Friday, August 9, 2013

Great Divide Trail hike – Where did we hike? Part 1


Waterton Lakes National park – Banff National park: 
500 km, 14 days, 19 000 m elevation gain


Camping sites: Alderson Lake in Waterton Lakes NP – Lone Lake in Waterton Lakes NP – Next to La Coulotte Ridge – On the Barnaby Ridge – On the Willoughby Ridge – Next to Allison Creek – Next to a road following Alexander Creek – Amphitheatre before Tornado Pass – Close to Beehive Mountain – On a hill before Fording River Pass – Next to a road in Elk Lakes PP – Forks Campground in Peter Lougheed PP – Birdwood CG in Banff NP – Og Lake CG in Mount Assiniboine PP – Tunnel Mountain CG in Banff

We left Waterton the 15th of June our bags full 15 days’ worth of food and our minds full of excitement. We kept in mind the warnings we had been hearing from the park officials but there was nothing that could stop us from following the Great Divide Trail (GDT) that would take to the Canadian Rockies. We knew there would be challenges waiting for us out there, but we were ready for them. Just how ready we were was later to be seen.

Route: Waterton Lakes – Alderson Lake – Cameron Lake – Akamina Parkway – Rowe Creek – Tamarack summit – Lone Lake – Twin Lakes – Sage Pass

Waterton was very beautiful place to start and the trail was mostly in good shape, at least when we could see it.

As we knew before starting the trip in June snow level is still pretty high and often the trail was either wet or lost under snow cover. 

Right away the first day we climbed and went down on steep and huge snow walls and thanks to Julien’s great hiking experience in mountains we were able to do it safely. We also saw gorgeous landscapes surrounding us at higher altitudes.

As it turned out, snow, water and huge daily elevation gain were the themes of the hike for the next few days.

Route: Font Creek – La Coulotte Ridge – La Coulotte Peak – Barnaby Ridge – West Castle Road

After leaving the national park the trail got harder to follow, especially when we reached La Coulotte and Barnaby ridges.

Unlike you would think ridges were extremely challenging to walk on.


Our elevation gain for that day was about 2000 meters, mostly on snow and without a trail



And finally it took us to dangerous situations where we were facing walls too steep to either climb up or go down safely.


So we ended up sleeping on the ridge and then headed down the next day which meant bushwhacking downhill through dense vegetation. We definitely needed a few curse words to get us through it.

Route: Road 774 – Suicide Creek – Mount Haig Road – Carbondale Haul Road – Lynx Creek Road – Willoughby Ridge – Lynx Creek Road – York Creek Road – Coleman – McGillivray Creek – Atlas Road - Allison Creek – Deadman Pass – Alexander Creek Road – Alexander Creek – South Line Creek – North Fork Pass

For the next few days we were either following forestry roads or ATV trails. It made walking easier but since there were so many trails and roads crossing each other it was actually hard to follow the right one, especially with the maps we had. For navigation we had only printed big scale topography maps and a compass with us, so knowing exactly where we were was challenging. One good thing about hiking early in the season was the fact that the trails were empty and our hike wasn’t bothered by noisy motors. We enjoyed the loneliness a lot. Our progress was of course compromised by the storm that hit the southern Alberta and made hiking pretty challenging for a few days. But we made it through not matter what was on our way.

Route: Tornado Pass – South Hidden Creek – Cache Creek – Beehive Creek – Lost Creek – Cataract Creek – Fording River Pass


When we left the well maintained trails and roads and climbed the snow covered North Fork pass things got pretty interesting. 

The Tornado Pass followed soon after North Fork and it was beautiful, steep and covered with snow. It allowed us to leave those wet forests and grey clouds that had been covering our sky for a few days below us.

We were at the east side of the mountains where it was sunny and we went down following the riverbed of South Hidden Creek.

