Into the Wild Divide SOBO – Section B – 199 km
“Wild thing, you make my heart sing…”
September 3 – km 344 – 303 (41km)
Our day off at Peter Lougheed Park went really fast, but as always, we are ready to get back on the trail. Funny how we long for a “town” stop after a week of hiking, just to find ourselves quickly longing for the trail soon after a break. I guess that’s a good indicator that we’re following our dreams out here and not forcing ourselves to hike! It truly is wholesome and simple out here.
We hike the 6 kilometres of Elk Lakes Provincial Park in no time, spitting ourselves onto a dirt road. There are closure signs EVERYWHERE – all BC wilderness and crown land in the southern Rockies is closed due to the fire risk factor. The signs indicate to refrain from entering the wilderness, and to begin to leave.
Hmm. Here we are in the middle of crown land, on a dirt road. We can go back through the National Park we just went through, or we can walk the road ahead of us (that is a part of the GDT) and soon skirt our way back into Alberta. Either route is closed. As far as we know, Alberta has not closed all the land to hikers, so we decide to press on, and in doing so, we are leaving the closures that are in BC. Totally legit.
Just to clarify – in case you think we are complete nut bars for staying out here – the fire has not spread in the direction of the trail. BC appears to have issued this closure because of the extreme fire potential, as we have had basically zero rain in two ish months. While we don’t necessarily agree with an all around closure, we do respect it, and will therefore hustle ourselves on over to Alberta.
As we are walking along the road, a white truck pulls up behind us. We’ve been on the road for several hours at this point, and haven’t seen a soul – all activity is closed, so who could be driving? It must be a ranger.
Sure enough, there are two BC Parks rangers in the truck, and they stop beside us. They ask where we came from and where we’re headed. We disclose everything, mentioning that we are headed to Alberta asap where we can keep hiking to Waterton. They seem completely supportive of this, but take our names for formalities sake. I’m not sure why, but I thought they would force us to take a ride out of the park, but they were really cool with our desire to keep walking.
Man things are getting complicated out here! We just want to hike, and be respectful and responsible! So far we feel good about the decisions we have made, and we will continue to make alternates if need be – we will make it to Waterton Lakes to that boarder monument if it’s the last thing we do!
So road walking. All day. Left, right, left, right, one, two, one, two…a repetitive, uneventful hike. Regardless of the mundane task at hand, we end up making incredible time, and complete a whopping 41 kilometres! We did the whole road walk and are almost back in Alberta. It’s incredibly windy out here, which has really stirred up the smoke, and the air is just thick with it. (I will be doing a lung cleanse when I get off this trail for sure!)
While we are enjoying our dinner this evening, I hear a loud crack in the forest, sort of like someone slamming a car door. “Did you hear that?” I ask Dan. As he answers yes, I look up, and 40 yards away there is a huge, thick, towering bull moose, with huge antlers! “Moose!!” I say. We both stand up and begin talking to him, making him aware that this is our camp, and he should probably move along. He watches us for a while, dead still. He eventually loses interest, and trots back the way he came. What an encounter! We are so blessed.
September 4 – km 303 – 274 (29km)
I wake up at 5:00 to distant, almost mournful howling of wolves. I try to will myself to stay awake so I can hear more, but eventually sleep overtakes me for another hour and a half.
There’s no smoke in the air today. There is however, little flecks of ash all over the ground and foliage. The sky is delightfully clear, and I breathe the fresh air with vigour.
We hike up Fording River Pass this morning. We push our bodies to go fast up the steep incline. When we hit the alpine, Dan spots two mountain goats – mom and baby. They’re making their way up the steep, sliding shale with such finesse and ease. The baby is a bit slower, but we’re impressed that he can hike there at all! We decide to take our morning break here so we can continue to spy on them.
After the pass, we are back on the original Great Divide Trail – trail that was constructed in the late 70s. Thanks to the current GDTA team, it’s in great condition…good as new! For no obvious reason, I’m having a bit of an “off day,” but the familiar and faithful orange blazes (which are the official trail markers of the GDT) bring me peace and happiness. As always, Dan is happily hiking, clearing the trail as he goes, whistling away. He’s the best.
Tonight, camp is smack dab in the middle of a well trodden, regularly used cattle path. We are surrounded by mooing! The cows kept crashing right up to our tent with no indication of slowing down. It’s rather terrifying sleeping with your head directly in a cow path, so Dan put up some logs and branches to encourage them to go around. Success!
September 5 – km 274 – 243 (31 km)
This morning is just PERFECT. Sure, the smoke has settled back into the area, but we kind of enjoy the atmospheric haze it casts between us and the mountain wall we hike beside all day.
We hike along a wide-open ridge, soaking in the view, listening to music out of my iPod. There are only a handful of wild flowers left out here – Showy Asters, Harebells and Heart-Leaved Arnica. Everything else is in full seed mode, preparing for next spring. Even the Subalpine Larches are changing to their iconic golden hue. One of the major reasons we wanted to do a yo-yo hike of the GDT was that we looked forward to seeing the seasons change, and other than the hot temperatures, we are feeling falls’ arrival!
This afternoon, we set up for coffee break in an alpine bowl, with talus on one side of us, and a sparse forest on the other. Like true hiker trash, we have completely yard-saled our belongings everywhere – shoes are off, socks are drying in the wind, clothes are strewn along the grass, and our stove is working away at boiling water. We’re relaxed. Chilling in the backcountry, without a care in the world.
I find myself staring off to our left, scanning the landscape for mountain goats or sheep (btw, we saw 30 more big-horn sheep earlier today). My eyes are drawn downward by some movement just along the talus, and I see a big grizzly bear emerging from the trees, with two cubs.
