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How to Stay Alive when Berry Picking in Newfoundland This Fall


With the cooler autumn temperatures and the trees expressing vibrant fall colours, berry pickers are coming out in droves for the annual bounty of blueberries, blackberries, mushrooms, and dozens of other Newfoundland edible plants that cover Newfoundland’s coastlines and forests. With so much to see and do outdoors during the autumn in Newfoundland, backcountry exploration during this time of year is at its peak. Along with this comes an annual spike in search and rescue calls for lost and stranded adventures.  We just want you to be happy and have a great time out there, so here are a few things to keep in mind when planning a Newfoundland fall backcountry adventure.

Tell someone where you’re going berry-picking and when you’ll be back 

Have you ever heard that story about someone getting lost or hurt in the Newfoundland backcountry and spending days in the woods before anyone even noticed they were missing? You don’t want to be that person, and you can prevent this by letting someone know where you’re going when you’re expected to be back, and what to do if you don’t return by a certain time. The last point, the one about what they should do in the event you do not return on time is especially important and one that seasoned berry pickers and adventure seekers always make a point of covering. “When hikers give us a return by time and they do not check-in, we call the search and rescue co-ordination team and get the ball rolling right away,” said Amanda Penton from Whale House Guest House, a popular East Coast Trail embarkment point “That’s the point of having a return by time. You’re letting us and your loved ones know if you don’t return by a certain day and time, you need help, so we start the process of sending that help right away. Anyone can register their East Coast Trail hike for free at the Whale House and we encourage everyone to let someone know where they’re going and when they are expected to return before heading off into the Newfoundland wilderness.”

Photo: The independant

Although daytime temperatures during the Newfoundland fall season are often mild and the weather tends to be favourable with more constant high-pressure weather systems (sunny and breezy) in coastal areas, conditions can change quickly, and nighttime temperatures often dip below freezing during this time of year, catching many adventures off guard. For those unfortunate enough to get stranded in the Newfoundland wilderness during the fall berry picking season, hypothermia is the biggest life threat.

How to select clothing for fall berry picking in Newfoundland

Have you ever heard the term “cotton kills” when deliberating what to wear on a Newfoundland wilderness adventure? The reason why cotton (like jeans and t-shirts) is a bad choice of clothing material when it comes to exploring during the fall season in Newfoundland is that cotton absorbs and holds onto water, and it takes a long time to dry compared with wool and microfibre synthetics. You can get wet from the obvious, like rain or falling into a body of water, but perspiration is another important contributor, and when your clothing that gets wet is made of cotton, it’s almost impossible to make it dry again. When you’re clothing is wet, you get cold faster by many magnitudes, and that can quickly lead to hypothermia. Choose to wear synthetic or wool fibres since they can keep you warm even when they’re wet and they can wick sweat away from your body to the surface of the garment where it can evaporate and dry easier. Not only should you wear clothing that’s made of the right material, but you should also make sure to pack an extra layer, dry socs, and a waterproof breathable jacket.

How do I choose the right backpack for a Newfoundland berry picking and foraging adventure

Part of surviving the Newfoundland wilderness while you’re berry picking, foraging, or otherwise adventuring is to choose the right backpack. Having a backpack, even a small 10-litre day pack, will make your Newfoundland fall adventure experience even more pleasurable. Having a backpack means you have a place to store your water bottle, phone, keys, extra layers, and emergency equipment all in one spot while still having space to cram in other things. The size of the pack depends on what your goals are and how long you plan on being out on the land. Are you going on a day hiking and berry picking adventure or will you be bringing a tent and sleeping bag with you on a Newfoundland overnight camping adventure? Will you be packing food and a cookstove? What season are you travelling in? Depending on these and other factors you can choose a backpack size that meets your needs while not overdoing it by packing everything including the kitchen sink and then paying for it with sweat and tears on every step of your journey. 

