July 17 – Aug 6 (21 days)
GDT 850km to 1100km and back (560 km inc. resupply)
Sections 6/7 of 12
Well that was a long time away from civilization. T and I hiked 9 days from Jasper to Kakwa Lake (250km), resupplied on a logging road via waiting in-laws (30 kms), and then walked all the way back.
Those 21 days without modern conveniences like electricity and the internet were the longest I’ve ever gone. It was awesome, but it’s also nice to be back in a city where getting a coffee is as easy as asking.
This leg of the trip was by far the longest, and also the toughest with plenty of muddy trail, brushy trail and no trail. Much of the section gets no trail maintenance other than what the occasional large mammal provides.
On the northbound leg, I was pretty worried about the conditions ahead and getting to our resupply at the prearranged time. Despite tough trail, we moved a half day ahead of the necessary 28km/day pace in the first few days. That began to slip as we tackled the notoriously tough Jackpine valley with its bogs and moose trails. We started with a 13 km alpine alternate that was amazing but several kms longer than the regular route and still left us with most of the Jackpine mess. When we did descend to the valley, we hit the thickest mosquitoes of the trip which overwhelmed our 100% Deet and had us donning our head nets for the first time. We crashed through willows and slurped through bogs, losing our half day lead in the process. Not ideal but not unexpected.
Still, we remained on track until we started climbing Big Shale Hill. The weather had been okay to this point, but now cold and heavy afternoon rain and hail chased us to the tent for 5 hours. With only 10km hiked that day, we were restless as we drank coffee and waited it out. Finally the rain stopped and we spurted 4 tough kms over Big Shale Hill (the highest point of the section) to tally a mere 14 kms for the day.
Now with 3 days to go and 100km left, we needed to hustle. that distance in three days doesn’t sound unreasonable, but we knew large portions of it would be route finding through bush, bog or willows. We awoke to disheartening rain that kindly stopped as we exited the tent. With good enough weather, we rallied with 32km, 36km and 30km days to catch up and reach our resupply on the logging road only 1 hr late.
After a restful day off on the side of the gravel road with T’s parents, we headed back south. T was apprehensive – knowing we could easily more tough weather in the very remote 280km stretch – while I was still a bit nervous but excited. At least this time we could be late with no repercussions other than hunger.
That excitement was soon justified as the weather went bluebird and the wildlife came out to play. On the first day out of Kakwa I surprised a young grizzly eating cow parsnip as I burst out of the willows into a small meadow. From only 20 yards away, the teenage griz took one look and bolted.
Soon after we encountered 5 endangered mountain caribou at Surprise Pass, who came over to say hi. In a cruel bit of luck, our camera had gotten fried in the rain a few days earlier so we could only get poor iPad photos of the remarkable encounter. The same lack of quality photos was a disappointment the next morning when we spotted from down wind a large adult grizzly in an open meadow from 200 yards. We watched briefly and then slipped off.
The good weather and wildlife continued on the 4th day, as we again pushed through the Jackpine Valley and up to the alpine alternate. After camping above treeline, we hit the trail at 7am and minutes later crested a small ridge at the same time as two young grizzlies out for a playful run. Meeting 20 yards apart, They did a fast u-turn and took off, while we hustled along hoping mama wasn’t around.
From there the pressure was off, as we were through the highest points and toughest bits. We descended to better trails and saw our first person in 6 days near Mt Robson. We retraced our steps through the moose valley, finding a better route through the bogs. A quick 2 more days over 3 fantastic passes and we were back in Jasper after 21 days.
We’re resting in Jasper today and hoping to head out on the next section tomorrow if T’s puffy shins allow. Unfortunately the wildfire 10 days ahead of us is still out of control, having doubled in size the last 2 days. We’re hoping for rain now, needing a good downpour on those 11’000 acres. The trail is still unburied, so when the fire is contained the trail will open.
Blue Bottle Gentian
Orange False Dandelion
Red Monkey Flower
Western Anemone in seed