Exploring Lewis Hills
By: Chad Colbourne
There’s no better way to end a four-day trip to Newfoundland’s west coast than a bluebird day in the Lewis Hills with Donnie O’Keefe. If you’ve never heard of O’Keefe, he can accurately be described as a local guide who has a love for the snow, the Lewis Hills and snowmobiles. An extra benefit to having O’Keefe guide our group was that he also knows how to use a camera.
The picture-perfect day (March 26, 2018) started near Rugged Edge, an optimal staging area with immediate trail access and ample parking. Rugged Edge is a snowmobile-centric retail operation based in Corner Brook, N.L. Departing from the Rugged Edge parking lot, our plan for the day was to ride into the Lewis Hills region
and see whatever sights O’Keefe could get us in to see. The Lewis Hills is a mountainous zone that is geographically located between Stephenville and Corner Brook. Accessed from either side, but our choice on this day was to depart from the Corner Brook side, as we were staying in Deer Lake, which is east of Corner Brook.
Our group consisted of a group of fellas from our sixth annual “man trip.” This started six years ago by my wife saying she was going to a concert. The wheels in my head quickly started turning and I responded with, “Have a great time.” I knew then I’d be free to plan a weekend sled trip. The group size has grown every year and this year we had 14 guys come from as far as Ontario and Nova Scotia.
Once underway, we followed the groomed trail out of Corner Brook, hopped on the rail bed and cruised to Logger School Road and on to the Shiver Shack. The Shiver Shack is the crown jewel of the Western Sno-Riders snowmobile club. After a quick stop, we continued to the Map and waited for the group to catch up and, from there, finally into the hills.
There was quite the range of riding experience within our group. They ranged from first-time riders (first-time riding a machine two days before), avid riders who are competent in any condition and riders who have only ever experienced a groomed trail. O’Keefe felt out the group before we left the parking lot, so he was aware of what everyone’s comfort zones were. Although, we all know comfort zones can be stretched, depending on who you’re riding with.
Our first stop was at Secret Bowl and it’s not hard to know why. Without my GPS, I doubt I could ever find it again. There are a few “stucks” in every great day! A stuck is universal and many find embarrassment in getting stuck. However, many consider a stuck as you’re trying new things, stepping outside your comfort zone, which is key, too. Having buddies to help you get plugged out is also key.
From there, we went to Wheelers Gulch for a look and conditions seemed great, so we decided to descend into the valley for a better view. It didn’t disappoint.
We also made stops at Rope Cove Canyon and Molly Ann Gulch, which are both absolutely breathtaking. While I have been to Rope Cove Canyon before, it never ceases to amaze. Molly Ann Gulch was a first for me — snow conditions don’t always agree with the rugged landscape. O’Keefe informed us that the typical landscape there was exposed rocks, leaving you with a long, steep hike. The group knew then that it was a treat for us to be able to ride up to it.
Throughout the day, O’Keefe was always on the lookout for some skill-development sessions and they usually ended up with some stucks, which meant we were pushing ourselves and having a blast.
We made our way to the Lewis Hills’ highest point (the Cabox, at 814 metres) and had a quick picture before going to another area for a break and a snack.
We then began to make our way out to Hinds Pond. Luckily, Twin Swirls was in our sights and it’s exactly as it sounds. From there, we made our way back out to the groomed trail and back to the Shiver Shack for a quick break before continuing on to the trucks.
For anyone who hasn’t made a trip into the Lewis Hills, do it. You won’t be disappointed by the landscape and the sights. I would highly suggest a local guide, even if you think you’re capable of getting in and out safely. A local guide will know the area better and will be able to accommodate what your goals are for the day, whether that’s to see the sights or find some hills to play in. We’ll be back in 2019!
Sledworthy note: If you’re planning a trip to the Lewis Hills, Sledworthy highly recommends later in the season. Finding your way to the base of the Lewis Hills is straightforward, but the Lewis Hills is not a forgiving zone if the weather turns. Spring days are longer and warmer. This zone can be accessed well into May, even when the snow in the major towns is long gone. If you’re looking to explore the Lewis Hills and what to connect with a guide like Donnie, contact [email protected]
Photos: Donnie O’Keefe