Taking the Trail Less Traveled on the Great Divide

We knew we weren’t done. When we finished our first long-distance hike, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in September 2017, we knew we were just biding our time. None of our international travels or countless shorter hiking trips compared to the last five months on the PCT. The only question was, which trail? We considered many of the major players; the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, the Continental Divide Trail in the US, the High Pyrenees through Spain and France, the Te Araroa in New Zealand. One kept coming back to us: the Great Divide Trail. Offering 1,100 kilometers of untamed, Canadian wilderness running along the spine of the Rocky Mountains and the Alberta/British Columbia border, we knew this was the trail for us. We’ve crossed paths with this trail many times on our extended weekends in the mountains; this is our home turf. Wilder then the PCT, yet more familiar. Distances measured in kilometers instead of miles.

Starting on the Canadian/US border in Waterton Lakes National Park we will work our way north, until we reach the end at Kakwa Lake. We’re attempting to complete this in precisely 40 days, which may or may not be a good idea.

New Trail, Old Feelings

This time feels different; the start of this trail is eagerly anticipated, but the nervously fluttering stomach is missing. I have a different level of trust in our ability to push ourselves and each other. I know what we’re physically capable of achieving. The now-seemingly simple details of food drops and lightweight gear selection are merely logistical details to work out, not new concepts to fret over. It’s now a homecoming of sorts; the familiar actions of studying fire closures and elevation profiles cause a deep sigh of satisfaction.

There is also a new sensation, an anticipatory “gritting of the teeth” now that we’re intimately familiar with the discomfort, pain, and extreme lows that lie ahead. I know what it feels like to put on yesterday’s wet trail runners that have frozen into two solid bricks of ice overnight. I know how painful the first mile of the day feels when the tendons in your ankle are pulling with every step. I know the apprehension deep in the pit of my stomach that still strikes right at the start of every major river ford. I know how much I hate hiking on an empty stomach, knowing that I need to go three more miles before I can justify eating another bar.

However, I know that the morning light and stiff wind hitting your face as you reach the top of a pass at sunrise make you feel more alive then anything else in this world. I know the feeling of accomplishment when you finally crawl into your sleeping bag at the end of the day. I know the feeling of standing humbly in the middle of an alpine meadow, surrounded by a citadel of mountain peaks. I also know how damn good a tuna and potato chip wrap tastes when eaten on the side of the trail. We’re returning home, albeit for a short 40 days.

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