Into the Wild Divide: Section A: 145km
“As the old pine fell we sang…just to bless the morning.” – Ben Howard
GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE – June 2 – 26km
Well, it’s official Day One of our GDT yo-yo hike,since yesterday was a mere 6km hike to the trailhead.
It may be shocking, or even sound dramatic, but hear me when I say this is NO JOKE. Today had me completely convinced that there was no way I could do this. Already. On the FIRST DAY!
Here’s some background. It was apparent from pretty early on that the first section would be beyond a challenge. We shoot up into high elevation right away, and we stay there for 6 solid days. This winter showed record high snowfall for the Rocky Mountains, and we knew there would be a lot of snow. We brought snow shoes and our strong wills.
Yet I struggled. We slid around in our snowshoes, sans trail, navigating this way and that, skirting around this lake, up that pass, down that steep descent, snowshoes off, slide down on our butts, REPEAT. It was a rough day…harder than I could have ever conjured up in my imaginative brain.
I was pretty much in a bad mental space all day as we trudged along in the snow and continued to lose the trail and battled the most ferocious winds.
I. CANT. DO. IT.
How can I let my team down like this? What’s Dan going to think? How could I ask him to quit with me when we have just BARELY begun?
The day progressed slowly. I had a mishap with some slippery snow that sent me careening down a slope for 25 feet (which felt like forever) until I managed to grab hold of a passing by shrub. That was it! I had reached my wits end and lost it in a sea of tears and snot. “I can’t hike the GDT in these conditions!”
I felt like a big tease; an imposter and poser. My man gives me one of his strong, tight, steady bear hugs and tells me we will work it out.
“Once we make it to camp,” he reasons, “we will have a look at what tomorrow will bring and come up with a strategy.” Always my rock. Always my steady reasoning. I love him.
So I pull myself (somewhat) together and manage to make the 26 km to Cameron Lake, our campsite. They are doing construction there, and there was one lone stone mason working on an outhouse. He tells us that we are more than welcome to sleep in the empty tuck shop building. We consider the high winds and our tired bodies and decide to take him up on the offer. Sleeping on a construction site – hike trash new low?
I fall asleep, still feeling anxious and apprehensive. We have worked out several bail options for the rest of the section. The trail intercepts with lots offside trails that lead to busy enough roads that we could catch a hitch to Waterton. While I don’t plan to quit (despite how I felt earlier) it is nice knowing that I will not get stuck on the divide with no way out. It’s a security blanket that I’m more than happy to sleep with for tonight.
AMONG THE BURGANDY SHALE – June 3 – 16 km
Today we go over Lineham Ridge – the second highest point on the GDT. Sure. No problem. Never mind I was ready to quit yesterday.
Luckily I slept cozily in my construction site camp, and I wake in good spirits. We start the day with a 5 km road walk, then begin to head back up into the Continental Divide zone.
We move so very slowly. Navigation, snow travel, steep ascents and descents, Dan’s injured knee…it’s all working against us. We plug away, knowing that slow progress is still progress. As we approach the famous high ridge, we completely abandon the trail to make a more snow friendly ascent. By now, the snow is as slushy as wet sugar, and our snowshoes are uselessly sliding on the steep terrain, so we ditch them. Dan puts in a gradual switch back that contours on a low angle, carefully securing each foot step with a solid heel strike.
We finally reach the stop of the snow line (as it oddly melts away) and toss off our packs for a much needed break. We lay on the hot, burgandy shale, savouring our unexpected afternoon sauna. It felt so good..so deserved…so calming.
The views from up here are unreal. The GDT knows how to dress up and impress! We get back on the trail, and end up camping earlier than expected because…well…just because. When you’re done out here you’re done.
While it was a solidly hard day, we are in good spirits that evening. We have to camp on snow, which I’m never a fan of, but as always, my down sleeping bag saves the day.
ARE WE OUT OF THE WOODS YET? – June 4 – 19km
All snow, all day.
We navigate through thick, relentless, never ending trees, in a constant twisty, turning, round-about way. We went a mere 1.3km in the first 1.5 hours – what a crawl! It was so inefficient, but we had no choice. You gotta play the hand you’re dealt out here, and this morning, she was a tricky one.
We finally make it out of the woods and onto higher ground. Today is the first time that we officially cross over the Continental Divde from Alberta to British Columbia. The scenery was out of this world, and I find myself overcome with emotion. What a beautiful world.
We are feeling it. It’s hard, but we’ve got it. We even rip out one of our favourite moral and energy boosters – afternoon coffee complete with Bulletproof coconut and butter powder. Seriously, this stuff is wicked! Camp is (yet again) on the snow.
