Great Divide Trail Yo-Yo: Part 11 – Big Critters, Bigger Closures

Sept 2 – Sept 8 (7 days)
GDT 344km – 145km (199 km)
Section B SOBO (11 of 12)

A week ago T and I walked into Peter Lougheed Park to resupply for this section, where we were greeted with the news that all public land in the southern BC Rockies was closing at noon the next day due to fire risk. No actual blazes nearby, just the risk of.

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The rules said that no one could “enter” or “remain” on crown land after this point, but had to be “leaving”. We decided to hike on and enter before the closure went into effect, and then see how things would play out. We made it scarcely a dozen kilometres into BC before we ran into a pair of park rangers (yes apparently there are still a few employed). They were ensuring Elk Lakes Park was empty. As we feared, they offered us a ride to civilization. I countered by asking if it was okay if we “left” by hiking the next 50km of the Great Divide Trail over to Alberta? Surprisingly, they were okay with it, even though they knew it would take a couple days. They seemed more interested in our trek than the closure, even suggesting that we dive into the bushes if the Ministry of Forests folks come along, as they might force a ride.

So off we went hiking 30km down the forestry road to where the single track resumes near Fording River Pass over to Alberta. That night at camp we heard a slam – like a car door – and wondered if the gig was up. Surprisingly, the sound was a bull moose trying to navigate through the aspens with a massive rack. He wandered into our camp – perhaps 40 yards away – and took in the scene. See the video below.

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The next day we made it back into the alpine, where we saw the next of many wildlife sightings: a mama goat leading her calf up a steep cliff. It was neat to see, but no where near as wild as the sighting the following day, when a mama grizzly decided to introduce us to her two cubs.

T and I were relaxing in an alpine meadow, brewing up afternoon coffee. We had been there for 10 minutes. The water was boiling, shoes were off, socks were drying on nearby Barratt’s willows, and gear was fully sprawled like thru-hikers do. T spotted the mama grizzly first as it walked out of the woods 70 yards away with two cubs in tow. Shocked, she sprang up and whisper-yelled “mama grizzly with babies”. She began fast-balling gear into her pack with such speed I can only dream of her doing normally.

As T sprang up, the bear put her head down and started digging, seemingly unaware of us. I grabbed the spray, stood up, and since the bear was digging it’s way towards us at 60 yards and dropping, I calmly said hello to make it aware of us. It looked up, stared for several seconds, smelled the air and then went back to digging. I knew she was okay with us. If she was going to get grumpy, that would have been the time.

I joined T in packing up, as she urged me on with great passion, and we quickly walked out of that valley. I repeatedly glanced back and saw the mama leading two nice cubs along the talus, while T was too terrified to even glance back. Such cool bears. I think we would have been fine to exit more leisurely, so I regret not taking an extra second to get a pic as we walked away, but I did get one shaky 3 second video:

The next several days along the original section of GDT built in the 70’s were much better than I remembered it. We saw subalpine larches turning gold, and more wildlife each day included two groups of big horn sheep, elk and a black bear. The latter group of big horned sheep decided to join us for dinner:

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For the final stretch of this section, we detoured to logging roads on the Alberta side of the provincial border, rather than taking the ATV trails and logging roads designated as the official route on the closed BC side. Unbeknownst to us, Alberta had also closed their backcountry while we were in there. Soon after hitting the gravel, we met a Fish and Wildlife Officer on patrol, who we feared would force us to take a ride. Again fortunate, he also let us “leave” by hiking our last 40kms of gravel road.

All good news thus far, but alas we sit now in the final town with a mere 145kms to the finish, and yet we can’t go on. Everything is closed ahead of us. We’ve hiked 2150km out of 2300km – 94% – but there won’t be walking tomorrow. Every inch of trail is closed and it’s being patrolled with massive fines. Further, an actual fire has started just 50km from the end right over the trail through Waterton National Park.

Still, we’re set on getting through. Our plan is to take a week or two off while hoping for rain, and then hike all but the last 50km in Waterton which will be closed for longer until the fire is out. Those final miles may open in October when the snow and cold temps hit, so we hope to slip through in the narrow window between when winter starts, and when it gets serious. Otherwise we’ll still get through, but it might be on skis.

Botany Section
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Butter and Eggs

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Cow Parsnip in seed

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Subalpine larch

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Some cool lichen

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3 thoughts on “Great Divide Trail Yo-Yo: Part 11 – Big Critters, Bigger Closures

  1. I would have liked to see Tara’s ‘speed packing’. Better to regret not having a few extra seconds of Grizzley video, than to get some nice ‘Darsh Patel’ footage.

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  2. I have been following your trip and have enjoyed all your stories and great pictures. Since you are “near” the end I was curious how your Marl packs have worked out. I am looking at getting one for next season.

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    1. Bryan – The Marl packs have been great. I’m still really happy with them and I think they are the best mid-sized pack out there right now. I’m going to write up a “long term review” sometime in the next month, but overall they have held up well. The VX21 is perfect material for a pack. The GDT has a lot of rough miles and yet there’s virtually no damage to the packs.

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