Into The Wild Divide SOBO: Section E: 192 km
“Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” – John Muir
August 7-11 -Five ZERO days…
We planned to take 1 day off in Jasper. My foot, however, had entirely different plans that I would never have guessed would result in 5 days off!
Upon walking very little in Jasper, and relatively taking it easy, my ankle swelled up something fierce. I could barely walk, and was relying heavily on my poles for support. I honestly still don’t know what happened to me (shin splints? Sprained ankle? Overuse injury?).
After two days off in Jasper, we decide to attempt to walk the 11 kilometres from town to the trailhead.
I made it 1 kilometre.
Clearly I was not going anywhere. I was crushed. I spiralled into complete defeat.
“Go on without me Dan…there’s no way I will be able to get back to walking 25-30 kilometres a day in the backcountry.” But no. “This was our dream,” he assures me. “You’ll heal. We’ll wait.”
As we were getting the overstimulated vibes from Jasper, (too many people in such a small space) we decided to try hitch hiking to our car in Field BC. We can’t walk, so we may as well have our home-on-wheels and the convenience that comes with it. We get picked up quickly, and thumb a ride that takes us all the way to our van! Things are looking up…
Clean clothes! A pillow-top bed! Wheels! It’s good to see Tic-Tac the van. We missed you!
We have errands to do, and find ourselves driving to Golden, and then back to Calgary. Renewing car insurance, buying a new laptop…you know…”regular life” stuff. We reside in Canmore amongst the countless other van-dwellers (our people!), willing my foot to get better.
I submit. I accept. I may not be able to finish this hike. I don’t feel any better. I reason, I could drive from town to town, being Dan’s very own, personal trail angel. I could do that. I’m ok with it.
But I wasn’t. This was our dream. We planned for it, saved for it, and sacrificed so much for it. We lived in a Westfalia van in Victoria so we could save up money for this. I can’t let it go! Heal body heal! I don’t want to be left behind! I want to stand in Waterton Lakes having successfully completed a yo-yo thru hike.
“I’m not leaving you behind Fox,” Dan assures me. “You’re getting better. We’ll finish this together. We’ll take as long as you need. There’s no rush.”
So we relax in beautiful Canmore. We download movies to watch in our van at night, making the most of this forced resting time. We consume copious amounts of coffee. I eat more fresh food than I have eaten on the whole trail combined! – avocados, yogurt, berries, celery, carrots, and eggs. My body feels nourished, energized, and taken care of for a change.
And just like that, we’re heading back to Jasper “just in case” that nourished body is ready for some more trail life.
August 12 – km 850-839 (11 km)
It’s “Test T’s Ankle Day.” Hurray! (Sarcasm)
Let’s see if those 5 days of not hiking have worked their magic!
Objective: Hike from Jasper to the trailhead of the Skyline Trail…a measly 11 kilometre walk, but impossible a few days ago, so it’s questionable. These miles are official GDT miles, so we have to hike them at some point, and today I seem ready. I take Aleve. Dan carries more of his fair share of weight (as he REALLY wants this to work out…the trail is calling!)
Outcome: A success!
After our hike, Dan jogs back to town to get the van and pick me up (he has been sitting still for far too long and welcomes the exercise). We head back to Jasper for coffee and dinner, then return to the trailhead this evening.
We bunker into our micro-van Tic Tac for our final night in our comfy (by thru-hiker standards) van bed. Looks like we will be hitting the trail bright and early tomorrow to FINALLY make some progress on the trail. It’s been a set-back for sure, but we are just grateful that things appear to be looking up…up into the alpine of course!
August 13 – km 839-810 (29 km)
I hear the alarm, but my van bed is so cozy, so I try to ignore it. Today we actually get back into the backcountry, and I’m trying to savour this comfort of vanlife…one last time. I toss and turn, eventually accepting that I’ve got to get moving. I yawn, stretch, and emerge.
We are headed on the Skyline Trail, and the day begins with a fairly gentle incline up an old road. I’m nervous about my foot, but reassure myself that we are not heading that deep into the wild and there are lots of bail out options if need be. I take it slow, but quickly realize that uphill is easier on my ankle than down, so I relax and pick up my pace.
A couple of hours later, we are out of the trees and can see a wonderful view of Jasper town and the surrounding mountains. It’s beautiful! I am so happy to be back on the trail – I feel rested, energized and motivated. That ankle injury was quite a scare, and I thought my dream of yo-yoing the GDT was finished. I think the time off trail made me realize how badly I want this, regardless of the pain and struggle that come with it. So today, I hike with a new confidence, assurance, and commitment.