EARLY AS GLACIER LILLIES – June 5 – 14km
We wake up to rain, and find it really hard to get going. As always, Dan obeys his alarm and gets out of the tent to fetch the food from a nearby tree. He sparks up the stove, and moments later, he’s luring me out of bed with fresh coffee and oatmeal. (I know, he spoils me)
We get on the trail later than usual at 7:40. My feet are NUMB. All this constant snow travel means wet socks and shoes, and I shiver my way up the mountian. The rain lasts for most of the morning, then the clouds gloriously part and the sun shines in! Thank you Mr. Sun!
We follow the Continental Divide today along the ridge, and up and over 3 peaks in a row. It was really challenging, and oftentimes had no trail – just choose your own sketchy adventure. Luckily my man has mad navigational skills.
The early blooming Glacier Lillies have me constantly smiling. I know how they feel being the brave few who venture out into the open, snowy, inhospitable early summer alpine. I know all too well my friends…all too well.
One of the peaks we went up and over was La Coulotte. The climb was exceptionally steep, and it was literally loose shale rock everywhere. I got to a point where I am totally zoned out, breathing heavy, and digging deep.
We find ourselves running out of energy and time, and we just couldn’t make the fourth and final peak along the ridge. We reluctantly set up camp in the snow again, along a wide enough area. We really wanted to make it over that mountain and down into the valley tonight, but it just wasn’t going to happen. We crave drier ground, but know that tomorrow promises just that.
OLD PINES – June 6 – 32km
Now that feels more like it! Today we are moving, and it feels so good, and we end up walking 32 kilometres!
We start the morning by finishing that final peak in our ridge walk – an unnamed peak, who gave me my early morning stair master routine, clad in snowshoes and all! Thank you unnamed Mountian. How did you know I was needing exercise?
I listen to my music as I hike, basking in the beauty of both the scenery and the musical artistry I am listening to. It’s good to be alive. Dan points out the fairly large pines up here on this ridge, and how old they would be to survive in these conditions. Everything grows slower up here as each summer is short and harsh. Resilient fellas.
After the climb, we hit a steep descent on an ATV trail that took us into a valley. We welcomed the tough descent, knowing that it promised less and then no snow. The trail was either snowy or sloppily wet, but we were ready to get off the divide for now.
We walked through Castle Mountian ski resort and then along a road walk for roughly 8km. That’s when we really got to make some ground. We boogied on down that trail, all the way to the 100km point! Yay! After some afternoon coffee and candy consumption, we decided to make a “100 km” sign out of rocks for our fellow GDT hikers who are coming along behind us. We know we loved the markers on the PCT, so why not give it a try?
The trail continued to be gentle to us, and we talked about wildflowers for hours. We geek out HARD on plant identification – lilies, orchids, shrooms, you name it.
Tonight we camp in a meadow of dandelions and wild strawberries (no berries this early though). I am a lazy forager tonight while my pasta is boiling, and I grab handfuls of dandelion greens that surround me, without even getting off my butt. I chuck them in my bowl, add some olive oil and Parmesan cheese and call her a salad. Lazy, yes…but smart.
CLOSE TO TOWN SYNDROME – June 7 – 37km
I just want town. I want Coleman. I want her food, her shelter, her wifi, and her showers – but she’s 37 kilometres away, and we pushed hard yesterday. I submit to the idea that we will just have to hike close to town and then get there tomorrow morning.
But I can’t. My heart won’t stop dreaming, wishing, fantasizing and scheming. Could we make it? Is 37 km too far?
We decide to just barrel on as fast and as hard as we can, and not worry about it. “Town Syndrome” has a tendency to steal ones joy, tossing you into “the pain cave” where all that counts is getting to town. I don’t want that…but I push on anyway…HARD.
The trail is mostly on ATV roads today, and wiggles along a ridge surrounded by an old forest fire. It’s deadly hot. We are so sweaty and smelly, and have run out of deodorant long ago. My feet are so hot and swollen, and I finally begin to develop the first blisters of the trip. My shins are killing me, so I take Dan’s final Aleve to help numb the pain.
I’m uncertain that I will make it as we reach the final 10km. I try to tell myself that 10K is nothing, but my feet say otherwise. My body is worn, and my spirit is weary. We pull over and eat Pringles, and I convince myself that that’s all I needed – Pringles! No’ body, you’re completely fine, all you needed was a good, healthy dose of Pringles and BAM you can walk again!
The psychology may have worked, because we made it! We rolled into town at 5:30pm and jumped straight into the cool, rushing river. We felt human again, and more importantly, we were more presentable for dinner. We limped on over to a local joint called Chris’ Diner for some delicious dinner and coffee and pie.
We plan on staying in a B&B tomorrow night, so today we headed back to the trail to camp – or almost. We found a meadows spot beside a Mountian bike trail and figure if they’re cool enough to bike they’re cool enough to be ok with camping. We fall asleep to the biggest swarm of mosquitos we’ve seen so far, happy to be in the safety of our tent.
We did it Dan. Section A in the books.