Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Six Flights Later...An Epilogue

I took the week after the hike to fly to Chicago and stay with my twin sister and her family (husband and my 4yr and 2yr old nephews) awaiting the birth of her third son. It took four flights over 21hrs to fly from Prince George to Chicago the cheapest way...well, at least it was until the third flight, when I got held up in security with my hiking poles (never have had a problem flying with them before) and ended up missing a flight and paying for another, gawh! Oh well, good news is that I arrived and in plenty of time for the new little guy and we had Oreos, so we were prepared for anything!

My nephews, Lucas and Aidan, are obsessed with collecting (not eating) Clif Bars and examining wrappers. They were quite pleased with my leftover bars from my final leg and they were repeatedly examined and well organized on the table at meals. Turns out Starbursts and Skittles make for great colorful building blocks too. As a bonus, they also go their first ever Kit Kat Chunky bars and that was a chocolaty hit.

My newest nephew held out four days past his due date and was born the day before I left (induced to make the Sept 1st school cutoff date). What a moment to meet little Simon just hours after he was born and watch my nephews meet their little brother for the first time. They adore him greatly. My dad and stepmom were able to make it up from Southern Illinois too. It was great to all share this together.

I just got back to Portland yesterday (just two flights for that one!) and jumped right back into nannying. Substitute teaching jobs will kick in soon, so I'm trying to take advantage of the down time to wrap up this summer's hikes posts. They will be rolling out over the next couple of weeks. Surprisingly for me, my mind is already scheming future plans and I hope to have a good idea of what I'd like to do next season by the time the new year rolls around for a more formal announcement.

I did an interview with the CBC (Canada's NPR) on Daybreak Alberta that aired this past weekend. It's just 12mins long, but nice to be able to share the trail with a different audience. Click here to listen to it if you are reading this through email. If you're viewing this on the website, the audio track is embedded below.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Day 49: The Ride Out

August 23rd
Walker Creek Rd/Bastille Creek Bridge

I tried to indulge and sleep in today knowing we were to be picked up around 11am, but my natural alarm went off early and I managed to hold off until 6:30 when I had to get out to pee. It was pretty cold, and as suspected, everything was covered in frost. I had propped my open umbrella in the vestibule for added warmth (it works!) and when I closed it, it had to be peeled away from the tent doors it had frozen to. When I opened my tent door, it was like an actual swinging door of cardboard. I returned and spent the morning in my tent blogging and waiting for the sun to reach me. E kept busy and was motivated to get up and move all her things to the sun in the road to dry out. I had no motivation for that. While she was packing up, Guy, the trapper we met last night, and his nephew Michael drove up. Turns out they were headed out and lived just 5 minutes from where our hosts Pete and Carol lived in Prince George four hours away. What a coincidence! Guy was willing to take us out as far as we needed, so we packed up quick and jumped in the truck. Sweet! It was a very informative ride as Guy knew this area like the back of his hand and has been a trapper out here for what must be decades. We saw our second bear of the trip in a car again! It was a small black bear we think and it was on the road and ran off by the time we got close.

Our original ride, Pete and Carol, were already halfway down the rough Walker Creek Road, which was a two hour drive each way. I messaged them on the InReach and we eventually ended up deciding that they could just turn around and head home and we'd meet them back in Prince George. It saved them two hours of driving today, but made for a six hour drive that they ended up not needing to make, so we felt bad about that. What are the chances that a) any car would be driving out Walker Creek Rd b) that car would be going to our final destination of Prince George four hours away!? Pete and Carol were very understanding and still up for hosting us in Prince George.

We made it to Pete & Carol's in Prince George around 2pm and got a shower for the first time in 8 days and laundry for the first time in 13 days, whew! We went out for our celebratory final dinner and it was great! I got steak and E got a rice bowl (crazy vegetarians;P). It is wonderful to have Pete and Carol here to send us off in such a relaxed way. THANK YOU SO MUCH Pete and Carol!!! 

We've said it before, but it was knowing that Pete and Carol would be able to pick us up that allowed us to relax more with miles and do the many high route alternates we did in that final leg. Tomorrow night, I'll leave to fly to Chicago for a week. My twin sister is due to have her third son in four days (picture below is with 6 days left to go)! Hold on litte guy! Aunt Erin is on her way!

