Day 20 – Easiest Day Yet?

GDT kms: 33.2

We were a bit nervous starting out today as it was the first time we were going over 30 km in a while and we had a long pass to do in the middle of the day. The main goal we set ourselves was to reach the Assiniboine Lodge (km 28 for the day) before 5pm so we could take advantage of their tea time.

We made very good time in the morning heading downhill on very nice trails and we reached Marvel Lake, the last water before the pass, just after 11am. Since we had the pass ahead of us, we took an early lunch at the lake and enjoyed its picture perfect reflections.

Wonder Pass was very pleasant, well graded with an appropriate number of switchbacks. The views were indeed “Wonder”ful at the top and we were pleased to find we made equally wonderful time as we reached the top around 2:30pm – with only 3 km to the Lodge, we were definitely going to make the 4 – 5pm tea time!

At the Lodge, we met up with Arisa again briefly – she had to leave before tea started though as she didn’t manage to book Magog or Og Lakes and needed to carry on to Porcupine. We also saw one of the trail maintenance volunteers and a pair of men who were section hiking the GDT.

Shortly before tea time, they started selling drinks, so I picked us both up a can of cider. We didn’t quite feel like we deserved it as this past section has been so easy, but there is nothing quite like enjoying a drink on a beautiful deck facing towering mountains after a day of hiking. When tea started, we unfortunately discovered they didn’t have any gluten free options, so we decided to just grab another cider each before continuing to Og Lake.

After far too much giggling on the deck at our own terrible jokes, we set out to finish the last 5 km both slightly tipsy. The trail was just as easy as the rest of the day had been and we quickly reached the lake.

There were already a number of other groups setup, so we picked the nicest looking of the remaining sites and then quickly made dinner so we could tuck ourselves in to bed. After making dinner (at lovely picnic tables again) we were surprised to see there was nothing in the food caches yet given the number of groups here. Being slightly concerned that no one knew about the food cache, I made the rounds to the other sites to point out there was a cache and of course all the groups were cooking directly by their tents – hopefully any actual or mini bears bug them and not us in the night.

Tomorrow we are off to brave the crowds in Banff!

Day 19 – We briefly visited BC

GDT kms: 24.4

It sprinkled slightly overnight and the clouds were still lingering when we got up in the morning. As we ascended the last couple kilometres to North Kananaskis Pass, we were quite pleased as the clouds slowly cleared and revealed the surrounding mountains.

The pass is also along the BC/Alberta border, so we got to pop back into BC for a good portion of the day as we hiked though Height of the Rockies Provincial Park. The trail conditions were significantly better than the GDT app indicated they would be which was a pleasant surprise – the trail was always present and easy to follow even if somewhat brushy at times.

At Palliser Pass, we ended our short visit to BC and entered our second National Park of the trip, Banff.

The rest of the day was pretty monotonous as we followed the flat and somewhat boggy trail towards camp. Throughout the afternoon, it kept threatening to rain on us, but we managed to out walk it with only minor sprinkles.

We camped at Birdwood which had unfortunately received some horse visitors recently who left quite the smelly mess. We managed to find a non-smelly site to setup at and then we were quite pleased to be able to eat our dinner at a picnic table again.

Tomorrow we are off to Assiniboine and hopefully we make good enough time to hit up tea at the lodge.

Day 18 – We saw more people today than cumulatively prior

GDT kms: 19.6 (+ 3 walking from Boulton Creek)

It was really hard to get up this morning, we were clean and very comfy cozy in our tent. We did manage to get going though, and started the walk from Boulton Creek to where we got off the trail yesterday, there wasn’t enough traffic on the road the early to even bother trying to hitch the 3 km.

After the road, we had a very pretty and easy walk around Kananaskis Lake. We made good time and made it to the Forks campground in time to take an early lunch. They have a nice eating area and we felt very fancy being able to eat our lunch at a picnic table rather than whatever spot we can find in the shade at the side of the trail.