Have a way to navigate and know how to use your navigational tools before going into the Newfoundland woods and wilderness

In this modern age, there are many navigation tools available. All smartphones now double as a GPS complete with an artificial intelligence interface that will speak to you and guide you every step of the way. Dedicated GPS navigation devices have even better range and accuracy, working almost everywhere on earth. Using a map and compass is also effective and has worked well for explorers and adventurers over the centuries, but none of these tools work well for the user if they don’t know how to use them. The first time you turn on your GPS or check to see if your phone picks up a signal should not be on the East Coast Trail or out in the remote Newfoundland Wilderness. The same thing goes for figuring out how a map and compass work. Do you really want to be figuring out how to triangulate when you’re lost, cold, and just want to go home? Practice before you go so that you can iron out the glitches and be a pro when it comes to navigation. Knowing where you are is the most import part of figuring out how to get where you’re going.

Choose the right footwear for your next Newfoundland hiking, berrypicking, and foraging adventure

If your feet are unhappy, you will also be unhappy. What you choose to wear on your feet is important and will be determined by several factors. If you plan on accessing marshes, bogs, or anywhere wet, be sure to wear something waterproof, like a rubberized boot, leather boot, or waterproof-breathable hiker. Remember that temperatures can get cool in the fall, so be sure to wear warm socks and have an extra pair with you just in case. Berry picking and foraging often take adventure-seekers over uneven terrain, so choosing footwear with good ankle support will help minimize your chances of injury. If you find yourself buying new hiking boots before your adventure, wear them around for a few days before your trip to ensure they’re comfortable and have a chance to be broken in before your Newfoundland berry picking adventure.

Tips for Hiking In Newfoundland

Know how to be bear aware when berry picking in the Newfoundland wilderness

Yes, there are bears in Newfoundland. Lots of bears actually, and you can find them almost everywhere. Black Bears account for the majority of bears in Newfoundland with a local population of between 6000 and 10,000. They like to do their own thing, and typically any encounter in the wilderness between a human and a black bear can be resolved by giving the bear lots of space.  As much as we like picking berries in Newfoundland, black bears like it, even more, dedicating more of their time to this activity tan anything else. Just like people, when bears find a good berry picking patch they get into the zone and kind of forget about everything else around them, making them easy to startle. That’s how most bear encounters in Newfoundland start. If you do find yourself face to face with a bear in the berry picking patch, relax and breath. If the bear is there doing its own thing, just back up and give it space, and then go berry picking in a different area well away from the bear. If the bear approaches you initially you can walk backwards to create some space between you and the bear, but if the bear continues after you then stop, put your hands up, and say “Woah Bear”. If the bear continues closer stand your ground and shout “Woah Bear”, making yourself look large. Pick up a large stick, stand together as a group, and, the number one rule of any bear encounter: DO NOT RUN! In the unlikely event, a black bear tries to bite you or makes contact, fight the bear. Aim at its nose and eyes. Use a bear repellant device such as bear spray, and fight off the bear. Contrary to some myths, playing dead with a black bear does not work, so if the black bear is mauling you, the bear is trying to eat you, and your only recourse is to hurt or scare it so that it runs away. 

Did you know you can also find Polar Bears in Newfoundland? Each year during Iceberg Season Polar Bears drift down to the island portion of Newfoundland and Labrador on the ice from the Canadian Arctic and Labrador Straight Bring water and food

I know this kind of sounds like an obvious thing, but nobody is thinking about food just after lunch, and when you’re not thirsty, remembering to pack a water bottle is the last thing on your mind. You may not want it at the start of your adventure, but deep into your Newfoundland berry picking and foraging experience pulling out that cheese sandwich, granola bar, and freshwater will make your experience outstanding. It’s hard to have fun when you’re hungry, and sometimes berries alone don’t hit the spot, so be sure to pack a little something for you and your friends to snack on. More often than not you’ll be glad you did.

What kinds of experiences have you had berry picking in the Newfoundland wilderness? Do you have any Newfoundland berry picking adventure stories or tips? Please share in the comments below, we want to hear from you.

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Whale House Guest House offers luxury boutique private suites with outdoor hot tubs overlooking humpback whale feeding grounds. Located next to the east coast trail in the Witless Bay Ecological Reserve, just 30 min from downtown St. John’s.

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