So far, she's holding on and I'm excited to spend some time with my 2 & 4yr old nephews, who I'm bringing Clif Bars and Kit Kat Chunkies. They are quite excited about the Kit Kat Chunkies and I'm having trouble not eating them! I did send them this photo to build the suspense. 

Also, looking forward to seeing some of my Chicago peeps (lived there for 9yrs before Portland). From Chicago, I'll head back home to Portland in September and jump right back into substitute teaching and subbing. Seriously, I fly in and then pick up the kids I nanny, ha! Gotta have something to keep me moving! E is the same way and has plans to fly back to Colorado, where her car is, to visit friends for a week or so before she heads back to Moab for a bit. Then off to New Zealand (where she lives part of the year) until her next stint in Antarctica later this fall/winter as an ice core driller. I do want to take this opportunity to publicly thank E for being such a great friend and hiking partner on this hike. She really made the hike much more than it would have been had I done it solo and I thank her for tolerating all my little "quirks" and habits. Who knows, maybe someday, we'll pick up where we left off and find a way to hike all the way up to Alaska like the horse packers we met earlier this week! THANK YOU E for being AWESOME and being YOU:)

The Great Divide Trail was one EPIC and AMAZING experience and it's going to take awhile to really soak it all in. Quite surreal in a way and I'll surely be doing some post trip reports and advice to future hikers on all the hikes I did this summer. The GDT really was the grand finale I hoped it would be and lived up to all my expectations and more. So unbelievable that it really happened...and the shoes and socks made it through!

As for plans for future, there is so much out there! I keep waiting for the one that is pulling me the strongest and I have a feeling I'll do something next season. I really have no idea what it will be though, but many possibilities are vague things I've heard of and need to look into. I've now gone out for at least four months each of the last three years in a row and four out of the last five years. I know it seems like a vacation, but it's quite tiring and I need time to recharge. The funds and time are there to do more. I just need a bit to step away and see where my gut is with it all. It's been quite a tiring last five months. Thanks to everyone who virtually came along and those of you that contributed to the moral and sometimes financial support of these hikes! As always, it's been great to be able to share these journeys with so many people all over the world.

As usual, I will be doing my yearly presentations in Portland on both the Hayduke and Great Divide Trails. Mark your calendars as I already have some lined up. Two this year at the Mazamas in Portland. Their full calendar will soon be posted, but I'm booked for the Hayduke presentation Oct 28th and the GDT presentation Jan 6th. I'll also be presenting at the Trails Club of Oregon's annual backpacking weekend seminar in the Columbia Gorge Nov 7-8th either one or both trails. Official registration has yet to open. Then I'm sure I'll be doing some for the Portland area REIs as those are always enjoyable. I'll be posting them all on my homepage as they are booked and will be sure to send out a reminder. Whew, bye for now everyone!

Day 48: The Roadwalk Out

August 21st
Kakwa Lake(734mi/1181km)-Bastille Creek/Walker Creek Rd(752.6mi/1211.2m)
Daily Distance: 18.6mi/30km
Campsite Elevation: 3150ft/960m

I woke up at my regular 5:30am naturally to hear the wind gusting and rain pelting the cabin. Man, how great to be warm and dry on a night like that! I rolled over and slept for another hour and then blogged until everyone woke up. At 7am our time, 6am BC time, Jim put logs in the wood stove and it was sooo toasty warm. We leisurely got up and E commented that we are officially on BC time, which needed to happen eventually and the extra hour of sleep was wonderful! We ate breakfast (including the nectarines Irene gave us last night!) in the cabin as the rain and wind continued outside. Such a treat! It was 35F/1.7C when we pried ourselves away from the warm dry cabin to start our walk out. The rain was very light and we could see some of a newly snow covered Mt Ruth in the distance. 

We couldn't believe our timing on this whole hike for weather. We had some rain, but nothing that prevented us from seeing anything or that put us in the hypothermia range for an extended period like some GDTers experience. Had we been just one day later, there is no way we would have done the high routes we did yesterday. We could see snow on the exact route that we were on. Cy told us last night that this is reportedly the driest summer in Canada since 1880! 

