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Begins: Jul 6, 2016
Date: Sat, Aug 20th, 2016
Daily Distance: 0
Trip Distance: 758.0
Entry Visits: 8,070
Journal Visits: 30,388
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Guestbook Entrys: 8
GDT Planning/Thoughts For Future Hikers
So I'm going to change things up a little. Instead of repeating a lot of what she had already written I'm going to just give you another perspective from the trail. So basically I'll use her summary and just comment on my thoughts on her thoughts. So you should first read her summary at ....
[2018 Update: I've added a few notes below for things that have changed. There are a lot more hikers out there now!!]
My Great Divide Trail Experience
I generally agree with everything she wrote. I'd say that I actually had better weather than she did overall but the timing of my bad weather was a bit worse. She seemed to have more dreary days but when she had a high alternate or alpine section her weather cleared. I generally had very good weather (except for 6 of my first 10 days where I had lots of cold rain but after that all was sublime), but then the times I had major alternates I wanted to do I had bad thunderstorms (Barnaby and the Jackpine high route). To me, more than anything, your fun on the GDT is totally weather dependent. No matter what the day, if the sun was out it was amazing and if it was cold and rainy it was rough. The weather really varies and is impossible to predict summer to summer. Don't underestimate how bad it can be when cold, rainy or even a snowstorm. Pray hard to the Trail Gods.
I'd probably disagree a bit on the discussion of GDTA trail maintenance and the amount of "clearly defined trail". Overall, it's unlikely you've ever hiked a trail with this much sheer quantity of shitty, shitty trail. I mean, the GDT is insanely gorgeous, but the quality of a lot of trail is just terrible. The GDTA has only recently been resurrected and has just put the tiniest dent in what might be done at some point. They are doing the best they can but it's unlikely this trail will be anything near even CDT type quality for a very long time. That's actually pretty awesome, no need for this trail to get overcrowded! Now, there is plenty of decent trail (usually the super popular areas and some dirt road walking) but you'll hike a LOT of miles on pretty rough or no trail. But every year, the GDT clears a small section or 2 and next year's hikers have it a little easier. Wired has a very positive attitude, way better than me, so this is just my perspective of course. I LOVED the GDT, I'm just saying, there is a ton of shit trail.
Wired looks ahead a little bit here to some things that possibly aren't going to happen.
GDT App and Guidebook: This may or may not happen. River is the one doing this. He has a fantastic track with waypoints that have nice commentary and are very helpful. He posted this to the GDT Facebook group. He has developed an app not yet released but is still working through some issues (backbone licensing stuff, etc) and may or may not release something in 2017. Even without the app, the track/waypoints are the backbone of the App and that is already available. [2018 update: This has now happened]
I loved Dustin's guidebook. Sure, it's a bit out of date, but I'm a guidebook person and really enjoyed the trail description, bits of history and other facts. There is a rumor that he is going to do another book run, at this point it's very, very hard to find a copy in stock anywhere. The question is whether he is going to update it as well. One interesting thing is that the quality of the GDT trail actually seems to have gotten worse in the 10 years since the guidebook was written. I can't think of a single guidebook description where something seemed better quality now than described in the guidebook, whereas it was constantly obvious that things mentioned in the guidebook were much worse off now. Signs gone, trail junctions non existent now, "good trail" now in terrible shape, etc. [2018 update: Dustin is reprinting his book as it was impossible to get a copy but i don't believe it will actually be updated with any new info which is a shame].
As for Ben's stuff, he and Li have both gone completely MIA so trying to contact him will most likely not get you a response. However, Wired has posted the trail notes which are GOLD to the GDT Facebook group. I've added a bunch from my hike and either she or I will get others from 2016 and repost the document before the 2017 hiking season. These notes were fantastically helpful.
