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.

Day 16 – Felt like a nero

GDT kms: 24

We woke up to find a Jeep had setup camp near us in the middle of the night – it explained why my half-asleep brain thought the moon was so bright at one point, must have been their headlights pointing at us.

We hit the road for a short day with surprisingly good views. We got to see another mama moose and calf cross the road in front of us.

We reached the Elk Lake campground a few minutes after 1pm – we could have continued on to Peter Lougheed (it’s only another 10 km), but we weren’t sure if we’d be able to get a campsite as it was a Saturday, and we have a site reserved for tomorrow.

We spent the rest of the day being lazy, watching Netflix, and updating blog posts from the past section.

Day 15 – Chill passes and the return of the road

GDT kms: 28.7

We woke up to lots of moisture inside the tent again, this time due to condensation rather than rain. After trying to dry some of the condensation off and packing up, we were off to a chilly start – Kyle’s thermometer read -2C.

The trail conditions were great today and there were even a few switchbacks on our climbs for once! We reached Fording Pass just before lunch and we were quite happy to enjoy the views – it’s definitely one of the more chill passes we’ve ever had to do. The pass is very broad and has almost rolling hills of meadows at the top.

The descent off the pass was on easy terrain, but a bit boring as tree cover blocked the potential views most of the way. There was a bit of excitement though as I stepped on a rock that rolled out from under my feet and took a tumble. Kyle said he heard me yelp and turned around to see my legs in the air. The ground was pretty soft though and I don’t think I’ll even get any bruises.

Our day ended with the trail converging with a gravel road again for the final 6.5 km. After being on mostly trails for around 100 km now, we’d both forgotten how rough roads are to walk on – not looking forward to tomorrow which will be 23 km on the road before we hit trail again.

Day 14 – Toe socks last 276 kms

GDT kms: 26.6

We woke up to a large dinner plate-sized puddle at the foot of our tent. At some point during the night, we (and our sleeping pad) slid towards the foot of the tent and pushed the bathtub wall and mesh so the fly drained into the tent rather than outside. Thankfully it seemed our quilt sheds water reasonably well as it wasn’t soaked. The bottom of our sleeping pad on the other hand wicked the water almost up to the head. We dried everything the best we could with our mini microfibre towel, packed up and hoped we’d have a chance to dry everything at some point today.

In the morning, we ran into Dan and GDT volunteers doing trail maintenance (thank you!) It was nice to be able to chat a bit and share trail beta – we’re looking forward to the sidewalk-like trail in Kakwa 😉

Around lunchtime it started lightly raining on and off. When we reached our first ridge of the day, we got to enjoy watching the thunderstorm on the nearby mountains while we managed to luck out and stay dry. As soon as we started descending the ridge, the precipitation hit us – quite literally as it was hailing. It is surprisingly painful being hit on the knuckle by hail repeatedly.

When we finally reached our campsite, the storm had finally cleared and we got a little bit of sunshine and a beautiful meadow.

Today we also discovered Injinji toe socks last 276 GDT kms – both Kyle and I discovered holes in our socks this evening.