VIDEO Episode 1: Solo On The Great Divide Trail – Section G & F
“What’s this I see? I think it’s the wild. Puts the fear of God in me.” – Mumford and Sons
Mere days prior to my Great Divide Trail thru-hike, I posted the following statement on Instagram, baring my heart, in true T-Fox fashion:
“I want to walk directly into my fear – let it become so large that I can’t miss it. I want a place to leave it. I want a place that will recycle it, or better yet, compost it, so my fear can nourish something useful. Then I will feel lighter; then I will walk faster.”
Yes, fear. Fear played a major role in motivating me to “do the thing” that I was terrified to do. I generally do not use fear as a motivator, but more as something to be avoided and dodged. Sure, I am an adventurer, and I like to stretch my comfort zone, but I have my limits. The problem is that my limits felt misplaced, or artificially decided. I knew I was capable of hiking solo, and I more importantly, I WANTED to do it, but I had limited myself.
So on August 11th, I just went for it. Dan and I drove to Kakwa Lake (or as close as one can get in a 2 wheel drive car), and headed south on the trail. With my biggest fan by my side, I felt confident (initially). Dan would join me for the first 150 kilometres, through some of the dodgiest trail.
The first two days of the trail were very wet, and I was quickly reminded that good rain gear is an illusion. It is almost criminal that we are sold the lie that breathable waterproof fabric can keep one dry! But alas, I wore my full gear, delaying the water albeit temporarily.
At the risk of sounding weak, but at the hopes of sounding honest, I was worried. All of my uncertainties and insecurities flooded to the surface as I got increasingly cold and wet, and I spiralled. “You don’t have to do this, T.” Dan reassured me. “Focus on one day at a time. Don’t worry about every possible thing that could go wrong.” And he was right. The thought of thru-hiking in these conditions was daunting, but rain for a day was manageable.
When the sun arrives late to the party on Day 3, my confidence arrives as well. I can do this. I feel so alive and at home out here, surrounded by the towering mountains. This is where I need to be. I know it. As the sun’s rays finally caress my face around 11, I stop hiking, close my eyes, and pray. This becomes a morning trail ritual for me – at first rays, I pray, no matter where I am or how I’m feeling. It’s grounding, motivating, and puts me in a state of gratitude.
Having Dan on the trail with me is reassuring, yet I find myself motivated to do things by myself. On Day 4, camped at the base of Big Shale Hill, I meander over to the creek to wash up, and I linger. My heartbeat rises at the thought of Dan leaving, but moments later, I imagine I am already here and alone, and I smile. “You would be fine, T,” I tell myself.
After a very muddy trudge up and down Big Shale Hill and Little Shale Hill, we head into the alpine on a new route that Dan is exploring to skip the Jackpine Valley bushwhack, while also avoiding some of the alpine scrambling on the High Route Alternate. Bushwhacking off trail is not my forte, but I know the alpine will provide both physical relief and inspiring scenery, so I push on. It is more beautiful than I imagined up there! The rain picks up, and eventually forces us to set up camp.
The following day has spotty weather in the morning, with on and off rain, but we push hard knowing tomorrow predicts pouring rain. We are still on Dan’s alternate, and we start with a steep but short climb up a pass. There are two Mountain Goats up there – if they can do it, I can do it, right?
I twisted my ankle a couple of days prior, but it seemed fine at the time. By this point, however, it seemed to be pinching a nerve every 5 minutes or so. I was slow. Dan was patient.
We had to change our plan on the third pass on Dan’s alternate. It certainly “would go,” but it was steeper and more of a scramble than I was comfortable with, and therefore, is likely not a good alternate (as it is an attempt to be easier than the High Route). So we joined with the High Route at this point, just avoiding the worst scramble on Perseverance Ridge. The views up here are so visually stimulating – open fields of wildflowers, hanging glaciers, waterfalls, cliffs, and meandering creeks. It’s almost too much! The variety of rocks out here is mesmerizing – I am particularly intrigued by the quartz and rose quartz, and Dan offers to carry a couple large stones out for me.
Two days later, we wake up at the Blueberry Trail exit, where we will be parting ways. As Dan leaves the tent at 7:15, I was distraught. I lose all sense of my ability to do this, and Dan lingers for extra hugs and extra pep-talks. He finally leaves, very hesitantly, as I am still in the tent crying and panicking. He said later, that it was one of the hardest things he’s had to do. He knew that I was scared and upset, but he also knew that he had to walk away, knowing that I came out here to be alone. I’m so glad he walked away – had he stayed longer, I may have walked out with him!
With a tear streaked face, I finally pulled myself together, packed up camp by myself, and started heading further into the alpine where there is no trail. My very first day alone on trail was a struggle, but also a triumph. I got off route several times, which was frustrating, but also taught me that mistakes are fixable. “There is no perfect line,” was today’s mantra. Just keep walking. Head this way. Head that way. Walk.
I worked! My head was down, and I hiked HARD. When I was reunited with some actual trail, I could finally breathe and ease into my hike. The mud was atrocious, but it was a trail. A glorious, slippery, steep trail, that I slipped my way down, grinning like an idiot. I hardly drank anything, and I never stoped to eat. When I got to Chown Creek, I was soaked from the rain, but determined to keep moving. The main ford was terrifying – likely mostly from being afraid to do so alone – but I fared fine. I rolled into camp hungry and tired, and vowed to take better care of myself out here.
