Day 13 – More horse camps and our first thunderstorm

GDT kms: 19.4

We left our lame campsite this morning and began the climb up to the first ridge of the day. It was frustratingly slow – despite the moderate temperatures and easy tread, we only covered 9km by 11am according the the GDT app. Based on this and how long several portions of the trail took yesterday, I’m pretty confident the mileages for this section are pretty inaccurate.

Other than the frustrating pace, it was a really good day. We got lots of great views of Beehive and the other surrounding mountains and the skies were clear for most of the day.

We reached our planned campsite at 4pm and were disappointed to find it had been well-used by horses and campers that left lots of trash. It was early for us to want to stop for the day, but the sky began to rumble and the next spot we knew for sure we’d be about to find spots to camp was in 12km. Given our pace so far in this section, it seemed likely we might not reach there until 8pm or later and walking in the rain didn’t sound like much fun. So we decided to call it a day and quickly ate dinner and got tucked inside our tent just in time for the skies to let loose and the thunders and rain to start.

We’re definitely starting to countdown the days until we reach Peter Lougheed (and hoping their campground has showers!)

Day 12 – We’ve walked one degree of latitude!

GDT kms: 18.5

It’s impressive how much a poor ending can sour your views of an otherwise great day.

Today started out well – our little campsite kept us warm and impressively condensation-free despite being surrounded by little streams. We started the ascent and it was steep, but manageable. Since we started ascending almost immediately, my legs didn’t have any time to warm up and my calves were not cooperating. We managed to reach the saddle by 7:45am and got to enjoy the view of the sun slowly covering the mountains in light.

On the way down there other side, we finally found a trail! The trail down was marked with cairns until it passed treeline and was marked with orange blazes on the trees.

The trail ascended again to the top of a cute little ridge with excellent views on the surrounding mountains. Along the ridge we passed the 50th parallel – we can now say we’ve walked more than 1 degree of late latitude!

The descent from the ridge was where the day took a turn for the worse. There wasn’t anything specific about the descent that was bad – it was on pretty good trail and relatively covered – but by the end of it, both Kyle and I were ready to stop and camp immediately rather than continuing on another 4km to the next potential camp.

Unfortunately the campsite was also pretty horrible – it’s definitely been used as a horse camp recently and the flies/bugs were horrible (Cache Creek for other hikers’ reference). Hopefully tomorrow has a better conclusion than today.

Day 11 – Bunnytown and getting on a trail again

GDT kms: 23.8

Today started out slowly, with both of us not wanting to get up when the alarm went off. We managed to get on the trail a bit after 7am.

It was another day mostly on ATV-type trails, but they were pretty decent for walking on for once. As we were walking along, we got to see lots of bunnies hopping along. Most of them seemed to think they were invisible if they didn’t move, so they would stay still right in the middle of the trail, before hopping away when we were within a few feet.

Our initial plan today was to camp at Dutch Creek, which is supposed to be a very nice spot according to the GDT app. We didn’t get the opportunity to do that though, as about 3km before the camp, we encountered a sign indicating that an alternate had been flagged to bypass avalanche debris which blocked the trail 4km ahead. Dutifully, we proceeded to follow the orange flags indicating the alternate route.

This was actually pretty nice as we finally got to be on something more trail-like for the first time in several days.

Partway up the alternate, I had a bit of a debate mini-meltdown – it was hot, I hadn’t been eating enough, my pack hadn’t been sitting nicely all day, and I was annoyed we were going to miss a nice camp spot. Kyle came to the rescue and made some Gatoradadwae which lifted my mood substantially.

The trees we were walking through cleared and we reached a meadow shortly before the ascent to Tornado Saddle – wildflowers were blooming in the meadow and there were plenty of flat areas – we’d found our alternate beautiful campsite.

From here on, it sounds like the GDT should be more trail-like and less roadwalking – looking forward to seeing what’s next!

Day 10 – Too short or too long?

GDT kms: 23.2

We’ve unfortunately got ourselves set up in a situation where we would either have a couple too long days or a few days that are too short based on the available camping and situating ourselves for an upcoming pass. We opted for the too short days since we have enough food to do so and don’t want to push too hard.

Today was a pretty uneventful day of ATV trails again with a brief climb in the middle.

The highlight of today was seeing a mama moose and tiny calf on the trail, but they ran out of sight before I could get a picture.