So, as for getting out of Kakwa Lake...a big reason many GDTers choose not to end here is because there is an additional 18mi/29km to even get to where a car can pick you up...and that point is still 45mi/73km from the highway on a very old rough road that takes 2hrs to drive. Few people make the effort to come all that way. Cy and Irene were helicoptered in and Jim and Marilyn flew in on their float plane. In the last three weeks, Cy and Irene say they have seen 7 groups. This is more of a horse packing area, so many ride horses in. It is also one some mountain bike in, but few make the effort to hike that far. It is more used in the winter with snowmobilers. 

We are incredibly fortunate because we originally planned to walk out the full 63mi/101km, but got an offer from some blog followers, Pete and Carol, to be picked up 18mi/29km into the walk out. Pete and Carol live in Prince George, a four hour drive to where we will end tonight, and contacted me just before the hike about possibly picking us up. We have been able to communicate through our InReach devices this leg and it's going to work out perfectly! It is thanks to Pete and Carol that we didn't have to walk the road and had the extra time and energy to do the high route alternates we did this leg. Such a great gift! 

So the plan is to hike today to the first point that a car could pick us up, which is Bastille Creek on the Walker Creek Rd. It rained lightly for a couple hours this morning and then cleared up to be a great day. I listened to more of the audiobook of Outlander most of the day and the time just flew by. Although it is a rough old road, there were still views to be had through the trees and later along the McGregor River that the road follows. E and I spread out, walking on our own most of the day just a bit apart. It gave us each a the time to reflect on the hike and to think about what's to come. I'll talk about that more tomorrow. Those of you that have followed the blog all summer know I finished both the Hayduke and Tahoe Rim Trail with rainbows at the end. Check out the rainbow I got a peek at through the trees today! Perfect:)

People have done various things to make the road more usable laying out branches and such over some muddy spots. Old decaying bridges were still walkable. Other spots, there were big puddles, and we were able to find ways around them. We're sure this road is much much dryer and easier to walk this year than most. We did meet two mtn bike riders riding in to stay at the cabin.

We pretty much kept dry feet once the rain stopped except for a stream crossing at Buchanan Creek. We had plenty of time and took over a two hour lunch break there. I did some blogging and E got a power nap in. Nice final lunch spot!

It was not far to our final stop at Bastille Creek Bridge and we were there at 4:30pm. Along the way, we got nice views in openings of the trees along nicely the McGregor River. 

We had plenty of bear prints in the mud along the road...still no sighting:/

There were a few cars parked there and we met Guy(a local trapper) and his nephew Michael who were there in his nearby cabin. The camp here is right by the parked cars and covered in horse and other animal droppings. It smells like a farm, but nothing we haven't camped in along the Continental Divide, so it was fine and had a nice mountain view. 

We had a nice area to hang out and enjoyed relaxing. Neither of us are much for fires, but we did have funk with a ceremonial burning of the maps and papers we were carrying. This area is said to be frequented by porcupines that eat everything, so some cars use chicken wire around their tires to keep them from eating the rubber. I'm more worried about animals overnight here than all hike! 

It's pretty damp and pretty cold already down in the valley near the creek. We're prepared for frost overnight and I've put everything in a dry bag to hopefully cut down on the wet stuff. This is it! We're done walking! Tomorrow, Pete and Carol pick us up and we head to Prince George where we will spend the night and both have flights out to our respective places I'll elaborate more on tomorrow. It still hasn't hit me this one is over...such an amazing trip! We did have to take one last photo with our honorary third hiking partner...Will-Sun!

He hung in there and was quite the ray of light so to speak. We had our differences at times with his relentless grin as I bushwhacked through wet brush, but I know he meant well. He was quite the companion for E who found him along a dirt road on our ninth day out. He kept her warm and survived in the brush and she taped him up dutifully in towns. Will-Sun also made for a great sit pad on those muddy breaks and even worked as a wind shield in E's tent one of these last few nights. I've grown quite fond of Will-Sun and the light he brought to those dreary days. He was a great hiking partner! Tomorrow...the drive out of Walker Creek Rd...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Day 47: Kakwa Lake Baby!

