Great Divide Trail Yo-Yo 2017

In a little over two weeks, T and I will be starting our second thru-hike. We’re attempting a yo-yo hike of the Canadian Rockies via the Great Divide Trail. The trail is 1250km (750 miles) and we’re planning the first ever yo-yo of it, so it will hopefully be a 2500km summer.

T and I loved our 2014 thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, so we’re really excited to get back on the trail. Long hikes aren’t for everyone, but we love the simplicity of thru-hiker life, how good food tastes in trail towns, the great people you meet out there and being in great physical shape…and we hear the Rockies are awesome.

The Great Divide Trail runs from the USA border up the Canadian Rockies through Banff, Jasper and then another 300km to Kakwa Lake Provincial Park.

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Why the GDT?
No great reason really. It’s supposedly a nice trail and it’s close to home, so we’re getting to know our side of Canada a bit better. We talked about hiking the CDT, and we might do that someday, but the remoteness of the GDT will give us a maximally different thru-hiking experience from the PCT. Right now there’s only about 20 thru-hikers signed up for 2017, which might be a record size (compared to ~2000 for the PCT). I always tell T that we’ll hike the PCT again when we’re 60 and 90, since we did it for the first time at 30.

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A short section of the GDT we hiked in 2015

Why a Yo-Yo
No one has a done (or attempted) a yo-yo of the GDT yet, so why are we? Mostly, we just want the hike to last longer. If a thru-hike is too short, I don’t think you really settle into the lifestyle. A month is too short and 2 months is questionable. So by turning around at the north end and hiking all the way back south, it should take 3-4 months. That’s long enough that we won’t be thinking about the end for a good while. It should be a little shorter than our 118 days on the PCT, but not by much.

Another reason is that we want to see the seasons change. A yo-yo doesn’t fit nicely into the summer hiking season like a single GDT hike would. We’ve got to start when there’s quite a bit of winter snowpack left, and still hustle to finish before winter hits in Sept/Oct. Watching the alpine ecosystems melt, bloom, change colors and die will be a pretty neat way to experience this area. I think it’s cool to see all of that happen over the course of a single hike. Places that were under 6 feet of snow when we started will have golden fall colors when we’re back.

Lastly, I like a challenge and no one has done this. Having the impetus to hustle will help get us out of bed in the morning and out living. Honestly though, while parts of it will undoubtably be hard, a yo-yo on the GDT shouldn’t really be that difficult. At most, it might be a difficult as a single CDT thru-hike.

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Look for a return of my scraggly thru-hike “beard”

Why start on June 1?
Yeah we’re starting June 1, which everyone says is too soon. We probably could start a month later and still finish before winter. The answer is that I want to be out there when it’s still snowy. I want the excitement of navigating across snowfields, glissading down passes and fording raging streams. It’ll be a harder experience, but I think richer. So we’re packing snowshoes (no ice axes) and we’re gonna give it a go.

The downside of a June 1 start is that we might finish too soon before fall really hits. Fortunately we have a plan for that: keep walking. T and I both want to walk until winter hits, so if we finish the yo-yo early then we’re either going to head north again for a triple-yo, or just keep heading south on the CDT. Maybe we can knock off Montana?

What gear?
I’m a bit shocked to see my GDT Gearlist adding up to 15.75 lbs. For me – a big weight geek – that’s pretty heavy. However, that includes 2.5 lbs of snowshoes (MSR Shift kids snowshoes) that I’ll ditch after a few weeks, so for most of the hike my baseweight is about 13 lbs.

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That’s still heavy for me, but it includes really capable gear, thru-hiker necessities like extra batteries, iPad mini and cords for electronics, and some luxuries like a copy of the amazing book Handbook to the Canadian Rockies, which has info on plants, bugs, birds, fish, mushrooms etc, so that should enrich the experience.

That book was almost 3 lbs, but I’m proud of how I hacked it down and glued it back together to have just the parts I want. Other heavy stuff includes a sweet camera (Panasonic ZS100) so I can take good photos and 4k video. Like the PCT, I plan to put together a few short videos of the hike, but hopefully up a step in quality.

My big four items are all pretty new for this hike. The are a Hanchor Marl 42L pack, Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt (20F) with 950 DriDown, NeoAir Xtherm pad and a TarpTent Saddle 2 tent.

We’ve got a lot of long stretches without resupply on this hike, so the beefier pack will be nice. There’s 6 sections to the GDT, which becomes 12 sections for a yo-yo, and four of these sections are 9-10 days. T and I have pretty much got those boxes packed:

Squamish - 1

Will I be blogging?
Yup. Hopefully a blog post for each of the 12 sections. Hikes are tiring and spending my days off typing sucks, but looking back on the PCT we’re pretty glad we took the time to blog, so it’ll happen again. The short videos I made are an even better memory though, so those will definitely be happening at the end.

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12 thoughts on “Great Divide Trail Yo-Yo 2017

  1. I’m looking forward to being an armchair thru-hiker. I certainly see the appeal of the GDT over the CDT/AT/PCT — easier to feel what you are doing is original when there aren’t 1000 people in front of and behind you all reading the same guide, doing the same thing with all the same gear. Here’s to good weather, healthy bodies, and happy trails!

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  2. Your blog is so much different than T’s. I look forward to following them both and hearing from your, more technical side too! Thanks for sharing your knowledge and expertise with us!

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  3. Daniel, we look forward to your updates!! Remember to step to one side after pepper spraying a charging Grizz. Her eyes will be clamped shut but if she runs into you it will be excercise time. Best to step aside. I will be praying for you two daily. Love, Dad.

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  4. I am assuming that you are well on your way on the yo-yo trail, since it is the 9th of June. You have done some good planning! Hope your trail has been a good one so far. Be careful, take care of each other, and again, Happy Trails!

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