Section E Part 2
The saga of common sense not being too common, and inconsiderate neighbors at camp was back at the forefront of our lives at 2:38 a.m.
We had shed the lady from the night before only to be awakened in the middle of the night from someone coming into camp. It was the beginning of August Long Weekend and we were bearing the brunt of it. What we can only assume was someone driving after work and hiking in throughout the night.
This wasn’t just one lone headlamp quickly glancing past our tent. But three distinct head-on collisions. The power of headlamps these days is incredible. It felt like a brand-new Audi had it’s high beams on and was coming right for us. Needless to say I was wide awake after this and couldn’t fall back asleep until four a.m. The morning we were prepping for, and the morning Stefan had put in the mega-marathon to catch up.
The Six-Passes Alternate.
When we did wake up I was determined to have a good day, despite the rude awakening. The morning was easy, walking relatively flat trail (for the GDT) before arriving at the final true campsite for a couple days. We had a quick snack and kept moving.
We slowly ascended up a pass which was the end of the trail for us. Maligne Pass is a beautiful meadow with a nice lake at the top. Had we continued, we would be taking the Maligne Valley all the way to Maligne Lake and into Jasper. The Six-Passes Alt however takes the high route, rather than taking the valley we would go up and over… Six Passes.
We took a quick swim in the small lake before starting our cross-country voyage.
It was slightly surreal seeing a trail, and then intentionally leaving it for what we thought was likely the first pass. There was absolutely no evidence of a trail, or of humans travelling the footsteps we were taking.
Coming up the first pass was really steep scree, the kind of scree where you are losing a little elevation with every step. Once we hit the top, we took a well-deserved sweaty break and had some candy.
From here we could look out at the valley below. It was so cool to truly see the terrain we would be traversing, we could see about eight or nine km, small potatoes for the distances we had been travelling. Realizing how far 30-40km truly is was great to put in perspective.
Traversing several passes, valleys and everything in between really shows how capable humans can be.
We descended from the pass through lumpy alpine meadows. Our pace was cut in half, having to intentionally take every step proved slow, and the lack of any flat ground meant every step was a unique step.
It got pretty old by the next pass but the flowers were incredible and looked like a dream. By the second pass Tanya had gotten a boost of energy and left everyone in the dust.
By the third pass Stefan and Tanya were fading pretty hard. For some reason I found some inner fire and flew up the pass. This was what the GDT was all about for me. Things I had wanted to do for so long. True alpine route-finding, off trail travel, flowers, friends, and a level of fitness I had never known I could have had. I felt like I was on drugs, it was bliss.
We took a long descent through a tight bushwack mixed with a creek ford. It was adventure mode. We found one of the few flat and dry spots and set up camp. It was pretty buggy but a beautiful campsite.
The next day was the second half of our Six-Pass Alternate.
It was a very hard day. Looking back at my journal and notes of the day it’s not a cohesive recollection of the day, but a few key words. Lake, Grumpy, Scramble, Swim, Naked, Snapped Pole, Town, Bus, Beers, Deck, Rain.
The second half of the alt was hard. Hard to find our stride without any time on trail. The morning started off with a steep climb, having to lift our legs up much too high just so we could clear the brush.
It was eight km in seven hours hard.
Just before the last pass we hit the lake and all took a much needed swim. We saw some other people for the first time a couple days.
After we got out of the water we all jumped around naked, doing a dance to try and shake all the water off of us. It was also celebratory for getting this strenuous day almost over. Surprisingly they came over despite our rabid demeanor. They were heading southbound and had what we thought was a surprisingly ambitious day.
Without wanting to sound too dismissive, we told them they should probably get going. As we had hiked nearly 1000km already and the last eight km took us seven hours.
The finale of the Six Pass alt is more of a peak than a pass.
We walked along this ridge before finally ascended to the top, requiring some scrambling to come down. Once down we could see a faint trail of a popular day hike to the NE.
We could also see tiny little people far in the distance.
I was stressed for time, it was already late and we had a lot of distance to cover. I’m not sure what I was stressed about in particular but I can distinctly remember that feeling that we had to hurry up. Our 21km day was going to take well over 10 hours.
Upon approaching the trail, we had the idea that maybe we would hit town tonight. After checking the weather from the InReach we realized a storm was coming in, and hitting town for a day or two, before hitching a ride back to our spot wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Now there was the incentive to get to that trailhead quickly, as it was getting dark and our chance at hitching a ride into town (a 45-minute drive) was dwindling with the daylight.
We started moving pretty quickly, I got a little too ambitious and used my poles to vault over something and snapped my pole. Sweet, there goes $180. Good thing we were going to be hitting the best trail town on the entire GDT. As we hit the main trail there were lots of people.
We were striking up conversations with everyone, really ramping up the story to see if anyone would drive us back.
It wasn’t looking too good.
We asked tons of people and all got similar stories about the car being full or something else. We finally hit Maligne Lake and it was super busy, our thumbs were out but nobody was picking us up.
Leave it to Stefan for his brazen attitude on asking for rides.
