Me like Bears

At the age of 5 I wanted to be a bear, in particular a polar bear. At the age of 10 I wanted to meet a bear, mostly just to get a hug. At the age of 27 I couldn’t think of anything worse than to hiking in a country full of bears.

When I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in 2015 I wasn’t scared about the treacherous trail or the deathly desert, I was terrified about meeting a bear. The first night on the trail I barely ate any food or went to the bathroom in fear it would attract a furry friend. I woke up every night for nearly 5 months convinced there was a bear outside my tent ready to eat me. Some nights there were bears but they would be quite happy munching on grubs and rummaging for berries until I’d yell at them to leave me in peace. Slowly over the months I became accustomed to dealing with black bears if I came across one but every time I would leave the encounter heart racing and fear of being in the woods alone. From this experience I became comfortable with the idea that they were somewhere in the woods, minding their own business and not out to kill me.

Over time I played with the idea of maybe hiking the Continental Divide Trail which is another 1 of the 3 biggest trails in America. It journeys through the likes of Glacier National Park; a place frequented by Grizzly bears. But I just couldn’t bring myself to hike a trail that not only had black bears (which were bad enough) but the likelihood I would come across a Grizzly bear too. A friend reached out hoping to widen my understanding of Grizzly bears and I could be put at ease about them, by making me watch the movie ‘Grizzly Man’. If you haven’t seen this movie then I strongly advise not watching if you don’t want to be scared senseless about bears. This movie made things worse.

As the years passed, I still hadnt plucked up the courage to hike in Grizzly terrain until I finally moved to Canada. And not just any part of Canada but The Canadian Rockies, a perfect environment for Grizzly bears. When arriving in Canada I imagined I would see them everywhere, everyday, stalking me, rubbing their paws together, waiting to make me part of their evening meal. However this wasn’t the case. Where were all the Grizzly bears? They were so allusive I actually started to look for them. But don’t go out into the woods today without bear spray, apparently. I had hiked all the way through America without bear spray or any preventative measures to keep my food away from them. And I never had any problems but maybe this was my complacency. Out here in Canada it’s a different kettle of fish…..or flock of bears. When I first moved to Banff the shop fronts had posters plastered on the windows with ‘We sell bear spray!’ accompanied by a viscous angry looking Grizzly. I still don’t know whether this is just a money making enterprise to scare tourists into buying $40 worth of pepper spray for the one & only hike they might do whilst on holiday in the Rockies. But all I know is it’s a reassuring weight to have on my belt when I go for a run, hike or go fishing in the backcountry. Especially in Banff, where I was located, was a notorious Grizzly roaming named ‘The Boss’ who weighs nearly 1000lbs, has eaten 3 black bears, been hit by the train twice and father’s the majority of baby bears in the vicinity. He uses the railroad and highways as his main routes through the national park. Being so close to civilization I was sure I’d bump into him but alas, he was also as allusive.As the summer rolled round I still hadn’t seen any Grizzly bears. The black bears were a little more prevalent but they were usually gone within seconds to avoid the clicking cameras of the eager eyed tourists. I made the decision to finally put myself out there and hike the Great Divide Trail which is a 1200km “trail” that wiggles it’s way from the US border to the top of the Canadian Rockies following the divide between British Columbia & Alberta. Standing at the start line for the trail, a million & one scenarios ran through my brain of how to deal with the big furry tractor situation. I set off into the wilderness into what looked like prime bear territory; big flowery meadows, dark towering forests and rivers just waiting for a bear to come looking for fish. I shouted “Hey Bear!” every five minutes all day, all the way until I pitched the tent for the night. And this didn’t eb for the next few days whilst following giant animal tracks and plenty of bear poop.

