Plan B – Jasper to Robson

We now had a 20km highway walk ahead of us.  Both Nicola and I were a bit apprehensive about this section because road walks had proven to be the absolute worst for our feet.  We were only a few minutes into our hike we decided to stop and tape Nicola’s feet, just to be extra careful.

The shoulder on the side of the highway was wide, but the vehicles were loud so conversation wasn’t really possible.  We put in our headphones and got into a rhythm. By this point in our journey walking was like breathing, and the long walk went by easily.  We finished the highway section feeling good and blister-free.

Once we were off the pavement the route quickly deteriorated into very overgrown trail.  I had to put on my sunglasses just to protect my eyes from all the overgrown branches.  Thankfully, navigation was simple despite the aggressive vegetation .  We couldn’t really see the trail, but we could easily feel it with our feet.

I started to feel a familiar twinge in my shin, this time on the right leg instead of the left.  I groaned inwardly, but we only had about 8km more of hiking before reaching our campsite. I hoped that if I took an anti-inflammatory and got some sleep it might be gone in the morning. Regardless, I knew that I would push on whatever it took. The shin was not going to slow me down when we’d already hiked 800km.

After what seemed like forever, we finally reached our campsite for the night.  Our food cache was so heavy that we struggled with the bear hang, but after 30 minutes of heaving we decided it was good enough.  We had been hiking through a treasure trove of huckleberries and bear scat was everywhere. We theorized that the berries were so delicious, human food would be unappetizing.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 61.6km/??


The next morning we woke up to frost on our tent. It was a cold morning, but we didn’t realize just how cold it would get. Our bear hang was fine, and we enjoyed a quick breakfast before heading up the trail. The trail up to Miette Pass was muddy and rocky.  At no point could you ever just stop and relax, rather you had to constantly be planning your next foot step. It was mentally exhausting and we were relieved when we finally broke out of the forest, away from the rocky trail. The scenery in the alpine meadows was incredible, but navigation was tricky at times as the trail disappeared into the bog.  We discovered a common theme on the north section of trail, if you aren’t in forest you are in bog. Eventually we stopped trying to avoid the mud.  I tightened up my shoelaces so I wouldn’t lose my shoes and just embraced the muck.  It was such a relief to stop trying to avoid dirty feet.

The route alternated between bog and trail, eventually leading to the expansive meadow of Miette Pass.  The pass was filled with wildflowers and was absolutely stunning.  The trail was non-existent so we just tried to pick the most efficient, least boggy line.  While we had been doing occasional bear calls in the forest, we fell into a prolonged silence during our meadow crossing. Suddenly we heard a grunt, and we looked up to see a momma grizzly with her two cubs running away from us.  It was an incredible sight to see.  It was obvious that humans were infrequent in this area, and it felt special to see animals being wild.

The weather was unsettled with occasional squalls moving through. This limited our picture taking and motivated us to keep moving. We crossed Grant Pass and began our descent toward Colonel Creek.  The trail was a bit muddy, but otherwise in good shape. It was covered in bear tracks.

As we descended we were surprised to meet up with a solo hiker heading southbound on the trail.  This area felt so remote and we hadn’t seen any evidence of other humans.  The hiker had just begun his journey 2 days prior, and was intending to hike all the way down to Waterton.

We continued on down the trail and soon found ourselves hiking through an old burn scar.  For several kilometres we crawled over and under dead trees. It was slower going than we would have liked, but at least navigation was fairly straight forward.

It had been raining off and on all day, but now it started to really come down so we had our rain gear on. I was crawling over some deadfall when I heard a gut-wrenching rip.  I had torn a 10cm hole along the inseam of my Gore-tex pants. Immediately I started to panic, these pants were essential to staying warm.  I took the pants off, worried about ripping them further and hoping that I’d be able to duct tape them back together when we made camp and were able to dry them out. Unfortunately, the rain continued to fall and it was very cold so I had to put the pants back on and pray I didn’t make the rip worse.

We got out of the burn scar and began to work our way up the Moose River.  It was like the Howse River floodplains again, except worse.  Navigation was challenging and the river was up to hip deep at times.  The water was ice cold and the rain continued to fall. We pressed on while the rain turned to snow. More water crossings. More bushwhacking. It was so unbearably cold!

We had been determined to make it at least to Timothy Slides that day, but when we reached the Steppe Creek campsite it was obvious that we needed to stop.  It was snowing hard and we were very cold. That night we ate dinner in the tent and didn’t brave the blizzard to hang our food.  Ironically, our first day where we didn’t practice proper safe food storage, was also the day where we saw the most bears.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 46.5km/ ??

The next morning was wet and cold, but at least it had stopped snowing.  The trail was invisible in many sections because of the overhanging, snowy foliage and our feet were freezing.  We climbed up to Moose Pass and I was so thankful to be out of the wet grass and onto rocks. Nicola was in poor spirits and was worried about getting frostbite on her feet. I didn’t think frostbite was an issue at that temperature, but I was concerned about hypothermia.  Snow was pouring into the hole in my pants as I walked through the brush, and my leg muscles were starting to cramp. Our feet warmed up a bit as we stood on the rocks on Moose Pass, and we made the decision to message Peter using the In Reach to ask for the weather forecast. I didn’t feel safe continuing for another 200km with this kind of weather, but I thought we could manage if the rain and snow stopped.

Peter responded: More rain later that day, then some sun but cold tomorrow, then rain/snow for the next few days.  The forecast high temperature for the next 3 days was 4*C. Ugh.

Moose Pass was beautiful, but we soon descended into more overgrown meadow which froze our feet.  We scared off another momma bear with her cubs and watched them gallop across the meadows. It was surreal, I wish I could have enjoyed it more. 

It started to rain again. I had forgotten my down vest in Mark’s car in Jasper, so I had no puffy layer.  I was wearing a synthetic base, a merino long sleeve and then my Gore-tex jacket. We were soaking and I could feel my core temperature dropping. I moved as fast as I possibly could, powering up the hills in an effort to raise my body temperature.  But no matter how I hard I tried, I couldn’t get warm. My back muscles were starting to cramp. My quad was totally seized up next to the hole in my pants, and I fell over a couple of times because I couldn’t bend my knee properly with the seized quad.  I stopped in my tracks to eat some candy and have a little cry.  My hands were frozen from trying to navigate with the app on my phone, the rain falling on the screen was making the map jump all over the place.

Nicola caught up to me as I cried and ate my candy.  I don’t remember what was said.  All I could think about at that time was that I needed to keep moving.

I was very focused on getting to the Smoky River ford. We had read that this ford could be dangerous, so I really wanted to get it over with.  This is also where the junction was with the Mt Robson trailhead.  The Mt Robson terminus had always been our Plan B. Neither of us had ever been to Mt Robson, so finishing there definitely had some perks.

My muscles continued to cramp, and a cold breeze combined intensified the cold when we were out in the open.  Nicola seemed to be doing better now, but I was not in a good spot.  My hands could barely function my phone and I resented being the navigator. (My memory is fuzzy, but I think at this point Nicola’s phone was dead.)

The Smoky River crossing was only about knee deep and completely underwhelming. As soon as we got across I insisted on setting up the tent and warming up. I was physically and mentally done. Unless it stopped raining, there was no way I was going to hike deeper into the wilderness. I knew that I would regret the decision to stop early, and I made a promise to myself that I needed to remember how miserable I was right now.

This was my thought process as we set up the tent and began to warm up:

·       The only way to safely continue would be to warm up in the tent at semi-regular intervals. This would take a lot of time. We would likely only be able to hike ~40km/day.

·       We were headed into the most remote section of the GDT, navigation would be critical as the trail would be faint and likely impossible to find in the snow.

·       I only had one charged powerbank which we needed for my phone and the In Reach. If we took more than one extra day we would run out of power. (We’d also run out of food, but I wasn’t as concerned about that as we could ration.)

·       It was likely that with all this precipitation the access road at the end of the GDT would be impassable. Potentially adding 1-2 days of hiking onto the end of our trek.

·       I needed to be back at work on Monday

Out of all these concerns, the powerbank was my biggest concern (followed closely by being late for work).  If we took too long, we would lose our ability to navigate, and then we would be screwed. Running out of power would force us to hunker down and wait for someone to find us.  How brutal would that be?? This is the problem with relying on electronics for navigation.

We set up the tent, snuggled up in our sleeping bags and enjoyed our lunch. It was 11am and the rain continued to fall for the rest of the day. We didn’t leave the tent for the next 20hrs, other than to pee and get water.

When I told Nicola I wanted to exit at Robson she didn’t argue.  She was dealing with the cold a lot better than I was, but I think she also just wanted to see Berg Lake and now we had our opportunity. 

We ate food and napped, then ate more food and then napped some more. Once again we slept with the food in our tent.  We also were sleeping on a floodplain, next to the river, in the rain.  It felt like mile 80 of a 100 mile race, when you don’t even bother to get off the trail to pee. Zero fucks given.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 18.3km/ ??


The weather forecast was accurate. The rain let up overnight and the morning dawned misty and cold. The clouds cleared as we hiked, and our first views of Mt Robson were incredible. As we crossed over into Mt Robson Provincial Park the sensation of wilderness quickly disappeared. There were people and campers everywhere. I have never seen such a densely populated area of backcountry sites. The trail was immaculate and it felt like we were hiking in a different world. We stopped briefly to sit on a bench at Berg Lake, and had a quick snack inside one of the warming huts. Such luxury!