GDTA KML Google earth file
I'll agree with Wired that a GPS is never absolutely essential but without one you will spend a lot more time bushwhacking and wandering around looking for trail. I'd disagree that the trail is mostly on road or existing trail. I think that underrepresents the amount of trail that disappears in meadows, trailless up valley creek walking, cross country and just plain confusing sections where trail either doesn't or barely exists. With a GPS track, life is much, much easier. The GDTA GPS track has been improved and was pretty damn accurate in 2016 with the exception of the Robson to Kakwa section, however Brad just hiked that and should be updating that for 2017. Obviously, you can hike without a GPS, just know life will be more painful but also more interesting! [2018 update: With River's new app and new GPS mapping from the GDTA this should be more accurate these days]
For various reasons, Zed had pulled back his sharing of public information. He does still provide his excellent maps, however he has removed his GDT Resources tab from his blog and while he has been doing some cool alternates, I don't believe he has plans to publicly share these. But things change so maybe he will.
This is kind of a mess right now. Hopefully it will get pulled together for 2017. Zed provides and excellent set of detailed maps that you definitely want to have, however they only cover maybe half the trail. He only maps sections that are not covered by the Gemtek maps (like Nat Geo for Canada). You need to buy about a dozen Gemtek maps to fill in the holes in Zed's maps. These maps are heavy and range from 50k to 100k which aren't that detailed (the best USGS maps in the US are 24k). I chose to instead fill in Zed's holes with Ben's mapset and found Ben's maps to be fairly worthless. They are very high-level (think 130' contour lines and 20 miles of trail to a page) and fairly inaccurate. Ben is an excellent navigator and therefore just mapped the trail by hand to the best of his ability which is very hard to do without an accurate GPS track which he didn't have at the time, hence the inaccuracies. The maps will generally get you up the right valley, over the right pass, etc. but they are totally unhelpful when you really need to find the trail. I honestly barely ever looked at them. I couldn't even see the counter elevations at times, make out creeks or trail junctions. I actually found myself looking at the guidebook caricature maps occasionally to see what side of a creek the trail might be on rather than Ben's maps.
So where does this leave you? I don't know. Maybe buy all the Gemtek maps, maybe carry Ben's maps and use your GPS more like I ended up doing. Maybe something more complete will come out soon. A 2016 hiker, Ryan posted a more detailed complete mapset based on the GDTA gps track to the Facebook group at the last minute. They looked pretty good, however I have no idea how they worked in reality.
[2018 update: Ryan has posted a set of maps to Facebook 2 years in a row and they look nice. I'd suggest just using these versus trying to piecemeal stuff together like I had to do]
Should I hike With a Partner?
I agree with everything Wired says. I went it alone which was very gratifying but I also missed out on the things she mentions about having a partner.....especially having someone to complain too!
Grizzly Bear Strategy
I'm the opposite here. I wasn't much concerned. Sure, you have to be careful, but I didn't think much about it. I carried bear spray which makes me feel really safe, especially at night hearing strange noises near the tent! One of my best tips would be to take the 8.5 ounce weight penalty and carry the new, big Ursack. I LOVED it and not having to hang my food was so much nicer. I wasn't bold enough to sleep with my food and having an Ursack was so much easier. The trees on the GDT are not very conducive to hanging food, you'll hate it. I did cook every night in my tent and so did River and John and none of us had any issues. I'm not saying this is super smart but frankly, I'd rather be eaten by a grizzly than cook outside in the cold drizzle nightly. I just can't live life like that!
What About Rain and Brush?
I agree with Wired here. Literally, the best gear decision I've ever made was upgrading to a 15.5 ounce goretex rain coat. I did not want to be cold and wet and wore this practically everyday whether it was for rain, wet brush or just cold mornings. This was so superior to my usual 6-7 ounce raincoats. And I carried real rain pants for the first time ever and I would never want to hike the GDT without them. I wore these practically everyday too. It only takes 5 minutes of light rain overnight to soak the brush and the next day you will be soaked immediately without rain gear. I hated the extra weight but I was very glad to have the gear. Oh, and if you try and hike the whole trail in shorts you will permanently scar your legs. Just be warned.
I wore low cut trail hikers (Merrill Moab Ventilator) and they worked well. They were wet pretty much every day and I was fine with that, I have pretty good feet. One pair lasted the whole trip. I remember seeing a couple just starting south with Altras and I was thinking they might last a week before they tear open.
