GDT Section C – Part 1 – Countdown to a day off

Section C (Part 1) Overview

I feel as though things started to come together throughout the first part of Section C. Overall, my body felt good, even if I had to deal with a few blisters. I went for my first swim on trail, endured some pretty hungry bugs, dealt with a bit of heat exhaustion, and made it to Banff for a very well-deserved nero and zero. Initially, I planned to do a few side trips throughout this section, but the smoke had me reconsider those plans. I guess I’ll have to come back at another point…

 

Day 12 – Boulton Creek to Beatty Lake

Total distance: 19.9 km

My first real view of Upper Kananaskis Lake.

I got a late start to the day because I had to charge all of my electronics. Once at the road, cars zipped by me, but eventually an older couple stopped to pick me up and dropped me off at the end of the dam on Upper Kananaskis Lake. Little did I know that the access trail to the GDT via the White Spruce Day Use parking lot was closed, so I was able to hike along the eastern side of the the lake instead of walking along the road. I really enjoyed this first bit of the day; the smoke wasn’t super thick and the tiny islands out on the lake looked inviting.

I’m glad I managed to get on to the trail that followed the lakeshore instead of walking the road.

 

I took a quick lunch at Forks Campground and decided to take the South Kananaskis Pass alternate. I quickly arrived at Three Isle Lake, hot, sweaty, and ready for a dip. The water was cool, but felt wonderful in the heat of the afternoon. The wind helped to keep the bugs down and also served as my towel. After drying, I continued on to South Kananaskis Pass and further towards my site for the night at Beatty Lake. In hindsight, I feel as though I made the right decision; the campsite at Beatty Lake is incredible, if a bit buggy. (So buggy that I had to hide in my tent for a little bit, but whatever). It definitely beats the soggy and lumpy meadow I passed through in the morning. Plus, it was a slightly smaller day than I had initially planned.

Beatty Lake was a beauty.

I was roused from my tent by the sound of a couple other hikers so I went to say hello. They were a couple from Quebec (Julie-Anne and Vincent) doing a SOBO section hike and cherry-picking some of the more scenic sections of the GDT as they had limited time. We talked for a bit and shared some of our highlights and lowlights of what we had each just hiked. When I shared my story about going down to Canmore to replace my O ring, Julie-Anne said that the same thing had happened to Vincent. It must have been there lucky day as I had an extra O ring with me so I gave it to Vincent so they didn’t have to endure the same side-trip to Canmore. I figured I could grab another O ring in Banff to have a backup.

Day 13 – Beatty Lake to Big Springs

Total Distance: 34.2 km

Today promised to be a very enjoyable day. First, I had a fun descent that traversed a scree slope until I reached the ford of LeRoy Creek. I always love descending down scree because it almost feels like glissading. The ford of LeRoy Creek was uneventful, but my feet appreciated the icy waters, even if my feet were going to be wet for the rest of the morning. Secondly, I only had one climb for the day to the top of Palliser Pass. The rest of my day would be spent traipsing through meadows and beneath the sun.

The fun descent down from Beatty Lake.

After I crossed LeRoy Creek, I passed by an enormous (and fairly fresh) pile of bear scat. A few meters passed this was a whole host of feathers (likely from a ptarmigan or grouse). It was enough for me to turn on some tunes and hopefully notify any wildlife to my presence. When I approached the Palliser River campsite, I almost stumbled into another group of NOBO GDT hikers. Apparently, they didn’t hear me approach until I was just about at them because one of them turned around quite startled to see me. They had thought that a bear was coming towards them. I laughed a bit, but carried on to the top of the pass before having some lunch.

Palliser Pass and the endless meadows.

The next section through the meadows was hot with limited shade. By the time I reached the bridge near the ranger cabin, I was more than ready for a drink of cool water and to soak my t shirt and buff. As I filtered my water, I had my first (and only) interaction with a Park Ranger (and her son). We talked a bit about what we had seen and noticed in the area and then about my plans for the day. After our farewells, I continued on towards Big Springs, full of water and already drying off.

Some hot walking occurred during this stretch.

At Big Springs

I appreciated my earlier self for the foresight to provide some treats for my current self. Upon reaching the campsite, putting on my bug net and then setting up my tent, I took my Dr. Pepper to the creek and allowed it to chill before dinner. While I waited, I watched the sunset and checked out the Big Springs themselves. Guess what? They’re pretty big and worth the small side trip to see. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that volume of water gushing out of the ground before.

The dying light at Big Springs campsite

After dinner, I went down to the bear cache, ate some Oreos, and relaxed. I felt satiated and prepared for the following day.

Day 14 – Big Springs to Howard Douglas Lake

Total Distance: 36.6 km

Early morning Marvel Lake

Today I woke up a little earlier than I usually do (no alarm though). I wanted to give myself time to climb Nub Peak if conditions were favourable. Although it was nice to have a bug free morning, the nicest part of the morning was the climb up towards Wonder Pass. Wow! It felt like hiking on the PCT with excellent switchbacks and wonderful(ly smoky) views. If you had a really poor sense of direction (or a great imagination), you could almost believe that you were in the Sierras. At least the bugs were similar.