We ambled along the Great Divide for two months with very little bear encounters and if we did come across one it soon dashed off into the forests, never to be seen again. I started to feel saddened I hadn’t even seen the rear end of a Grizzly romping off into the distance. On our final night on the trail we stumbled across another hiker called Rob from Montana. He had been hiking the whole trail solo so I was intrigued how being alone had altered the experience. Rob encountered 15 Grizzly bears, numerous black bears and even wolves. Hiking in a pair, myself and Joe obviously made a lot more noise. I was later informed that most bears will hear, see or smell you, stand up, have a look and decide to quietly slink away. So most of the time we were completely unaware there was bear standing on the other side of a tree.

The longer I live in Canada the more intrigued I am by them rather than feeling fear. Don’t get me wrong, they’re incredibly powerful creatures who, given the chance, would swipe me around the head and carry me off into the bushes. I’m in awe of them and feel privileged to be living alongside these beautiful fuzzy animals. But it doesn’t come without its challenges. The towns, villages & cities dotted around Canada have to try their best to coexist with these wild beasts. Some humans believe that bears are as bad as rats and need to be controlled. But who lived here first? Bears & humans have lived on the same lands for thousands of years either living in harmony or killing each other. Mostly us killing the bears.

I recently read a brilliant book written by Jake MacDonald called “Grizzlyville”. It discusses not only the bad bits about bears but the good too. And how we as humans interact & influence their behaviours. A bear will treat us just as it would meeting another bear. It has to weigh up its options; what is this creature and am I strong enough to win in a fight?. As soon as a bear discovers we are a great provider of food and that we’re not a threat or nearly as powerful, they’ll make their move. But essentially bears want nothing to do with us. They want to live quietly & in peace like a grumpy old grandad wanting to read the newspaper in the garden on a Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately bears don’t understand our boundaries, smaller bears are pushed closer to civilization by larger more dominant bears and we push those smaller bears back towards the bullies. And the bears that really bother us are the ones who have become habituated by food we’ve given, trash we’ve left behind or come too close to them. Unfortunately if a bear becomes habituated they are “destroyed” like evidence in a murder case. In some cases the authorities attempt to relocate the problem bear but in most scenarios that bear will make its way home or its dumped in a location filled with more dominant bears who destroy it for us. This is a devastating process and I find it extremely hard to stand back and watch tourists getting too close trying to snap a selfie. My blood starts to boil and I usually turn into the Batman equivalent for bears. I very impolitely shout from a distance for said tourist to back off. More education is needed for people travelling through these areas that these animals are not the cuddly teddy bears you see in the movies and should be treated with respect. If you come in contact with that bear in one way or another it most likely means dire consequences for that bear….or you.

A recent news story caught my eye this summr on that exact subject. One bear managed to break into a car filled with tantalising smelling meat and the other attacked a dog which managed to free itself from its leash. In both cases it was the bear who was found at fault. It was just the animals natural instincts. Now they would learn that humans weren’t a threat and they could do this again with no consequence. And sadly it didn’t end well for these two bears.

But it’s not all tales of woe, I highly recommend reading ‘Grizzlyville’ and learn about some of the wonderful tales all about the good nature of bears. My morning commute usually involves slowing down for bears crossing the road, herding bears away from guests at work and sometimes accidentally stepping in bear poop. I’ve come to love and appreciate living with these wonderful creatures. Bumping into a subdued Gloucester cow in a field just won’t cut it for me anymore.

And so my parting gift is a little list of some dos and don’ts to ensure we can do our part but also how to hike, run, ski or even tree climb in a bears environment;

1. Give wildlife the space & respect they deserve. When you see the signs telling you how many bus lengths away from a moose you need to be, they know what they’re talking about.

2. Don’t be a selfie snob. Sure, take a picture from the safety of you vehicle but don’t assume the bears want to have any part of it.

3. Don’t feed the wildlife! Not only does it mean the animal becomes dependent on human resources ultimately dooming them but they might just eat you too. If you’re camping out in the backcountry ensure you store your food in appropriate bear proof containers and hang them well away from your camp. If you’re going to be hiking in the backcountry often then I highly recommend the Ursack.

