GDT Section C – Part 2: To the Rockwall Trail and Beyond
The highlight of the second part of Section C was hiking the Rockwall Trail. I’ve been fortunate enough to hike the Rockwall trail in its entirety in 2016 and half of it in 2019. When I started planning to hike the Great Divide Trail, this was one section that I really anticipated. As I prepared to leave Banff, that anticipation grew with each step and helped to carry me towards the Floe Lake trailhead. Although this section had its challenges, the overall beauty made me forget about most of them.
Day 16 – Zero Day in Banff
Total distance: 0
I was incredibly thankful to be off trail today. Up until this point, I had hiked without a break since the beginning of the trail. That’s 435 kilometers (270 miles) of on-trail hiking. I deserved a full day off. Plus, it was raining.
I met some pretty incredible people in town last night and we decided to make some plans to check out Emerald Lake during the day before going to Banff Hot Springs to relax. I’m one of those people who have a difficult time relaxing unless I do something to earn it. Somehow, in my mind, hiking for two weeks prior to today wasn’t enough and I needed a small walk to make me feel like I did something.
Anyways, the lake was beautiful and once we hiked about a kilometer passed the parking lot, the crowds died off and we had the trail mostly to ourselves. Thankful to Marie and Gabrielle for the ride out to Emerald Lake and for the sandwich I had for lunch while we were there. Once we returned to Banff, we decided on a quick turn around time to head to the hot springs before dinner; Adam grumbled a bit about this because he was hungry, but that’s what happens when you don’t eat your breakfast.
The hot springs hit the spot. It was raining and my body was in need of some hot water. I’ll spare the details from the evening. Suffice to say I met more wonderful people, stayed up way too late filling my social battery, and eventually managed to sleep.
Day 17 – Banff to Egypt Lake
Total Distance: 12.5 km (4.7 km on trail)
Turns out other people like to sleep a lot more than I do. I ended up making breakfast for myself and finally made my way to the post office to pick up my package. It was my final chore for my time in Banff and a bit overdue. When I reached the post office, the lady insisted that my package was not there; as a thru hiker reliant upon my resupply packages, I was not going to give up easily. I asked if she could check again and told her what my package looks like. She sighed and went back to have a look. I waited, knowing that there was no reason why my package shouldn’t be there.
She returned with my box and gave me a bit of a scowl, as if it was my fault that she had missed my package. I thanked her for finding my box and returned towards the hostel after loading my backpack.
Adam and Farrah were out and about and ready for some lunch so we met up for my last meal before heading back to the trail. You can’t really go wrong with good food and good people. After lunch I went back to the hostel to say goodbye to those who were still around and finally began the journey back to the trail.
As a hitchhiker, leaving Banff is annoying because you have to walk two kilometers back to the highway. However, hitching was relatively easy; I waited about 2 minutes before getting my first ride to the turnout on the highway. My second hitch took a little longer and I walked for 10 minutes before getting a ride for the final 4 kilometers. I’m always super appreciative for all those brave enough to stop and pickup a hitchhiker.
The first hour of hiking was fairly uneventful and before I knew it I was approaching Healy Pass. The first thing I noticed is that the bugs were back; can’t really escape them out here. But at least the smoke was light enough that I could make out the blue of the sky and the mountains in the distance. Each step, though, was increasingly difficult. Two full days spent socializing and catching up on civilization tired me out and I felt ready for a break.
From Healy Pass, it’s all downhill to the campsite at Egypt Lake. I strolled in and noticed all of the empty sites. It was 5 pm. I was tired and there was no one around. So I went over to the eating area and had a nap for about an hour. Then, in an effort to waste more time and see if anyone else showed up, I made some dinner. Still no one. Technically, I had another 7 km to go to reach Ball Pass Junction where I had my site reserved. But I was beat.
This was a difficult one for me. I wanted to respect my campsite reservation, but I knew that I would be miserable doing so. Plus there were plenty of campsites open, so I figured I wouldn’t be stealing someone’s campsite for the night. After that minor dilemma, I picked one of the established spots and set up for the night. I promptly fell into a much needed sleep.
Day 18 – Egypt Lake to Floe Lake (Rockwall Trail!)
Total Distance: 29.5 km
Wow, what a sleep. I woke up a couple of times to go to the bathroom, but stayed up for a while longer because it was a clear night and I could see the night sky very well. I ended up sleeping in until eight or so (yay, Team No Alarm) and because I’m never in a rush to leave a campsite, didn’t start hiking until 9:30. Today was a day for climbs.
The first was to Whistling Pass. Sometimes the names for passes and things seems arbitrary or strange, but whistling pass made total sense. I saw a couple of marmots and heard many more as I approached the pass. When I reached the top, there was a chonky ground squirrel waiting to steal any snacks possible. I took a brief break at the top to appreciate the climb and continued when I grew tired of protecting my pack.
The trail meanders a bit on the north side of Whistling Pass and I happily misplaced myself near a tarn overlooking Haiduk Lake and a waterfall. I laughed a bit about myself, retraced my steps, and was back on trail easily enough. At Ball Pass Junction, I refilled my water and continued on towards Ball Pass.