A very smoky Wonder Pass.

I feel like a lot of people  probably get to the top of Wonder Pass and think “Woah! This is incredible.” But my only thought was “Woah, this is pretty smoky.”  I took an early lunch at the top of Wonder Pass just before a huge group of hikers reached the top coming from Assiniboine. I passed by them and found a spot just below the pass where the wind was strong enough to keep the bugs down. Even then, I managed to kill about 5 horseflies before I finished my tuna wrap. I could barely make out Nub Peak in the distance and decided that I might as well fly-by the area. The hike to the top of Nub Peak didn’t seem worth it with all of the smoke. Plus it was hot. Like drink more water than you think you should hot.

Og Lake and Mount Assiniboine.

A moment of appreciation

Can I take a moment to be thankful and appreciative of BC parks and their pit toilets? Seriously. They have got their poop in a group. Cedar outhouses to keep the bugs and pests down. Brooms and other cleaning materials in their outhouses. Sometimes even a bit of TP. Not only are they large and luxurious, but they’re often quite clean. Especially when compared to the national park outhouses. Maybe I’m just a little salty over the shitty condition of the outhouse in Big Springs, but I definitely appreciated the outhouse at Og Lake.

What’s that feeling?

Anyways, I didn’t drink more water. I thought I did, but I didn’t. After I left Og Lake I entered this warren of rocks that seemed to reflect the afternoon back at you. So not only did the sun beat down on me, the rocks helped to cook me in their oven. Eventually I started to feel tired. And weak. And powerless. So I stopped, drank more water, and even sat down for a bit in the shade. But the feeling wouldn’t go away. I slowed down even further and my stomach started to feel a bit upset. By this point, I had drank 2L of my 3.75 L capacity and I still had another 5 km to the closest campsite (Porcupine) or 12 km to Howard Douglas Lake (which was my goal).

After some deliberation, I decided to use 1 litre for Gatorade and drank half of it immediately. I also ate some Smarties and hoped that it would sit. Then I started hiking and thinking about the food that I wanted to eat when I reached Banff. You see, I’m pretty food motivated and know how to trick myself into doing bigger distances than I think I can. If the carrot is big enough (like a real burger with a fried egg and sautéed mushrooms with a side of poutine), I can overcome some pretty tough obstacles.

The sun at the top of Citadel Pass. My nemesis for the day.

So I hiked. When I reached the turnoff that could have led me to Porcupine, the thought of a burger pulled me past and urged me on. I had one more climb to Citadel Pass and I convinced myself it would be easy going from there on out. Plus, the climb out of Porcupine is steeper than the gradual climb to where the alternate trail meets back up with the GDT in 4 km. That burger fortified my will as I stayed on the GDT and made my way to Citadel Pass.

Back in the meadows after making it to the top of Citadel Pass.

It’s weird. Each step upwards somehow became easier. As I was in the steepest section, my body started to feel better. Maybe my body wanted that burger more than I did. Before I knew it, I was at the top, and after a short meander through the meadows, I was at Howard Douglas Lake. Just in time for dinner.

Day 15 – Howard Douglas Lake to Banff

Total Distance: 4.5 km (on trail) + 7.5 km off = 12 km

This morning started out with a very social breakfast. When you’re alone for vast portions of each day, it’s nice to take the time to talk to others on the trail. Even when you’re heading back into a town or city. Maybe especially then. It might be the last time that you can easily connect with similar people with similar interests.

Nearing Sunshine Village; I could just start to make out the lifts in the distance.

Over breakfast, I met Silverfox and Harrison, a father/son duo who were section-hiking the GDT. They planned to catch a taxi from the parking lot at Sunshine Village, so we decided to meet up at Sunshine Lodge and finish the hike out to the parking lot together.

The hike down to Sunshine Village passed in a blur; the thought of that burger pushing me up and over the two measly climbs before the final descent. I caught up with the two of them at Sunshine Village and we walked the road down to the parking lot together. This was the first on-trail hiking conversation I’d had since starting the trail and it was something that I didn’t know I had been missing up until that point. We talked about how the trail had treated us so far, their plans for after this section, and shared our food fantasies. Also, just in case you’re wondering, there’s service along the road down to the parking lot.

Banff

Upon arriving in Banff, I dropped off my pack at the hostel and then walked downtown to find Harrison and Silverfox. It was well past time for lunch and I was huuuuuuuuungry. Especially for that burger I had promised myself. Well, Melissa’s MisSteak did not fail to disappoint. The first bite seemed to blend into the last bite and suddenly I was full and had an empty plate in front of me. Nothing quite compares with the first meal once you get into town.

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Section B was a wee bit smoky.

Definitely learned a bit during Section A.

Check out My GDT Gear List – Living in Luxury 

Read about How to Plan to Thru-Hike the GDT.

Read about Why I’m Hiking the Great Divide Trail (GDT) during COVID-19.

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