4. Make noise. Wild animals like to know when you’re coming. They’re just like me or you, they don’t like to be surprised whilst happily eating their breakfast. Making noise gives them a chance to figure out who we are and move away. And I don’t mean bear bells either. I don’t know about you, but my experience is that I can’t even hear bear bells until that person is right next to me, ringing that darn annoying bell in my face. So assume the bear won’t notice either. There is also the theory that bear bells are known as dinner bells. Humans make that jingling sound whilst leaving a trail of snacks and wrappers behind so the bears associate the ringing with food. If you’re in a group, talk to each other or if you’re hiking alone just let the bear know you’re there now & then with a quick “Hey Bear!” Or something of your choosing. I personally like singing Disney songs but I’m not sure if this might irritate them even more.

5. Carry bear spray & know how to use it. On the rare occasion someone might startle a bear or even unintentionally provoke it, bear spray could save their life. Bear spray is only effective from less than 20ft for up to 8 seconds. So you have to be quite up close & personal before you can even deploy the spray. Creating a wall of spray in front of the bears face could deter it enough to leave you alone. But, if you ensure you follow all the other steps you shouldn’t ever have to use it.6. If you see a baby bear know that momma bear is just around the corner. Keep your distance and change your route immediately. Sometimes I’ve had to turn around and find another way or even wait it out until the coast is clear. On one occasion I attempted to go rock climbing when a baby bear shot up a tree in front of me and the momma bear sat stubbornly in the middle of the trail, huffing & puffing and refused to move. That signalled the end of my rock climbing mission that day.7. Watch a bear safety video. Some of these are super cheesy but there’s a couple in particular that are my favourites. Not only because it’s completely ridiculous but it ultimately covers the key points about human & bear interactions. https://youtu.be/5vdJCOZyVFw8.

And if you’re still worried, hike with a friend. Travelling in pairs or groups is safer and makes you more comfortable too to just enjoy yourself, the outdoors and the wildlife that comes with it.To those of you who are deterred from rambling in bear country just like I used to be, then just follow the few simple rules, accept that you’re in their home & they’re not all out to eat you. And so that concludes my bear blog which I hope you’ve enjoyed this little read.

Section G for Game Over! (Mt Robson to Kakwa)

Leaving behind the pristine and well maintained trail of Mount Robson we headed onto the lesser known North Boundary Trail for the last few hundred kilometers of the Great Divide Trail. Our bags were packed to the brim with food for the next 11 days but weirdly it didn’t feel too heavy as our bodies are slowly becoming accustomed to the heavy loads on our backs. Even though it seemed like I had alot of food I found it really hard to not eat too early into my supplies, this food had to last me a long time and I was already very hungry. The trail towards Chown Creek was easy going and we we’re quite surprised by what we found. I think we we’re expecting challenges every step of the way from Mt Robson to Kakwa lulling us into a false sense of security as I knew it was about to get harder.

It was a pleasant night chilling out by Chown Creek and I was excited about the next day. Unfortunately around 4am I was woken up by the smell of smoke in my nostrils as the smoke from nearby wildfires had swept over the mountains during the night and swamped the valleys with a thick smog. It’s scary to be in the middle of the woods not knowing where to fire might be and whether you’ll be hiking toward it or further away. We made the decision to carry on North and see how the smoke changed. What we knew was a beautiful area surrounding us with yet more glaciers and mountains was now shrouded in smoke clouds with nothing more to see than the trail on front of us.

