Day 1 – Bushwhacking uphill

GDT kms: 0

Daily kms: ~30

We got up bright and early at 5am and had a bit of a slow start as we sorted out final things with our gear before we hit the trail at 6:20am.

The first part of the day was beautiful, easy walking that had us ahead of schedule. Our route today was a mixture of sidewalks, trails, dirt roads and bushwhacking. The sidewalks and trails through Waterton were beautiful, easy walking. The wildflowers are blooming right now and they were beautiful to walk through.

The second half of the day was pretty rough though. We hit our first dirt road just before lunch and it was blazing hot – it was over 30C without a touch of breeze for much of the day. Since it was so hot, we took a long lunch at the first patch of shade we were able to find along the road for almost an hour. After lunch we continued on the roads and were pleased to discover the route we had planned was indeed a road/public access when we bumped into a couple workers. A highlight of the day was seeing over a dozen horses grazing on the road and slowly making our way through them.

Finally, our nice roads ran out and the bushwhack started. At first it wasn’t too bad, but then the remnants of the road got harder to follow, the hill got steeper and the brush got taller. I was definitely regretting my choice to wear shorts when plants with those tiny spikes began attacking my legs. After a few false summits, we finally reached the top of the hill and the view was well worth the effort.

We were totally spent from the bushwhacking and hill and the rest of the day we were very slow. Thanks to our early start and faster than expected morning though, we made it to Yarrow Creek trail a bit after 5pm and we found a campsite shortly after in the first kilometre or so.

Looking forward to walking on more actual trails tomorrow and connecting up with the official GDT again!

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Day 0 – The longest hitch

GDT kms: 6

Daily kms: 12

We started today with a rough start as neither of us were able to get much sleep on the bus. We arrived in Pincher Creek around 3:45am and then needed to wait until 5:00am for the Timmy’s to open.

We grabbed breakfast and sat around Timmy’s for around an hour taking advantage of the last good quality wifi we might have for a while. Around 6am, it seemed like there was enough traffic on the highway that we would be able to hitch.

It took us over an hour and a half to get a ride – maybe this isn’t abnormal, we haven’t hitched many times before, but we’ve never had to wait this long for a ride. The wait was made worse by the fact it is extremely windy in Pincher Creek. When you come in on the bus, you’ll notice some red glowing lights and wonder if aliens are landing; as the sun comes up, you’ll realize the lights are actually on wind turbines. Wind turbines need wind to run – so don’t be like us and assume you’ll get a hitch quickly and don’t need to put on your warm layers.

We were about to move and try a different spot further down the highway when we got picked up by Merlin and his wife who work in Waterton as a chef and hotel manager respectively. Apparently this is the slowest year they’ve ever seen – not surprising as much of the park is still closed due to the fires last year.

Once we got into town, it was smooth sailing for the rest of the day. We checked into and setup our campsite, mailed our duffle bags and travel clothes home, bought fuel and bear spray and grabbed lunch. After lunch, we set off on the trail to tag the border and the official start of the GDT. The trail itself was still in great condition albeit a bit exposed due to the burn.

When we got back to town, we got ice cream (definitely check out Big Scoop Ice Cream if you are ever in Waterton, they live up to their name!) and listened to a ranger talk in the park. Then we grabbed dinner, charged our services in a coffee shop and tucked ourselves in early to walk up at 5am the next day!

Day 00/0 On our way to the GDT!

After a slow morning, which just seemed to crawl along… we made it to the airport with no problems. With coffee and cookie in hand we waited for our plane in the sunshine.

The flight was brief, and uneventful. Barely enough time to settle in before the flight was over!

We arrived in Calgary and made our way to the Greyhound Station. After realizing the lockers are all out of order we talked to the Customer Service desk and they checked our bags in early (thankfully!). We were able to walk downtown and grab some dinner.

There was a curry restaurant close by that we decided to test out. It was a really nice little place and the food really hit the spot. We then walked to MEC and wandered around the store for a bit to waste time. We bought some cheese at Safeway for our first leg of the trip. Then we ended up hanging out at a cafe for another hour or so.

We still had to wait at the Greyhound Station for a while and our bus was late leaving the station, but at least we spent most of our layover walking around downtown.

The bus was a little loud and it was difficult to sleep with the frequent stops. Somehow Natasha and I still caught some sleep.

We ended up at Pincher Creek at around 3:45am and were not left much time to sneak off somewhere for a nap before the sun rise. So we just bundled up outside the Ranchland mall, outside the Brick, listening to music playing from the store radio. Thankfully the Timmy’s opened at 5am, so we didn’t need to wait too long.

