Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Great Divide Trail hike – Routines, food and gear

Daily deeds

Maintaining daily routines while hiking helps to optimize the time you use for hiking and resting. Our daily routines were established during the first week and they stayed pretty much the same the whole way. Usually our day started around 6 or 7 am when we woke up and Julien went to get our food from hanging or bear caches. Then we had a breakfast in our tent while packing our stuff, mainly because usually the mornings were pretty cool and it was just so comfortable eat first before heading out.

Breakfast of champions

Ready for a new day

After breakfast we backed our gear, brushed our teeth and headed to trail. Usually we stopped a few times to drink or fill our water bottles, especially when it was hot or the route was steep. Normally we had one snack pause in the morning and then ate lunch around 1-2 pm. 

The next snack pause was usually after three hours and then one or two more before calling it a day, depending on how hard the day was of course. We tended to eat less snacks just after resupply, because we always wanted to make sure we wouldn’t run out of food. So usually a day or two before the next resupply we realized we had saved snacks worth of many days and could also eat more of them. And surely we did. A chocolate record for one day must be about 500 g. At the end that didn’t feel so good.

Break while reading the map and eating chocolate

Chocolatepause, waterpause and toe-airing-pause

More toe-airing

Taking-care-of-my-feet -break
We were rarely out of water

After finishing the day Julien put up the tent and Piia prepared the dinner. We used a small wood stove for cooking, so depending on how dry sticks we could find and how patient Piia managed to be we could either eat fast or a bit later.

Anyhow after the dinner was eaten and dishes cleaned it was time to hang the food from the bears. If we were in well-equipped campground there usually was a food cache that made the hanging or storing so much easier.


YBut if we were, like was usually the case, randomly camping it could take us a lot of time to find a suitable tree and get the rope over a branch that was strong enough to hold our food bags. If we were lucky the branch held, the rope slid nicely over and we could lift the food bags out of reach from bears. If we were not so lucky the branch broke, the rope got stuck and it got dark and cold before it was done properly.

After we brushed our teeth and were then able to dive into the tent.

Before sleeping it was time to do necessary stretching, first aid, heal wounds, blisters and massage sore feet, and repair ripped pants. Then we recorded the top and not so top stories of the day, usually filled with phrases like “it was a nightmare”, “so beautiful”, “wet feet again”, “more chocolate, I’m hungry”, “it’s so nice without people” and “we have no idea where the trail is”. Usually we were ready for bed around 10 or 11 pm.


Our daily menu varied a bit depending what we could find from the resupply stores but the basic items were always the same so we knew how many calories we were eating. Usually we purchased 15 days’ worth of food to be sure we won’t run out and that meant we were both carrying 10 kg of carbs, protein and fat. Of course our bags slowly got lighter as we went further.

For breakfast we had muesli that we mixed ourselves. It contained oats and variety of peanuts, walnuts, rice krispies, shredded coconut, sunflower seeds, dried banana slices and chocolate and peanut butter bits. We mixed it with chocolate and baby milk powder and added water. It was delicious!

For lunch we had peanuts (or potato chips a couple of times) with dried sausages. At the beginning the peanuts were hard to swallow but the further you got the hungrier you became and the more you could eat those too!


And for dinner we ate egg noodles with barbeque peanuts and sausage bits mixed with olive oil. And that was the meal we were thinking of the whole day!


This menu was finalized with snacks that meant chocolate, cereal or cookie bars. Sometime a lot of them! And even though it may not sound appealing, as the saying goes, hunger is the best seasoning and we ate everything that we carried with happy smile and would have always wanted more. Even the peanuts.

The resupply days were one of the highlights of the hike. Not because we missed being in civilization, but because it always meant reaching one milestone. And more importantly it meant unlimited energy input. We purchased bags full of bread, cheese, fruits, yogurt, chips, cookies, soda, ice cream and dognuts. For a moment it felt like a real summer holiday!