We skirted the edge of the large braided Chown river and crossed at a safe point whilst losing the feeling of my toes due to the temperature of the glacial melt water. The trail continued to surprise us with it’s quality and we headed towards the Jackpine High Mountain Alternate. This is an alternative to the brushy & boggy route along the Jackpine River. Keen to avoid anymore battles with the bushes we opted for the alternate whilst confident in our navigational skills and scrambling experience. Unfortunately we couldnt see much from the top of the Jackpine but luckily it wasn’t too tricky to find our way to Blueberry Lake. I woke early the following morning apprehensive about the outcome of the smoke. I poked my head out of the tent door and to my surprise the smoke had receeded and the mountains appeared. The weather was near enough perfect especially for heading up into the high alpine. The route took us up & over many passes covered in boulders the size of houses and mountain sides layered with loose rocks. The ascents we’re long and arduous and the descents sketchy and steep. We took a much needed break down at Spider Creek and considered our options. We had been travelling at a really slow pace of no more than 2km per hour and it was already 5pm. We decided to carry on to Perseverance Mountain and tackle the ridge just in case the weather changed it’s mind.

Just before we reached the summit of Perseverance Mountain we checked the route on the map and came across a risky but luckily avoidable scramble. This is when I doubted that following the route from the maps or apps would be a very clever choice. Once on the summit we were faced with the entire ridge line stretching out into the distant and we now had to fathom the challenges that lay in front of us. This was going to be a long day. After a few summits later and some questionable ‘scrambling – climbing’ ascents, we waved the white flag of exhaustion and set up camp on the ridge. I had an unsettled night’s sleep due to the apprehension of the upcoming climb the next morning. Once again we double checked the route on the map and decided to make our own route choices to avoid some risky climbing sections. Joe was my hero throughout the entire stretch and even when he was uncomfortable himself he still stayed strong to guide me along the ridge. This was quite possibly the hardest day I have ever had in the mountains and yes it’s hard to deny how beautiful & wild this place is but I know that I never need to do it again.

When we thought we were in the clear it was only about to get harder. To descend off the alternate and back to the original trail we had to bushwack for 5km which nearly took us all morning. We collapsed into a heap on the shores of the Jackpine and collected ourselves. Hopefully that was it for surprises from the GDT. Just as we approached Pauline Creek camp a baby grouse decided it was a good idea to jump into the river and attempt to swim, badly. I waded into the muddy waters and scooped it up. The little fluff ball started to shiver so I stuffed it under my shirt and tried to warm it up. It drifted off to sleep for about an hour before it decided it was time to head back to momma grouse back on the other side of the water. That will be the first time I ever ford a river three times to save a baby bird.

The final big climb up Big Shale Hill was steady and easy to navigate. I was constantly waiting for more carnage to come around the corner but the trail was in good condition with grand open spaces of green grassy meadows and wild flowers filling all the extra spaces. With such good trail ahead we could enjoy just actually hiking once again and we cruised into the Willmore Wilderness Area which has to be one of my favourite parts of the Kakwa section. I had heard this was prime Grizzly territory but sadly they must have all been at an annual grizzly bear meeting elsewhere.

36km later we landed at the Casket Creek camp with yet again lovely facilities. And when I say facilities this doesn’t include a toilet or the kitchen sink but simply somewhere flat & dry to pitch the tent with running water nearby. By this point we were a mere 36km away from the finish line. I couldn’t contain my excitement not only at the idea of completing the trail tomorrow but if we finished sooner I could eat more food. Just as we were snug in our sleeping bags a crashing sound came from the trees behind us, maybe this would be the Grizzly I’ve been waiting for? Nope. It was just Rob from Montana, a solo north bound hiker who couldn’t be more happy to see some people. The three of us clicked and we all decided to cross the finish line together.

Just as we were 3.8km away from the end of the trail the GPS decided to stop working for all of us. We decided it was a conspiracy to stop anyone getting to Kakwa but they didn’t win this time! We arrived at Kakwa Lake at 7pm on August 11th and we howled like wolves in celebration but to our surprise a reply came from across the lake. No they weren’t wolves but a lovely couple, John & Joan who waved us over and invited us in for a hot beverage & cake. A few hours later after exhanging stories of hiking adventures and Grizzly bear attacks they proclaimed it was time for us to go to bed. They showed us to the cabin next door and we striked up the fire. This was the most perfect way to finish the trail (excluding the 100km we still had to hike back to civilization).