There is rain in the forecast for today only – I can handle rain for a day! On cue, the rain begins around 11 ish, and it’s falling heavy and its coupled with cold wind. At lunch, we set up our tent, crawl inside, and decide to wait it out. We’ve already gone 16 clicks, and there’s no need to suffer it out on the ridge in this cold! Our tent “break” is over in 2 hours, as the skies clear up (enough).
Up up up onto the skyline ridge! We pass several groups hiking the other direction, and they warn of crazy wind and socked-in views, or lack there of. Oh well. Gotta keep moving!
We crest the top, and the clouds have spontaneously combusted! Or, at least moved. The view! Ahh…it really IS good to be back. My trail home. My happy place. So grateful.
I am super impressed with my ankle. I’m hiking at roughly 80-90% of my usual speed, which is better than I expected. Of course, I’m relying heavily on the Aleve, (don’t worry body, it’s temporary!) but I anticipated more discomfort. I do, however, experience a lot more pain later when we steeply descend “The Notch.”
I was slooowwww…
Putzing along, we come across 2 big-horn sheep! They cautiously cross our trail in front of us, and Dan decides to follow them down and over the next hill. Turns out there are 9 of them down there, including 2 babies! He happily takes some photos, while I sit and rest. Again, apparently hiking SOBO wins for wildlife sightings!
August 14 – km 810-785 (25 km)
Turns out the rain is sticking around longer than predicted, and it rains most of the night and continues today. It’s a crisp morning, so we put on all the cozies we can find, and top it with our wet rain gear. We gotta keep moving to generate heat!
It is erie and quiet out here this morning, with low hanging fog, cold wind, and snow in the high peaks. Eventually, the rain turns to hail, and then further up the alpine, we find ourselves walking in gently falling snow. It’s a beautiful scene, never mind that it’s summer! It’s a reminder that the summer is drawing to a close, and out here in the Rockies, there doesn’t seem to be fall. It’s sweltering, or it’s snowing. Extremes only!
We descend to Maligne Lake, just in time, as my Aleve is wearing off and my ankle is hurting from going downhill. We head straight into the touristy cafeteria, shamelessly stinky (I really need to wash my pack straps) and hungry. We decide to eat our backcountry lunch before spending money on atrociously over-priced food. I find myself really self-conscious surrounded by clean, fashionable, perfumed people – no judgement…I could really go for a douse of perfume! Let’s face it, I am not looking great today. My shoes are falling apart, my clothes are stained, and my hair is in yesterday morning’s pigtails. I’m hiker trash. Normally I don’t mind being hiker trash because it tells a story – why yes, I am doing something so spectacular in the wild that of course I look haggard! But today’s different. Someone is watching me as I dig dried hummus out of my pack and slowly add water to it until it comes back to life. They talk to their partner in another language, and they both converse, staring at me. I don’t know…it just felt so obvious. I get over my insecurities soon enough.
But more importantly, we buy Americanos and pastries and we are happy. We enjoy a dry, warm, 3 hour lunch break, and it’s perfect. Hot, energizing, coffee with three creams because WE DESERVE IT.
At three, we head back to the trail. We are still in Jasper National Park, but we are headed to an unmaintained area. We know it’s in ok condition, since we’ve hiked all of this already, so there’s nothing to worry about. Dan and I have the most lovely conversation, as, like always, it’s just the two of us. There’s no hurry in our conversation. There’s no wrap-it-up-I-gotta-be-somewhere. There’s no interrupting one another. We’ve got plenty of time. We speak, we listen, we laugh.
Everything feels so right. I feel at home. I feel less anxious. It’s cold, and my foot hurts, and there’s fire closures ahead…there’s a lot I COULD worry about…but I don’t. I let go. I live. I hike.
August 15 – km 785-757 (28 km)
Yesterday was cold, but today is COLD- there’s a difference! I could hardly be coaxed out of my -12 C, 950-fill, Enlightened Equipment down sleeping quilt. I know my love…you’ve made hot coffee. Thank you! It works every time.
We put on yesterday’s socks, damp and dirty, because clean socks are a luxury out here. As always, they’re soaked again right away as we hike through wet and frosty foliage.
The beginning of the day is uneventful, but predictable. The trail is willowy and brushy, but we just hack our way through like bosses. I listen to more podcasts than usual because it’s a fairly standard hike along Maligne River. We come across the beautifully diversely coloured Paintbrush flowers I loved so much on our NOBO hike! The colours…it’s so crazy.