After lunch we started the climb up to Turbine Canyon where we had booked a site. On the way up we met someone who has been following me on Instagram! Sorry we weren’t too talkative, the climb was feeling pretty brutally hot.

At Turbine Canyon, we had another fancy picnic table dinner (I feel like we have a lot of these in our future) with a group of four hikers from a hiking club.

We realized at dinner that the next few hundred kilometres are going to be a very different experience than the first 300. In the first 300, we went several days at a time without seeing another human being and were excited when we got a few hours on a trail. The next 300, I can imagine we could see a few dozen people every day in summer areas and the trail will be pretty constant and easy to follow. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it will just be a very different pace than what we’ve gotten used to so far.

One more thing about Turbine Canyon that I wanted to highlight is there outhouse. It feels kinda like a spaceship that is about to take off when you are inside – it’s a cylinder with a domed roof and shiny white walls on the inside. Definitely an experience you shouldn’t miss 😉

Wildlife Summary: GDT Section B

This is my final summary of wildlife in Section B. We saw some interesting wildlife in Section A as well but didn’t think to summarize it earlier. I’ve put some highlights from Section A in this post as well.

Please be kind; I’m not an expert. We also struggled to get photos in time so you will have to believe me for many of these! Of course we focused on being safe. With the moose they just sprinted in front of us and cut across the road. We gave them space and they moved on.

  • Four moose (two pairs of cow and calf)
  • Over 10 rabbits (six in one day!)
  • Countless ground squirrels
  • One frog
  • Three toads
  • One snake
  • Several grouse, but not as many as in Section A
  • Many interesting birds that we cannot identify!
  • Some animal remains – vertebrae, antlers, large bone
  • One hummingbird at our campsite in Elk Lakes

Large bones; they seem to fit together!

If you look very closely you can see two moose as they cut across the road

One of our many rabbit sightings

Antlers found along the trail. Feet for size.

In Section A, my highlights for wildlife were:

  • One grouse with her baby chicks – one chick ran down the trail! Poor thing.
  • One really beautiful bird that I could not identify. Large like a chicken, black with red feathers on the side of it’s neck and head
  • A couple predatory birds, looked like Hawks
  • So. Many. Squirrels.
  • Several large marmots

No bears yet. I’m hoping my horrible singing will be a good enough deterrent!

Day 17 – Our outdoor spaces are way too car-centric

GDT kms: 9.4

Bonus kms: 2 walking the road before we got a hitch, at least 5 walking between places at the very hiker-unfriendly Boulton Creek campground

Today started with a quick and easy walk in to Peter Lougheed from our campground. The trailhead where we popped out was 8.5 km from the visitor centre where we needed to pick up our package, so we quickly used the washrooms, threw out our trash, and set ourselves up to hitchhike.

It was another very discouraging hitching experience. Part of it was there seemed to be very little traffic heading towards the visitor centre, part of it was over an hour of pass ups, and part of it was an encounter with a very grumpy Alberta Parks conservation officer. Previously we’ve had pretty good experiences with park employees and hitching, so we were initially quite relieved when we finally got someone to pull over and it was an Alberta Parks truck. Rather than giving us a ride though, he gave us a mini-lecture on how hitchhiking is dangerous, somewhat threateningly said if an RCMP officer saw us, they might not be as nice as him, and then told us we should walk to the visitor centre (which would be 2 hours of walking on a highway-ish road with a very minimal shoulder).

This really annoyed both Kyle and I and got us thinking about how car-centric most parks and outdoor spaces are in Canada – the main factor in why we bought a vehicle after all was so we could get to more hiking destinations. It’s pretty absurd these places that are supposed to be about conservation and protecting the environment are nearly impossible to access without using a means of transportation that is contributing to the destruction of the environment. If you happen to walk in to a park, the only reasonable way to get around is to hitchhike – the places you will likely want to access are too far apart to reasonably walk to, there are very few bus services in the parks, and generally there is no cell service to even call a cab for what would be a very expensive fare.