The rest of our hike down to the trailhead went by without incident. My shin was grouchy, and my seized quad was also giving me some knee pain, but these were minor concerns. As we descended we yoyo’d with a couple of Parks staff on e-bikes who were doing repairs on the bridges. We told one of the staff about our 6 grizzly bears (2 moms, 4 cubs) and he seemed happy to hear the news. I guess they don’t have any way to track wildife in that area, and they were happy to hear of the bears successfully breeding. We also talked about the deadfall in the burn scar. He said that area is normally better maintained, but they hadn’t gotten back there this year due to issues with COVID. Lastly, we passed a group who was asking about the Smoky River crossing and the route along the Moose River. We let them know that the Smoky River had been a non-issue and that travel along the Moose River was very cold and wet, but the flow rate was not strong. It felt good to be able to pass along some (hopefully) useful knowledge.

We finished our hike at 2pm, and Matt and Mark were waiting for us with dinner and prosecco in the parking lot. Matt had cooked up an incredible hot stew and we devoured it. After 18 days on the trail, it was surreal to be done.

Some thoughts:

We could have messaged Mark to meet us with another powerbank and warm clothes at Blueberry Lake. I now realize that we would have been safe if we’d decided to continue, but I would have been very late for work.

I really want to try again. Next summer the goal is to do the Kakwa Lake section. And then the following summer my aim is to do a southbound solo hike. Friends could join me for sections if they’d like, but I don’t want to give myseIf the option to blame my personal shortcomings on a partner.

In my next attempt I would also want to follow the rules regarding camping as closely as possible. With this attempt I felt good that we paid for all of our camping nights, but I also felt badly that our reservations were in the wrong locations and someone else may be missing out on a campsite because of this. Sticking to the rules may necessitate some night hiking (which we didn’t do on this attempt). I didn’t want to do any night hiking this time around because there were so many areas I’d never seen before. I’ve now been through most sections enough times that I’d have no problem hiking in the dark to get to my actual reserved campsite, or an area I could legally random camp.

Next time I will take a month off work instead of just 3 weeks. Nicola had a lot better understanding of some of the challenges that may occur with thru-hiking, and how these challenges could add several days to the timeline. I was totally naïve in this regard. If I want to successfully complete a thru-hike I need to channel some of her ability to go with the flow, even if that means taking several days more than intended.

I love long distance hiking. I will definitely aim to do more 7 day+ hikes in the future. I strongly prefer wilderness to highly populated areas, so I don’t feel the need to do any other official long trails. But as I explore more terrain, I am excited to put together my own adventure treks.

I have a million people to thank for helping us along on this journey including:

  • The crew – Matt, Brian, Jamie (and family), Mom, Marika, Jessica and Jay, Becky and Mark. We could not have done this without you!
  • The supporters – Ian and Susan at Spry, Bliz (sunglasses), Ultraspire (packs), VIMFF (adventure grant), Arcteryx (Gore-tex pants and jacket), Swiftwick (socks), Clif (bars and chews), Salomon (clothing and filter bottles), Silva (headlamp).
  • Andrew for letting us use your beautiful cabin.
  • Extra thanks goes out to Alicia who came up with this crazy idea, and put a ton of work into applying for the grant, wrangling permits and arranging housing in Field and Jasper.

Happy Trails!

Blizzard and Trail Magic – The Crossing to Jasper

It rained hard that night and we were very thankful for our decision to stay at the hotel. The next morning Mark dropped us off where we had left the GDT, and we continued on our way. The trail was covered in long grass and our feet were soon soaked. Oh well, by this point we were used to wet feet.

Mark took some video of us as we approached the trail up to Michelle Lakes, and then we were off on our own. I had been eagerly anticipating this section of the route. Michelle Pass is the highest point on the GDT, and I’d heard from my fly fishing friends that the Michelle Lakes were stunning.

The trail ascended next to a raging Owen Creek, which had cut a slot canyon into the mountain side. It was a lot like Mistaya Canyon, except with none of the tourist development. I thought it was awesome!

As we ascended, the trail became more eroded and I was thankful it wasn’t raining. A slip on the mud would have sent you sliding into the creek, and I wondered how passable this trail would be during a rainstorm. As we climbed the trail faded, eventually disappearing completely when we entered the alpine. We travelled cross-country towards to the imposing Michelle Pass, stopping briefly for lunch. This is my favourite type of terrain and I was in heaven. The lakes were an incredible aquamarine, a brilliant splash of colour against the stark grey of the surrounding rock. I can’t wait to come back here and explore more.

The route up to the pass was partially snow covered, so we had a brief discussion to plan our route before scrambling up. I was worried the snow might be icy, but the footing was fine and we soon found ourselves looking across Waterfall Valley and towards Pinto Pass.

There was no trail down from the Michelle Pass, but navigation was simple and we soon picked up a well-worn horse trail which brought us up to Pinto Pass. Pinto Pass was simple, and I was feeling optimistic about our ability to meet up with Mark later that evening at Cataract Pass. The trail down from Pinto Pass was easy, leading us to a well-established horse camp at Pinto Lake. Nothing on the GDT is easy for long, and when we crossed the outlet for Pinto Lake the trail quickly deteriorated into bog.

The next several hours were frustrating. The trail was not consistent, and the mud threatened to suck our shoes right off our feet. I made a couple of navigational errors, missing the turn for Cataract Pass, and then getting off route again once we were on the Cataract Pass “trail”. It didn’t help that I was stressing because we were late getting to Mark and he wouldn’t be able to film us. Nicola was much more chill about it (Nicola was always super chill).

It was getting late, and we needed to make camp before dark, but we still hadn’t reached our campsite. I checked the map and we were many vertical metres above the campsite and well off-route. Shit.

I made the decision to follow a drainage down to camp. I get nervous following drainages because they tend to have steep slopes, waterfalls and deadfall, but this was the surest way to navigate. Thankfully, the drainage was friendly and we popped out of the forest directly at camp. Mark was waiting for us at camp (a bit surprised by the direction we had appeared from) and filmed us as we set up for the night. I shed a few tears of relief as we settled in.

Approximate distance/elevation gain = 52.5km/2,485m


The next morning was very chilly. Freezing, Nicola and I made our way up Cataract Creek as efficiently as possible. We were paranoid about getting off track and checked the app every few minutes. Navigating in this manner was frustrating because the app was slow to update our location. Next time I hike the GDT I will definitely download the GPX to my watch, and I’ll purchase a much longer lasting watch.

We entered the alpine and started the steep climb up to the pass. As we climbed, a huge serac broke off the neighbouring glacier and I was filled with awe at the power of nature.

From the top of the pass we were back in familiar territory, as I had run this section of trail with a friend a couple of years earlier. The landscape was spectacular and I was happy to stop worrying about navigation and just soak it all in. We made quick progress for the rest of the day, travelling along well-maintained park trail. We hiked over Jonas Pass, Jonas Shoulder and then along Poboktan Creek until we reached the trail which would lead us up to Maligne Pass. We were in good spirits and happy to be making such good time.

Side note: At one point my left hand and arm swelled up. I’m not sure what was up with this, but I tried to elevate the hand and I took my wedding rings off as soon as I was able. My arm slowly returned to normal over the next couple of days. Send me a message if you have an explanation.

The trail up towards Maligne Pass was not as well-maintained, with several bridges which were just barely hanging on. You could tell we were re-entering the wild. We reached Avalanche Camp around 7pm and decided to press on over the pass, even though a note on the app warned that the rest of the trail was no longer maintained by Parks Canada. A storm moved in as we ascended the pass, and we encountered our first real snow storm of the trip. The scenery was stunningly beautiful, with the setting sun just peaking through the clouds as we were pelted with sleet and snow. We were way too cold to take photos.

It began to snow very hard and we ran down the pass on the other side, determined to get to camp before dark. We made it, and as I snuggled in I was very happy that I’d brought a -6C sleeping bag. Throughout the trip, Nicola was the one who made sure we didn’t waste away our daylight by sleeping in. But as we drifted off I mentioned to Nicola that we may want to sleep in a bit the next morning. I was concerned about how heavy the snow was and wondered what we’d be waking up to the next morning.

Approximate distance/elevation gain = 62.2km/2,110m


We slept in an extra hour the next morning. The snow wasn’t deep, but it was very wet and cold outside. When we finally got going, travel was very cold. All of the foliage was overhanging the trail under the weight of the snow and we were absolutely soaked. My lightweight gloves were totally insufficient and I walked with my hands down my pants (not the most efficient way to travel). Thankfully the trail was in reasonably good condition, without crazy amounts of deadfall and fairly easy to navigate. The overgrown willow sections were frustrating but not unexpected. I resigned myself to just powering through.

I don’t want to sugar-coat it, we were not in great spirits when we suddenly heard a “HEEEYYYY OHHHH” out in the woods. I called back, and then out of the bushes popped Marika! It was so unexpected and so wonderful to see her that I started to tear up. She had brought candy and Oreos and we devoured them all. Those were the best Oreos I’ve ever had! Even better, Marika was in shorts and her legs weren’t bleeding. This brought me such comfort, because I knew there couldn’t be too many willows ahead!

The next 12km went by quickly and we soon found ourselves camped out in the Maligne Lake parking lot. Mark was there as well, and we spent an hour drying out our gear in the sun and eating all the snacks!

Eventually we had to get going, so we loaded up our packs and continued on our journey up the Skyline Trail. Mark shot video footage as we hiked, and we were in great spirits, happy to be back on good trail. At this point my watch went haywire and began to tell us that we had climbed 10,000m, or something like that. I didn’t get the watch working again for the rest of the trip, so we would just have to guesstimate our progress.

Mark left us after Little Shovel Pass, but we continued on towards Curator Lake. It was only 7pm when we reached the lake so we pressed on over The Notch. The next campsite was about 12km away and we figured we could do it before dark if we hurried.

There was a very steep snow slope on The Notch and I was surprised that backpackers routinely hike this section. It seemed like somewhere where you might want crampons and an ice axe! Thankfully there were good steps kicked into the snow, and we crested the ridge without issue.

