Great Divide Trail: Logistics we need help with

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard that we are planning to hike the Great Divide Trail in July and August. You can find more information about the route on the Great Divide Trail Association website, but the basics of our trip are:

  • 1130km
  • Planned itinerary is 51 days including 3 zero days (days where we don’t hike at all)
  • 6 resupplies (packages with our food that we will mail ahead)
    • Shortest section between resupplies will be 4 days and the longest will be 10 days

Since this is a pretty big trip, there are a few things we need help with – if you can help with any of these or know someone who might be able to, please let us know!

 

Transportation to the trail

Our current plan is to fly to Calgary and then take a combination of buses to the trailhead (in Waterton Lakes National Park). Our planned date to arrive in Waterton Lakes is July 5. If you’d be interested in a road trip from either Vancouver or Calgary to Waterton, driving would be waaay better than the overnight bus! One of us is happy to split driving and the other one is a pretty skookum navigator.

Transportation from the trail

This is currently the biggest question mark and uncertainty for us – we need to get from the end of the trail to Prince George so we can fly back to Vancouver. The trail ends in Kakwa Provincial Park which is accessed by a 75km FSR. The start of the FSR is about 140km from Prince George.

Our planned end date is August 24, but that may change. If you will be in the area (or know someone who is) and are willing to spend a day driving to pick up two smelly hikers, we would be eternally grateful (and would most definitely owe you gas money + a favour in the future). If you are up for a hike yourself, Kakwa Lake is about 30km from the end of the FSR and there is a public cabin (check out this blog post from a couple who hiked the GDT last year for pictures of the area.

Mailing our resupply packages

If you like visiting the post office, this is the project for you! Since post offices generally don’t like hanging onto packages for longer than a couple weeks, we won’t be able to mail all our resupply packages before we leave and we’ll need someone to mail them to us while we’re on the trail.

We’ll provide all the packages, mailing instructions and cash – you’d just need to drop them off at the post office at the appropriate time and possibly swap a couple things or add gear to the packages if we need it.

Recommendations for musics/podcasts/audiobooks

Hiking is often times awesome, but also often boring and tedious. We’ll be loading up our MP3 players before we leave – if you have any recommendations for awesome podcasts or audiobooks, we’d love to add them to our lists.

Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux – Trip Summary

Background

We are planning to do the Great Divide Trail this summer and wanted to take advantage of the long weekend to do a quick shakedown trip. The main things we were testing out on this hike were: (1) a new sleep system (MYOG double quilt and Exped Synmat HL Duo); (2) Andrew Skurka’s recipes as dinner options; (3) using my pack (GG Crown) without the hipbelt.

We decided on doing the Lower Stein Valley in Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Park since it was accessible from Vancouver and should be mostly snow free unlike most of the other trails closer to home.

Logistics

It’s possible to do the trip as a traverse (Dan Durston has outlined several trip options), but this early in the year there is still significant snow at higher elevations, so we stuck to the lower valley and just did this as an in and out. Getting to the trailhead is super straightforward – just follow Hwy 1 to Lytton, turn onto Hwy 12, then immediately after turn onto the ferry road and take a cool two car ferry across the river. Once you are across, the trailhead is about 15 minutes down the road – the road is gravel, but very well maintained so you don’t need 4WD or even a vehicle with clearance.

Itinerary

Our initial plan was to do an easy 3 nights/4 days: 13km to Suspension Bridge Camp, 16km to Cottonwood Creek Camp, 22km to Teepee Camp, 7km to the trailhead.

What we ended up doing was 2 nights/3 days and hiked the whole way out to the trailhead on the third day (29km). Up until Ponderosa Camp (at about 21km), the trail is in great condition; after Ponderosa Camp though there are quite a few blowdowns on the trail which slowed our pace quite a bit on the second day.

Most people seemed to stick to the first half of the lower valley – despite the parking lot being relatively full when we started, there was only one other group camped at the Suspension Bridge Camp with us and we were the only ones at the Cottonwood Creek Camp.

More detailed daily reports have been posted previously on our blog.

Shakedown Results

Gear Reviews

MYOG Double Quilt – My partner has a down allergy and there aren’t really any synthetic double quilts or lighter sleeping bag options than what we already have (Mountain Hardwear Ultralamina 15’s), so after a bit of research I purchased a kit from Ray Jardine to sew our own quilt.

We hadn’t used quilts before, so the first night (which got to be at least 0C as water froze in our bladder hoses) my partner was cold and couldn’t sleep until he figured out to tuck the quilt under himself; I was a bit on the cool side, but was warm enough to sleep. The second night was above freezing and both of us were nice and toasty.

Overall I think the quilt will serve us well on the GDT. I’d rate it to be comfy to 0C with normal base layers and good even lower with more layers.