August 20th 
1mi before Surprise Pass(720.2mi/1159km)-Kakwa Lake(734mi/1181km)
Daily Distance: 13.8mi/22.2km
Campsite Elevation: 4839ft/1475m

Today was just about the most perfect ending to the the GDT I could imagine. Plenty of photos to share today! We got going at 6:30am to a clear brisk morning. It was quite cold and a little windy, but CLEAR SKIES! That meant that we could do Surprise Pass High Route. The first of two high route alternates we hoped to do today instead of low level bushwhacking in mud. The route is described briefly in the guidebook, but is untested by previous hikers that have contributed to Ben Mayberry's resource packet. There was a general GPS track that we got off the GDTA page, but it was hard to know if it was drawn in from someone on a computer or a track that had been hiked before. Either way, we were game to give it a try and knew we had the time and good weather to turn around if need be. 

The alternate is listed as .6mi longer in the guidebook, but the track has it at 2mi longer. We also knew it would be slower going than the low route with climbs and rocky terrain, but we were psyched like kids on Christmas to be able to do it.  So with just about all our clothing on, we headed out over Surprise Pass as the sun came up behind us. 

Once up there, we saw that we totally could have camped on the other side of the pass last night with many groups of trees as options. We could see our cross country route too. We would go down to the valley, and rather than staying low and turning the corner, we would hike up just right of the waterfall to then hike below the Wallbridge Glacier on the right side. 

It was a fun route and we were really glad we did it. The hiking wasn't as slow as we anticipated and we were done by lunch going at a very relaxed pace. There was a lot of stopping for photos. As soon as we got up there, we realized that the route we chose to take had us hiking on Wallbridge Glacier and that was fun. 

Once past the glacier, we needed to go to the top of the flat table topped mountain of Wapati Mtn. We passed some small glacial lakes along the way.

It wasn't a bad climb and we got up fairly quickly to see some great views, including looking down on the low route near Cecilia Lake. Pretty cool to see what we would be doing had we stayed low. 

From there, we walked the extended table top of Wapati and took in the views as we walked down the backside on one of the noses. We loved it and it felt really freeing with all that space. As we headed down, E realized we could see our second high alternate route coming up, and even more exciting, Kakwa Lake! We spent a ton of time taking photos with Kakwa in the distance. Our next alternate will be to walk just above tree line traversing the three mountains on the right. The low route reportedly has no trail and has deep sucking mud most years going along the south tip of Broadview Lake at the bottom of the photo. Kakwa Lake is more in the distance. 

From this viewpoint, we needed to do a steep climb down the back of Wapati Mtn. You can choose your own route down and we don't know if ours was most efficient, but it worked. It started off with steep scree sort of terrain, then bands of drop offs to zig zag thru, then a steep grassy area to work through. This down climb is the one part I'd caution people of if they are not a fan of exposure or unstable footing. Especially wet, I could see it being more sketchy, but we did just fine and made it down to Providence Pass. Totally recommend Surprise Pass if the weather allows!

After tagging Providence Pass (crossing the official GDT route) down between the two alternates, We bushwhacked through tall grass and forest to start the Providence Pass alternate. This one is listed as 2mi longer than the low route, but the GPS track has it as 3.5mi longer. We could see from our previous view that it wouldn't be smooth ridge walking like the first alt. This one took more effort and we were up high for a shorter portion of it. Again, not recommended on a wet year as it was side hill hiking along a semi-steep grade in tall grass. It wasn't for long and we had fun with it weaving around trying to find the most efficient way. I haven't done the low route, but I still think it's got to be better than the alternative bushwhack below. Plus, having the views to finish this hike is what it's all about. We had lunch up top and looked back on our day and ahead toward Kakwa now hidden around a corner. 

The last part of this alternate requires skirting right along this expansive alpine meadows and then curving left down the wooded ridge in the distance to drop down to Kakwa Lake. Well, we got cocky and figured, why not go our own way and just cut through the meadow on this dry year and find our own way through the woods possibly intersecting with the faint trail that might exist on the ridge. We figured there wasn't a trail anyway, and that we'd save time taking a more direct route. Oh were we wrong...we easily got across the meadow and it was good fun, but totally should have followed directions and gone around the lake on the right to find that trail...