It was very windy along the ridge line and we began to jog along the trail, partly to get out of the wind and partly to make up time. It felt so good to be running! The views of the Jasper skyline were incredible and I finally understood where this trail got its name from.

We ran down the switchbacks on the other side of the ridge and made it to the campsite 15min before dark, lucky to get the last available campsite.

Sidenote: We reserved and paid for campsites along the entire GDT route according to our predicted itinerary, but we soon got off schedule so we were not able to make those reservations.

Approximate distance/elevation gain = 56.8km/??



The next day we got up early and watched an incredible sunrise as we hiked across the meadows. Soon we had crossed the meadows and were heading down an old fireroad to the Skyline terminus.

Mark was waiting for us in the parking lot, so we dropped off our overnight bags with him and decided to run the last 6-7km into Jasper. It felt really nice to jog, but after a few kilometres we came across a bear closure sign. The closure was quite explicit and we hadn’t brought bearspray with us so we definitely needed to detour. (This is a long-term closure that was noted on the app, but we hadn’t taken the time to read the note.)

Thankfully, we soon came across some local trail riders, and the leader gave us excellent instructions for the detour route to Jasper. We arrived in Jasper with two goals; buy warm clothing and eat some food. Specifically, I was looking for waterproof gloves and tights. The shops were only selling summer gear, so I never found waterproof gloves, but I compromised and purchased the warmest pair of gloves I could find. I also bought some tights. In hindsight, I should have bought dish gloves and two pairs of tights. Hindsight is 20/20.

Our original plan had been to stay overnight in Jasper, however it was still early in the day so that didn’t make sense. We charged up our devices and battery packs the best we could at the local pub and in Mark’s car. Then we sat in a parking lot and stuffed our packs full of 5+ days of food. This was our biggest carry of the entire trip (I think I packed 28,000 calories) and it was a challenge fitting everything in our packs. It was time to head out for the last section of the GDT. We were full of optimism and I felt certain that we were going to make it.

To be continued …

Intro to Bushwhacking – Field to The Crossing

After a delicious breakfast of yogurt and berries (thanks Jessica and Jay) we began the long climb up towards Yoho Lake.  The trail was in excellent shape and we made good progress. 

Soon we we were walking along the moonlike landscape of the Iceline Trail.  I’ve hiked this trail several times, but it never gets old.  Every kilometer is a highlight reel of glaciers, waterfalls and brilliant tarns.  We took an early lunch at the last of the tarns, before continuing on to the junction for Kiwetinok Pass.  I was really excited for this section because I had always wondered where the trail went if you turned left.  (Every other time I’d been out here I’d turned right towards Stanley Mitchell Hut.)

We turned left and began a steep, rugged climb up towards the pass.  It was obvious that this was a much less travelled path than the Iceline Trail, but the route was still well-defined.  The views continued to open up, and I thought the pass must be the most magical place on earth.  I was so happy that we had turned left.

The route down the other side of the pass had no trail.  This was our first encounter with ‘No Trail’ on the GDT so we kept looking for one.  We wasted a lot of time here when we should have just plotted a line down from the top of the pass and made our own path. Eventually we got down from the pass and found some flagging tape leading us up to Kiwetinok Gap.  There was a faint trail following the tape heading straight up to The Gap.  No switchbacks here, it was very steep.

From the top of The Gap we again had No Trail, but once again we wasted time looking for it.  We soon found ourselves well off the blue line which indicated the proper route on the app and debated what to do.  We didn’t realize it at the time, but the blue line on the app was incorrect.  In hindsight, we could have done a lot better navigating this section if we’d done some research beforehand. Now we were paying penance for our lack of preparedness.  Rather than trying to get back on the blue line (which seemed to be in an impossible location) we decided to bushwhack the 2km down to where the blue line intersected with the main GDT route.  The bushwhacking soon took us into dense forest, littered with rotting logs.  We found the route extra frustrating because we were still under the impression that there was supposed to be some kind of trail. Soon we found flagging tape which seemed to mark a route headed in our intended direction.  It quickly became obvious that the tape was placed there to direct GDT hikers who had decided to take the Kiwetinok Alternate, but we were shocked at the intensity of the bushwacking on this popular alternate route.  Whoever had put in the work to put up that flagging tape was a saint.

Nicola slipped on some deadfall and cut her leg open into a deep gash.  She was immediately concerned about needing stitches and the possibility of infection.  Luckily(?) I have quite a bit of experience with cutting my leg open in the wilderness; in separate incidents I have cut my knee open, my shin open and impaled my lower leg with a stick. The knee accident had been quite serious and was the type of cut that we wouldn’t have been able to keep hiking with, but Nicola’s cut looked more like my shin incident.  In that situation I had still been able to bandage it up and hike 16km back to the car before driving to the hospital.  I’d received 12 stitches, but I’m pretty sure I would have recovered without them, just with an uglier scar.  For Nicola, we had lots of bandages and I had a full course of antibiotics in the first aid kit.  If the cut began to get hot or swollen we could start her on antibiotics and would be able to hike out to safety. We washed out the cut in a glacier-fed creek, covered it with band aids and continued on down our flagging taped ‘trail.’

The 2-3km bushwhack took us hours, but we eventually made it to the overgrown road in the Amiskwi Valley.  Travel on this section was not exactly fast, but it was 10x better than what we had just been though. Overgrown sections on the road continued to be flagged and I am forever grateful to whoever put in that Herculean effort.  That night we set up camp on mosquito infested Amiskwi Pass.  It was a day with the highest highs and lowest lows, and also our first day not hiking at least 50km.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 47km/2787m


We began our trek the next morning before sunrise, hiking by headlamp.  We had more than 60km to hike in order to get to our resupply and I had been undisciplined with my food, having eaten ¾ of it the day before.  I really didn’t want to be late for the resupply and have to go hungry for longer than necessary.  Thankfully the route down from Amiskwi Pass was fairly obvious and we made good progress, arriving at an active logging road as the sun rose. It felt incredible to just be able to walk the road and not be crawling over and under trees.  Across the valley, the early morning light lit up the most beautiful mountain I’ve ever seen, which I now know to be Mount Mummery.  It’s crazy to think I’d never even heard of that peak before, but I know I’ll be back to explore.

The logging road took an inefficient route down into the valley with endless switchbacks, so we opted to take the Collie Creek alternate.  We were a bit sheepish to take an alternate after we had found Kiwetinok Gap to be so challenging, but the comments posted on the Guthook App made it seem like an okay route.  There was a mention of a potentially challenging creek crossing, however it was still early in the day and we hadn’t encountered any high water up until this point on the trail.  How bad could it be?

When we reached the ford on Collie Creek the water was raging. The creek was white with glacial silt so you couldn’t assess the true depth, and the flow was very high.  We rearranged our bags to protect the items that couldn’t get wet and I took the first shot at crossing the creek.  The crossing felt fine until suddenly it wasn’t.  2/3 of the way across I realized that if I took one more step in either direction I was going to get swept off my feet.  I made a diving lunge to the far side of the creek, getting very wet in the process, but not getting swept downstream. I looked back across the water at Nicola and she gave me a look that made it clear that she was not going to follow me.  We walked further downstream, eventually finding a wider place where Nicola could cross without issue.

The rest of the Collie Creek alternate was a frustrating combination of freezing cold wading in the Blaeberry River and bushwhacking along the shoreline.  When we eventually reached a bridge that brought us back to the main trail we were beyond grateful. From that point on we swore off alternates.

So far our 60km+ day was not going super well and I just prayed that the next section of ‘trail’ did not include more bushwhacking.  Thankfully, the DTC trail was lovely and looked like it had just recently been maintained.  We enjoyed a peaceful forest walk without a single piece of deadfall to crawl over.  Closer to Howse Pass the trail became overgrown with willows which assaulted our legs, but it was raining at the time and we had to put on our Goretex pants anyway so it was not much of an issue.  I was very excited to see the historic Howse Pass, and we stopped for a few minutes so I could read the informational plaques. 

I had it in my head that we now had 30km of easy trail to get back to the highway, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.  We were back on mostly No Trail as the route followed the floodplains of the Howse River.  The plains themselves were very easy walking, however they were criss-crossed by dozens of tributaries which ranged in depth from ankle to hip deep.  Several times we were forced to move inland through the dense forest because the Howse River was overflowing the floodplains.  The inland route had remnants of an old trail, however the path had not been maintained and was covered with endless piles of deadfall. I was incredulous that anyone else would willingly follow this route, but throughout the day we passed a few other groups of hikers.  I found it very uplifting to see these other crazy humans, and somehow it enabled me to see the extreme privilege of what we were doing.  This terrain was unique and ruggedly beautiful.  When the clouds lifted we would catch glimpses of glacier capped peaks.  Nicola and I both agreed that we were grateful to have this experience, but we were also happy to never hike this portion of “trail” again.

Even though we’d sworn off alternates, part of me hoped that we could take the Glacier Lake route.  I’d seen Glacier Lake from above during a hike up Survey Peak, and it was stunning.  Unfortunately when we reached the junction the route was fully submerged under the Howse River, so we continued on the main trail to Mistaya Canyon.  I was out of food at this point but Nicola had given me her last bag of Fritos.  I enjoyed the crunchy, salty goodness as we powered on at a relentless pace.  The trail to the canyon had some of the most intense swarms of mosquitoes I’ve ever encountered and I recall not even wanting to stop to pee.  At least the bugs were motivating.

Mistaya Canyon is an incredible slot canyon which has been developed for tourists with walkways and viewing platforms.  We didn’t reach the canyon until quite late in the day so we had the whole place to ourselves.  It was nice to pause for a moment to appreciate the incredible power of nature. 

It was now getting to be quite late in the day, but thankfully we only had 5-6km of highway walking left to get to our crew at The Crossing Resort.  Our original timeline had us camping that night further down the trail at Owen Creek, but we both agreed that we would be happy to pay an astronomical room rate at the resort in order to enjoy a nice bed and hot shower.  Even though there was less than 1000m of elevation gain on this particular day, I think it was our toughest day on the trail so far.

