uncommon landscape on top of the Bay of Islands Ophiolite Massifs.

 

It then descends a long west-facing slope with terrific views of the Bay of Islands 

 

and Stowbridges Gulch.

 

 

Once at bottom, a short distance around the shore is an IATNL basecamp where hikers can arrange to spend the night.

 

Hikers may also cross North Arm Massif in two days by taking a boat shuttle across Trout River Pond and accessing the northeastern end of the plateau via the 8 km (5 mile) Overfalls Trail, which rises from an elevation of 5 meters at the floating dock to 420 meters at the top of the Overfalls waterfall.   This route provides scenic views of Trout River Pond and the Tablelands, as well as three small beautiful waterfalls and the spectacular 150 meter (500 foot) Overfalls.

 

From the basecamp at Stowbridges, North Arm, it is necessary to take a boat ride across the Bay of Islands to Frenchman’s Cove, or to Cox’s Cove in Middle Arm, then take ground transportation around the Humber Arm to Frenchman’s Cove.

View of the Blow Me Down Mountains, with Hummock at far left, Cape Blow Me Down at background right, and Woods Island at foreground right

 

After crossing the Bay of Islands by boat (an approx one hour ride), Stage Three – Blow Me Down Massif – starts at sea level from the wharf in Frenchman’s Cove.   

 

Day one of the 2-day 29 kilometer (18 mile) trek begins with a 5 km hike to the top of the Hummock, where hikers get a panoramic view of the northeast end of the Blow Me Down Massif, as well as terrific views of the outer Bay of Islands and Humber Arm as far as Corner Brook. 

 

From there the route crosses a generally dry wetland to a ridge above the eastern bank of Blow Me Down Brook, which it follows for one kilometer before descending to the brook below.   It then follows the brook as it makes a right angle turn west into the massif, dividing the glacier-carved valley along a geological boundary between ocean crust (primarily grey gabbro) to the north and earth’s mantle (primarily rust colored peridotite) to the south. 

 

Approximately 3.5 kms (2 miles) into the gulch is Blow Me Down Brook Falls, an 80 meter (260 feet) high waterfalls with a wide deep pool at its base, ideal for a cool refreshing dip on warm summer days. 

 

From the falls, the route climbs 260 meters (850 feet) up a peridotite slope where hikers can either take a 1.6 km (1 mile) walk to a lovely campsite on the side of the brook near a long clear pool, or turn south and make a 5 km (3 mile) trek up and across the 650 meter (2,132 feet) high plateau before descending to a campsite on the upper reaches of Simms Gulch Brook.

 

Day Two is spent descending into and out of Simms Gulch on a “stone glacier” of primarily ultramafic peridotite rocks that either tumbled down the steep eastern cliff wall or were washed down one of two upper tributaries that normally flow underground. 

 

Like the northern slope of Blow Me Down Gulch, the western cliff wall of Simms Gulch is composed of a distinct light grey gabbro, part of the ocean floor of the ancient Iapetus Ocean.  It extends all the way to the entrance to the gulch where it crosses the streambed and spans both sides of the canyon, which is approximately 300 meters (984 feet) at its narrowest and 600 meters (1,970 feet) at its widest, and rises from a height of 200 meters (655 feet) on the canyon floor to 600 meters (1,970 feet) on both flanks.

 

Leaving the gulch, hikers follow along the edge of Simms Brook before descending a trail through a coniferous forest to the shore of Serpentine Lake.  Along the way a short detour can be made back to Simms Brook for a series of waterfalls that are a great place to cool off. 

 

Once at the lake, hikers are reminded to cross to the other side by walking on a sandbar on the western end of the lake, not by crossing the deeper river a short distance away.  This crossing is not recommended on foot before July, as winter snowmelt may raise the lake level to waist deep or higher.   (Summer levels are normally between knee and thigh.)  Once on the other side, the beach near the logging road is a great place to camp for the night.

 

Stage Four – Lewis Hills Massif – begins with a 2.5 kilometer (1.5 mile) walk on a gravel backcountry road to the IATNL trailhead for the Lewis Hills Trail.  After a shallow stream crossing and 2 kilometer (1.25 mile) trek up a forested trail to the base of the mountains, hikers are afforded a terrific view of the route from Simms Gulch

 

before navigating around boulders and across another stream until they reach the entrance to Red Rocky Gulch and another Mars-like peridotite landscape from the earth’s mantle.   

 

From there they turn west into the gulch for a 5 kilometer (3 mile) trek that begins by walking on small rocks along the side of a brook and ends by weaving around large boulders on the west bank of the upper gulch, which rises to an elevation of 620 meters (2,035 feet).   

 

Once in the high country above 500 meters (1,640 ft), it is quite possible to cross snow fields in summer and discover an ice cave with cool shade on a hot day.

 

Just 3 kilometers (2 miles) from the top of Red Rocky Gulch is the back end of Rope Cove Canyon, which affords a magnificent view of a multi-colored valley composed of peridotite on the southern end and mafic gneiss and amphibolite of the Mount Barren Complex on the northern end, with the Gulf of St Lawrence in the background.  This is a good place to camp for the night, with a small stream to cook and wash. 

 

Day Two of this stage is a 19 kilometer (12 mile) trek that begins with a sweeping vista into the upper reaches of Fox Island River and its tributaries

 

before climbing to the Cabox, at 814 meters (2,670 feet) the highest point on the island of Newfoundland.  Lucky hikers may encounter a family of caribou resting there in the midday sun.

 

An alternate route to the Cabox from Rope Cove Canyon is via Molly Ann Gulch, just a short distance away but in the substantially different Mount Barren geological formation

 

where like Rope Cove Canyon, campers may be fortunate enough to watch the sun set into the Gulf of St Lawrence.

 

No matter what route you take to the summit, it’s all downhill from there! … first across a broad gentle slope

 

then down another peridotite gulch than ends in a series of crystal-clear cascading pools that drain into Fox Island River. 

 

An easy crossing of the shallow river is followed by a 160 meter (525 feet) climb up a moderate slope providing a good view of the mountains and river

 

then a level hike around a grassy bog, then half kilometer trek along a forest trail to the southern trailhead of the IATNL Lewis Hills Trail.

 

Be sure to arrange transportation from this point, which is generally a 1.3 hour drive over a gravel backcountry road in an SUV or pickup truck.