Gaff Ride May 4th
What a great way to end a great season of riding. I have ridden snowmobile well into the spring months for many years with May usually being the end of my riding season. So when I received a text from Paul Rose (Riverfront Chalets) and Andrew Goldsworthy wondering if I wanted to hit up the Gaff Topsails for one last spring ride I was all for it.
The majority of my 2014 riding season was spent exploring Central NL, either riding with Paul Rose or expanding on the areas he had previously shown me. My first trip to the Gaff area on February 18 was an awakening for me, 12 hrs riding on the deepest day of the year in “new to me” country was not something I will quickly forget. The Gaff area has some excellent places to ride, from breaking trail along old woods roads to picking a way through dense trees in search of passages to the next hill. The day flew by, as did the gas, food and daylight. From February to March I returned 5 times to the Gaff.
Over the last couple of years I have been in contact with Andrew Goldsworthy multiple times but the opportunity to ride together never materialized. So, when my schedule lined up with his planned trip of the Gaff Area with Paul Rose on May 4th I loaded up the sled for my last ride of the remarkable 2014 season. It was an early Sunday morning when I met up with Chris Tuck at a gas station in Gander. We gassed up the sleds, grabbed some food for the ride and were off to Riverfront Chalets to meet up with Paul, our guide for the day. We arrived at Paul’s place around 9:30am and loaded my sled into Paul’s trailer to reduce the number of trucks that would be parked at the trail head off the Buchan’s highway.
This ride would require us to travel the rail bed into the Gaff, as the lakes and rivers that had provided access all winter were either melted out or not safe to travel across.
Shortly after arriving at Riverfront Chalets, we were introduced to Brian and Perse, 2 snowmobilers that would be joining us on this spring trip to the Gaff. At 78 years old Perse would be the oldest rider in our group. This guy has seen it all and didn’t miss a beat, climbing hills, crossing water, riding gravel, picking through trees and across bogs. He didn’t flinch or slow down all day, and did it all with the enthusiasm of a teenager. It was amazing to see how much he enjoyed the day.
Again this year people were sceptical as to the ability to ride sleds in May in Central NL. Some people questioned where we were headed and if any snow remained? Having been in contact with Paul regarding the snow situation I was aware that we would have some sections of dirt but that is not unusual for May riding. The snow line had receded about 500 m in the three days since Paul’s last scouting trip so the dirt sections further in most likely increased also. It is important to ensure you have a good set of carbides on your skis if you plan to travel over dirt. One of the guys riding with us had broken a carbide the previous day on a brand new Freeride and halfway in the trail he stopped to check the cause of his steering difficulties. The ski with the missing carbide had worn the keel so badly that it resembled something off a child’s snow racer. There were multiple stops on the way in to check the conditions of our skis and I am happy to report that there was no damage to my sled or the majority of the sleds for that matter. By the end of the day, two sleds had some ski damage due to missing carbides. But if you are willing to truck to the snow and ride over a little dirt you can enjoy a long season and some great spring riding.
Due to the time required for Andrew and crew to travel from St. John’s to Buchans, we decided to head on in and wait for them to catch up. The weather was slightly overcast but seasonal and the ride in consisted of mostly snow and the occasional skip over a bare bog. With numerous caribou and geese to photograph and watch, it’s no wonder this area of the island is such a draw for hunters and outdoor enthusiasts alike. One stop that people enjoy is the quarry. This is where granite was mined to make the bases of the railway bridges and the rectangular granite stones stacked up like giant Jenga pieces are definitely worth going to see. Once we reached the Mary March Bridge we followed a birch lined river to a suitable location to have a boil up, burn some gas along the river banks and wait for Andrew to arrive.
Right on cue, shortly after the boil up, hearing sleds in the distance we packed up and headed back to the main trail to meet up with Andrew. With introductions complete, our group of 12 riders continued on to the “summit”, the highest point of what was once the Newfoundland railway to check out the numerous snow covered cabins. It is quite a site to see just roof peaks and Chimney stacks rising from the endless sea of white. Stepping off your sled and onto a cabin roof was not something I expected in May.
After the pics were taken we were off to the Main Topsail in search of spots to play. The slopes of the Topsails offer varying terrain for all experience levels, from gentle slopes for sightseeing to steep bolder ridden side hills. Everyone can find something to push their skills and get the blood pumping. Over the next couple hours each sled in the group tore into the spring snow, climbing, jumping, side hilling and even the occasional roll. Everyone was getting in on the action, even 78 year old Percy who climbed right to the top of the Main and Gaff topsails to take in the scenic views.
Our intended destination from Main Topsail was going to be an excellent treed slope that surrounds Sandy Pond but navigating the numerous open brooks and ponds this late in the season made the 6 KM trip unfeasible. Instead, we swung back around and headed for the Mizzen Topsail which offered another hour of jumping and side hilling, before finally heading off to check out the Gaff Topsail.
The view from the top of Gaff Topsail really does illustrate that the area is very much a high barren plateau. As far as the eye can see in any direction is flat, except for the 3 other topsails that dot the landscape. The wide open nature of this landscape makes it very easy to cover long distances quickly but the lack of any size reference makes it very hard to estimate distances effectively. This type of terrain is also very difficult to navigate if the weather takes a turn and having a GPS, but more importantly knowing how to use it, can really be a lifesaver.
Having seen the major sites of the Gaff area it was time to head back to the trucks, and as always happens at the end of the day, everyone wanted one last try at the hill. Within minutes multiple sleds were stuck and one “cat” even missed landing on her feet. Ten minutes later, everyone had remounted their sleds and we headed back to Millertown Junction to load up and head for home.
The Gaff trip of May 4th would be my last ride of the 2013 – 2014 season and it turned out to be a great day to end an excellent riding season that spanned 7 months.