The Crossing Resort is 1.5km off-route, so when we reached the junction we stuck our thumbs out and hitched a ride.  We weren’t walking one extra step!  We got picked up by a questionable looking man; cigarette in hand and beer can in his cup holder.  I’m sure on almost any other day we would not have accepted the ride, however at the time it seemed worth it to risk our lives for a 1.5km shortcut.  We didn’t get murdered or kidnapped, so I guess the gamble paid off.

Becky and Mark were patiently waiting for us in the parking lot.  They had waited for us all day and had been hoping to join us on the trail for the last few kilometres to Owen Creek. Unfortunately it was after 9pm, and Nicola and I were determined to spend the night at the hotel.  They had brought tons of delicious snacks for us including Becky’s incredible bacon and goat cheese wraps.  The rest of the night was spent eating all the snacks and drying out our gear in the hotel room, before settling into an incredible deep sleep. The Crossing Resort does not have much for amenities, they don’t even have wifi or coffee makers, but those beds are worth the $200/night price tag  🙂

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 60km/850m

Shin Splints! – Kananaskis to Field

The next day we didn’t get onto the trail until 8am.  We spent our extra time in the morning gorging on leftover pancakes, bacon and hot coffee.  We also repacked our bags with a resupply of food, and enjoyed a change into fresh clothes and shoes. We were both feeling very refreshed and ready to go. Considering how terrible I’d felt at times the day before, it was fascinating to see the turn around in motivation and energy.

We set off down the lakeside trail.  I was really enjoying my soft new shoes. My feet were completely pain-free for the first time since we’d started the hike and I was bursting with optimism.  We were healthy, we had everything we needed, and we were going to make good time!  A couple of hours later I began to feel the first twinges of shin pain in my left leg.  I focused on hydrating, hoping the pain would dissipate with more pliable muscles, but instead the pain quickly escalated.  Nicola is a RMT and she tried to massage the muscles to release the pain.  We were using up a lot of time, but if we could just treat it early, maybe we could prevent full blown shin splints.

I had done a lot of reading on thru-hike FKTs heading into this adventure and I knew that shin splints are part of the game.  Nearly every account I’d read where people were hiking for 12hrs+/day included accounts of near-debilitating shin pain.  This fact had motivated me to push my training volume as high as possible going into the hike.  If shin splints are a rite-of-passage for thru-hikers, I tried my best to get through that obstacle prior to going on the trail.  Sadly, I’d been unable to trigger shin splints (and subsequent recovery) during training, so now I was going to have to deal with it on the trail.  The pain increased, resulting in a bit of a limp and a wince.  At the top of North Kananaskis Pass we went for skinny dip in Maude Lake.  The ice-cold, glacier water provided temporary relief.  Then we taped up the shin to provide support and Nicola lent me her calf sleeve.  Nicola had experienced shin splints when she hiked 70 days on the PCT, so now she wore a calf sleeve on the troublesome leg as a preventative measure.

In all my reading, the authors were able to push through the pain.  The shin (or shins) would flair up, but then heal in a few days.  This gave me hope. When it became clear that my shin splint was not treatable, I settled into the pain and tried to let it wash over me.  The acute inflammation cycle is 72 hours.  72 hours of pain.  I repeated that fact like a mantra in my mind and began my 3 day countdown.  Downhills and flat/fast walking were the worst, but I could use my poles to relieve some of the weight and keep a reasonable pace.  I didn’t feel any discomfort on the uphills, and as we climbed Palliser Pass I was almost able to forget that I even had an injury.  The trail was flat and fast on the other side of Palliser Pass, we were motivated to keep move quickly by a nasty looking thunderstorm chasing us along the valley.  I avoid painkillers during extreme exercise as much as possible, as I don’t want to cause long-term organ damage.   But we needed to get to our campsite, and that storm was looking nasty. The pain in my shin prevented me from taking a full stride.  I took a T3, promising myself that I wouldn’t take more than 2 per day.  The Tylenol worked its magic and we were able to power through to our campsite.  The storm never reached us, the sky cleared, we slept without a fly under the full moon light.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 51.6km/1527m


The next day Nicola was very patient with me and my gimpy stride.  I moved as fast as I could, but I couldn’t push off with my left foot. It was frustrating, but I worked hard to accept where I was at.  I had taped the ankle more rigidly, and the extra support was keeping the pain down to a 3-5/10.  Around lunch the pain began to creep up to a more consistent 5/10 so I took a T3.  We hiked past Marvel Lake, over Wonder Pass and to Mount Assiniboine.  It was another hot, cloudless day and the scenery was breathtaking.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have the best mindset during this section of the hike and I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.  Lots of trail runners ran past us.  Trail runners are part of my tribe! But they saw me as a hiker, not a runner, and would jog past without a second glance.  I felt strangely left out.  I had eaten all of my candy by this point and for some reason I had it in my head that a runner would come by and refill my supplies.  Looking back, I can see that this is a ridiculous expectation.  The only runner who stopped to say hi was Karen, who was in the middle of a 60km run from Sunshine Meadows. It was nice to see a friendly face, but she had no snacks to share.

Og Lake was very low and we didn’t want to make the detour down to the lakeshore, so we didn’t stop to filter water.  This was a mistake.  We quickly ran out of water in the relentless heat and all of the creeks were dried up.  Nicola and I fell silent as we marched through the seemingly endless and parched rock garden.  Eventually we got to the intersection with Fatigue Pass.  Down below us was a small tarn, more of a puddle really.  I drank a litre while we were there and filled up another 1.5L.  I was now expecting all of the creeks ahead to be dry, and wasn’t even sure that the small lakes would be holding water.  We continued on through the relentless heat towards Citadel Pass.  I didn’t talk much, not wanting to spread my low morale with Nicola, but I was miserable.  The stretch from Assiniboine to Sunshine Meadows was hot, exposed and endless.

After what seemed like a lifetime we finally crested Citadel Pass. There was a creek there so we stopped to filter water and eat.  I retaped my feet, I had blisters on blisters on blisters.  My feet weren’t in much pain, but they looked atrocious!  The water and snacks were a huge morale boost, and Sunshine Meadows was stunning in the late afternoon light.  You could tell our mood was lifted because Nicola and I started talking again.

I really appreciated how Nicola was okay with the long silences.  When I’m in discomfort, or my morale is low, I don’t like to share it with other people. I don’t want to pass my poor attitude on, and sometimes I feel like saying things out loud makes it worse.  I missed Alicia.  I think having a third person was really beneficial from a social dynamic perspective, and I hoped that my silence wasn’t grating on Nicola.

I have a strong dislike for biting insects, and we had a lot of them on this hike.  It was the worst summer for horseflies I’d ever experienced and the mosquitoes were relentless.  Nicola thought my constant (and futile) efforts to escape the insect feeding frenzy were hilarious, and it was becoming a running joke.  As we approached the Three Rock Lake intersection my phone began to buzz.  We had cell reception!  We sat down on a rock and enjoyed a 10 minute social media session.  The mosquitoes had a feast, and I happily ignored them. Apparently I can tolerate bugs so long as I have internet access.

We continued down the trail towards Simpson Pass in good spirits while Nicola played her voicemail messages on speakerphone.  Her friend Sarah had left messages every day, and we were in stitches laughing at her antics.

I took another T3 for power hour and we pressed on to our campsite.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 58km/2000m


The next morning we were on the trail before sunrise.  We needed get to our crew at the Floe Lake trailhead that afternoon, and we had a ton of elevation change ahead of us.  I wasn’t sure how my shin would hold up to the relentless ups and downs.  I had messaged Matt the day before to let him know that I had shin splints.  I wanted more Leukotape for taping, and Advil for pain relief. I felt like the T3s were overkill and I didn’t want to be overmedicating.  We climbed up and over Whistling and Ball Pass.  Haiduk Lake was particularly stunning and I found myself wishing we had time for a swim.  I’ll definitely be back to take a dip.  As usual, I felt strong on the climbs, but struggled with my shin on the descents.  The descent from Ball Pass was particularly long, so I took a T3 a few minutes before cresting the pass.  The drugs did their job and I completed the whole descent with a smile on my face.  I was nearing the 72hr mark for my shin splints, and it felt like I was turning a corner.

My mom was there to meet us on the highway and it felt great to give her a big, smelly hug.  Becky was also there (she had decided she was going to join us for the hike to Field), as well as Jamie and Marika.  We were treated like royalty as we feasted on chili, mac and cheese, and made-to-order pizza!  Becky had brought this delicious beet juice (I think my body was craving some sort of nutrients), and I followed that up with ice-cold Coke.  It blew my mind how much food I could fit in my belly.  The crew had also come through with aids for the shin splint; topical ibuprofen cream, marijuana cream, Advil, Aleve and Leukotape.  I doubled up on the creams and retaped my shin.  We repacked our bags and started up the trail.  Now we were 5; Marika and Jamie accompanying us as far as Floe Lake, and Becky joining us all the way to Field.

We hit our first bit of inclement weather during the climb to the lake, with hail, high winds and rain.  But the storm was brief and we didn’t get too wet.  We said goodbye to Jamie and Marika at the lake, then pushed over Numa and Tumbling Passes before finally setting up camp at Tumbling Creek.  Becky had graciously packed in some beer and Oreos, so we enjoyed an extra delicious dinner break at Numa Creek.  My shin was feeling good and I hadn’t had to take another T3, I’m not sure if it was the magic cream or if I was starting to heal.