In true GDT style we woke up to rain dripping down the cabin windows and the wind whipping around the lake. But nothing could stop me getting back to the highway and back to my food. We originally planned 3 days to get to the highway but decided to smash it in 2 days instead….I was getting hungry. We hiked about 30km when a man & his daughter spotted us whilst out on their ATV. Sean offered to drive his daughter back to their truck and come back for us (we must have looked desperate). When we found out we we’re getting a ride we scoffed our last remaining rations of Cliff bars, noodles and pop tarts. Three hours went by and I soon regretted eating it all worrying that he might not even return for us. Whilst waiting we also came up with the brilliant idea of testing Rob’s bear spray just to keep us occupied. He stepped far enough away and off loaded the can of spray….or what we thought was far enough away. That stuff should most definitely deter any bear attack as I’ve experienced now first hand what it feels like, cheers Rob!

When our knight in shining armour returned he drove us all the way back to his truck and even offered to drive us to the highway the following morning. In the meantime he fired up the BBQ, cooked up some home caught Bison sausages and handed us some beers. He was quite possibly the most Canadian man I had ever met.

Now we’re nestled comfortably back into the real world wearing denim jeans, using deodorant, drinking fresh coffee and sleeping in a bed. We move into a new home in Jasper and start a job working in the mountains first thing Monday morning.

How quickly life returns to normal but it just doesn’t quite feel the same. I’m overwhelmed by all my possessions from books to perfumes to duvets to snowboards instead of the few necessary items I carry in my backpack. There are people everywhere and the world suddenly feel very crowded.

I miss the whistling Marmots and the bothersome gophers. I miss the chirping of the chickadees and squeaking of the Pikas. I miss my profession as a hiker and my home a tiny tent. But you all must know me well enough by now that I will most definitely hike again….

Thank you to everyone who helped make the Great Divide Trail what it is today. And thank you to family and friends for once again putting up with my silly hiking nonsense. Big love to you all. X

Section F for Follow the Moose (Jasper to Mt Robson)

We decided to stay for a night in a real bed whilst in Jasper to properly let our bodies recover. Not only that but we managed to claw back from the calorie deficit and eat 3 large breakfasts, 3 peanut butter cup ice creams, all you can eat Indian buffet, a bag of dill pickle crisps & a foot long subway sandwich with a side of KFC. Whilst we were sampling the black cherry ice cream at our favourite Jamaican Cafe we bumped into a familiar face. Rupert was climbing at Skaha in BC when we first met him and I couldn’t help but say hello once more when we spotted him in Jasper. He joined us for lunch and we all chatted the afternoon away about future adventures and life in Jasper. You can guarantee that anything you want to do Rupert has been there & done that, what a legend! He also kindly offered to drive us back to the trail the next morning & to hold on to some spare equipment for us as we wanted to lighten our backpacks for the upcoming section. Thank you, Rupert!

A leisurely start had us back on trail heading towards the Miette River for the next few days on to Mount Robson. The trail was pretty easy to follow due to some recent trail maintenance the previous year and we arrived at the start of the Moose River. We looked high and low for the Colonel Creek Camground and ended up finding a slightly uncomfortable flat spot surrounded by old burnt out trees. The next morning however we rounded the next corner and stumbled across a perfect little camping site with benches, a fire pit, lovely flat ground and even somewhere to tie up my horse (if I had one!). The day would see us fording Upright Creek once, Steppe Creek 3 times and wading across the Moose river 6 times….it was going to be a wet one. Just to add to our slightly soggy day on the trail it decided to rain. We stopped at a cold and windy pass to quickly eat some food, my core temperature dropped and I started to feel pretty low. Desperate to get warm again we headed up to Moose Pass whilst following Moose tracks (unfortunately no moose sightings). The weather cleared slightly, the wind picked up to help me dry out and I started to feel normal again. A boggy for delightful trail lead us down from the pass to milky grey waters of the Calumet River and another nice camping spot. Its amazing what a warm fire can do to lighten your mood.