Energy input and sleeping in Banff

Leaving Banff

 Energy input in Saskatchewan River Crossing

Treats in Jasper

Leaving Jasper


We tried to keep our gear list as simple and light as possible, since we wanted at least 15 days of autonomy with food.

In general we were happy with our selection of gear and nothing too unexpected happened with it.

When you are on a hike over a month and you go through tough areas you know some of your things will get ripped, wet and dirty. For example we selected small running or trekking shoes and knew at some point we would have to replace them. But on the other they hand dry fast and are really light, the qualities we appreciated on this trip.

Piia's first and second pairs of shoes

Julien's shoes passed away

The tent took everything the hike had to offer and handled it well

They made you ears ring, those **** mosquitoes

Only major problem were wet conditions that followed us from the beginning until the end. First we basically swam in water after the storm hit the southern parts of our hike. Then we crossed huge snow fields for a few days and then ended up in Willmore’s huge swamps where our feet didn’t dry for almost two weeks. The conditions were too rough for the waterproof socks to hold all the water so for the future we are still looking for solutions for securing our feet from moisture.

Wet, wet, wet...

Drying our gear under the sunlight
Useful poncho, for reading a map especially

Other than that we can say our gear went through heck of a hike with us in water, snow, bush, rocks and swamps and it held it together as well as you can expect in those conditions.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Great Divide Trail hike – Where did we hike? Part 4

Jasper National park – Kakwa Provincial Park - Grande Cache: 
400 km, 11 days, 10 400 m elevation gain


Camping sites: Minnow Lake CG in Jasper NP – Miette Lake CG in Jasper NP – Next to Moose River in Mount Robson PP – Wolverine CG in Jasper NP – Next to upper Jackpine River in Willmore WP – Next to mid-Jackpine River in Willmore WP – Morkill Pass Campground in Willmore WP – Close to Cecilia Lake in Kakwa PP – Next to upper Côté Creek in Willmore WP  – Dry Canyon in Willmore WP  – Grande Cache

Route: Marjorie Lake – Caledonia Lake – Minago Creek – Minnow Lake – Dorothy Lake – Christine Lake – Yellowhead Highway – Miette River – Miette Lake – Centre Pass – Miette Pass – Grand Pass – Colonel Pass

After staying the first night at Minnow Lake and then doing the compulsory kilometers along the highway, the adventure began again. You can’t describe the northern trails of the park as very well maintained routes and occasionally our feet got muddy and wet. After reaching upper areas we crossed huge muskegs that really soaked our shoes. Sometimes it was hard to keep balance while fighting your way through dense willow bushes higher than you and that meant swimming with the branches. Muskegs also made it impossible to follow the trail and it usually took us some time to find it again on the other side.

The landscape changed comparing to the southern parts of the hike, passes being lower and wetter and mountains being more eroded. Not any less beautiful though!

Route: Colonel Creek – Moose River – Steppe Creek – Moose Pass – Calumet Creek – Smoky River – Carcajou Creek – Chown Creek – Bess Pass – Jackpine Pass 

Mount Robson Provincial Park reminded us that this hike wasn't supposed to be easy. We bushwhaced in mud until we reached big Moose River and ended up crossing it three times before being convinced that there was no trail. We both slipped while we were in the water but it was Piia who finally fell and got herself soaked, not to mention our small camera.

Then we faced the most complicated fire area to cross so far. It was full of small and big logs fallen to the ground and going over, under or around them in high vegetation took all our energy. We were following some kind of trail that took us over Moose River about two million times and the area changed into wet bogs that had swallowed the trail. So once more we were bushwhacking. You could say it was difficult, both physically and mentally and we had to agree to lower our daily kilometer goal.