That night Becky (badass that she is) slept on the floor of the tent between us, while Nicola and I enjoyed the comfort of our Thermarests.  I’m not sure I’d ever willingly plan to sleep on the ground, but maybe one day I’ll harden up enough to travel ultra-light.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 56.7km, 2804m


The next day was a planned shorter day, with “only” 50km of distance and a net downhill to get into Field.  There was no point in pressing on further since we wouldn’t be able to make it to a suitable campsite.  We woke before sunrise and climbed to the top of our last pass on the Rockwall Trail.  I hadn’t had a snack before bed on the previous day and I was bonking hard.  I had to fall back a bit and stuff my face with a couple of banana-nutella wraps.  The bonk was averted and I was able to catch back up before requesting that we stop somewhere for breakfast.  It was cold so the thought of stopping was not inviting, but I needed water for my oatmeal and my body was demanding calories.  The breakfast break was short but effective, my energy levels stayed consistent for the rest of the day. 

I was excited for the climb up to Goodsir Pass.  This was a new trail for me, and I love exploring new areas.  Most of the rest of the GDT would be new to me, and I could feel eager anticipation building.  I continued to climb strongly, I don’t think there was single time on the entire trail where the climbing didn’t feel good.  I marveled at the strength in my legs; the human body is an incredible machine.

Goodsir Pass is below treeline and consequently lacking in views.  However, when we crossed the avalanche slopes and caught glimpses of the glaciated peaks it was breathtaking!  Nicola set a brisk pace on the downhill off the pass, and Becky and I had to trot to keep up.  Eventually we made it down to the junction of McArthur Creek and the Ottertail River.  We sat with our feet in the cool water while enjoying a leisurely lunch.  A fish came out from behind a rock and tried to bite Nicola’s feet.  It was the most aggressive fish I’ve ever seen. I don’t know what species it was, but I’ve decided to call it a river shark. 

I had heard that the Ottertail Trail is often covered with deadfall, so we weren’t surprised when we came across a grouping of fallen trees.  The deadfall wasn’t too terrible, but we wondered how bad it would get.  I think we lucked out with our timing, because about a hundred trees later we came across a trail crew who had cleared the rest of the trees all the way down to the highway.  Apparently there had been a recent windstorm and the trail had been nearly impassable just days before.

From the end of the trail we had an 8km walk along the highway to reach Field.  I was petrified of the road walking, but my feet were in good shape at the moment, and at least we weren’t in a hurry today.  We could take as much time as we needed to treat hot spots.

The road walk was surprisingly enjoyable.  The highway traffic was too noisy for us to have conversation, so we turned on some tunes and settled into a groove.  It felt badass to know that we had walked all the way from Waterton to Field.

We were staying overnight with Jessica and Jay, a couple with a guesthouse in Field.  We didn’t know the couple, as Alicia had done all of the organizing, and we didn’t want to intrude on their space more than necessary.  We decided that we were going to enjoy a dinner at the Truffle Pig before heading over to their place.  We had just sat down for dinner when a man walked into the restaurant to tell us that we needed to come with him.  Apparently there was already a dinner cooked and they were waiting for us! Of course, the man was Jay and he had been watching our InReach tracker.  When he saw the tracker stop at the Truffle Pig, he ran over to intercept us.  Jessica and Jay had prepared a delicious meal with pulled elk (hunted by Jay), fresh buns and organic greens from their garden.  They were amazing hosts, even doing our laundry so that we could have fresh clothes in the morning!  They frequently host GDT hikers at their guesthouse and were familiar with the route in the Field area. They convinced us that we did not want to take our planned route up the Amiskwi Valley (which had not been maintained in years), rather we should take the alternate route over Kiwetinok Gap.  The Park staff we’d met earlier in the day had described Amiskwi as a jungle and had also advised against it, so the decision to change routes was made.

We phoned Alicia later that evening to let her know about our decision to change routes and to see when she was planning to meet back up with us.  We had been flying high, excited about making it to Field and eager for the next phase of the journey, but the phone call brought us crashing back down to Earth.  Living in our own sheltered GDT world, we hadn’t realized that there was any conflict with Alicia.  But on the phone she let us know that she had felt completely abandoned on that road back in the Elk Valley.  She wasn’t sure that she could rejoin us because she didn’t want to end up in that situation again.  I appreciated her honesty, but I felt sick to my stomach that she had gone through so much emotional turmoil and that I’d played a part in it. I had always expected some interpersonal conflict on the trail, it was inevitable on an adventure of this length, but I hadn’t envisioned anything like this.  I have a strong concept of self and I don’t abandon people.  I felt defensive at the perceived attack on my moral integrity, but also empathetic to where Alicia was coming from. The rest of the evening was somber as Nicola and I replayed the events that had led to our separation from Alicia days earlier.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain = 50.5km, 1320m

Blue line is the Kiwetinok Alternate, red line is the official GDT route up the Amiskwi valley.

For those of you interested in learning more about the gear we used, I made a video! Check it out on our Mountain Movement YouTube channel.

A Sad Goodbye – Crowsnest to Kananaskis

The next day dawned bright and clear, it was hard to believe our luck with the weather!  Sure it was hot, and we spent a lot of time filtering water and soaking our shirts, but it was amazing to be able to sleep without the fly and with no need to dry anything out. I had been really nervous about severe thunderstorms heading into this hike, but so far we hadn’t even seen a cloud in the sky!

Alicia was doing everything she could at this point to bring her feet back to health. She would get up an hour early to tape and lubricate, but her feet were still in a lot of pain.  We discovered that she was wearing wool socks (which I’ve found are a disaster in hot weather), so I suggested that she send a message via the InReach to Brian so that he could purchase new socks for her at Spry (the local running store). We were meeting Brian for a resupply later that afternoon and she could get new socks.  It was hilarious to be online shopping via InReach text, but you do what you have to do. I was impressed with Alicia’s willingness to explore every option to fix her feet, and optimistic that we were getting over the hump and would be able to find a solution.

The High Rock Trail (HRT) is gorgeous, with steep climbs leading to gorgeous viewpoints of the eastern slopes. The trail was a mix of “barely there” steep single-track, and machine-cut switchbacks. I loved the relentless up and down, and had to resist the urge to frolic in meadows filled to bursting with wildflowers.

We met our first GDT hiker a couple of kilometres from the end of the HRT, I think his name was Paul.  He was hiking solo northbound, and was taking a break in a cutline filled with daisies and wild strawberries. As we continued our hike, we realized that there were strawberries everywhere!  If Alicia and Nicola weren’t there I definitely would have taken a seat and enjoyed at least an hour of grazing. I will definitely be returning to this section of trail and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.

A short bushwhack brought us to the northern terminus of the HRT where Brian was waiting for us with the resupply.  We were predictably a couple of hours behind schedule, and we were very happy to finally see him. After enjoying a lunch and repacking our bags, we set out towards Tornado Pass. I had run this section a few years ago enroute to a scramble up Tornado Mountain, and I was excited for familiar trail.  Soon we were at the avalanche debris section that I remembered from that run so long ago.  The debris still had not been cleared, but a bit of a path had formed going up the wrong side of the valley.  We followed the path, assuming it would wrap around the debris field, but we soon found ourselves bushwhacking in the woods.  Paul had passed us during our lunch break, but we caught up to him in the debris field and we all enjoyed the bushwhacking together. Thankfully, I knew where we had to go, so we got back on track traversing to the other side of the valley without too much wasted time.

On my previous ascent of Tornado Pass I had found that the switchbacking paths were quite useless.  I think they are game trails, never actually switchbacking, just traversing horizontally.  This time around I set a course straight up the very steep slope. Alicia and Nicola, following behind me, were not impressed with my route choice.  And that’s how I earned my trail name, “Horribilis”.

The route becomes rocky and a bit exposed with loose rock just below the pass. Nicola did an excellent job coaching Alicia through the terrain, and I marvelled at their teamwork.  Soon we had crested the pass, and enjoyed a quick dinner before descending into the valley.

It was getting late in the evening and we needed to set up camp soon, but we were determined to make it as far as possible before stopping.  Alicia’s feet had her near tears, so I gave her a T3 that was left over from my June surgery. We put some tunes on speakerphone and began fast walking/jogging down the trail.  We were all in great spirits, and it was amazing how fast we could move when motivated by darkness and cheesy music.  Thus began the tradition of “Power Hour”.  Our last hour of everyday was almost always our fastest.  Encouraged by good tunes and the thought of a warm sleeping bag.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 52.6km/2372m

By this point we were moving about 1/2 a day behind schedule.  I think we had underestimated the terrain a bit. I thought the trail north of Crowsnest would be primarily quad trail, but it actually was mostly single-track with a lot of elevation change.  The views throughout were incredible as we traversed across high-alpine cirques bursting with wild-flowers.  The Beehive Natural Area made my heart sing and I knew I’d be back to explore more as soon I could carve out the time.  We met a few more GDT hikers, and it was nice to feel like we were part of a larger team of adventurers.  

Alicia’s feet continued to get worse and the painkillers were no longer effective. The 3 of us slowly came to the realization that she may not be able to continue for the entire journey. At one point Nicola and Alicia stopped to embrace and have a little cry. It felt like we were saying goodbye.  For the first time (but not the last) I found myself tearing up with emotion.

We pushed on, stopping only when necessary. The bugs were motivation to keep our breaks short.  That evening we came around a corner and surprised a pair of grizzly bears.  We hadn’t seen any wildlife at all up until this point so it was very startling. Alicia screamed in surprise and turned to run. I put my arms out to stop her from running and grabbed my bearspray, safety off.  Thankfully the bears crashed into the woods, and we followed up the incident with a brief safety talk about bear encounters.  Of course, it would have been better to start the hike with a refresher on bear safety, but better late than never.

That night a thunderstorm boomed in the distance so we slept with the fly on for the first time. I envisioned golfball sized hail pummeling the tent, but thankfully my imagination is much more severe than reality and we escaped with just a sprinkle of rain.

  Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 57.6km/2922m  

We were now “only” 60km from Kanananskis, and I was excited at the prospect of seeing Matt. It felt like we were transitioning to the next phase of our journey.  Matt also had new shoes for me, and I couldn’t wait to get out of my blister-inducing Goretex trail runners.  I was familiar with every step of the next section of trail: over Fording River Pass, down Aldridge Creek, suffer along 30km of gravel road, and then up and over Elk Pass.

I knew from a previous trail run that the next ridge we’d climb would have cell phone reception, and it felt like getting there was a major turning point.  When we reached the ridge we all called our loved ones, and Alicia was convinced by her husband that she needed medical treatment for her feet. We developed an exit strategy; we would all hike to the gravel road together and then Alicia would hitchhike into Elkford while Nicola and I carried on to Kananaskis. The plan was bittersweet and I felt a knot in my stomach, knowing how hard Alicia had worked towards this dream and now having to step off the trail so early on.

When we reached the Baril Creek Junction, I mentioned to Alicia that she could exit there instead of continuing over Fording River Pass. The route out was 9km and straightforward, leading to a busy access road only 90 minutes from Calgary.  We could probably even just call a friend with the InReach for pick up.  Alicia wasn’t comfortable hiking the 9km on her own, and I regret that it never occurred to me that we could have accompanied her for the 9km trek.  Although adding an extra 18km onto a 60km day is a pretty big ask …

Anyway, we decided to continue up and over Fording River Pass together.  The views in the early morning light were as spectacular as I remembered.  The descent from the pass is very long, ending with a rocky trail which included multiple creek crossings.  This terrain was not foot friendly and Alicia was in tears, while Nicola and I watched feeling completely powerless to help.  Eventually we reached the gravel road and we found someone random camping there. We told him our predicament, and we felt a lot better knowing that there was someone there to help Alicia out if she had trouble hitching a ride.  We also sent a message to Julien (Alicia’s spouse) via InReach, letting him know her location and what the plan was.  Minutes later we got a message back that Brian was on his way from Crowsnest Pass to pick Alicia up. Our minds at ease, knowing that Alicia would be taken care of, the two of us headed down the road.  As we left Alicia yelled at us.  I wasn’t 100% sure what she said, but I was pretty sure she said she had cell reception! 

The walk up the gravel road was hot and miserable.  Nicola set a quick pace and my feet ached. I wanted to slow down and take breaks, but I also knew that we still had another 50km of walking before we’d reach our crew. We couldn’t afford to break. Thankfully, Nicola and I worked well together. Every time I was about to speak up to say that I needed a break, she would suggest we stop. We never wasted time, stopping only to filter water or lubricate hot spots on our feet. At one point we tried to get off the hot road and take a parallel side trail. However the alternate trail turned out to be a bog.  Our shoes filled with mud and we were forced to sit in a creek to wash off.  This was my favourite part of the whole road.

When we finally reached Elk Lakes I was wrecked.  Looking back, I’m pretty sure we had minor heat exhaustion. How could we possibly continue on to Upper Kananaskis Lake in that condition??? We sat on a bridge and ate our dinner, trying to muster up the will power to continue.  That’s when I realized we could meet our crew at the Elk Pass parking lot instead of Upper Kananaskis Lake.  It would shorten our day by 5km and make the evening seem more manageable.  I messaged the crew via InReach to let them know the new plan, but in the back of my mind I knew the crew was likely out of cell reception and would never receive the message.  Still … I had hope.

As soon as we got off the road and back onto trail our legs were rejuvenated. Smiles appeared on our faces and the foot pain faded.  This is when I began to fully understand the dangers of road walking.  Sure, it’s fast but it can destroy your feet and your psyche.

We descended the trail to the Elk Pass parking lot, and spotted a mountain biker riding up the towards us.  I couldn’t quite recognize who was on the bike from that distance, but somehow I knew it had to be my friend Jamie. He had been waiting with Matt all day to crew us and we were so relieved to see him!  He let us know that Matt had managed to score a campsite at Interlakes campground and was waiting for us there. We told him of our plan to stop at the parking lot, and he rode off to the campsite so that Matt could drive back and pick us up.  We sat down in the parking lot, refusing to walk one step further.  It felt so luxurious to be lounging on the pavement.

While we were waiting, a couple of GDT hikers walked over to us in the parking lot.  They hadn’t been able to find a campsite and so they were trying to random camp near the parking lot.  A bear had disturbed their camp area and now they weren’t sure what to do.  We had room for another tent at our site so we invited them over to join us.  It felt great to be able to help out other hikers.

Minutes later, Matt arrived to pick us up and drive us the short distance to the campsite.  Matt, Jamie and Jamie’s family had prepared a feast of bacon, pancakes, sushi, beer and probably many other delicious items I can’t remember.  We ate until well after dark, and enjoyed a restful sleep in the back of our camperized Forerunner, while Matt agreed to sleep in the tent.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 62.4km/1500m??

(watch died on Fording River Pass, so elevation gain is a guess)

I made a YouTube video about our trek from Waterton to Kananaskis. Check it out!

Hot, hot heat – Waterton to Crowsnest on the GDT

Day 1 dawned bright and full of nervous anticipation.

I savoured my hot coffee and oatmeal, knowing that this would be my last hot breakfast for many days (we chose not to bring a stove on the trail). We spent the night at a friend’s cabin just 10 minutes north of Waterton National Park, so the drive to the trailhead was short.

The journey began with a 6.5km run along the lakeshore to the southern terminus of the GDT.  The GDT is funny like that; neither terminus is accessible by car so you need to hike to your hike.  We had arranged to meet up with Matt at Red Rock Canyon (roughly 30km into the day) so we were only carrying light packs for this first section.  It was nice to be able to start the journey with light packs and fast feet.

The sky was bluebird without a breath of wind.  I had been nervous about keeping up with Alicia and Nicola on the running section, but they graciously allowed me to set the pace in front and I settled into an easy jog while soaking in the views.  Mark (our videographer) leap-frogged around us on the trail, sprinting ahead and then setting up the camera to get a few seconds of content. Mark had a backpack full of equipment so he was getting an impressive workout!

We reached the border at 8am on July 26th. It was time to begin our 1100km journey north on the GDT.  I turned on the InReach tracker, but predictably forgot to start my watch. Oh well, accurate Strava stats were not critical to the success of this mission.

The usual route off the Akamina Parkway was closed for construction, so we followed the official GDT detour to Cameron Lake.  We had some mild bushwhacking on the Cameron Lake Trail and my skin began to break out in hives, apparently I was allergic to some of the plants.  The itch began to burn, and I had a hard time blocking the sensation from my mind.  I reminded myself that there were antihistamines in my main pack, I just needed to get to Red Rock Canyon to find relief.

We ran down from Cameron Lake to the Parkway and began the hot, road run up to Red Rock Canyon.  I wilted on the pavement, and Alicia and Nicola were very nice about waiting for me while I slowed to a crawl.  It was hard to put my ego aside and not push the effort to keep up, but I knew it was the right thing to do for long term success. Thankfully we were on the road for less than 5km, and when we got to Red Rock Canyon Matt was waiting for us with cold drinks and blueberry bacon pancakes!  Matt makes the best pancakes and we enjoyed a delicious lunch before donning our heavy packs and heading up the Blakiston Valley Trail.

As soon as we were back on trail, I was confident I could keep up with the group.  No longer wilting on the hot pavement, I was able to relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery as we hiked.  I was in my element.

We took a quick dip in Twin Lakes before saying goodbye to Mark and heading up and over Sage Pass.  We had now hiked out of Waterton National Park and were headed towards La Coulotte Ridge, one of the most exposed sections of the GDT.  Our goal for day 1 was to camp as close as possible to the base of La Coulotte Ridge. This way we would have lots of time to get over the technical terrain in the morning. We opted to camp at Jutland Creek, which appeared to be the last suitable camp spot with good water access.  Just before we reached the camp I tripped on a rock and landed hard on my face.  I was bleeding from my mouth, hand and knee but thankfully still had all my teeth.  Alicia, who was walking well ahead, also had blood on her face and we all broke out into laughter wondering how it was possible for my blood to have splattered that far.  (In the end, we decided that her blood must have been related to a bug bite).

We reached camp relatively early at 7pm, but there was no point in hiking further so we enjoyed the early bedtime.  The bugs were out in force and we layered up in our Goretex so that we could enjoy our dinner without being eaten alive.  The cloudless night meant that we could forego the fly and we spent the night sleeping under the stars.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 57.8km/1948m

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The hike up La Coulotte Ridge was straightforward.  We didn’t find much of a trail, but the route basically just went straight up the steep slope to gain the ridge.  The sun rose as we climbed and by the time we reached the ridge the air was already to starting to warm.  It was another hot, bluebird day.  For 14km we traversed along the ridge. It was very slow going with lots of elevation gain/loss, but the views were spectacular and I enjoyed feeling like we were climbing over multiple peaks.   Following a goat trail, we accidentally contoured below the true summit of the ridge. Not wanting to miss the peak, we dropped our packs and backtracked up to tag the summit.  When I set my pack down it seemed to take on a life of its own and started to roll towards a cliff.  Panicked, I lunged forward and caught the bag just in time.  At this point I was feeling like a total clutz; allergic reaction to plants, wimping out on the pavement, falling on my face, and then nearly dropping my pack off the side of a mountain … I guess it’s good to get over all of that stuff early??

There was no water for the entire ridge traverse, but we got lucky with several snow patches to cool us down.   There was a good trail through the forest once we got off the ridge, and we enjoyed a nice lunch in the shade of the trees beside a stream.  My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I recall there were a few small stream crossings over the next several kilometres and I enjoyed the cold water on my feet. I can’t remember if we were taking our shoes off for the water crossings or not at this point.