It’s been pretty standard practice for me on this trail that lunch breaks are also where I dry out my gear. The sun shone, the wind grabbed at the flapping ends of my tent and footprint, and I watched a glacier while I munched on my tuna wrap. It was a good lunch. And I only had one more descent and a one more climb until I arrived at Floe Lake. Easy peasy.
Well, the way down from Ball Pass was a little spicier than I anticipated. Apparently my Altras weren’t holding up as well as I thought they would. Usually, I can push my Altras to 800 km (500 miles) before I need to switch them out and I don’t get that feeling until the last 160 km (100 miles) of that. So far, I had hiked a little over 450 km in these Altras so I was about 200 km ahead of schedule, which didn’t bode well for my feet. I was hoping to make it to Jasper in these shoes…
At any rate, I made it to Floe Lake and the Rockwall Trail rather uneventfully. It appeared as though I was the last hiker to actually make it in that night as I took the last available tent site (right in the middle of a meadow). I wasn’t looking forward to my soaked tent in the morning. After setting up and having dinner, I listened to Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd and watched the sunset by the lake before calling it a night.
Day 19 – Floe Lake to Helmet Falls (Rockwall Trail)
Total Distance: 27.8 km
This was one of the days that I had anticipated since starting the trail. A return to the Rockwall Trail, and the opportunity to hike most of it in one go. Plus, the morning started out beautifully. Pink cotton candy clouds. The lake, quiet and still. The morning sun against the Rockwall. I drank my tea and appreciated the moment of tranquility. Today was going to be a good one.
The last time I hiked to Numa Pass the rain turned to snow as Ronja and I froze while we made our way to Numa campsite. This time, the morning sun caressed my face when I broke out of the larches and the day promised to be nice. I passed by a whole pack of hikers on their way to Floe Lake, ready for their final night on the infamous Rockwall Trail. They were the last group I saw for a good while. For some reason, it felt weird to be on such a popular trail and to have it entirely to myself. Not that I would complain about it; I enjoyed every minute of it and I soaked up my solitude.
I ate lunch at Tumbling Pass and listened to the glacier. Rocks and pieces of ice fell as my tent dried. Another tuna wrap down and I still wasn’t tired of them yet. I didn’t see anyone until I passed Tumbling Creek campsite. More hikers heading the opposite way. Going NOBO felt weird here because I was against the flow of traffic, but its the way I’ve always hiked the Rockwall.
At Wolverine Pass I encountered a man with a day pack and then passed by a couple going the same direction. We talked for a while and decided to hang out after they reached camp. As I approached Limestone Saddle, I caught up to another pair of hikers, Bent and Jason. When they reached the campsite, I joined them as they ate dinner. They were a couple of older hikers who were hiking from Banff to Jasper on a fairly similar schedule as I was. Once again, I spent the evening getting my social battery charged and ready for another day of me and my thoughts.
Day 20 – Helmet Falls to Field/Lake Louise
Total Distance: 36.9 km
I woke up again to the smell of smoke heavy in the air. It made me think of my home in Lytton and all the people displaced by the fire. I just wanted to stay in bed and go back to sleep, but I hoped to try to find a campsite at Kicking Horse Campground because I missed the reservation date… I deflated my mattress so I didn’t have any other options and slowly packed up. And as soon as I started hiking, my mood picked up.
So, the climb to Goodsir Pass is good. Like really good. One minute you’re at the bottom near the ranger cabin, admiring Helmet Falls in the distance, and the next thing you know you’re transported to the top of Goodsir Pass and heading down towards Field. And just like that, the Rockwall trail is over. My feet (and my pack) felt light. Four days of hiking and I already craved some real breakfast food.
As the day progressed, so too did the apocalyptic vibes. The sky was orange and the sun a red ball in the sky. The smoke felt thick enough to drink and I could almost imagine myself drowning in it. I reached the highway, 7 km away from Field. I stood by the side of the road for 10 minutes and tried to hitchhike. Vehicles zipped by, and each breeze deflated me even further. I gave up and started walking.
As I approached the top of the climb (and hopefully a real pullout), a kind woman (or mad lady) pulled over on the barely existent shoulder and offered me a ride. I looked at the road, and thought to myself that I didn’t come here to hike a highway, so might as well. I happily agreed and she drove me to the visitor centre. It turned out that she works for Parks Canada and was quite familiar with GDT hikers coming through. I thanked her for the ride and went inside to the visitor centre to inquire about sleeping options.
The people at the visitor centre were kind enough to let me keep my backpack there and charge my power bank while I went to the only open restaurant for a burger. I needed to figure out what I would do. If I walked (or hitchhiked) five kilometers, I was told I might have a spot at Kicking Horse Campsite. Apparently it was supposed to rain as well. I knew that I would have zero luck finding a spot to stay in Field. It was a Friday night in August. My thoughts drifted for a while when my burger and fries appeared; I quickly remembered how hungry I was and focused on my food.
Afterwards, I recalled that Lake Louise was pretty close, so I checked the hostel there. Sure enough, there was room. I made my reservation, returned to the visitor centre to grab my things, and hitchhiked to Lake Louise for the night.
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I was looking forward to a day off during Section C.
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.
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