The following day, I awoke all bright eyed and bushy tailed – I camped alone, and I survived! Ok, obviously I survived (I mean, what did I expect to happen?) but I still saw it as a victory. This was the first time I camped alone, and I woke up several times in the night, worried and cold, but I would eventually fall back to sleep.
Luckily most of the day was spent on the North Boundary Trail – a muddy, but obvious trail that follows the Smoky River. The sun was out most of the day, but the trail was shaded, so I was cold. When I was eventually out in the sun, I said my prayers, and dried up. SUN. IS. LIFE.
Next on the agenda – ford the Smoky River! I picked a braided section, which went pretty well, except for the last 3 steps. The water is silty, and I couldn’t see my footing, and the river got deeper and deeper as I walked, until I was nearly swept away. I lunge to shore – I made it!
Later on, despite the cloudy weather and cold breeze, I decide that I just HAVE TO bathe. The river was cold, but I stripped down to my bra and tights before I could change my mind and plunged in. Best decision ever! I hike to Calumet camp with my hair down, drying in the wind. I feel fresh and alive, and so incredibly happy.
Up, up, up to Moose Pass the next day! The trail was extremely hard to follow with a million braids at first – thank God for the app! – but it is easy peasy once I get above tree-line and into the alpine. I AM IN LOVE with this pass! Giddy. High on mountains. I am grateful for this opportunity to be out in the true Canadian wild lands. There are marmots everywhere, and I chat with them.
Down in the Moose River valley, I continue to enjoy myself. I am feeling really comfortable out here. I thought I would be in survival mode, but am pleasantly surprised that I am thriving out here. I linger at Moose River, taking an extended lunch break, savouring the sunshine and solitude. Who knew being alone would be so wonderful?
The following day, I am a Grumpy-Fox! I hardly slept from a wind storm that had me anxious, as I was pitched among a lot of dead trees (or so I thought), cracking and swaying all night. The following morning I saw that I was not close enough to any of the trees, but it was too dark at 2am to confirm this. Oh well. Another lesson on campsites – check for dead trees before you pitch! Silly Fox.
I hike grumpily for the entire morning. Mud. Just mud everywhere.
Grant Pass brings me back to life – what a beacon of light in my dark dark mind! The pass is a meandering trail with vibrant mosses, plentiful anemones, a babbling Grand Brook, hanging glaciers off of Mount Machray, with a stunning waterfall. Goodbye dark mood! I hike over Miette Pass in better spirits, despite the rain. These flowers. My gosh. I am so lucky.
After a “meh” sleep at Miette Lake, I get on trail rather late (8am), but no worries, because today I am hiking to my car which Dan left at the highway! What. A. Slog. Water-logged alpine, grassy meadows, greasy and muddy trails. Today the hike feels militant – left, right, left, right…
Down, down, down – the trail is uninspiring, with zero views, and unimaginably muddy “trail.” I listened to at least 5 podcasts – anything to get my mind off the mud! At 5pm, I round the corner, and see my car! I wash my legs and feet in the river, apply some dry shampoo to my scalp, put on some fresh clothes, and call it good enough for town. I drive to Jasper, eat Subway (an entire footlong sub, 2 cookies, and a vitamin water), then buy earplugs, and drive back to where the car was left. I put all the seats down in the car, set up my bed, and sleep there. I am literally “camped” right beside the train, which conveniently honks it’s horn every time it goes by, but being a GDT veteran, I knew that – hence the earplugs. 🙂
I am dry. I am safe. I cocoon into my sleeping bag and I’m OUT.
The following day, I hike the 22 kilometre road walk to Jasper. I skipped coffee, reasoning that the anticipation of the Bear Paw Bakery would push me forward – this was likely not smart, but I was eager to get moving. More podcasts. Fast hiking. Full puffy, hat and gloves.
I pass a construction zone, and the workers are so friendly and hilarious. “No one walks that far!” one of them states, after hearing about what I’m attempting to do this summer. “You are a real, live, GDTer?! Did you see any sasquatch?” I laugh. He wasn’t kidding. “Hmm. Not yet,” I answer, with a wink. That seems to be a satisfactory answer, and he waves me through the construction.
I roll into Jasper around noon. Bakery. Laundry. All-You-Can-Eat Indian Buffet. Shower. A hostel. 10 hours of sleep.
Dan meets me in town the next day, and I enjoy a day off with him. We even celebrate our 13th wedding anniversary together!
The Milage Break-down (for all you geeks out there):
Day 1 – 27 km (Camped at Kakwa Cabin)
Day 2 – 9 km (Camped at Broadview Lake)
Day 3 – 28 km (Camped at Casket Lake Camp)
Day 4 – 29 km (Camped at base of Big Shale Hill)
Day 5 – 20 km (Camped on new alternate)
Day 6 – 20 km (Camped on new alternate)
Day 7 – 10 km (Camped at Blueberry Camp – our last night together)
Day 8 – 25 km (Camped at Chown River Camp)
Day 9 – 24 km (Camped at Calumet Creek Camp)
Day 10 – 24 km (Camped at Trio Camp)
Day 11 – 21.5 km (Camped at Miette Lake)
Day 12 – 26.5 km (Camped at Miette Trailhead in my car)
Day 13 – 22 km (road walk to Jasper, slept at the hostel in town)
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