We met Brian at Castle Mountain Resort around 2pm.  It was hot, and we took shelter under the shade of a tree while enjoying cold beer and snacks.  Brian had brought our resupply and provided the cold beer, but he was also planning on camping with us that night so we decided to leave our overnight supplies with him so that we could hike with less weight.  Yes I know, we were super spoiled on the south section of this trip.

We said goodbye to Brian and continued down the HOT road.  Have I mentioned how much I dislike heat and pavement?  I could feel hot spots developing under my feet but  I didn’t want to complain out loud – I always feel like giving voice to the pain makes it more real.  I had been lubing my feet regularly so there wasn’t much I could do about it at that moment anyway.  At some point Alicia mentioned that her feet were also sore, I remember being happy that I wasn’t the only one.  I didn’t realize how bad it would get.

We were beginning to realize that the GDT app consistently underestimates distances (at least compared to my watch) so our evening campsite on top of Willoughby Ridge seemed to be an endlessly moving target.  We walked and walked, eventually reaching Brian just as the sun was setting.  Brian had cooked us up a hot stew, and we were so grateful to sit down and enjoy a hot meal after a very long day on the trails.  Another cloudless night meant that we left the fly off our tent for another night.  Such a luxury to be able to sleep under the stars.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 57.3km/2351m

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Brian spoiled us with a 6am breakfast of pancakes and hot coffee in the morning.  Pancakes were becoming a theme on this trip – they are the absolute best trail food.  I wonder how long they would keep for before going moldy? If you marinate them in butter and maple syrup would they last longer? 

It was another bluebird day and the continental divide was lit up in the morning sun.  At some point we missed a turn, continuing down a gravel road when we should have taken a hard right onto an ATV track.  Luck was on our side however, because Brian was coming up the road in his ATV and asked us what we were doing there.  We checked our map and realized we were 2km off-route.  Thank God Brian was there to turn us around or it could have been ugly. This wasn’t the last time Brian would come to the rescue.

Back on route, I really enjoyed the quad trail/gravel road/road walk back into town. It felt like an awesome accomplishment to have walked all the way from the border to Crowsnest Pass! By this point my feet were getting significant hot spots from all the hot road walking, but I was able to relieve a lot of the pressure by using my poles.  Unfortunately Alicia’s feet seemed to be getting worse by the minute and she had opted not to bring poles for the first section of trail. I debated giving her my poles, but I worried that if I did that my own blisters would become unbearable.  We stopped at the 7-11 in Coleman for Slurpees, pizza and blister supplies.  Sitting in the shade on the cool concrete was some kind of weird, dystopian heaven.

Fuelled up and bandaged up, we continued down the road and eventually onto a very dusty and exposed quad trail.  We were on leg 5/6 on Sinister 7 and I knew the trail well.  We stopped at nearly every creek to cool off and treat our feet. I had successfully popped most of my blisters and the pain was not increasing.  Alicia’s blister battle raged on, while Nicola’s feet were unscathed.  Here is my theory for why we had such different foot experiences:

Nicola – previous thru-hiking experience. Pre-taped her feet.  Synthetic socks. Breathable shoes. Poles.

Alicia – trench foot only a month prior so was hiking on very soft skin.  Wool socks. No poles.

Myself – gore-tex shoes (I knew these were a risk, but had chosen them because I wanted extra grip on La Coulotte). Synthetic socks. Poles.

Eventually we got off the quad track and started to make our way along the brand new High Rock Trail (HRT).  This trail had only opened up a week or two prior, so hiking it was a last minute decision.  For 2020 the official GDT route still went up the mining road on the BC side of the divide, but starting in 2021 the official route will follow the HRT.  The HRT is not efficient (I think the trail builders made it their mission to add as much elevation change into that route as possible), but it is incredibly scenic.  Taking the HRT was unquestionably the right decision, and I think in the future it will become a classic backpacking route.

Alicia followed behind as Nicola and I hiked up front.  At one point we thought we heard Alicia laughing, but then we realized she was crying.  We stopped in our tracks and my heart dropped.  Flashbacks of Bighorn 2019 went through my mind, sitting beside the trail bawling my eyes out because the blister pain was insurmountable.  I could empathize with her pain, but I couldn’t take it away. In addition to her pain, Alicia was frustrated because she felt like she was falling behind/holding us back.  We switched our hiking order so that she could be in front.  She was moving super well, but despite our assurances we could tell she didn’t believe us.

That night we camped at Window Mountain Lake. At the base of the trail there was an interpretive sign talking about “ursus arctos horribilis” the latin name for grizzlies.  I thought it was an awful name to call a grizzly; they are majestic, incredibly powerful beasts, not in the least horrible!

We set up camp and took a quick dip in the lake.  The lake was not as cold as anticipated, I will definitely come back here for future camping trips.  That night was another cloudless night, sleeping under the stars.

Approximate Distance/Elevation Gain – 53.22/1634m

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GDT – The Aftermath

It has been nearly two weeks since the end of our thru-hike on the GDT.  I want to share and record my journey in writing, but I’m slowly coming to grips with the reality that hiking the GDT cannot be put into words, rather it is something that must be experienced.  If running 100 miles is like living a year of your life in a day, then thru-hiking the GDT is like running a 100 miler a day, for 18 days straight. Life is simplified to the placement of one foot in front of the other, while at the same time the importance of each footstep is amplified x1000.  Miss a junction, take a wrong turn, stumble on a rock, choose the wrong socks or shoes, trip on some deadfall and your hike could be over.  Feet, food and health become obsessions.

Smiling faces on top of La Coulotte (GDT Day 2)

I worried that living outdoors for nearly three weeks would spoil me.  That I’d become sick of trail food, tired of the outdoors, and need to take some serious time off to just veg out on the couch eating pizza.  In reality, the exact opposite has happened.  I have found my need to be outdoors stronger than ever, and I’ve developed a serious addiction to sugar.  If you need me, you can find me up a mountain shoving my face full of cookies and gummy worms.  In the last 8 days I’ve climbed 6 mountains and eaten more junk food than I’d normally ingest in an entire month. I’m not sure if this is the most recommended recovery method from a long hike, but it seems to be working.

Mouth full of cookies on Mount Tyrwhitt

I don’t own a scale so I don’t know precisely how my weight changed on the trail, but I figure I lost about 10lbs.  As I finished the hike my legs looked skinny for the first time ever, muscle striations were clearly visible on my arms, and blood vessels were popping out on my stomach.  The gaunt look was accompanied by a ridiculous appetite and intolerance to cold.  Thankfully, my mom and Matt had anticipated my hungry return home, and I have been well taken care of with big pots of stew, tuna mac and cheese, pancakes, bacon, seafood chowder and anything else I could think to request. My vascular stomach is softening up, and on Sunday I noticed I was back to being the least dressed person on the mountain top.

My body held up reasonably well on the trail, especially considering this is the first time I’ve attempted anything of this magnitude.  My left shin became inflamed during the 2nd week of hiking, but that injury was virtually healed by the time I finished.  Going into the 3rd week my right shin started to become inflamed, however this never affected me very much because we were doing so much bushwhacking. I’ve discovered that shin splints don’t mind bushwhacking nearly as much as nicely groomed trail.  In the days following our hike my shin swelled up further and the range of motion was limited. I found that the pain and swelling would subside with movement so I took this as justification to get out scrambling as much as possible. With each mountain climbed the shin seemed to heal further, and as I write this the swelling and pain have completely dissipated.   

My goal for the coming weeks is to put this experience down into words the best I can, even though I’m still not totally sure what this will look like. I also plan to put together some short video clips for our YouTube channel, Mountain Movement.  I hope that by sharing my story I am able to preserve these memories and influence others to challenge their perceptions of what’s possible.

GDT – Prelude

I had hoped to write a more well thought out, insightful blog post leading into the GDT, but life has been intense and I haven’t had the energy.

The combination of surgery, reopening/managing a gym during a pandemic and training/planning for the GDT has pushed me to max capacity.  Most of these stresses could be viewed as positive learning experiences, but experiencing them all at once is more than a bit hectic.

I am beyond grateful for my friend and family support; I know that no matter how badly I mess up the planning for the GDT they will have my back.  My support network has stepped up in an incredible way – offering to crew, house sit, lend equipment, and act as emergency back-up.  Nicola and Alicia have also been great, as I know I’m not always the nicest person when I’m stressed out.  It’s amazing to me that we’ve made it to this stage in our journey without having a major blowout.  I realize this comment may sound a bit negative, but I maintain my sunny world view by managing expectations.  If I expect the worst, I am constantly experiencing happy surprises when things aren’t so bad!

My head space going into this journey is a bit mixed.  Last weekend a friend of mine was killed in a ski accident.  I’ve met few people who ski with as much stoke as he did, and I have no doubt that when he started down that couloir descent he had his tunes playing and a huge grin on his face.  I was looking forward to getting out for more ski adventures together next winter.  The mountains are a land of contrast; they give so much joy, but they also balance that joy with tragedy.  My heart breaks for the friends who were with him that day and witnessed the accident.  I wish there were something I could do to provide comfort, but I know that time is the best healer. No words or actions can take away that pain.

With this incident fresh in my mind, I am going into the most challenging mountain adventure of my life. While I don’t anticipate that the trail itself will be particularly dangerous, I am concerned about weather and river crossings.  Recently we have had hail and thunder of epic proportions, and it’s terrifying to think we may be stranded outdoors with minimal shelter while golf ball sized hail is being hurled from the sky.  I have similar reservations about being swept downstream in a river swollen from storms and lingering snow melt.  While I am committed to finishing this trek, I know that sometimes these things are beyond our control.  I aim to embrace the process, and relinquish control of the outcome.  While I’m out there I will relish every moment. I will thank Mother Nature for allowing me to experience her fully, in all of her awesome and terrible beauty.  I will remember my friend, and celebrate life, and practice gratitude for this wonderful opportunity.

