Into the Wild Divide SOBO: Section G & F: 280 km
July 27 – ZERO hiking whatsoever
It’s our day off with my parents, dirtbag camping along the dirt road, in the middle of nowhere! We sleep in until 8:30 (I can hardly believe it!) and start cooking a breakfast that literally lasts until lunch. Coffee. Omelettes. Bacon. Fruit. Grilled cheese sandwiches.
There is no agenda or kilometre quota for the day – just the glorious task of doing nothing with three of my favourite people in the whole world. We have such a great day.
In the afternoon, we decide to give my parents a lesson in Dirtbagging 101 – how to bathe in a cold, fast moving river! Dan and Dad go for the “get’er done” approach of fast, full immersion, while I show Mom the the art of the “riverside splash” method. It’s sunny, so we all hang out on the bank afterwards.
In case you can’t tell, I adore my parents, and I savour this time with them. I mention to Dan how much I love how he gets along with them, to which he replies, “I really like your parents. They’re rad.”
I can’t stop thanking them. My Dad finally says, “Well thank you for allowing us to be a part of this journey. We want to be here…it’s not all about you Tara!” Haha.
July 28 – 30 Kms off trail
I’m so sad to say goodbye to Mamma and Poppa Fox!
We pack up and leave by 8 this morning, driving the bumpy road in under 2 hours. I completely over ate this morning, and I feel super car sick. Yuck!
Dan is noticeably excited to start our SOBO adventure, and it starts to rub off on me. We get to do all our favourite sections again, stop in great towns, and meet a lot of the NOBO hikers as we cross paths. It’s going to be sweet.
Jules and Case are waiting at the drop off point, laying on the road, looking completely haggard – sorry girls…I think you understand what I mean…we were there too after that section! They ran out of food, are starving, sunburnt, and had a rough go of the High Alpine Alternate.
“Congrats!” I beam to them, exchanging hugs. As if on cue, my Mom emerges from the car with copious amounts of fruit. The girls start eating, and I know they are in good hands. I thought about those two a lot while I struggled my way through rain and cold temps…worrying and praying for them. They did it! They quickly come back to life as they eat.
Dad sends us off with the Frey mantra – “Be safe, but not so safe that you don’t have any fun.” “Oh, I like that,” Case says.
We say goodbye to the only other NOBO’s we hiked with, and to my parents, and we head back down the trail for round two – just a mere 1200 ish kilometres to go!
We finish the 30 km road walk between 11:30-6:30, and find ourselves back at Kakwa Lake at the cabin. We swim again, eat again, savour the wood stove again, and sleep.
We’ve got this routine down…
July 29 – 1100-1070 (30 km)
We are officially starting our SOBO journey today! Here we go…
Every step I take from now on does not need to be repeated. That’s a comforting thought. It feels kind of weird hiking it all backwards, seeing the same trail I hiked 3 days ago, but at a complete 180-degrees.
Dan is ahead, wacking through the tall willow bushes, where he comes within 20 metres of a juvenile Grizzly! Luckily, the bear is startled AWAY by the surprise, rather than startled to aggression, and he lopes away into the bushes. I missed the entire thing, so no Grizzly sighting for me yet.
However, later on, as we crested Surprise Pass, passing from Kakwa Park to Wilmore Wilderness, we come across a “herd” of 5 caribou – 3 adults and 2 calves. It was so incredibly magical…the best backcountry wildlife sighting to date. At first, they were just walking and trotting along the high wall, fairly far away. Suddenly, they changed directions, heading straight for us. They dip into a valley, and crest, 50 metres away. They stop, look at us, and stand there for a while.
“Hi,” I quietly peep, overwhelmed with it all. I feel honoured, fortunate, and inspired to see such an iconic Canadian animal, on the very brink of extinction. They’re wonderfully inquisitive, especially the calves who decide to come closer.
What a moment! THIS is what Canadian wilds should look like and feel like. A safe harbour for endangered animals…a place to thrive. We wish the caribou luck as they trot away, as they unfortunately will need it in this world.
July 30 – 1070-1036 (34 km)
It rains fairly aggressively all night, so my sleep is restless. At one point in the night, I sit upright, stating, “this rain!” in exasperation. I think that previous rainstorm has scarred me…
The rain stops by morning. We walk through misty, dewy meadows for the first couple hours. Dan motions back to me, “Grizzly!” encouraging me to slowly come closer. I’m scared, but inch over. The grizzly is far away, further down the valley, chewing on cow parsnips. Luckily we are downwind, and he or she is completely oblivious of us. We watch for a few minutes. Grizzlies are huge! And that back hump is so prominent…no mistaking this one for a cinnamon bear. Wow.
We slowly creep down the trail, attempting to leave the bear oblivious for obvious reason. It works, and we can breathe again.
As before, we love the Wilmore Wilderness, and we bask in this magnitude of it all.
July 31 – 1036-1014 (22 km)
Today was very challenging. If we weren’t bush-wacking level or downhill, we were trudging uphill. We went up Big Shale Hill, with arguably the best view on the GDT. The pass is high, open, and shows 360-degree views of countless other ranges. I was tired, but I made a point to stop, rotate around, breath, and appreciate it all. Don’t suffer your way through this Fox…look all around you!
Remember how I said “good riddance” to the Jackpine valley trail last time? How we said, “never again?” Well, Jules and Case had a sketchy report of the conditions on the High Alternate, so we decided to push through the valley again. This was really hard for me to accept. I swore I wouldn’t do it again! It was hard! But here we are, standing at the river, mentally preparing for a second go.
