Into The Wild Divide: Section E: 190 km
“Out here I am enough.”
ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH – July 9 – 658-680 (22km)
Goodbye enjoyable but pricey and overcrowded Saskatchewan Crossing!
We hit the trail at our usual 7:00 start, walking the highway back to the official GDT trail. Early on, we somehow take a wrong turn on the connecting trails and 4 km in, we find ourselves a mere 200 metres from Saskatchewan Crossing…right back at our town stop. Oops! So it was a rocky start, but no big deal.
Finally on track, we meander our way up a steady incline, following Owen Creek. We dally alongside beautiful river chasms and canyons with impossibly thin pillars of rock (think arches park, but on a much smaller scale). The mosquitos are fierce this morning! Up up up to the alpine where they (hopefully) are less concentrated.
I’m not feeling well, but that’s to be expected, considering the time of month (and if that’s TMI, my apologies, but I’m a woman who hikes every single day, and these struggles are real). I’m so friggin lethargic, but I have learned to be forgiving of my body, especially during this time, and just walk slower.
We follow the creek for a while, moving in and out of the creek bed, scrambling along loose and slippery rocks, in an area of trail that our guidebook describes as “difficult, but rewarding.” I know the alpine is ahead, so I hold out for the reward, knowing all too well that a tough hike with a view trumps all suffering in my books!
Dan gets stung by a wasp, but doesn’t say a peep, and 5 seconds later I let out a shrill scream as I’m also stung! I kept saying “I don’t know what bit me!” as I haven’t been stung since I was a kid. It’s kind of surprising, considering how much time we spend outside.
We eventually hit higher ground with open, alpine space where we can make better progress. Now there’s our reward! Stings, elevated heart rates and exhaustion fades away, replaced with unmatched scenery. We are on the highest point on the GDT (2580m), atop Unnamed Pass, with incredible 360-degree views. We sign the registry, eat the candy left for us by Jules and Case (other GDT thru-hikers), finish the last half shot of whisky left by a hiker Zedneck 2 years ago, and leave some fuzzy peaches behind for whoever is next. Candy is a thru-hikers love language.
We descend the pass, all smiles, and set up camp at Waterfall Creek Camp.
WHAT THE ORANGE BLAZES?! – July 10 – 680-708 ( 28km)
First things first – get up Pinto Pass! Puff, puff, grunt, so steep…but eventually we roll over to a more gradual and enjoyable grade. I feel so alive up here! Must be the endorphins…
Dan notices a group of Big Horn Sheep close by, grazing on the side of a knoll. We watch them for a while, as they playfully frolic and head butt one another, and eventually run out of view. Those sheep sure know how to have a good time! Life is good.
There’s the tiniest bit of snow at the top of Pinto Pass, but nothing to fret over. We descend the pass for roughly 700 meters elevation on cruiser trail. Oh right, this is what it’s like to make good time! The GDT is often wild, rugged, unpredictable and even MIA at times, (“where’s the trail?”) so when she gears down a little, it’s almost shocking. We don’t want to grow soft now…
We are back to following the official orange blazes that mark the GDT! The rest of the day is NBD – just follow the blazes down a gentle descent. I can relax while I hike…a weird concept really, but it makes sense if you’ve been hiking rough trail.
We have a marvellous swim in Pinto Lake. We debated if we even wanted to because we were addicted to making good time, but alas, the comfortable water temps and perfect stoney bank drew us in. It was so good. NO. REGRETS. I honestly felt like a new person after, and hiked like a bandit!
The afternoon brings thunder – loud, echoing, magnified mountain thunder. 1 lightning strike is the equivalent of 6-8 BOOMS echoing down the mountain ranges, screaming of the impending showers. Obviously, it rains, but only for less than 2 hours. The sun comes back, the skies are blue, and we follow the rowdy, cascading Cataract Creek up into the alpine. This scene literally takes my breath away (never mind the fact that I’m heading slightly uphill).
Tonight’s real estate is a pitched tent smack dab in the alpine, at the base of our next pass, next to a creek that literally disappears into the earth. I whip out my hula hoop and dance. I dance to the music of the wild – the babbling creek, the whistling wind, the distant birds…I get lost in the subtle noises of nature…lost in the simplicity, yet complexity of it all.
MOODY MOTHER NATURE – July 11 – 708-739 (31km)
Straight up Cataract Pass, and into Jasper National Park. The sky is gloomy, eerie and rather moody, casting the most beautiful light. Everything looks better with cloud cover, so we take it in, ignoring the pending rain.
We hike along an icy blue alpine lake, surrounded by plump, meandering marmots. We see a lot of people today, but we welcome the company. Wilderness travel is often about seclusion and time alone, but we’ve had our fair share of that! We stop and chat with EVERYONE – since when were we so social?!
We are so hungry out here, and we’re motoring through our food supply. We are at the point where we literally ration our Jelly Belly candy – 8 beans each in the afternoon when we are ravenous! Surprisingly, those 8 sugary bits help get us to camp.
As we head up a the gradual Jonas Pass, we both have the same thought at the same time – is that smoke in the sky? Half an hour later, every single low valley around us is filled with hazy smoke, and smells rather smokey as well. It makes me feel a bit somber at the state of our wild places, so far and few in between,and so susceptible to fires. Luckily the fires aren’t close by, so our hike isn’t altered, other than sore throats.
We camp tonight with six other people. We’re in our beds by 7:00 and asleep by 8:30…not so social after all.