Here's what I did:
-Carried food to Waterton and through to Coleman. You do not want to buy anything in Waterton, it's a super tiny store and think $ 7 Doritos.
-I took the alternate into Blairmore (3 miles from Coleman) and did the following:
-Bought food for the next stetch to get to Peter Lougheed.
-Bought more food and mailed packages from Blairmore to The Crossing and Robson visitor center. I also would suggest mailing a box to Peter Loughheed visitor center and possibly Field. See below. Also, you probably don't want to mail your packages from the US, they will possibly get screwed in Customs and it's pretty expensive.
-A friend left me a resupply at Peter Lougheed, otherwise I'd want a box there although I could have done an expensive resupply from the tiny Bolton Creek Trading Post.
-I bought food at the good size grocery in Banff.
-I resupplied at the tiny gas station in Field. Since I only needed a few days of food here, I was fine with this. You may want to send a box. The resupply was tight.
-I had a resupply box at The Crossing. Again, think $ 7 Doritos in the tiny store.
-I bought food at the good size grocery in Jasper.
-I had a resupply box at the Mt. Robson visitors center. Call to confirm your box is there, apparently there has been some confusion as to how often they pick up boxes, who does it, etc. Zed's box went MIA.
Phone / Data Packages
I just used wifi in Canada. No phone or data plan. Every town had free Wi-Fi except The Crossing where it was $ 10 CAD (or try and get the daily Password from someone who already bought it). Much of the wifi was slow and overloaded with tourists but it was fine for me. I used Google Hangouts to call home free over wifi or sometimes used a payphone. Pingo is a great calling card plan and it's like 7 cents a minute to call the USA. Cheap.
I only stayed at 1 designated campsite the entire trail. Personal preference. I go to sleep early and wake early which doesn't jive well with others. I like camping on my own.
I took the opposite strategy of Wired. I did buy the annual park pass and annual wilderness pass which totaled $ 140 CAD so morally I felt I had paid into the system. Then I hiked without ever getting a single permit/reservation. I just couldn't stand to plan that far ahead and be committed to camping in a specific spot every night. To me, that's the exact opposite of why I'm on the GDT. After talking to many locals it's clear that Parks Canada is very strapped for cash and has had massive budget cuts in the past few years. They can barely handle the front country and I never saw a ranger or staffed warden cabin the entire trail. I believe Zed said he has never seen one in his like 5 years on the GDT. River and John actually saw one while camping on Moose Pass and the ranger was very excited about the GDT and never said anything about a permit or how they were camped.
If you go without permits then you have 2 further strategies. I chose to stealth camp when in a permitted area. I'd just walk off the trail like 200' and find a tiny flat spot and no one would ever see me. The other strategy employed by most other hikers was to just go to the designated campsites and pretend like you had a reservation. The campsites are reserved so far in advance there are almost always no shows and thru hikers never seemed to have an issue. Plus there are always bare dirt patches in the campsites for overflow if needed. This way is probably more LNT but if a ranger did happen to walk by then you might get caught whereas no one would ever find me 200' in the brushy forest.
This is all personal preference but I really liked my method. Because of the difficulty of the trail, weather, stream crossings, etc, it was really nice to just hike what I felt like hiking on a given day.
Agree with Erin here. A few thoughts....
- Mt. Rowe - Did this, think I'd rather walk the good official trail and save my energy for Barnaby. Rowe was great but tiring and the official route is nice.
-Barnaby Ridge - Missed due to thunderstorms, supposed to be amazing.
-Coral Pass - After several days of rain I tried to ford the Elk River at the beginning of the alternate and couldn't. It got waist deep halfway across and was getting deeper. This is typically a tough ford even in normal conditions at times. So I turned back and didn't do the alt.
-Wonder Pass - Excellent, must do and easy.
-Mt Robson - Although a long 34 mile round trip resupply, the trail down and back up is amazing. Trust me. I didn't regret doing the resupply here.
-Jackpine Mtn High Route (partial) - Did the first 1/4 like Wired which is amazing and easy. Must do. Got pushed down the Jackpine mountain trail due to a thunder snow-storm. A must do for the whole route if the weather is good and you are confident.