We both run into the river, completely clothed, for a afternoon swim. Heavenly…what a relief from the heat.
We manage 4 km of the valley trail before its time to set up home. We pitch our tent out on an island in the river, surrounded by mountains – what a fine piece of real estate! I lay on my sleeping pad, meditating on my gratitude for rest, for mountains, for summer swims, and for my husband.
Aug 1 – 1014 – alternate route (26 km)
Last night, as we lay in bed, we joked about a persistent bird chirping outside of our tent. It kept chirping and chirping, to the point of its voice fading to a whisper. Eventually it stopped.
This morning, as Dan was taking down our tent, he had some bad news. Turns out the chirping was a baby bird, and he was literally 2 feet from our heads. There it lay, a fuzzy chick, probably no more than a week old. We were both so moved! We can’t believe that we were witnessing a baby bird dying last night. There’s nothing we could have done, but it’s sobering to think that we may have played a part in its death. Maybe we were pitched too close to its home, so it’s mom stayed clear? I shudder to consider it…I feel awful. To hear the chirp grow weaker and fainter…so tragic. It breaks my heart.
First on our agenda is to finish the Jackpine valley. We slowly mucked our way through the bogs, which remind me of a warm, gooey, septic pool, filled with urine and…well…you get the idea. It was nasty.
We fared ok, to Dan’s navigational skills and incredible memory. There’s hardly a mosquito in sight! What a difference 11 days makes.
By 2:30, we’re on our way back up into the alpine for the alternate we did last time. The weather is baller, and we can’t wait for those views again. Once again, it did not disappoint! We set up camp by a small pool that we bathe in while our water boils for bean burritos. There’s no bugs, so we stay strewn along the alpine grasses, soaking the very last sunny rays.
This weather has been so kind.
Aug 2 – 959-929 (30 km)
Nature calls at 3 am for both of us, so we head outside, and linger a little longer because THE STARS. My goodness!
It’s another impossibly sunny day, and we follow the route along incredibly easy tundra walking. At 7:30, as we crest a hill with the morning sun right in our eyes, two young Grizzlies happen to be cresting the other side. All 4 of us meet at the top, and are all rather startled! “Grizzlies!” Dan yells, and we begin talking in low voices, “Hey bears…” They look shocked, and one of them jumps up on his hind legs mid-stride. They book it back down the pass. My heart is beating fast from adrenaline, still processing what just happened. They were beautiful.
I am loving the GDT today, and feel inspired and a-buzz with wonder. We decide to push for a bigger distance today, and are happy for the mostly flat North Boundsry Trail later in the day.
I get tired. I start to shuffle, to crawl, to struggle. We arrive at camp at 8. There’s a resident momma and baby porcupine waddling around camp, occasionally flashing their quills at us. “That’s it little guy,” I encourage, ” You put up those quills!” It’s adorable.
Aug 3 – 959-929 (30 km)
I’m lethargic today…putt putt, wheeze wheeze…but I slowly gain momentum.
Just before lunch, Dan yells back at me, “hikers!” We’ve waited for this for so long…to finally be meeting the NOBO hikers, the GDT Class of 2017! We meet Vince (thru-hiker) and Landry (section hiker) from Calgary. It’s great to chat for a while. We haven’t talked to anyone in 7 days. SEVEN. DAYS.
We decide to stop early today (just after 6) since we got 30 kilometres and yesterday was so late. We go for swims in the Moose River, and eat pesto pasta. The clouds are rolling in…fast.
I drift to sleep at 9:15, and am awoken from thunder. In an instant, the rain pours, the lighting cracks, and the thunder rolls it’s way down the mountain range. It was terrifying! The way the wind felt like it would take me and my tent, and the on and off hail.
And in 20 minutes, it was done.
Aug 4 – 929-898 (31 km)
I can’t believe we’ve been in the backcountry for a solid 19 days. I think it’s driving me a little batty this morning. So. Much. Hiking.
As always, I am captivated by the wild as we crest Miette pass. Another solid day.
Aug 5 – 898-863 (35 km)
We descend the rest of the way down to the valley, to be joined with the FSR that begins to take us to civilization. In true thru-hiker yo-yo style, we vow to walk every inch, so that means road walking to Jasper.
We bathe in Miette River, just before the highway walk. My left shin is giving me terrible grief (shin splint?) and the hard surface road walk is extra hard on it. It’s painful, and I slow our pace considerably.
As planned,we make it 13 kilometres shy of town and camp in the woods. Unfortunately we are right next to an active and LOUD train track, but we’re too tired to care. GOODNIGHT!
Aug 6 – 863-850 (13 km)
Jasper day!! HURRAY!
Road walk, road walk, road walk. NBD. Just keep walking. Ouch my shin, ouch!
This asphalt is unbearable, and the pain is increasing. I can barely bend my ankle…
So I push. And we make it by 10:00. We head straight to the Bear Paw Bakery for the sticky buns that I have thought about (no joke) at least 20 times a day. Butter and brown sugar ooze off my grubby fingers. I’m sure we’re a sight to behold!
We did it. 21 days of uninterrupted backcountry travel. It’s unreal.
There are several forest fire closures ahead of us on the trail, and we’re praying that they reopen soon so our yo-yo attempt can be a success. We’ve come so far!
1350 kilometres of 2200 kilometres down. It’s devastating to think we may be stopped by fires.