Later on we come across 3 NOBO hikers who are section hiking Section E! They recognized us from the Facebook group. (I feel awful because I forgot to get their names – I’m so sorry you guys! Feel free to comment and let me know your names now if you’re reading.) “oh, you’re the yo-yo’ers,” the first one commented. “I don’t see any stink lines coming off of you, so you look in good shape.” I love this community.
I didn’t get their names. I don’t know any of their careers. I have no idea where they live. That’s the beauty with the hiking community – all that “normal” stuff fades away, and we chat about the trail, wildlife sightings, and food. Oh, and they told us where some beer is stashed…and that Unnamed Pass has more liquor in the cairn. You know, the important things.
We move along, finishing Maligne Pass. It smells like a strong campfire out here again, and looking down the valley, we see that there’s a lot of smoke pooling in the low points. I wonder what a summer of breathing that into your lungs all day does to a person? At least we have the benefits of a summer of exercising everyday as well.
We camp in an area where we literally plop our tent on the trail. Yup, right on the path. We’re on a discontinued trail, and the only people out here are GDT hikers, and if they saw our train wreck tent site, they’d just laugh.
August 16 – km 757-721 (36 km)
We have 15 kilometres of ascending today, up over Jonas Shoulder. Luckily, it’s mostly gradual, and the up hills have been easier on my shin/ankle/foot situation, so this is a good thing…I think.
We break camp – we are definitely noticing the mornings are getting darker and darker. When Dan woke me up this morning, it was so dark that I thought he must have messed up his alarm…or he was playing some sort of sick joke. Winter is coming…
Like countless other days, we talk and talk and talk. I feel closer to my man than ever, and I swear it’s the uninterrupted talking, along with the adversary we have endured together. It’s a relationship builder for us, but I imagine it’s not for everyone! I’m not a marriage Counselor…
The trail is so busy out here! We come across several groups today, and we stand and chat with most of them. We meet Yon and Em from Holland who are section hiking. I could talk with them forever! They are both so friendly and happy to be in Canada, and their eyes light up when we mention the baked goods they can eat at Maligne Lodge – hikers after my own heart!
We crest Jonas Shoulder, and it’s breath-taking. Now, all we have to do is walk down…for a while.
Yesterday we met some folks who told us they saw Kokanee beer left in the river beside Four Points campground. They didn’t drink them because they thought maybe someone else at the campground was chilling them there. “But if they’re still there, I’d say they’re yours!” one of them says.
It’s only beer. We hardly drink beer. But, like a good little thru-hiker, the more we think about the bubbly goodness, the more we want it. We pass another couple this afternoon, who mention they came from Four Points today. They stayed at site 7, in fact, and they even saw 3 Kokanee beers chilling in the river. What?! Still?! COME ON. We need to “investigate” this, and are further motivated to give’er.
We joke about Four Points all day, and imaginatively play it up to be something grand – it’s a popular resort that fills up quickly, with self-serve mountain fresh Kokanee beer and a common lounging area to unwind. Sounds like heaven!
THIRTY SIX kilometres later and we roll up to the joint, frantically looking for site 7. There she is! All by herself and unclaimed! Dan fishes the beer from the river and we crack them while we cook Annie’s mac’n cheese. Glacier fresh just reached a whole new level!
There are so many people here, and we soon realize, they’re all awesome! Again, we suck with getting people’s names, but there was a couple from Portland who were rad, and we met 4 people from Saskatchewan who were awesome. Turns out one of them was Ryan Silk, who made all the maps for the GDT! He gets the third beer. Thank you thank you thank you Ryan for those incredible maps…they have served us very very well.
We stayed up well past hiker midnight (~9pm) talking and laughing. We have done very little socializing in the past 2.5 months, and we LOVED the camaraderie.
August 17 – km 721-696 (25 km)
Smoke. Unlike anything I’ve seen this season. The valleys are just chalked full of it. I can taste it in my mouth. It’s mildly uncomfortable, and it kind of kills the “way over there” mountain views.
We climb up to Cataract Pass all morning. It’s mostly gentle, with a super steep push at the end. We feel really strong out here! My ankle/shin/foot situation seems stable at uncomfortable, where it’s not getting any worst, but also not showing a lot of improvement. I can’t tell if it hurts more at the end of the day because I hiked so much or because the drugs have worn off. I don’t usually take pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs, but when you gotta hike…
As we descend the pass, there are several people coming up. We can’t believe how busy it is out here! We hardly saw anyone on our NOBO coming through this section. One of the hikers down below calls up, “Is that Dan and T?”
I know that voice! I squeal with excitement! Dan calls to me, “Is that Irene?!”