We got to camp a bit after 2pm and will likely have a similarly short day tomorrow so we can camp close to the base of our first pass in quite a while.

Day 9 – A test of our commitment

GDT kms: 20.9

Today, as Kyle put it, was a test of our commitment to actually finish the trail; we had to leave a place with cozy beds with all our meals provided and daily showers for roadwalking with very very heavy packs.

After one final shower, we enjoyed a tasty egg casserole/quiche breakfast with Dave and another GDT hiker. We double checked we had all our gear and then we were on the road by 10am.

The initial trail out of Coleman is directly on the highway, but thankfully it turned into a side street which turned into dirt road relatively soon. The rest of the day was spent following uneventful ATV trails (with lots of ATVs on them!) We got a few good views of Crowsnest Mountain, but most of the day it was covered in clouds – which was actually pretty nice considering we were on exposed roads with heavy bags.

At the end of the day we were forced to get our feet wet with water covering large portions of the trail and a few water crossings. After dinner we somehow managed to Tetris all of our food into our bear bags – definitely an accomplishment to be proud of.

Tomorrow will be another day of ATV trails and forest roads – looking forward to hitting actual trails again soon.

Day 8 – Zero in Coleman

GDT kms: 0️⃣

We spent our second day at A Safe Haven slowly finishing off our town chores.

We ate breakfast with Rob before he got back on the trail and then spent the rest of the morning double checking our resupply and trading in a few things for more attractive looking options in the hiker box.

In the afternoon, we went over to the Cinnamon Bear Cafe to get out and use their wifi. We finished up a couple other internet chores including trying to schedule a job interview for our next town stop.

For dinner, we were joined by a regular guest, Dave, and another GDT hiker from Japan, Arisa.

Looking forward to getting on the trail again tomorrow morning.

GDT Reflection: Day 7

After the first 7 days I thought I’d write down some reflections on the trip so far.

Challenges

The trip so far has had a number of difficult moments (and so early!), but day 4 has shown that every day can reveal yet another challenge for us to face.

On day one, our challenge was to hike from Waterton Lakes, at the official GDT start, but then through our own made reroute to get around the closed sections of the park. Waterton had just opening up some trails and sections of the park so we had managed to snake through the park, government access roads nearby and back through the north edge of the park back where it was opened to connect to the official reroute. The difficulty there was having to switch between road walking and bushwacking through overgrown trail. It was a long (more than 30km), hot (34C, exposed with very little shade) and strenuous. But not technical or interesting.

On day two we tried climbing a mountain pass to do a ridgewalk on Avion Ridge for the day, but turned back due to high winds. The winds were reaching 30km in the bottom of the valley we camped in that night (breaking our water filter hose and tearing our footprint). At the top of the mountain earlier in the day the winds were at least 2 or 3 times that fast. The wind threw both Natasha and I down every ten teps while we hiked up, and tossed and toppled us down the hill when we tried to do the pass. This was very scary not to have firm footing and control of ourselves so we turned back and camped at the base by the waterfalls.

Day three was our reattempt at the pass and ridge walk. The wind was much slower (less than 8km max in the valley, and just a gentle breeze at the top) and the hike was very nice. My personal challenge at his point was getting over my fear of heights (as I do every time we climb a mountain). Managing that fear is doable but can prevent me from enjoying it as much as I could.

Then on day four, the challenges made the last three days look like a cakewalk.

I started the day having difficulties getting food down and spent most of the day with far fewer calories consumed than I should. I ate some bars but mostly yogurt/ baby food and probably had only around 700 calories consumed by noon.

The day was meant to be a hard one. We we’re planning on doing La Coullette Ridge. This is supposed to be one of the hardest sections of the trail and has a lot of elevation gain and loss. Basically the day is completely off trail, hiking on ridges for hours, with five peaks (four saddles). The third ridge is meant to be the hardest, but I’ve never really understood why it has that reputation until now.

It was a struggle all day, especially without much food, but the the third peak was not only the hardest thing I’ve ever done but one of the most unpleasant. It has a steep grade, and is covered in loose shale. Every step slides out from under me, and the distance was great so it was just constant climbing, if not running, up loose rocks on an exposed mountain. I was running on adrenaline only at this point and was close to breaking down. I can’t explain in words how terrified I was. The peak isn’t even that interesting or technically difficult. It’s just steep, scary and long. I did not enjoy. However the fourth peak was more my style but I was too tired to enjoy it. Overall we got through this but I really didn’t enjoy it.