Exped Synmat HL Duo – Previously we’ve used Neoair XLites with coupling straps. The Synmat Duo is so much nicer as there is actually no gap – if you are on the fence, I would definitely recommend it.

A few minor downsides to the Synmat Duo – (1) It seems to slide around more than the XLites (our tent is a ZPacks Duplex). Our sites both nights were quite flat, but each morning we found the pad moved significantly. (2) Since there is no gap, it is easy for your sleeping partner to invade your space and not realize it. (3) The pad takes up a lot more space in the tent than our XLites (183cm long vs 166cm long).

Dinner Recipes

We tried out the Pesto Noodles and Beans and Rice and would highly recommend both! For Canadians looking for a source of instant beans, we used Alpineaire Spicy Cheddar Bean Dip and it worked perfectly.

No Hipbelt

My pack was at 10kg including 3 days of food and 2L of water. Overall I was fine not using a hipbelt but definitely found that my shoulders were sore at the end of the first 2 days. Do I just need to build up my shoulders’ tolerance? I didn’t really notice any advantages for not having a hipbelt though in terms of how I was walking or anything else, so I think I’ll return to using it.

Photos

Day 1: Trailhead to Suspension Bridge Camp

Day 2: Suspension Bridge to Cottonwood Creek Camp

Day 3: Cottonwood Creek to Trailhead

Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Day 3

Last night was a bit warmer and we were both warm enough under the quilt. I forgot to deflate my half of the sleeping pad before going to sleep though and I kept waking up with a sore hip and needing to rotate though.

In the morning, we were relatively quick and managed to get on the trail by 8am. I tried out a Carnation Breakfast drink instead of pop tarts for breakfast and it was pretty good – it tasted more or less like chocolate milk – but I found that I needed to eat one of my snack bars earlier than I normally would.

Heading back towards the trailhead we were a lot quicker than on the way out, we reached the Suspension Bridge Camp around 1pm. After the Suspension Bridge, it started hailing/snowing intermittently and we had to pull out our rain jackets around Earl’s Camp. We wound up getting to the last campsite which is only 1.5km from the trailhead around 430pm. So despite planning to stay the night, we decided to go all the way and drive home tonight.

We finished just after 5pm and found there was just one other car left at the trailhead – so if you want the park to yourself on a long weekend, maybe head up the second day!

Overall this was a good shakedown trip and it gave us a good chance to test our gear changes for the Great Divide Trail. Happy to report that everything worked as expected.

Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Day 2

Last night was a bit chilly – our water bladder bite valves were frozen, so it got down to at least zero. I was a bit cool, but overall fine under the quilt; Kyle on the other hand reported that he was too cold to sleep most of the night until he figured out to tuck the quilt under himself.

We had a slow start and left camp around 830am. The trail was smooth sailing up until the planned midpoint for the day at ??? campsite. After that, there was a non-trivial number of trees down across the trail that we had to go over/under/around.

We wound up reaching camp at the Cottonwood Creek Campsite just before 3pm. We briefly thought about turning around and going to the previous campsite, but we wouldn’t reach camp until 630 or so and the previous camp wasn’t as nice. There was a short side trail that led to Cottonwood Falls – it’s well worth the 15 minutes to visit. At the falls there is an abandoned cable car structure – I guess at one point there were more trails in this park.

For dinner we tested Skurka’s beans and rice and were both very impressed – we’ll definitely be adding this one to our meal rotation.

Tomorrow we’ll be seeing how far we can get towards the trailhead – hopefully the return trip over the deadfall is easier than it was heading out!

Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Day 1

Getting to the start of the trail was quite straightforward. We just followed the #1 to Lytton (remembering to take the turn off at Hope and not continue to Kamloops) and then turn into the #12 and very soon after turn left onto the ferry road to take the ferry across the Fraser River, then follow a gravel road about 15 minutes to the trailhead. The ferry was very cool! It only fits 2 cars and just goes back and forth all day.

We reached the trailhead around noon and the parking was already starting to fill up. We sorted out our gear pretty quickly and ate a quick snack before getting on the trail by 12:20 (including a small mishap of spilling ginger ale all over the Jeep’s trunk).

The trail itself was quite quiet and easygoing. It follows the Stein River upstream so the elevation gain is pretty gradual. Despite all the cars in the parking lot, we didn’t see many people on the trail – a few people going the opposite direction, a few already at a campsite, and when we reached camp, one group of three arrived as we ate dinner.

Overall a good day, we reached camp pretty early at just after 4pm; depending on how quick we reach our destination tomorrow, we might double back to lengthen the day. We are looking forward to seeing how our MYOG quilt and the new sleeping pad work out; hopefully they keep us warm!