We’ve grabbed breakfast now and are off to hitch to Waterton – hopefully it’s quick!

GDT: 24 hour Count Down Until the Journey to Waterton

In 24 hours we leave our comfortable, tiny apartment in East Vancouver and start our two month long trip on the GDT.

I’m now officially on leave from work, Natasha has resigned, we have all of our resupply packages sorted out and we have our housesitter settled into our home.

This is very much going ahead!

We will be flying to Calgary on Wednesday afternoon, then bussing into Pincher Creek overnight. Then making our way to Waterton Lakes as soon as we can get a ride.

Luckily the trail to the monument has opened so we will be able to start the GDT on the border before we make our way north.

Excited!

Gear Mini Review: ZPacks ArcHaul

I feel like I’ve been through lots of packs, but on reflection I think I’ve gotten a lot of use out of them.

Previous Packs

I started with a MEC pack; I believe it was a 60 L Cragalot back in 2008. I was a student. The pack was on sale (cheap), available at MEC, fit well enough and was quite water resistant (a benefit on the west coast). I didn’t really know what I wanted at the time and I was just scraping together gear. I bought a lot of gear at the dollar store in those days (nothing to be ashamed of).

The Cragalot, at least the version available at that time, was very heavy and did not have a lot of external pouches or pockets. At the time a lot of external pockets and features were the rage with packs, but I just wanted something I could strap stuff to or strap my own pockets to. So I didn’t like how heavy it was, but I liked how it didn’t have any frills.

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Hiking Cape Scott with the Cragalot

I kept the Cragalot a lot longer than I should have. By the time I wanted a new pack, I got Natasha into hiking and we had to spend our money getting her new gear. She got a Gregory pack that she really liked at the time and I couldn’t admit to her that it cost 2-3x what I wanted to spend. So I didn’t upgrade my pack for a couple years. Admittedly the Gregory was a good investment because it fit her well enough and she got bitten by the bug.. and now that’s what we do together for fun!

After hiking the Bridge of the Gods to Timberline Lodge section of the PCT together, I knew the Cragalot was dead. I had a new pack picked out on the Amtrack Train home.

I ended up getting a Boreas Lost Coast pack. It was also no frills, stretchy, and just good to stuff my gear in. The hip pockets were great (I didn’t have them in my Cragalot) and the Boreas bag was quite a bit lighter.

I’m a small guy, so I do have a bit of a hard time finding gear that fits me (see post about the MEC Scout Pants!). I found after using the Boreas bag on a handful of trips, including the JMT, SCT and JdF that as my waist goes down in size the pack gets uncomfortable. Also, the pack is stretchy and doesn’t compress. I’ve been reducing my gear weight and size quite a bit.. and the pack just couldn’t get small enough.

After the Juan de Fuca trail I basically had it with my pack (at least for longer trips). I went looking for something that fits better, can compress (preferably a roll top) and had the ability to strap things/ addons to it instead of having restrictive pre-set compartments.

The Selection

I’m not going to bore you with the selection process. As I mentioned in previous posts, I built a spreadsheet and poured over options carefully. I looked at everything on the market at the time and considered:

  • Waist size
  • Volume
  • Max weight
  • Style of pack – roll top vs lid; frame vs frameless, etc
  • Material options
  • Mass
  • Options/ compartments
  • Price

Ultimately I had a few options that stuck on the top. I ended up shortlisting:

  • ULA
  • Granite Gear
  • MLD
  • Katabatic Gear
  • Hyperlite
  • ZPacks

I looked at many others, including the VARGO external frame pack (looks cool!) but the above made the short list for various reasons.

We already had a ZPacks Duplex tent, so I had a good idea of how well it was constructed as well as how cuben fibre is.

However I didn’t let that drive me in that decision.

Natasha has a Granite Gear pack and I have seen the others on the trail at times. They are all good packs for different people.

Ultimately I still went with the ZPacks ArcHaul because:

  • The waist size is appropriate for me
  • The pack is quite light (roughly 680 g was listed mass)
  • I prefer a framed pack vs frameless. The suspension system seemed like a good compromise.
  • It’s a roll top
  • ZPacks has a lot of addons you could have them add directly on the pack or you could strap on yourself.
  • The pack came in dyneema (not just cuben fibre) so had some compression/ stretch and is wear resistant
  • The pack could come with straps added on to add compression and keep the pack tight to me. The straps could also let me hang things off my pack.
  • It came in green!

Fit

The pack fits me quite nicely. I take a 27-28 inch waist pant, and this pack has plenty of room for my waist size to grow up and down. I feel like I have a lot of room up and down on the shoulder straps and the waist belt fits me properly on the waist and not too low.