On day five and six the challenges were to manage blisters. Much of the walking was on durable surfaces; either road or ATV trails. This is hard on my feet and a less interesting slog. I came out with damp feet and blisters (new toes!).

Rewards

There have been plenty of rewards so far though. It’s not all bad!

I really enjoyed the fourth peak of la coullette ridge. The mountain was interesting and the view amazing. This was my jam!

The waterfalls and views by Avion Ridge were breathtaking.

The wildflowers throughout have been very pleasant and sometimes overwhelming! We once saw an entire hillside blanketed in pink!

My favourite though, is when we went past Sage Pass and went through the burn. Despite as devastated the area was from the fire, it was also regrowing. Walking through the area we had suddenly come across regrowth. In amongst the black husks of burned trees and black soot on the ground we found the ground suddenly covered in vibrant green plants carpeting the ground. The entire atmosphere changed. The colour was amazing and the air became much cooler and less dry. Just walking into this instantly put a smile on my face. I can’t help but feel refreshed and optimistic.

Takeways

The trip has been great so far, but I am really looking forward to more large rewards. I’m glad we are past what is considered one of the hardest sections of the trail but still hope the challenges don’t let up on us!

Day 7 – Nero in Coleman (aka Alannah and Dan are wonderful)

GDT kms: 10.9

We made quick work of the roadwalk into town and then found our way to A Safe Haven – a very hiker-friendly bed and breakfast – by 9:30am.

Future hikers – you definitely need to stop here! So far we’ve showered, eaten three tasty meals (which included Alannah picking up additional groceries to accommodate Kyle’s allergies), done laundry, been chauffered around town to pick up resupplies, and wasted too much time on their wifi. (As a side note, Alannah mentioned they are planning to sell, but the buyer will continue to host hikers.)

Looking forward to lazing around tomorrow and enjoying a full day off to rest our joints and hopefully turn our blisters into calluses.

Day 6 – Nothing to see here

GDT kms: 20.9

Another day of walking on ATV roads. We walked up to Willoughby Ridge though which would have been quite pleasant if I wasn’t feeling so bleh and dead slow all day for some reason.

Along the trail we ran into (almost literally) a mama grouse and her chicks which was quite cute.

We got to our campsite early and took advantage of the fact we will be able to charge things tomorrow by watching some of the Netflix shows.

If I was feeling better, we probably would have made it to Coleman as it’s only another 10km. It would force us to either take two zeros in a row or get off-schedule for our permits later on in the trail and we are trying to do our best to stick to them.

Day 5 – Roadwalking our feet to death

GDT kms: 32.5

We woke up from our campsite tucked in between the trees and realized it was far too bright out; we majorly slept in until nearly 7am. We had planned to sleep in a bit to recoup from La Coulotte, but not nearly that much. This late start meant we didn’t hit the road (literally for most of today) until 8am.

We descended our Jeep road as it gradually got in better and more drivable condition. Just as we got to an area with a clearing and signboards, we saw a large group of teenagers with huge packs off on a trip – the first people we’d seen since we left Rob at the top of Sage Pass. It was a bit shocking to see so many people all at once.

Our Jeep road then turned into a gravel highway. Thankfully it was a relatively cool day, so we weren’t getting too hot on the exposed roads. As we made our way down the road, a couple women in a Alberta Parks truck pulled over and offered us a ride. When we declined, they realized we were GDT hikers – so cool to actually encounter people who know what the GDT is – and told us there was a trail we could follow up the hill we were approaching rather than going straight up the cutline as suggested by the GDT app. (For future hikers, at km 99.7 don’t follow the app’s direction to go straight up the cutline, instead follow the road/trail a little bit further, you’ll see pink flagging tape, at the third or fourth flag, you’ll see a trail ascending the hill over your left shoulder, follow this up, it’s flagged and switchbacks up the hill and I assume is much more pleasant than the suggested route.)

At the top of the hill, we unfortunately had to get off our very brief trail and back onto a Jeep road. The roads are sometimes nice and honestly a very welcome adrenaline-free route for today, but they are killer on ankles and knees as they are often rocky, hard-packed and uneven in weird ways.

The highlight of today came at the very end when we got to walk through a cattle grazing area with several adorable calves in the herd.

Two more days until our first resupply in Coleman!