It is! Irene is a hiker we met backpacking back in April. We were hiking in the Stein Valley, just outside of Lytton BC, and we randomly met Irene, who, ironically, told us she was also going to be thru-hiking the GDT this year! It felt like such an unlikely event – to be hiking a rather unpopular trail over Easter and meet someone who is 1 of only roughly 40 people hiking the exact same trail we are this summer. It’s crazy. Dan and I jokingly yelled out, “Irene!” on the trail this summer, as if she could just come around the corner at anytime.
And here she is! We’re really excited to see her. She’s hiking with another thru-hiker named Jeanine, who is equally hilarious and awesome as Irene. We stand on the side of the steep pass and chat for a while. It’s 12:30, so I ask if they’ll take lunch with us. We all sit awkwardly on the shaley slope, giddy with excitement and basking in one another’s trail stories. Oh, and Irene makes the BEST homemade Eat Mores, which she hands us, saying she was waiting to give them to us. (We had them in the Stein when we met her and talk about them often on the trail…delicious)
Our usual half hour lunch extends to an hour and a half, but we could care less. Trail community is so fun! We laughed SO HARD. Turns out they went to the all-you-can-eat buffet for breakfast at the next stop, and they said they stayed until it was shut down, and they wobbled their way out of there with tummies so full that it HURT. I hear you.
We said our goodbyes, them heading north, us south.
GOOD NEWS! The girls told us that the Rock Wall Trail, which has been closed for about a month due to forest fires, has been reopened today! YAAAYYYY! Dan and I are so relieved! We were planning a route around it that included a lot of road walking the highway, but are stoked to be on trail instead. Best news!
Later on at camp, we take a cold dip in the river and eat dinner. My foot hurts a lot this evening. We did quite a bit of hiking downhill, as well as log hopping. The more I extend my ankle, the more it hurts…so it was a hard afternoon for me. But, I’m optimistic that it will be ok. We hiked less than our goal today, deciding that we shouldn’t push our luck with my foot. We are too attached to this life to quit now!
August 18 – km 696-671 (25 km)
Today is a big day for us – not so much in distance, but in difficulty. We’re going over three passes – Pinto, Unnamed, and Owen’s.
The smoke seems less invasive today, and the skies are clearer than expected. We have a beautiful morning, including the scenic and tranquil hike around Pinto Lake. I want to swim (as it was the best swim place we found going NOBO), but we just did last night and we have all that climbing to do afterwards. We are going to be SWEATY!!
Pinto Pass is steep! When we’re just about at the top, I see a large (ish) creature dart along the skyline ahead of us. I yell up to Dan, who starts walking fast uphill to get a better view. Turns out it was a wolverine, who darts down the valley next to us. We get an ok view, but he’s fast, and before we know it, he’s way up in the talus. Pretty cool though!
Up and down, up and down, up and down the passes. We bump into two NOBO’s in the afternoon. The woman is wearing shorts, and her legs are covered in scratches! “You look like the GDT in a nutshell!” I tell her. She’s got grit.
I’m so tired, and I may be kind of sort of dragging my tail a bit this afternoon. Our final pass is WINDY…oh my gosh…I might blow away! There’s whisky and rum in the cairn at the top, so we take a swig of each. Just a handful of kilometres down to camp…you can do it Fox!
We pass a beautiful group of Big Horn Sheep, who are lazily and nonchalantly eating grass. We walk over super close. I love moments like this. We check them out; they check us out. Everyone is curious, but respectful. It just feels right.
We make it to camp, having dodged rain all day! As soon as we crawl into our den…rain. I love when that happens. We cuddle up, read books, and sigh. We did all the high passes with good weather, which is really fortunate. Now just down down down to the highway and then town!
August 19 – km 671-658 (13 km)
My ankle/shin situation is bad this morning. Yesterday put a lot of strain on my foot. But soon, town. I can do it.
We descend Owen Creek, meandering over loose, muddy, mossy, rocky, terrain. The “trail” follows the creek bed, and the creek is often in a canyon. It was hard. My foot was screaming at me. Soon foot! Soon we can rest and recover…
Eventually the trail becomes more or less normal. We bump into four NOBO GDT hikers from Switzerland! They are the coolest! Sometimes I wish we had hiked with “the herd” so we could have spent more time with these awesome folks.
5 kilometres on the road. Ouch.
And done! We’re back at Saskatchewan Crossing eating overpriced food and dealing with spotty wifi! Hurray!! But honestly, we’re happy to be here, and glad we’ve made it another 200 kilometres. This yo-yo is starting to feel real.
We got this Hun.