Most of the straps hold up nicely and don’t shift around, but the suspension system loses its tension over time. I find it’s best to readjust it every day. This is both a little annoying as well as kind of a good thing. This means my pack is sitting right EVERY DAY. No matter what I have in it on a given day, or what I am wearing, or how I’m feeling. I am considering using paint pen or coloured stitches on the straps to mark their “normal” spot for quick adjustment but I haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.

Features & Setup

I’ve got several addons:

  • I have gotten two belt pouches
  • Two top side pockets
  • Roll top closure straps (these keep the pack tight and easy to manage)
  • Shock cord lashing

I got the bag in green dyneema.

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Being “Cool” with my ArcHaul

You can read about the standard features of the bag on the ZPacks website. I’ll talk about what I like about the standard features first, then describe how I use the addons.

Side Pockets

In general side pockets aren’t ..revolutionary.. but the side pockets on the ArcHaul are pretty deep and decently sized. On one size of my pack I fit a water bottle (Gatorade or 1 L smart water).

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ArcHaul in Denali. Smart water bottle in the deep side pocket.

On the other side I actually stuff my ZPacks Duplex in. I can’t fit the Duplex in the side pocket if I have the tent stored in the stuff sack that ZPacks provides with the tent, but if I re-roll the tent skinnier and taller it fits in the pocket perfectly (and isn’t too tall for the pack). For the Denali trip I made a custom tent stuff sac out of plastic and tuck tape for added abrasion resistance. For the GDT we made one out of spare ripstop nylon from the MYOG quilt kit we bought.

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ArcHaul at Denali. You can see the Duplex in the side pocket.

Overall quite good. Not very stretchy but they are sturdy and deep enough.

Frame & Straps

The straps are narrow, but sturdy enough for their purpose. I never feel like anything on this pack is undersized for the stresses of the application.

Other reviews will give you a better description and in detailed analysis of how the straps are all set up, but I will just say that there is a lot of adjustment and once you figure that out the straps work quite well.

If you are reading this you probably know that the frame is constructed of round rod for the vertical system, and flat bar for the horizontal system. You then use straps to tension the pack and “arc” the vertical bars to give some tension and to keep the pack off your back. There is a mesh system that sits against your back. You tighten the straps until you get the pack far enough off the mesh panel to be comfortable.

As mentioned in the “fit” section, I find that I need to readjust the pack fairly often. This isn’t a bad thing. however one thing I find annoying is that I have to hold the pack firmly (sometimes pressing down a bit on the top) to tension and “arc” the frame. Sometimes when I do this one of the vertical bars will arc in the wrong direction. Or sometimes I will have the arc in the correct direction, but then when I start adjusting the strap is “flips” around. Because each vertical bar is tensioned separately the pack can also “twist” a bit so it takes some care to have both sides adjusted the same.

The waist belt is a good system. I like how the straps cross over. The buckle is very easy to do up/ undo. The buckle is small, which is nice because I can easily grip it with my my fingers. My Cragalot had a large buckle which was awkward to handle. The waist pads are wide. And the strap/ belt system allows for attachments. As I mentioned in the fit section, there is enough room for me to gain or lose waist size (both through my body weight and clothing) when using this pack. For me it’s a great fit.

Water Bladder System

The water bladder system is simple. There is a strap inside the pack to hang a bladder of your choice. And there are two exit flaps to pass your hoses through.

It works well for me and doesn’t let water into the bag. It took a bit for me to figure out how best to hang my water bladder, but using some cord/ rope and a clip from our “MYOG/ Gear Repair” box in the closet I was able to make it work.

Back Pocket

It’s large, and simple, like my Boreas Lost Coast pocket is. No complaints. Versatile. It’s stretchy so anything that is stuffed into the pocket will not be compressed. With the (optional) shock cable I can add some points of compression as well as hold the gear in position within the pocket. So the shock cable running across the pocket can kind of act like a mechanism to separate the back pocket into different compartments.

Belt Pouches

The belt pouches are optional. These are square, decently sized and they fit over the belt quite nicely.

I have two belt pouches:

  1. One for food and snacks to eat while hiking (and trash, lip balm, etc). At camp I take this pocket off my pack and stuff it in the bear can so I keep all food scents away from the tent.
  2. One for toques, sun hat, gloves, and other gear that I swap during hiking. This stays on my pack all the time and I keep it on my waist for quick access.

Clearly, if I can fit a hat, toque, gloves, sunglasses, etc into a pocket they are a pretty decent size.

The pockets attach with a plastic toggle and cable to keep the ends in place. And an elastic fits around the waist belt.