Drying gear after the Tornado-pass

Julien declared water to be the element of our hike since no day or not even an hour went by that we didn’t face rain or a flooding river where the stream had washed a bridge away. It could take hours to find a spot to cross the river safely. So no dry day for us.


The lower we went the bigger the creek got but luckily, after reaching trees again, we spotted a trail and then played hide and seek with it the whole day. We were following something we assumed was a horse riding trail but we kept losing it over and over again because of snow and many crossing moose trails. Eventually we ended up bushwhacking difficult uphill while searching for the route and started to second-guess our decision to not take a GPS with us.

It was definitely challenging and we really appreciated the parts of the hike that we spent in higher elevations, where the view was gorgeous and vegetation low.



Route: Aldridge Creek – Weary Ridge – Kananaskis Power Line Road – Elk River Road – Elk Pass – Upper Kananaskis Lake – Three Isle Creek – Turbine Canyon – North Kananaskis Pass – Palliser River – Palliser Pass

We found our way to foggy Fording River Pass and then were on the west side of the mountains again following roads and ATV trails for a while. After spending lots of time figuring out how to cross the flooding Aldridge Creek we didn’t find the road we were supposed continue the hike on. So we ended up climbing steep and bushy Weary Ridge to be able to peer down to our route. Luckily we spotted the road at the other side which unluckily meant going down the hill, of course without a trail and in a dense forest. What a nightmare and we strongly don’t recommend it to anyone.

Then we hiked through Elk Lakes and Peter Lougheed Provincial Parks in Kananaskis Country which meant roads and pretty good trails, though we were still facing lots of high level waters.

Julien reading a map under the boncho and rain


Landscape couldn't have been better


Of course on higher altitudes the ground was also covered with deep snow that hid the trail and at the end of the days we were always exhausted from the extra effort of searching for the way. Sometimes at higher places the weather was also really cold and so were we and if there were lakes they were still frozen. Especially North Kananaskis Pass was like arriving in a winter blizzard; you couldn’t see in front of you from the wind and couldn’t separate the stormy sky from the snowy ground.

Route: Spray River – Bryant Creek – Marvel Lake – Wonder Pass – Lake Magog – Og Lake – Valley of The Rocks – Golden Valley – Citadel Pass – Howard Douglas Lake – Sunshine Village – Gondola Road – Sunshine Road - Trans-Canada Highway

After Palliser Pass we entered Banff National Park and kind of expected to have a decent trail to follow, which was occasionally the case. On the other hand it was obvious that some parts of the backcountry trails weren’t maintained at all and in addition we could see lots of traces of the storm. Water levels were still very high and we were basically walking in water most of the days. The efforts were rewarded by breathtaking views, like the one when we were sidewalking a mountain that surrounded a beautifully green Marvel Lake.



Reaching Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park was an awesome change. Not only because there we were hiking on pretty high altitudes, surrounded by gorgeous mountain and glacier lake landscapes and open tundra areas, but also because at Mt. Assiniboine Lodge we met people for the first time in over a week. 

 Arriving in Mount Assiniboinen Provincial Park

 Magog- and Og Lakes

They confirmed our fears about the storm: the backcountry and all the parks were closed, it was the most severe storm in decades and they were amazed by our journey through the damaged areas. They also showed their hospitality by offering us tea and cookies and after having the same menu for two weeks those treats just melted in our mouths and we felt like the luckiest people on Earth. 

After that the way to Banff was fairly simple and beautiful.

The last kilometers we had to use the highway instead of a trail since the bridge over Brewster Creek was washed away and there was no way to cross it.

Arriving in town felt like winning million dollars already and we enjoyed well deserved treats containing lots of sugar, fat and salt.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe you made it through that section in the awful spring weather of 2013! People are still avoiding a lot of the areas you hiked through, almost 2 years later! Thanks for posting this trip report, you have me seriously interested in the GDT. I've climbed over 420 peaks from Waterton to Jasper but never done this through hike. :)