 


Some pics from ski adventures with Nav.  Radio Nav lives on.  Rest in peace my friend.

Goodbye Timf

I owe you a Timf update and a GDT update.  That’s too much for one post, so here’s the Timf update.  I’ll keep you waiting on the GDT…


3.5 weeks ago I went in for sinus surgery to remove Timf.  In addition to removing the cyst, the surgeon took out all 4 of my wisdom teeth.  I woke up from the anesthesia groggy and confused, with a mouth full of gauze and stitches.  The sinus incision was quite long, extending from my first bicuspid all the way up to the back of my cheek beneath my cheek bone.  I was mentally prepared to be in a world of hurt after the procedure and the nurse sent me home with an ice pack, Tylenol 3s, ibuprofen and instructions to sleep as much as possible.  Because the sinus incision was so large she told me I was on extended sinus precautions.  Basically, I was not allowed to do anything which would cause a large increase in blood pressure, and I also had to avoid blowing my nose, stifling sneezes or drinking from a straw.  The nose blowing/sneezing/straw restrictions would last for 3 weeks. I had minimal restrictions related to the wisdom teeth – I should start with a soft food diet, but I could add in solid food as pain permitted.

 

Matt drove us home after the surgery and he did a fantastic job of taking care of me while the freezing slowly came out of my face.  I was a bloody, drooling mess, and when I caught a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror I couldn’t stop laughing.  It was like a scene from a horror movie.

 

For whatever reason, my recovery was extremely fast and easy.  The pain was always manageable and I was able to wean off the meds in a few days, (this was good because I wanted to save some of those T3s for the GDT).  I was eating solid food almost immediately and found I had a ravenous hunger.  I was very diligent with the ice pack for the first day, having been told from multiple sources that ice packs are a key component to a comfortable recovery.  My swelling was minimal.

 

I’ve only been on antibiotics once before this, and I didn’t handle them well. Knowing this, I made sure to drink tons of kefir, eat yogurt and take probiotics.  This seemed to work, as my GI distress has been minimal compared to my last experience.

 

I only have had two significant complaints during the recovery process.  The first is that there is an open hole (slowly shrinking) from my mouth to sinus.  This hole makes drinking awkward as it feels like the water is sloshing around inside my face.  I also don’t taste very well on that side of my mouth.  I can feel air flow moving between my mouth and sinus, and while it doesn’t hurt I find it a bit uncomfortable.  I also recently discovered that I have very poor sense of smell.  Apparently Moxie was farting up a storm and I couldn’t smell a thing.  Maybe this is a good thing?  During my 2 week follow up appointment I got the surgeon to look at this hole, there is still a 3mm gap.  The rest of my healing is excellent but I’m a bit concerned the hole won’t fully close on its own.

 

My second complaint was the stitches for the sinus incision.  The surgeon used a thicker thread for these stitches so that they wouldn’t dissolve as quickly as standard wisdom tooth stitches.  The ends of the thread constantly were stabbing into the side of my cheek, until the inside of my cheek resembled mashed potatoes.  Thankfully, he removed most of those stitches at my follow up appointment, and as I’m writing this I only have a couple of stitches left remaining in my mouth.

 

The Timf saga is not entirely over, as I still have a couple of potentially infected teeth in my mouth and a lot of bone loss, but for now I’m feeling very good and breathing much better.  I’ll decide what to do with Timf’s aftermath once I’m done the GDT.

 

I’m feeling incredibly grateful for all of the support I’ve received, and that my body appears to have handled this entire saga like a champ!

#beatSinister – 50 Miles on the Red Deer River

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, this pandemic has left me feeling a bit lost. As a fitness centre manager, my life has been profoundly affected by physical distancing measures.  My fitness facility is closed and all my staff and instructors are on temporary lay-off.  Normally my day to day life is filled with personal conversations with members about their lives; their goals, dreams, struggles and failures.  I love this interaction and gain a lot of fulfillment from it. Skype and Zoom meetings are not filling that void.

 

Outside of work I cherish my solo time, running trails through the mountains and exploring new places almost daily.  This moving meditation fills my soul and keeps my emotions balanced.  When they closed the provincial and national parks I almost couldn’t handle it. I’m not exaggerating when I say I was preparing to wig out and extricate myself from society entirely.  Being told to stay in the city, surrounded by 1.3 million of my closest friends, but not actually allowed to interact with any of them was not okay.  I’m sure many of you can relate.

 

Thankfully, the government has reopened the parks and I am slowly easing back from the edge. Try as I might I still don’t love my work situation, but at least now I have my trails back.

 

Earlier in the year I registered for the Sinister 7 100 mile race, however that race (like nearly all races) has been cancelled. The only other endurance event I have planned for this year is an 1100km FKT (Fastest Known Time) attempt on the Great Divide Trail.  Thankfully, this project meets all of the physical distancing guidelines and I am optimistic that it will go ahead as planned.  In preparation for 2.5 weeks of 60km+ days on rugged trails I’ve been doing a lot of walking.  Running has been fairly low on my priority list, since I’m fairly certain our legs will be toast by day 3 regardless of how much running I do in training J I’ve been enjoying getting out for longer days, even if they’re not necessarily faster days.

 

In lieu of Sinister 7, Sinister Sports is putting on a series of virtual ultra events.  The first virtual ultra event was called Beat Sinister. The race organizers recruited “Agents” to run pre-specified distances, and race participants would try their best to beat those agents. Most of the agents are highly ranked ultrarunners or well-known figures in the trail community. As a past winner of Sinister 7, I was invited to act as one of the Agents.  It sounded like a fun event and a good way to get some extra training in for the GDT, so I accepted the challenge. On May 23rd I would run 50 miles on trail, and try to put down a time that people would find challenging to beat.

 

I came up with a relatively flat, snow-free, out and back course in the Ya Ha Tinda, then I recruited my friend Philippe to join me on the adventure.  Ya Ha Tinda is a 2.5hr drive from Calgary so I opted to drive out there the night before and camp.  Philippe was going to join me in the morning for an 8am start. There is no cell reception in the area so if Philippe wasn’t there by 8am, it meant something had come up and he wasn’t going to make it. I waited at the gates until 8am, but Philippe didn’t show up. I plugged in my tunes and set off for a solo adventure.  It was a bit of a bummer not to have company, but I enjoy solo running so I wasn’t too worked up about it.

 

A few kilometres into the run I realized I’d taken the wrong fork at a junction so I turned around to retrace my steps.  Running up the hill behind me was Philippe!  I must have just missed him in the parking lot. We regrouped and set off down the trail together.  The route was muddy and we spent a lot of time dodging puddles, but overall the pace was steady and we enjoyed easy conversation.  My personal best time for a trail 50 mile is 7:56 and I briefly wondered if we could come close to that time.  However, the combo of puddle dodging, occasional deadfall hopping and heavy packs soon made it clear that a sub-8hr goal would not be realistic.  I set an adjusted goal of 9-9:30 in my head.

 

The trail was covered with an interesting combination of animal scat: bison, horse, deer, elk, cougar and bear. I had fun pretending I was some sort of animal tracker and wondered if I should post some scat trivia on my Instagram. Just after the 30km mark we came to a drainage and got a little turned around.  I saw a blaze on a tree on the other side of the creek, however I didn’t see an obvious trail. We wandered up and down along the bank for a bit before braving the cold water crossing.  The blaze marked a lovely forest trail and soon we were cruising over roots and rocks on spongy forest floor.  This is some of my favourite kind of trail and it gave me a big energy boost. There were also bear tracks on the spongy trails, which definitely helped our level of alertness. At 40km we came to our turn around point – the Natural Bridge.  This is a super cool area where the Red Deer River narrows to a slot canyon and we took a quick moment to enjoy the views before heading back the way we came.  Elapsed time was 4:39.

 

At this point my legs were feeling a bit more sprightly than Philippe’s so I ran ahead.  I also had to filter some water (I had carried 2L, whereas he had 3L) and I didn’t want him to have to wait for me. There were fresh bear tracks on the return trail, but we never saw the actual bear.  Philippe passed me by while I was filtering water and continued to walk up the trail. I caught up to him slogging through a particularly dense patch of deadfall.  He seemed to be slowing down and I was mentally preparing myself for a slower trudge back to the finish line.

 

I can’t remember precisely when it happened, but suddenly Philippe started running at a pretty good clip.  I made a comment on the pace, he looked down at his watch, and then he just kept getting faster!  I knew the pace wasn’t sustainable, but I was also feeling competitive and there was no way I was going to let him drop me.  We continued at this breakneck pace for the next 10km, only slowing down when we hit a hill or the trail was washed out.  Now we only had 20km to go and I wondered how long this second wind was going to last!

It turns out that when Philippe hiked ahead while I was filtering water he had eaten a bunch of food.  Stumbling through the deadfall had given him time to digest, and then when we were back on smooth trail he was ready to go!  Sadly, the second wind didn’t last forever and the final 16km back to the vehicles was a bit of a sufferfest.  We both ran out of all our food and water.  I debated filtering more water, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort.  I watched the time closely, determined to finish in under 10hrs.   I stayed back with Philippe, hoping that we could both make it under this arbitrary number, but with a mile to go it became clear that I had to run ahead.  I squeaked in at 9:59, Philippe finishing shortly after.  Ironically, with his late start he also finished 50 miles in 9:59 J

 

This was a super fun event and race format.  I still don’t know if I was a successful Agent, or if some of the participants beat me, but I was happy with how my legs held up and I think we did a pretty good job of putting a challenging time out there.

 

Fuel:

3.5 litres water

12 Oreos

3 Mars Bars

A handful of gummy worms

A handful of sour JuJubes

(Next time I think I will bring some salt. Potato chips tasted amazing on the drive home)