“Bear with babies!” I state to Dan, as I hastily stand up. I’m freaking out. The bears are a mere 70 yards from us, heading this way, and as far as we can tell, they haven’t even noticed us yet. Maybe now is a good time to remind you that our stuff is everywhere, we are bare-foot, and our stove is on? Where to begin to deal with this mess!
My heart is RACING out of control, and I begin to rapid fire my belongings into my pack, shoving half eaten food away, slipping on my shoes, and unsuccessfully attempting to blow out the stove. Later realizing I have water in the pot, I pour water on the flame. It goes out. What a concept!
Meanwhile, Dan has more rationally grabbed the bear spray and is waiting to see how the mama bear reacts to seeing us. He’s calm, begins talking to her, and let’s her make the first move. She eventually looks at us, sniffs the air (my gosh, I can’t believe we were close enough to see her nostrils flaring!), and eventually goes back to digging for food with her cubs. She keeps throwing us a watchful eye, so I’m begging Dan to pack up quicker!
With our possessions in tow (what a feat!) and my wits a little less scattered, we start walking out of the clearing and into the nearby forest. I’m kicking myself for not looking back – I mean, it’s not everyday you see a grizzly with cubs and not get chased away (or God-forbid, mauled). We walk fast, putting a good distance between us and the furry guys, and collapse back on the grass. Phew! That could have gotten ugly! We are so lucky she didn’t perceive us as a threat to her littles…THANK GOD.
We proceed to boil another batch of water for coffee while we excitedly talk about that crazy, beautiful, unreal encounter. Again, I wish I had soaked it in more, but I also feel that she could have changed her mind about us if we dallied around.
We are both so grateful for this wildlife sighting! The GDT has been so kind to us with these moments. Dan has been keeping a tally of animal sightings, which we will share at the end. It’s LARGE!
September 6 – km 243-211 (32 km)
It is deadly hot – not at all how we envisioned the end of our thru-hike to be. I imagined hiking in puffy down jackets, shivering through the night, and rain.
Rain. It’s been a while. I have been wishing you away all summer, but I haven’t seen you since Jasper, and we desperately need you! Relieve this drought!
We hike in the hot hot heat, dipping in streams whenever possible. We take a proper backcountry shower in Hidden Creek in the afternoon. As I immerse myself in the frigid water, I repeat the mantra, “think how hot you were, think how hot you were” to give me courage. These streams pack a punch!
We hike up Tornado Saddle, following the marked cairns. I’m slow; I’m happy; I’m grateful.
At the top of the saddle, we decide to cook dinner right here on the knife edged pass. We boil water for black bean burritos and nibble on candy. A fuzzy head pokes above the saddle, staring at us curiously. Big-horn sheep! We’ve seen several by now, but it never gets old. We are right on their path, but no worries, they skirt beside us – 7 in total, including 2 babies. Best dinner break ever!
Coming down off of the saddle proves to be extremely challenging. I am not a fan of scrambling and sliding down shale slopes…and that was Tornado Saddle to a T. Darn. I slow my pace to a painfully slow crawl, while my patient and loving husband waits for me between his bouts of “skiing” down the loose terrain. Show off 😉
Camp is welcoming – cozy and cool and quiet. Goodnight!
September 7 – km 211-207 + 35 km detour around 207-159 + km 159-151 (47 km)
Good morning world!
Five minutes into our hike, we run into a black bear, who quickly scurries up a tree in fright. We talk to him for a while, marvelling that something so large can perch on such a skinny branch! Silly bear!
Today we walk Alberta back-roads, since all BC backcountry is closed. The rest of the GDT to Coleman was a BC back-road anyway, so it’s mot a big deal. The hike must go on!
Not an ATV or trick in sight. Hmm. That’s not a good sign. We keep hiking in this creepy, apocalyptic-like dead zone. Not a soul in sight.
After a couple hours, there’s a white truck approaching us from ahead – Department of Fish and Wildlife. The officer stops the truck and comes outside. He doesn’t look pleased to see us, and we suspect that we are hiking somewhere we shouldn’t be.
Sure enough, Alberta followed suit with BC, and closed all parks, wilderness areas and crown land to all recreational use. Oops! We didn’t know!
We explain our long, secluded hiking agenda…that we’ve basically been living under a rock as far as current affairs go. He understands, and relaxes. He elaborates on the situation, adding that there is another forest fire in Waterton Lakes, and more hot and dry and windy days in the forecast.
He gives us the ok to keep hiking our way to Coleman, which is a substantial walk.
We walk on, not sure how to feel about the situation. We have completed 94% of our hike. We have hiked through a lot of adversary, and we don’t want to quit now! But there is literally no hiking options at this point. Everything is closed. No more alternates to piece together. Our forward progress has been stalled.
We hike to the highway, and decide to sleep right beside the road barricade amongst some aspens. We’re so tired from the big day, but our minds are racing with “what now’s.” We decide to cowboy camp in the wide-open air, sans tent – just two bummed out hikers, weary and vulnerable, but strangely optimistic and undefeated. Flashback to our first night of this trip, where we cowboy camped in Pincher Creek in the middle of the night. It’s fitting.
So we wait. We hang out in Coleman, go to a B & B, pick up our food resupply…as if nothing has changed. But everything HAS changed.
We are determined to hike this yo-yo. The trails can’t stay closed forever, and when they re-open, you can count on us being first in line to get back out there! If it means breaking out the snowshoes again, so be it!
So our expedition is stalled…at a standstill…on pause.
TO BE CONTINUED!