We even had fun bushwhacking down...for the first half hour or so...then the willows and downed trees got more prominent and we tried to find the trail. We had the GPS track from the GDTA, but again didn't know if it was a generally drawn track or one that had been hiked on the ground. Either way, we tried to use it to find the possible trail with no luck. Brush it was all the way down for another hour or more. My claustrophobic side started to creep in as some rain started to fall and I stopped to put on all my rain gear and batten down the hatches expecting the whole wet brush car wash effect. Of course, E patiently let me have my freak out moment as she stayed out of rain gear and the rain passed. I got to sweat out the rest of the climb down in rain pants and we got to laugh at my PTSD freak out. When we reached the bottom, of course, there were clear blazes and an even cleared trail junction to the Mt Ruth Trail we had been looking for. It was much further north of where we had been searching and we weren't even close. The GPS track was not near it. A totally fitting way to end this hike with one final unnecessary bushwhack, ha! 

We did our final ford over the inlet to Kakwa Lake and wore our sandals because we actually had dry shoes! 

There was a small semi-wooded camp spot that we passed to check out the cabin we heard was there and the warden cabin that we heard was infrequently staffed by volunteers through BC Parks. There were people there! Cy and Irene were there for 5wks as volunteers to supervise the area. Their friends, Marilyn and Jim had flown in on their float plane to visit for a week and were staying in the public cabin. The cabin is actually free, overlooks the lake, and they said we could stay in there with them! It's open all year round and free to whoever shows up. Just amazing! Here's Jim, Marilyn, Irene, and Cy. 

Even more amazing is that the temps dropped quickly as we made dinner and the rain began to fall. What luck that we made it down and into a warmed cabin on a blustery cold rainy night! We sat on the covered porch and took in the view and moment as the rain fell. 

We spent the rest of the evening staying up late visiting with Cy, Irene, Marilyn, and Jim in the wardens cabin. Cy and Irene have done this many summers over the years at various parks and were first here in 1996 when they helped blaze the apparently great Mt Ruth trail we completely missed today. They are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this year, so cool! They say of all the places they've volunteered at for extended periods, Kakwa Lake is their second favorite...their favorite one...Assiniboine where we were on Day 18! In the photo, E is holding one of the nectarines Irene gave us that we are saving for tomorrow. 

I said this was almost a perfect ending as I think the perfect way to end would be to take off from the lake on a float plane and fly over everything we just did. That would really be a dream! When the rain paused for a bit, we went outside and took finish photos on the dock. Of course, we had to do some celebratory jumping ones too!

We've been sticking to Alberta time, which is an hour earlier than the BC time they are on. We visited til 11pm for us and I wasn't asleep until midnight. All worth it! Part of the challenge of ending at this remote Kakwa Lake, is finding a way out. We have 18mi of dirt (er, mud) road walking tomorrow to get to our pickup spot that I'll explain in the next post. Right now the rain is coming down and the wind is blowing hard as we hear a pestering porcupine we'd been warned about going to town gnawing on the porch of the cabin. These cabins were built to replace older ones in 2008 and are in amazingly good condition. It's so warm and cozy in here! I forgot to take pictures before it got dark. 

Totally sleeping in tomorrow. What a great finish!

Day 46: We Didn't Expect THIS

August 19th 
1mi before Col near Mt Morkill(701.1mi/1128.3km)-1mi before Surprise Pass(720.2mi/1159m)
Daily Distance: 19.1mi/30.8km
Campsite Elevation: 6141ft/1872m

It was a great night sleeping up high in our little sheltered spot. I even go out in the middle of the night to see what looked like northern lights! It wasn't the strong green color I've seen in photos and more like a large milky way kind of look. It was really cool and I almost woke E knowing her work on the poles she'd know what it was, but I didn't. It was really cool! We got going at 6:30am, not sure of how long this day would take and wanting to set ourselves up to hopefully do two high route alternates tomorrow to get to Kakwa Lake, the northern terminus of the GDT. Can't believe that's already tomorrow and I think it's too surreal for either of us to really believe it right now. Another thing we couldn't believe was how great today was! We seriously had no idea it was going to be this great towards the end and it really is providing for quite the grand and relaxing finale. With how long the sun is up out here, we've hardly seen a sunset, sunrise, or even the moon. It is still light out well after 9:30 and I'm still not used to it. We got really lucky this morning, and got some of a sunrise as the sun broke through for a bit between the low clouds and the mountains making for a great pinkish color on the mountains as we ascended over the col along Mt Morkill. 