For the pocket I keep on my pack permanently the toggle attachment system is OK. However for the one I remove every day at camp I need a better system because the toggle is difficult to manipulate every day with your fingers. I am looking at getting a mini s-clip or similar to use instead. So far I’ve been using a plastic clip like the below and it’s been working OK, but could use improvement as it comes undone sometimes.

plasticclip

Natasha also has the same side pockets and uses them on her Granite Gear pack.

Top Pockets

These are mesh, with solid backing. The attachment system is the same as the side pockets: toggles and cable. I replaced one toggle on each with a clip so I could release the bottom of the pocket and reattach it quickly.

On the tent side of my pack I use the top pocket to help retain the top of the tent. This is where the clip comes in handy. I can unclip the pocket and use the bottom strap to strap in the top of the tent. I use this pocket it to contain the tent pegs and footprint. The outside of the pocket is mesh, so it allows the footprint to dry and it also keeps the wet footprint away from the rest of my gear.

The other top pocket is used for my trowel and sanitary supplies (used and new toilet paper). Similarly this keeps these items away from my food and water and helps keep the rest of my gear clean.

Shock Cord

The shock cord is strapped over the outside of the pack. I use this to tighten my pack up, but mostly I use it to keep the gear in the outside pocket a little compressed. I also dry my gear after wearing or washing it by looping it around the shock cord. I can fit a pair of underwear and two pairs of socks quite nicely on the shock cable to air/ sun dry while I hike. I used to use safety pins to attach my clothes to my pack while drying, but those had often come undone so I much prefer the shock cord. I’d rather not lose a pair of underwear on the trail!

Conclusion

I’ve really only been to Denali (9 days), Stein Valley, a section of the SCT and some short overnights with this pack, but I am quite pleased with it. It seems durable enough but time will tell. The style and design of the pack is very compatible with how I pack and hike, and I am very impressed with the list of optional upgrades that Z Packs offers and just how well they integrate with the pack itself.

I will be taking this pack on the GDT and I am sure I will document how well I like it on that trip!

GDT Food and Meal Planning

We have finally finalized our meal plans (as much as we can anyways), so I can stop teasing with posts about us buying food and give more details on what we actually plan on eating.

Calories and Nutrition

Natasha and I don’t need a lot of calories hiking usually. We have planned for 3600 calories per day each, on average.

We are planning on shipping most of our food to trail as part of our resupply. We choose to buy cheese and fresh sausage (or whatever we can find) in each town as needed. We also plan on supplementing our planned food as needed. Major revisions to our food plan or resupply boxes will be handled by our friend who is shipping our resupply boxes (you know who you are!). On zero days and/ or resupply days we will eat what we can in town. I’m hoping for ice cream!

Nutrition is simple. We try to be balanced, and to get plenty of protein. We do eat lots of chocolate but we also have baby food pouches that we will share every day – we will be relying on those for some key vitamins. We will eat veggies and fruit in town when available. Our breakfast choices are bars and instant breakfast, but varied enough to balance what we can out. We are keeping track of our tuna intake – and I supplement with smoked salmon instead at times to keep mercury consumption in check.

Recipes

We have a few recipes we have used with success in the past but we are always refining them and mixing them up!

In my experience the most important thing to focus on with food when hiking is making sure you actually want to eat it and will get some enjoyment from it! I find that some food (cough, trail mix, cough) is fine on day one and I want to eat it but quickly lose my appetite for it. When that happens I struggle to get calories down and end up carrying food weight that I’m not consuming. If I enjoy the meal then it is easier to stomach (or straight up tasty) when I’m exhausted, hot, and frustrated. This is a nice feedback loop!

On the GDT we will be typically eating the following:

  • Tuna salad for lunch
  • Peanut butter
  • Snickers
  • Hershey’s milk chocolate and almond Bars
  • Reeses peanut butter cups
  • Sausage
  • Cheese
  • Pesto noodles
  • Skurka’s beans and rice
  • Sjurka’s peanut noodles (simplified)
  • Tuna or salmon mac n cheese casserole

Our specific meal lists are shown below. We both rotate between some set “days” but that’s really just used for planning. We eat what we feel like and don’t worry about what we specifically planned for that day.

Pesto Noodles

This is a pretty simple recipe, and is super easy to make.

Pesto Noodle Recipe

It’s a pretty “easy to eat” meal that sticks with you. Most of all the leftover broth isn’t a chore to drink – it’s just a nice, hot meal.

You can add to it if you want but we usually keep it as is. If we have leftover sausage we sometimes will add it, or bacon bits.

