ROCKY HARBOUR, Newfoundland — It was a long, tough, uphill climb to get a photograph.
But it wasn't just any picture I was after at Gros Morne National Park in eastern Canada.
I was after the park's signature and iconic photograph: The atop-the-world view of cobalt-blue Ten-Mile Pond with 1,800-foot-high cliffs and the Gulf of St. Lawrence (part of the Atlantic Ocean) in the distance.
That is the most famous and eye-popping photo of Gros Morne, and the only way to get it is to hike to the top of 2,644-foot Gros Morne Mountain, a stubby block of quartzite topped by Arctic tundra.
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It's a 10-mile round trip that took seven hours and is billed as a strenuous and potentially dangerous trek when the weather is foul (as it frequently is). It has some very serious uphill. It is not a hike for everyone.
The first 2.5 miles through forest and heath is fairly easy, gaining about 1,000 feet in elevation. Then the hike gets serious: The main 1,600-foot ascent is straight up a rock-filled gully on the mountain's south slope.
You are scrambling over piles of boulders up slopes that, in places, approach 70 degrees in steepness. Hikers set a slow but steady pace, concentrating on each step, and you frequently need your hands to grab bigger boulders to pull yourself up.
A cairn-marked trail winds atop the flat-topped summit, where the temperature dropped 15 degrees and the wind gusts topped 50 miles an hour as we hunkered down for lunch after reaching the top.
To stand atop Gros Morne Mountain and gaze down at sparkling glacier-carved Ten-Mile Pond and out across the wild and rugged gray-granite Long Range Mountains (a Canadian extension of our Appalachian Mountains) was awesome, magical and spellbinding — far better than a photo.
Our group of four hikers, organized by Gros Morne Adventures, a local outfitter, encountered no clouds, fog, rain or snow, so that was considered a good day. And we made good time. Some trips take two to three hours longer.
Guide Jeff said it was his fourth time atop the mountain and the first time he had even seen Ten-Mile Pond from high on Newfoundland's second-tallest peak.
You return via a long, downhill, rock-filled, calf-busting trail that drops off the mountain's north side through Ferry Gulch.
The mountain got its name from the Creole term for "a big lone round hill." It also means "the big dreary or gloomy" in French. That description fits when the weather is bad.
Gros Morne National Park — it covers 445,440 acres — has gained a reputation as one of Canada's premier wild parks with its rock-walled fjords, cold-water lakes, demanding backcountry, 150 miles of rugged coastline, forests, old fishing villages and unique geology.
It is one of Canada's very special places with dramatic sweeping landscapes and big vistas. It is a bigger-than-life park, one of the most spectacular in North America.
It is filled with tuckamore, the gnarled and impenetrable thickets of shrunken wind-blown conifers that looks like a forest for gnomes; about 5,000 moose, one of the highest densities of moose in Canada; herds of woodland caribou; cobble beaches, dunes and tidal pools; and berry-filled bogs.
Gros Morne is like Yosemite or Yellowstone at the edge of the Atlantic. It is wilder than Acadia in Maine. Its backcountry is like Yellowstone's, but there are no trails there. You need map and compass to negotiate the four-day 21.7-mile Long Range Traverse, the park's most famous trek. You are tested on your skills before you can get a wilderness permit. Parks Canada also puts transmitters on all long-distance hikers — just in case.
The park's most distinctive feature is The Tablelands, low-slung orange-brown hills that were once a piece of the inner Earth between the planet's mantle and crust.
It is one of the most exposed sections of the mantle in the world and documents the collision of continents. The rocks are 420 to 570 million years old.
The rock was 10 to 15 miles below the ancient seas until the collisions of North America, Europe and Africa, which remained one land mass for an estimated 100 million years. In 1987, the park was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its unusual geology.
Little grows in the Tablelands because of the toxic heavy metal peridotite. The result is a landscape rare to Canada but it looked to me like the bare-rock American Southwest. I was not overly impressed.
Gros Morne is, according to many, a hiker's park with more than 60 miles of trails. One of my favorites is to Green Gardens that has legs of 5.6 miles or 9.9 miles to the coast where grassy meadows sit atop a bluff overlooking the gulf. There are sea stacks, lava cliffs, a sea cave and storm-tossed beaches.
Some trails may be closed until June by snow and wet conditions. The trail to Gros Morne Mountain is closed until July for animals raising young.
The park is not totally wild: Two of the biggest attractions that draw big crowds are boat cruises.
I would say that the 2 1/2-hour cruise on 9.9-mile-long Western Pond Brook with its 2,000-foot-cliffs is the No. 1 must-do activity at Gros Morne. It requires a two-mile hike just to reach the dock but it's an easy stroll.
The land-locked lake is 1.2 miles wide at the mouth and the cliffs are awesome. Waterfalls tumble from cliffs that are 1.25 billion years old. The water is so pure and lacking in nutrients that there is little plant life, few insects or fish.
Trout River Pond, nine miles long at the southern end of the park, is home to a second cruise of 2 1/2 hours between the Tablelands and the Gregory Plateau with its steep cliffs. The boat tours are offered from June through September and fill up quickly.
There are picturesque lighthouses like the 1897 Lobster Cove Head Lighthouse near Rocky Harbour, shipwrecks like the remains of the SS Ethier from 1919 and easy trails including one to pretty two-tiered Bakers Brook Falls.
The park, established in 1973, is roughly divided in half by Bonne (pronounced Bonn) Bay. There is no bridge, but a water taxi will take passengers between Norris Point on the north bank and Woody Point on the south bank.
The park has visitor centers in Rocky Harbour and Woody Point. Two roads, Highways 430 and 431, provide the only access. Park admission is $9.80 (Canadian) per day for adults from May to October with discounts for youths, senior citizens and families. Multi-day passes are also available.
Newfoundland is promoting tourism to help locals economically as the fishing industry struggles with declining stocks. Heavy ad campaigns are drawing people from Ontario to the island that is nicknamed The Rock but is largely unfamiliar to most Americans.
The island's main tourist season is short: the summer months. Parts of Gros Morne get 33 feet of snow in the winter.
Western Newfoundland has a special charm with its Irish, French and English folk music that is everywhere, with its icebergs and whale cruises, its millions of seabirds and its lobsters (summer only).
It features fishing villages filled with tiny one-story houses. It's a boggy place and berries boom: bakeapple, partridgeberries and more. You can dine on moose stew and cod tongues (a local favorite).
Newfoundland is 500 miles northeast of Maine. You can drive to Newfoundland via Maine and Nova Scotia. That will require a six-hour ferry ride to the island. Or you can fly to Deer Lake in the west or St. John's in the east via Cleveland and Toronto.
Hotels are few but there are lodges, cottages and bed and breakfasts across western Newfoundland. Everyone, it seems, operates small craft shops selling to tourists. Reservations are required months in advance not only for lodging but also for car rentals.
To contact Gros Morne National Park, write to P.O. Box 130, Rocky Harbour, NF A0K 4N0, 709-458-2417, or check out http://www.pc.gc.ca/grosmorne
For tourist information, contact Newfoundland & Labrador Tourism, Culture and Recreation, P.O. Box 8700, St. John's, NF, Canada A1B 4J6, 800-563-NFLD or 709-729-0862, http://www.newfoundlandlabrador.com.
To contact Gros Morne Adventures, write to P.O. Box 275, Norris Point, NF A0K 3V0, 800-685-4624. http://www.grosmorneadventures.com.