Into the Wild Divide SOBO: Section C Part 2: 130 km
August 29 – km 456-450 + 20 km detour (26 km)
Just a handful of clicks to Sunshine Village! We’re excited to have hot coffees handed to us complete with CREAM (what a luxury) and obviously food. In my excitement, I hike a little faster than usual. I trip and fall on one of my trekking poles, breaking it in half. Noooo! I love my ridiculously light Gossamer Gear poles – they are carbon fibre and at a fixed length, with no heavy joints or snaps. Someone from Backpacking Light gifted them to Dan, and I’ve loved them ever since. Darn.
Dan gives me one of his poles to use for now. I’m super grateful to him as I love walking with poles! We’ll fix my pole…hopefully in Coleman. Dan is a very handyman.
I’m bummed out about the pole, but quickly remember the food ahead. We roll into Sunshine sometime around 9 and book it straight to Java Lift. Coffee. Breakfast burritos. Strawberry crepes. Heaven!
When lunch hits, we move our “party” over to Mad Trapper Saloon for poutine. It’s a complete contrast to trail life where we walk all day and consume little bits of food throughout. Here, we eat as much as possible with the least amount of moving. I’d call it lazy, but in the context of what we’re doing, I call it smart.
But alas, the trail calls. The next bit of the GDT is closed due to a persistent forest fire that has been burning for almost two months. Dan has pieced together a route that minimizes road walking while allowing us to continue to walk a continuous hike. No skipping!
We begin by walking down Sunshine Ski Resort mountain – roughly a dozen kilometres on the road. It’s so friggin hot out here! Before we reach Hwy 1, we veer left and begin hiking on an equestrian trail. There are horseshoes everywhere! Dan’s hiking ahead, and he keeps propping the horseshoes in the middle of the trail (lucky side up of course), knowing that I love them. I smile. It’s the little things.
So. Dusty. When we roll into an old, underused campsite, we are filthy. I can hardly believe it, but we somehow managed to hike 26 kilometres today, despite our four hours off at Sunshine Village. We impress ourselves. Haha!
August 30 – 31 km detour to km 417
We walk the dusty, wide equestrian trails for a good portion of the morning. They are rather uninspiring, but are also allowing us to continue in a forward motion on our GDT yo-yo hike. I’d happily breathe dust any day over the car exhaust air along the highway! I think we made the right decision on our alternate choice.
By lunch-time, we are back in the open, expansive land of the alpine, surrounded by our towering rocky mountain friends. The air is fairly smokey up here, as we are literally walking one valley east of the continuing forest fire. My lungs can’t seem to get a break today!
Dan’s alternate route works, and we eventually find ourselves back on the GDT. Well hello my good friend! We find ourselves at a pivotal decision making point – do we angle towards Assiniboine Lodge, adding roughly 14 km to our hike, to make it in time for afternoon tea and cake, or continue on our way without cake. Sounds like a silly dilemma really – who would walk 14 extra kilometres for cake and tea?
We would. And we do. It’s about the journey, not the destination right? And our journey today includes homemade cake thank you very much! We sweat and pant and push our way up the pass that stands between us and caffeine and sugar. We are cutting it close…tea and cake ends at 5, and we finally sneak in at 4:45! Phew!
We remove our nasty wet packs and waltz into the lodge, all grins. We see Claude, who is one of the lodge managers we met when we were here in late June. He looks like he recognizes us, and smiles brightly. “We were here in June, and we’re back,” Dan starts, to which Claude perks up with rememberance and exclaims, “The yo-yo hikers!”
He immediately proceeds to give us the beer list, orders a worker to get us the biggest pieces of cake, and dishes cookies and squares at us. “On the house,” he assures, and we melt with appreciation. We immediately feel at home among all the smiling staff. I wander around like a deer in headlights, marvelling at the busyness and positive attitudes of everyone. Claude’s wife Annick spots us and smiles saying, “Welcome back.” I could cry.
After we devour most of the goodies and several cups of black tea, we decide that we should press on for a few more kilometres. We tell Claude we are so grateful for everything, but it’s already time for us to get back at it. “Come for breakfast in the morning…and real coffee.” Oh, we really shouldn’t! But that sounds amazing…so we obviously agree, eyes wide with disbelief at the offer. As we begin leaving with our packs, Claude runs out stating, “change of plan. Stay for staff dinner as well.” Well ok…
Before dinner, I sit in our tent, processing it all. The generosity. The kindness. The heaps and heaps of kindness. I’m stunned.
We eat dinner with all the other staff, devouring coconut Thai fish, pan baked potatoes, dill potato soup and fresh baked bread. Everyone is so welcoming. “It feels like you’re home, right?” Claude says. It sure does. We desperately want to help clean up after dinner, and Annick says we can help dry dishes. It feels like a feeble contribution, but we are also keen to continue to be around these great people.
Later tonight, I lay in bed with a million thoughts in my head and heart. We have done nothing to deserve this treatment. We are simply walking. Nothing crazy. There are some really good people in this world.
August 31 – km 417-383 (34 km)
Just a skip on over to the lodge this morning for breakfast. Claude and Annick greet us warmly, and tell us to help ourselves to yogurt and granola, fruit salad, pastries, and coffee. Claude offers to make us scrambled eggs, which I try to decline, but he smiles and makes them anyway. THESE PEOPLE. My heart.
We reluctantly say goodbye and pop on our packs, filled with more goodies from Annick. We met Noel over breakfast this morning – a photographer from Canmore who spends a lot of time in Assiniboine Park. He’s hiking the same way as us, and he asks us if he can hike with us and snap a few photos. Of course! Company!
Noel is awesome. He tells us about the area, and has an incredible ability to tell stories. We’re really glad to have him along. It may be hard to believe, but Dan and I “occasionally” run out of things to talk about. Go figures!
20 kilometres later, we go our separate ways. We feel we’ve made a good friend in those 6 hours, and we look forward to hiking and rock climbing together in the near future.
As we make our way up Palliser Pass, the smoke is thickening. We go for a dip in the river to clean up, and drink coffee under the oddly pink light. We feel like we’re just barely dodging bullets out here. The area is on fire and we have somehow miraculously managed to yo-yo hike going with no skipping. Fingers crossed that we can keep this up!
(Mount Assiniboine Lodge and park closed the following day. Another miracle in timing.)
September 1 – km 383-348 (35 km)
This place! I am on Cloud Nine out here.
We hike the rest of Palliser Pass and then North Kanninaskis Pass – both of which were covered in snow last time. What a different world that was!
We hike hard. We hike far. We almost make it to “town,” but decide to hold up 4 kilometres shy.
September 2 – km 348-344 (4 km)
4 easy kilometres to the road. Picked up by the first car to pass us. A direct drive to the Visitors Centre. 1 resupply box, filled with our oh-so-familiar food. Wifi. Couches.
The simple life. But the good life.