Luckily we were gradually going up which meant the ground was getting a bit drier, though it was a very rainy day. We were happy to reach the Moose Pass, especially since we saw grizzly bear happily running on the hill. It was close enough to see clearly but far enough for none of us to be disturbed. Perfect wildlife viewing! After that the section in Jasper treated us well and we were following a nice trail. Our breath was taken away by the landscape seen from Chown Creek: a mind-blowing view to the Chown Clacier. 

Route: Jackpine River – Pauline Creek – Shale Pass  – Shale Ridge – Morkill Pass – Mount Morkill – Featherstonhaugh Pass – Featherstonhaugh River – Forgetmenot Pass – Forgetmenot Creek – Casket Pass – Casket Creek – Sheep Creek

Leaving Jasper was definitely easy to notice. The trail conditions with overgrown willows and other branches were nothing new but the climbs were suddenly extremely steep. Then we entered Willmore Wilderness Park that offered everything you could expect from a hiking adventure. First we had even a closer look at the Chown Glacier (Julien’s favorite view) since we slept basically under it and listened its moaning during our dinner.


Then we went through challenging and extremely wet Jackpine River part where we couldn’t follow the trail since it went through muskegs and on the other hand got muddy and disappeared to the river from time to time.

The willows didn't let us through too easily

But when we climbed higher, we had the luxury to follow a great trail and walk through amazing alpine tundra areas with 360 degree view around the Rocky Mountains, its summit, lakes and glaciers. Sometimes we crossed big alpine meadows and were surrounded by hundreds of colorful flowers. Just incredible!

Of course eventually our luxurious hiking had to end and we entered muddy forests, but still we named Willmore our favorite section of the whole hike. Especially since it was the most remote section as well, and we didn’t see people for 11 days straight. Talking about luxury!

Route: Surprise Pass – Cecilia Creek – Cecilia Lake – Providence Pass – Broadview Lake – Kakwa Lake – Broadview Lake – Cecilia Lake

After climbing snow covered Surprise pass we saw a gorgeous view (Piia’s favorite): huge green river valley with glaciers, snow and waterfalls. 

Just like that we entered Kakwa Provincial Park that generally meant walking again on huge muskeg areas where sometimes ground was covered with water and willows so high we couldn’t see in front of us. Except those shoe soaking places the park offered a wonderful surprise with nice maintained trails on wide alpine meadows. The mountains around us were still covered by lots of snow and because of meltwaters the trail was occasionally very wet, especially on low passes that was typical for this area. We established mosquito net as our basic clothing, the high buzzing noise made our ears ring.

But when we reached Kakwa Lake Campground, which meant we had finally finished the GDT, nothing else mattered. We were exhausted, amazed and proud of ourselves. And it felt unbelievable finally reach that point!

Great Divide Trail (1200 km) done!


Route: Côté Creek – Sheep Creek – Dry Canyon – Smoky River – Highway 40 – Grande Cache

Finishing the final leg of our hike meant bushwhacking around the Cecilia Lake and climbing a pass at the other side. Finding the Côté Creek was a bit challenging without a proper map but like always, eventually we found our way. Following the creek was hard since we didn’t have a trail, except for small moose routes that kept crossing on our way. We just walked in a huge valley where the ground was wet, willows slowed us down and mosquitoes kept harassing us. But on the other hand it was surrounded by amazing mountains and we had these huge meadows just for ourselves. 

Last huge river crossing, water level until waist and very strong stream

After reaching Sheep Creek we found a trail that got better and better the further we went, obviously because of many horse riders using it. Last day we were able to rush and almost run on the wide Sheep Creek and Kvass Flats trails and were eventually able to arrive in Grande Cache the same night. And suddenlythe hike was over.


Although our plan wasn’t to end the hike in Grande Cache, due to medical issues we didn’t have a choice.

Feeling dirty on clean hospital sheets

The feeling about finally finishing the trip was just indescribable and it is still hard to put those emotions into words. We felt unbelievable proud of ourselves and each other and we felt we had achieved the goals we had set for the hike. 

We had conquered the Canadian Rockies!