Again, we had no idea this was coming and all this has been a great surprise. Later, in the morning, I had a Clif Bar and noticed the motivational quote on the wrapper was quite perfect for today. 

It was really windy, but thankfully dry. Our things were actually dry when we packed up today. I really love the texture of the clouds in the sky and we got plenty of that today. There was a mist of rain that came and went the first few hours of the day, but it was minimal. Almost all the hiking was in open alpine meadows. Most of the few hikers who describe describe this stretch in the notes we have say it has boggy wet meadows and mention little about how great the scenery is! We think that's because it must have been socked in and raining for most of them. We are sooo grateful to get this string of dryness that seems rare up here, so aren't experiencing the bogginess and rain that could really make hiking these stretches a drag. We dipped down to Featherstonehaugh Pass and then up on Featherstonehaugh Ridge where the clouds started to break and the sun started to shine through for brief moments. We were so content and pleasantly surprised again by all of this! 

We ate lunch at a small spot while the sun broke out and lounged to the fullest. We realized that for the first time in quite awhile, everything was was dry! We didn't have to spend lunch unpacking and repacking all our gear! It was quite glorious. From there, we hiked through meadows a bit longer before heading up and over Casket Mtn Shoulder. 

Even knowing in our notes that most hikers miss the turn in the meadow to the shoulder, we missed it, but were able to cross country and connect to it, which ended up being quite clear and flagged. 

Then we dropped down to Sheep Creek area where, again, we could imagine the boggy muddy meadow that would exist most years. We continued to keep dry feet and hopped across the creek to another horsepacker camp. I've kicked myself for not taking more photos of these camps the last couple of weeks because some are quite elaborate. This one had two benches that looked out over the Sheep Creek Valley. We were on a very comfortable schedule with how smooth the trail had been all day and we took a bonus break on the benches. I tried to catch up on blogging that I've greatly fallen behind on and E totally lounged and took a brief power nap. I was quite envious of that! Maybe it's being at the end of so many months of backpacking having done back to back trips for the past 5 months or maybe it's being cold and wet, but I haven't been able to stay awake long enough to finish journaling this leg. It's probably a combination of both, but the plan has been to try and catch up midday at breaks when it's nice out and I'm more alert. 

We had just a few more miles, and although it had been windy all day, the skies were clear for another night of camping up high if we could find a sheltered spot. We hiked up towards Surprise Pass and knew we needed to camp before the pass since we could see it was so barren up higher and the wind was very strong. 

As we headed up, we realized we'd gone too far and nothing protected was available for camping. It was only 5:40pm, but we knew better than to risk going over above tree line and having to hike a lot longer to find camping. We reluctantly turned around and headed back to the small groupings of trees we had passed and found one group that was sheltered enough around 6pm. Again, just surreal to have this view and we were able to look back and see where we had come from earlier in the day. What a great final stretch to end this hike! Plus, we got the luxury of not hanging our food for the second night in a row and fifth time this hike. 

One last note that my shoes (particularly the left one) are barely hanging on. Now 600mi/965km on them, I made the risky decision to take them on this last leg rather than ruin a new pair. They are still the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn and the tread is great, but the mesh in the toe box have taken a beating in the brush. E wears more sturdy hiking Salomons, and they've done well. Tread is wearing balder, but they are only beginning to show signs of blowing out on the sides slightly. Today, my left one, which I sewed with dental floss a week ago, split all the way across the toe box. I sewed it up again tonight hoping it will hang in for the last few days. Pretty proud of my handy work. 

We are excited that tomorrow is technically the end of the GDT! Weather is lining up for a great ending  too. If it stays like this, we can do two high route alternates tomorrow to end at Kakwa Lake. There is still a day of hiking on a dirt road to get out after that, but Kakwa Lake is technically the end. So crazy that it's already here!