We jumped out of our tent the next morning knowing that if we made good time we could be down at Mount Robson by the afternoon and could eat yet more food. But I had also heard that the Berg Lake Trail was one of the most beautiful sections of the GDT and I couldnt wait to get there. We forded the Smokey River first thing which is a bit of a shock to the system at 8am fresh out of your sleeping bag.

On our way to join the Berg Lake Trail we saw another pair of hikers coming our way, it was John & Brenda! They were slightly ahead of us and we high fived them on their way out to Kakwa. Hopefully this wouldn’t be the last time we would meet this lovely pair.

The Berg Lake Trail was quite possibly my favourite part of the trail. It had everything from giant rocky peaks, roaring waterfalls, electric blue lakes, creeking & cracking glaciers tumbling down the valley, rivers raging past & the most immaculate trail I had ever seen. We flew our way down the trail to the visitor centre in no time at all, and to our fortune we crossed into BC and gained an hour (we had literally hiked back in time). And if I didn’t get enough of the Berg Lake by the time I have done it one way I then had to hike back up the trail with a fresh supply of 12 days food to rejoin the official GDT, lucky me! I would highly recommend the Berg Lake Trail to anyone who has or hasn’t done any backpacking as it’s so accessible and some beautiful camping spots.

What’s in your tubes? (Section E: The Crossing to Jasper)

We arrived at The Crossing Resort in search of food and we’re harshly greeted by hordes of tourists arriving on coaches swarming to the lunch buffet. From stepping of the trail , being completely alone in the wilderness to be thrown back into civilization was just too much to handle. We found an over priced room in the motel but I’m sure I would have paid double just for a hot shower & to sit watching shark week on TV. The satellite internet was shockingly terrible which meant even more important jobs to be done would have to wait. Yet even more reasons to live in the woods than in all the commotion of real life.

We swiftly…. or should I said sluggishly walked away from the all you can eat breakfast (which was incredible!) and blasted out 30km up and over three big mountian passes as well as the highest pass on the entire GDT at 2600m. The section from Owen Creek to Pinto Lake was one of my favourite with wide open rocky valleys, rushing creeks, looming glaciers, florescent blue lakes and Marmots whistling to each other echoing around the mountains. It was so nice to have an actual trail compared to the previous Howse river trail. I could actually put one foot in front of the other without climbing over, ducking under or fighting with the trees.

Cataract Creek was another area that was ‘unmaintained’ which was an understatement but still nothing compared to the Howse. Once out of the woods you could appreciate the views and take your mind off the hundreds of scratches and holes now littering the skin on my legs. The final leg up the river and over Cataract pass we’re absolutely stunning and soon all the bad trail was replaced with this view and wiped from my memory. I found my energy lift as we summited the pass and decended down into the Rock Maze. This area is breathtaking with rocks for miles (now I know why they call it the Rockies) and clam rivers flowing in and out of the boulders like a sleepy snake. We decided that no bears would venture this high into the alpine but we spoke to soon when we came across the biggest Grizzly print I’ve ever seen, how wrong we were.

The trail from Cataract Pass to Jonas Shoulder was surely made by Gandalf himself. Only a wizard could make a trail this pristine. We breezed through the forests & meadows to arrive at Waterfall Campground with a mere 36km under our belts. With the trail being so well maintained & obstacle free meant you could really switch off your brain and just enjoy the hiking. I’m sure it wouldn’t last for long.

Nothing much happened between here and Mary Shaffer Campground apart from a few passing Southbound hikers which was still quite a novelty to us. The first one cruised by with not even a wave whilst the second named Paul stopped for some pleasantries. Paul informed us that the next couple of kilometers were going to be quite bushy, this would be a test to see what a Southbound hiker thought was notably bushy or not. With a only a little discomfort on my legs scraping through the bushes I thought to myself ‘Oh Paul, if only you knew’ he was in for a real treat for the upcoming trail.