It also made me reflect on other areas in Canada, where hitchhiking is the only option to get around if you aren’t privileged enough to be able to afford a vehicle, where it is in fact dangerous to hitchhike. Now that Greyhound is discontinuing their already limited services to many of these regions, this is going to be a real issues for many individuals – especially women travelling by themselves and indigenous women. I’m sure there are many others out there more educated and well-written on this topic than me, and it’s definitely something I want to look into more when we are finished.

Rant aside, this definitely soured our experience at Peter Lougheed. We did manage to get a hitch eventually with a lovely couple from Brazil who had been visiting Canada for the past 12 days. At the visitor centre, the staff were lovely and helpful; we got our box quickly and spent a few hours there charging our electronics and using the slow wifi. Hitching in the opposite direction towards Boulton Creek to go to the store and campground was nice and quick, we got a ride from Walter in a white truck. The store was expensive and had a weirdly disappointing selection; despite how much we wanted to buy food, we couldn’t find anything we really wanted to get other than ice cream from the counter. The campground was again more car-centric; the “walk-in” site we’d booked in advance was impossible to get to without walking on the road and the showers were located such that I think most people drove to use them.

I’d recommend hikers try to minimize the time you spend here and definitely don’t try to get a hitch from an Alberta Parks conservation officer.

A little bit about camp sites

After spending two weeks on trail, I have some observations about camp sites.

A number of marked sites are for use with horses. I’m all for mixed use, but these sites do carry some baggage. It may be in your best interest to move on past them!

In many cases these are best described as “well used”.

In Section A we came across two sites that are used for horses. The first one, the outfittey camp on Font Creek was clean enough but didn’t have any good place to camp as it was pretty swampy. We stopped for a break but then continued on to the next one (Jutland Brook) which was also quite swampy but we had to make camp for the day.

We noticed at that site the distinct lack of cleanliness and overall unpleasant nature of the area. It was well used. Had trash. Fire pit with seats made from logs and wood planks. Camp sites trampled. In the woods there was a hole dug in the ground with a toilet seat over it… I mean, people literally were pooping in an open hole in the ground maybe 50 feet way from the creek. The area smelled. Lots of bugs. It was not a great site. Also the trail out was completely trampled and eroded away so it was just a number of vague, deep mud grooves in the ground. Some sections were large washed out areas. This was not pleasant to hike or camp in.

Later in Section B we encountered Cache Creek. The description promised good sites. The view as we crossed the creek was nice but the most campable area was used for horses. The best area to set up a tent was used specifically for horses. It was trampled, dirty, had structures built to tie the horses on, had horse feces on the ground and had lots of flies. The fire pit was close by and we decided to eat there. Bad idea. Also dirty, smelly, trash and had lots of flies.

We set up our tent closer to the water, down the trail a bit. A nice spot with fewer flies but still a lot of horse feces. It’s also closer to the water so it will be cooler than we would like.

We later camped at High Rock. I’m not sure if this is a horse site, but it is horribly dirty, overrun and abused. It has structures built…to the point it’s overwhelming.

There is trash everywhere, including

  • Plastic sheets – on the ground, or dug into the ground in at least five locations
  • Sheet metal with bullet holes
  • Pop cans
  • Water jugs
  • Broom handle
  • A rain boots
  • A metal grate built on to the structure
  • A rusted, burned chainsaw
  • Rusted metal, cans, etc
  • Plastic container, like the kind whey powder or vitamins come in
  • Up the hill, just several feet from the creek supplying water has jerry cans, tarps and metal trash

This site is an embarrassment. It’s unclean and the water is likely unsafe. We are hiking alongside one US citizen and one Japanese citizen. I am embarrassed for them to see these areas. Step up your game Alberta!

Overall I’d rather just find a spot to pitch our tent in the wilderness rather than most established sites so far on the GDT. I have seldom found any established sites on the trail that are clean enough or are sustainable long term. I am a little concerned about whether there are sufficient suitable sites if the number of people who hike the GDT increases at all in the future. This could get messy quickly.