-Surprise Pass High Route - Did this, amazing and not too hard. Must do.
-Providence Pass High Route - Opted not to do this and found good trail all the way to Kakwa on the official route. Borderline alternate, personal preference.
What About that Field Section?
I agree with Wired here. Just suck it up and walk it. It was horrible but at the same time only a few days and now I can say, I hiked the GDT when that section was insane. The GDTA hasn't done any work yet as mentioned by Wired.
What Ending Do I Choose?
Agree with Wired's summary but I'll be more blunt, go to Kakwa. Period. Robson is an amazing place to finish but the long haul to Kakwa is worth it. Walk out the 64 mile dirt road and don't let that influence your decision. You'll regret not going all the way later.
Here's a few random thoughts not specifically mentioned in Wired's entry:
Am I Going to Die?
Probably not, but maybe. Lightening and river crossings are where I'd be careful. I wouldn't worry too much about being killed by a grizzly or crazy Canadian.
Am I Going to Finish?
Maybe. I think the people best suited for the GDT would be experienced thru hikers (as in Hayduke, Grand Enchantment, hikes like that) or non-thru hikers with back country experience growing up, like Julia and Leilani, 2, 22 year olds I hiked a bit with, who had never thru hiked before but had a lot of experience camping and hiking growing up and killed it. I'd be most worried about the typical PCT or CDT hiker who followed their Guthook app and hiked and leaned on others and then thinks they will enjoy the GDT. The GDT isn't even remotely comparable to the PCT or CDT, so I wouldn't necessarily assume cause you've done those you'll like the GDT.
How Do I Start?
I flew into Kalispel, Montana, hitched to West Glacier, got my permit at Apgar, took the free shuttle bus to "The Loop" stop and walked 28 miles north through Glacier to the start. Glacier is amazing. Do something like this. There are a million options. You could hike the CDT through Glacier for a week to the border. Totally worth it.
Alternatively you could take the expensive shuttle bus all the way to Watertown and then walk 4 miles south, tag the border and walk back to Waterton and then keep walking north.
How Do I Finish?
There's talk above about where to finish, Kakwa! I'd highly recommend flying out of Prince George, a small nearby city and a sort of tourist crossroads in this part of Canada. After hiking out the Walker Creek road, it's a straight shot 80 mile hitch on Highway 16 to Prince George. There is literally nothing from Walker Creek to Prince George so when someone finally stops for you, they'll almost definitely be going to Prince George. There are a lot of cheap motels and restaurants in town.
Getting over to Calgary or Edmonton is a much bigger endeavor as they are on the east side of the Rockies.
How Long Will It Take Me:
The strongest, fastest hikers (think Li, Ben, Bobcat) did it in about 30 days. That's really fast. I pushed pretty solid and also enjoyed myself and did it in 41. Wired took a few days longer mainly to adhere to her campsite reservations. But you have plenty of time. Fitting 60 days into the GDT season would be fine if you prefer that pace instead.
There is literally water everywhere. I didn't treat anything and barely ever carried more than a few ounces. Occasionally you might go a few hours on a ridge walk without water.
As mentioned above, best decisions I've made in a while were the heavy raincoat, real rain pants and an Ursack.
I surprisingly barely ever used DEET, 3 times, and never used my headnet. The mosquitoes were rarely bad and the few times they were bad I usually had raincoat and rain pants on so they couldn't bite me anyway!
I loved my umbrella on the GDT although there are times you might want to use it and you won't be able to due to getting caught in bushwhacking or having to go under blowdowns.
The temps never got below freezing for me at night which surprised me. I think in general the temps don't go too low but they also generally don't go too high so you'll probably have warmer than expected nights and cooler than expected days.
Denatured alcohol and Canadian HEET (this was HEET but it was in a different bottle and confusing for me to find) was available in Blairmore,Bannf and Jasper. Possibly also Lake Louise but I didn't go there.
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Great Divide Trail
The Great Divide Trail traverses the continental divide between Alberta and British Columbia, wandering through the vast wilderness of the Canadian Rocky Mountains for more than 1200 kilometers.
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