We heard a bunch of noise coming out of what looked like an airport shuttle bus. Stefan ran right in and disappeared for several minutes, before coming out and yelling “They give us a ride!”
It was the staff bus, and they were all at a party. I think the liquor was helpful in their decision to pick us up. Apparently, they are asked every day by unprepared hikers, but our story of being on the GDT made them think twice.
On the bus it was loud, boisterous and the polar opposite to what we had just been experiencing for the past week. Again, maybe alcohol-inspired, but one girl even offered us her back deck. As we had nowhere to stay, and it being a long weekend we weren’t really sure where we were going to sleep.
So we got dropped off at hers, set up our tents on her back deck (which is quite hard with a non-freestanding tent). I had to get pretty clever on how to stake out the tent when we were on a wooden deck.
We hit the pizza place, filled our tiny stomachs with a couple pieces of pizza, despite ordering entire pizzas. We were still hungry but there was no room in our stomach since they had shrunken due to our small meals several times throughout the day.
We got back and the rain started pouring, it was a great day to be off trail.
We woke up on the rainy deck sometime the next morning, donning our full rain gear getup for the first real time on the entire trail.. But in town.
Tanya and I dropped our stuff off at our friend Karly’s house and went and got double breakfast, new socks, gas and had a failed attempt at getting new shoes.
After our shopping spree we took a 4-hour nap, woke up to get all you can eat Indian Buffet and ice cream and then went back to bed. It was such a weird day, nothing happened.
The next day we had yet another zero. We woke up, made breakfast, did laundry then went and saw my friend Trish who has countless stories of big trips all over Canada and the world. It was awesome to share the GDT stories with her and hear about all the inspiring trips she has taken throughout her lifetime. It was rare for people to have such knowledge on the trail, that haven’t hiked it so it was super cool being able to talk about all the places and have someone actually know what we were talking about.
We grabbed some snacks and Trish said she would drop us off back at Maligne Lake the next day so we could finish Section E. Which involved the Skyline Trail, the most popular trail (over 20km) in Jasper. We had timed it perfectly too, the rain had passed and the weather looked great.
Instead of pushing through it in one big day, we were going to take our time and do it over two days. We still had a few days for our friends Sarah and Heather to catch up.
The next morning we woke up, and packed our bags. Tanya and I were going skeleton packs. We stripped everything to the bare minimum. With only one night on trail, and the ability to literally hike the whole thing in a day, we brought the bare necessities. Which happened to be quite the bare necessities in comparison to what a normal “weekend” trip might be.
We hit the trail around 10:15 and were immediately hit with multiple comments on our pack size. While other people on trail had between 60-100L of gear, and what looked like 40-65lbs., we had about 30L of gear and my pack weighed close to 15lbs.
The trail was fantastic condition, you could tell parks resources go towards maintenance here. It was great weather as we cruised through the very very gradual trail. Probably the best condition/easiest trail section of the entire GDT so far.
It was a laugh-filled day with lots of lounging in the beautiful alpine meadows. My face hurt from laughing all day. We ran into someone from much earlier on in the trail, that we had seen in Coleman after Section A. Not able to communicate effectively we kept walking and saw there were the toilets with three seats all in sequence. No walls, just three toilets next to each other.
Stefan and I knew what we needed to do. Group Poop!
We continued through the beautiful alpine meadows before descending down to our campsite. It was a super fun day and was nice taking such a slow, relaxed pace without worrying about the distance.
The next day we were up and on trail by 6:15. A bit of smoke had rolled in but the views were still great. I totally understand the appeal of the trail and why so many people have it as a bucket list hike. It was surprisingly empty though. Once we were through the Skyline Trail portion it was still a decent chunk of distance to town. At least 20km. It got pretty boring. We took a swim in Edith lake and pushed all the way back to our favorite all-you-can-eat Indian Buffet. It was a big day, over 40km but great to power through. Several plates of food later we rolled back into Karly’s house and fell asleep.
The next two days were our last zeros on the GDT. We had timed it perfect as it started raining again. At this point we were still rain-free on the GDT! A crazy statistic for the Canadian Rockies. We hung out with Karly and chatted for a bit before she dropped us off at the hostel. Despite her offering multiple times that we were welcome, we had friends at the hostel and wanted to also see if there were other GDTers around.
There were, but they smelled terrible. Was town getting to me or were they just exceptionally stinky? To be fair, they had been hiking through the rain and we had maintained our dryness for six weeks now.
Our final zero day involved buying a crazy amount of bars and supplementing our food box that we had left with Karly in June. Twelve days was a lot of food, like 25lb of food. This was going to be the final big challenge of the GDT. Nearly two weeks unsupported as one final push to the end.
The hostel shunned us from doing our resupply box in the common room and beckoned us to the basement. Odd for a hostel. I was ready to get back on trail, the strangeness of society was showing its ugly face. I could also feel like I was losing my trail mindset and becoming more of a human, which I did not want to be.
It takes a long time to get into the trail headspace, but not very long for it to leave. It honestly took close to two weeks to get into it, as I felt in Section B. Only a few days in town though and it was already fading away.
Funny how the best things in life seem to be the shortest.
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