STRAIGHT AND NARROW – July 12 – 739-776 (37km)
On the road by 7:05, and not a peep or stir from the other tents. The trail is so easy today!! Walking the popular trails of Jasper National Parks has its perks. The trails are smooth, evenly graded, and well maintained.
We talk and talk all morning – what happens after the trail; where will we move to; what do we hope to do next? We crank 19 kilometres by lunch, when we pullover and eat Dubliner cheese with crackers (thank you Kyle and Mere for introducing us to our favourite cheese all those years ago).
We come across the most colourful Indian Paintbrush flowers we have ever seen! All shades of purple, red, orange, peach and white, ranging from pastel to fluorescent! I have never seen such variety.
Eventually, we reach the point on the trail where Jasper National Park has decided to decommission the trail – no more maintenance, and no obvious reason why. The trail isn’t deemed unsafe for hikers or even a sensitive habitat area for certain species…just no longer a priority. Unfortunately the Great Divide Trail Association is not allowed to work on trails within National Parks, so there’s nothing they can do to keep it in good shape. We walk another 4 km, and (so far) the trail is fine, but we anticipate some willow swimming tomorrow.
After hiking 37 km, we’re tired and ready for the pop-up home. We’re having a hard time finding flat ground, so we end up scampering down to Maligne River to better ground. We go for an impromptu dip (brr!) and ravenously inhale our pesto pasta.
LITTLE TASTE OF CIVILIZATION – July 13 – 776 – 799 (23km)
Hiking the disco’ trail today! The GDT app warned that it would rapidly deteriorate…but as far as we could tell, that never really happened. We did have to hike through a lot of long meadows, with towering willows, but it was definitely passable. There were hardly any trees down in the forest as well, so not a lot of log hopping.
We got through the brush quicker than we expected, and find ourselves on a perfectly groomed trail outside of Maligne Lake – an uber popular and somewhat commercial area. We round the corner, and find ourselves with a female moose! She happily munches on the grass, not phased at all. Goodbye happily, chilling moose!
As the trail ever widens, the hoards of squeaky clean and perfumed people descend on us. If they smell that obviously clean, I hope the opposite doesn’t apply to us…swimming only gets you so clean.
We head on into the Visitors Centre, that has a full cafeteria with FOOD. We eat brownies, cookies, potato salad, fruit salad and Americanos. I feel a bit off with all the people and gift shops and cruises to spend ones hard earned dollar on. We live in a weird society, where even our wild experiences are fuelled by fossil fuel and nick-knacks made in China. Where did we go wrong…?
In an attempt to shake myself out of this funk, we head out of Maligne Lake Town and do the first 5 km of the Skyline Trail. The campground is unbelievably buggy, so we bunker in our tent, eating chocolate, fry up the morels we foraged earlier, and enjoy the solitude – no bugs, no people. I remember feeling this unsettled with people on our PCT thru-hike. I usually love people, but there’s something about the massive pendulum difference between hiking in the open wild and walking down the crowded town streets. I know I’ll recover…but for now, I choose the wild.
SKYLINE TRAIL IN A DAY – July 14 – 799 – 842 ( 43 km)
Today we hike the ever popular Skyline Trail! We’ve been looking forward to this section, as the trail follows the alpine along passes and ridges for most of the day.
It’s a very cold morning, and we begin our ascent fully decked in our insulated layers. As usual, I need to start shedding in no time, grateful for the chill in the air. I’m glad we get hiking before the blazing sun!
We get up high, and feel light and inspired and in awe all day. Somewhere along the line, we decide to just hike the whole Skyline Trail today. We have campsite reservations, but the dates are a tad askew because we’re sort of kind of I-don’t-know hiking all friggin summer long and how can you schedule that?! In our defence, the reservations were pretty bang on considering the nature of a thru-hike, but we didn’t have one for tonight, unless we stayed put. NO. WAY! Upwards and onwards is a thru-hikers mantra.
The ridge walking was spectacular, with incredibly strong sideways winds. Careful Mother Nature…you might blow us away!
We are feeling in shape. Hiking everyday, hefting our bodies and belongings up and down passes, with a calorie deficit, how could we not. There are a lot of growing pains out here, and we feel like we’re finally winning! Sure, we still get tired, but we feel way less winded on climbs, and it takes more to feel the burn.
The skyline Trail has an anticlimactic end with a 8 km road walk down into the valley. We go an extra 4 km to a nearby lake. I’m so hangry by this point, as its 7:30, we haven’t had dinner, and we hiked 43 km! Dan hands me an energy bar and even gives me his candy to hold me over until our water boils for pasta. We swim in Edith Lake, relishing the cool water on our skin, enjoying the feeling of weightlessly floating. It’s good to be clean (ish) again!
We camp lakeside, enjoying the smokey red sunset over the water. Off to Jasper town tomorrow!
STICKY BUN HEAVEN – July 15 – 842-850 (8 km)
Just a silly measles 8 km to Jasper! We bang the easy bike trail hike by 9:00 and roll into Bear’s Paw Bakery. We devour the most buttery sticky buns I have ever had, and wander around town in a sugary, gluten-fog.
We feel great. We feel alive. We are so close to our turn around point!! The next and final section of the GDT will take us roughly 10 days, where we will meet my mom and dad at the trails end, spend a gluttonous lazy day off, then turn around and do ‘er all again! So you probably won’t hear from us for 20 days or so when we’re back in Jasper with our faces buried in food.
Wish us luck on the beginning of our yo-yo! I can’t believe we will be hiking all of that again, but then again, would I expect anything else from us…?
Hike on (and on, and on…)