Tuna Salad

This one is new for us. We are no stranger to taking tuna hiking but we used to use it as an ingredient in dinner. Recently we started eating it straight from the bag for lunch and add some mayonnaise. This gets some protein mid day and also makes it so we don’t have to clean fish residue from our pots and cookware. I drink my greywater when washing my cookware with water; drinking soup of cold fish residue from our cookware isn’t my favourite so avoiding that but still eating tuna on trail is a huge plus for me.

We bought a lot of individual packaged mayonnaise – this is working great. I think three packs of mayonnaise are about perfect for a good mix. The foil packages of tuna we get in Canada do not have olive oil in them – just a small amount of vegetable broth – so the tuna itself is fairly dry. The mayonnaise really helps and doesn’t make it too liquidy.

Beans and Rice

This is my new favorite!

Beans and rice recipe

Basically, I like everything about this. A big part of what I like of it is just how consistent the texture and cooking time is across all ingredients. They cook together perfectly – no over or under cooked parts.

We bring sausage and cheese already usually so this is a good excuse to eat more cheese. It just works with food we already bring on trail as snacks (cheese, corn chips) so I don’t have to be precise about how many chips I use… I’ll eat them eventually anyways.

It can be a bit spicy, so that is a nice kick in a world otherwise dominated by chocolate bars.

In general I love tacos and nachos (the taco shop across the street from our apartment is my jam!) so this appeals to me even off trail!

Peanut Noodles

I’m not a fan of peanut sauce. I’ll eat a spoonful of peanut butter on trail… but a peanut sauce isn’t my favourite. So I haven’t planned on bringing this meal, but Natasha is planning on eating this meal on the GDT. She has tried the recipe while hiking on the SCT this year and has given it her seal of approval!

Peanut noodles recipe

Salmon mac n cheese casserole

This is only for me. But it’s tried and true. I supplement this with what I can, including fresh cheese to mix it up. The trick is to ensure not to use too much water or it becomes cheese soup! On the SCT I also added corn chips (leftover from the bean and rice) and the added texture of the corn chips was nice – almost like bread crumbs in mac and cheese.

salmon mac and cheese recipe

Note that using fish in a cooked meal leaves an aftertaste in my cookware but in limited amounts it is manageable and worth it.

Final Words

While many of these recipes are tried and true we have tried to add enough variation to not only keep things interesting but keep our diet balanced.

Overall, I think this is a good baseline, but I am sure we will have to supplement, remove or add food as the hike progresses. We will be sure to let you know what we think of it while on trail!

Sunshine Coast Trail – Day 2 – Mount Troubridge to Lois Lake

We both slept pretty well, but we were quite hot throughout the night. I guess nine people in a tiny cabin is a great way to generate heat.

We were the first ones up, so we gathered our belongings got our bags packed up on the porch – it was actually pretty pleasant outside compared to how warm it was inside. We stopped by the creek to filter some water and then we were off.

Today was all downhill and much more pleasant than yesterday. It was also quite a bit cooler as we started in the morning rather than midday and it was quite foggy and overcast for the first couple hours. The snow continued on the trail until Elephant Lake, and it was still quite manageable without spikes. Around the lake was a bit swampy and sections of the trail were completely flooded with near-freezing water.

Right before we got to Lois Lake, there was a lovely shelter we grabbed lunch at. It seemed quite new (the logbook said it was built in 2015) and it had a nice composting toilet. Around Lois Lake was pretty straightforward with the usual ups and downs that are expected when going along a shoreline. There were a couple campgrounds – one large horse camp that was completely empty and a recreation site campground that looked pretty full.

At the end of the lake, there is a dam; we were disappointed when we realized we wouldn’t be able to walk across it, but you can still get close enough to look over the edge.

After the dam, the trail popped down to follow an old railroad grade and Kyle described it as being like in an Indiana Jones movie and tropical feeling. We crossed the river that was downstream of the dam – there was a small camp on the other side, but we kept going another couple minutes until we reached our exit road.

It was a couple km from where we came out to the highway, but it was easy walking compared to other road walks we’ve down. We tried to hitch with the handful of cars that passed us, but no one stopped, thankfully the walk wasn’t too long. Once we reached the highway it was a quick hitch back to our car – the fifth vehicle (a guy in a pickup truck of course) stopped for us and gave us a ride all the way back. I was able to get service for a little bit, and there was no sailing wait from Langdale to Horseshoe Bay so we decided to chance it and try and make it home tonight rather than camping and heading home in morning.

By the numbers:

  • 2 snakes
  • 12 toads (4 large)
  • Over 45 slugs
  • 1 woodpecker
  • 1 ptarmigan-like bird that was almost stepped on