Not only do we bump into southbound hikers but also normal backpackers out for a few days to escape the monotony of their desk jobs and seek some wilderness refuge. Just as we approach another hiker we nod, say hello and wait for the question….”what’s in your tubes?” Our fly fishing rods break down into 4 pieces and slot nicely into a white tube however this looks slightly odd sticking out of our packs. This question can sometimes get a little tiring with automatic answers so I’ve decided to come up with some different options to catch people off guard like “What’s in your tubes?”….Smarties, snooker cue, architectural drawings, instructions on how pitch the tent, poop, pet snake and so on….

With the bushy & boggy trail behind us we almost ran down to the Maligne Lake cafe. It wasn’t a detour we had in our original plan but the hiker hunger got the better of us and we headed for some feeding time. A few burgers, doughnuts, crisps, wine & milkshake later we set off for the next part. The Skyline Trail is renound for it’s beauty & high alpine goodness and I was so excited to see it was going to be good weather for us. I loved it. The Skyline is immaculate and follows a stunning ridge line with gorgeous blue lakes waving at you in the valleys inviting you for a swim. We smashed out another 37km and camped not close enough to Jasper to claim more burgers. This resulted in a 6am wake up call the next morning to hike on into Jasper for the biggest breakfast we could find…..oh and a shower I suppose.

Section D for Don’t Even Go There! (Field to Saskatchewan Crossing)

We blasted into Field, a speedy 25km by 11:30am all for the lure of bacon & eggs or maybe even an icecream. The temperatures rose once again to 32°c making our stinky clothing heat up enough to fumigate the town. We we’re desperate to find some shade so retreated to the Siding Cafe for some top notch nosh. We then had to collect our next food box from the Fireweed Hostel who kindly held our package for us. As the lovely french lady passed over our precious supplies and asked us if we had anywhere to stay. I replied “Nope! But we were going to hitchhike to the nearest campground” which she quickly responded before I even finished my sentence and that they were all fully booked. My heart sank a little and the tiredness really kicked in at which point she informed us that we could camp in the garden and us their facilities; this was the best news ever! A rest day was had doing absolutely blooming nothing eating, sitting and talking to other guests in the hostel all keen to hear about our journey. We were here long enough to bump into 3 other GDT hikers all with the same end goal in sight. A couple from the UK called Tim & Alice and a slinky fellow from New Jersey who had completed his Triple Crown (the big hree hikes in America) and more. They would most likely overtake us to never be seen again.

A leisurely start to the next section with more free coffee and maple syrup porridge to set us up for the day. Within a few miles we bumped into Bear No. 2 of the trail. He was barely making any noise and we almost walked right past him. He didn’t seem that bothered, huffed a little like a sigh of annoyance and went about his business.

The trail up to Amiskwi Pass was not going to be an easy one with miles of bushwacking, fallen trees to climb over, missing trail and numerous river crossings; oh and a few thunderstorms thrown in. Not to mention Joe’s phone decided to die a heroic death which has the all mapping data on it, my sunglasses we’re swiped from me by a branch somewhere along the way and Joe also lost his bowl to a river too. Things didn’t seem to go quite so smoothly on this part of the trail. It was time to go back to the old Map & Compass approach.

We hiked the first few days with very low mileage as we can’t physically go any faster due to all the campsite reservations throughout the next few sections. It’s really hard to finish hiking for the day at 2pm when you have so much energy left in you. Now that we’re getting trail fit our bodies just want to crush some miles. Just at this point Joe exclaimed “This trail is just too easy!” Which then lead to two very challenging days which would soon put us back in our place. We thought Amiskwi Pass was hard but the next part of the trail would make Amiskwi look like a stroll up Loughrigg. We cruised on down 16km of Forest road to the Bleaberry River “easy!” we thought. The crossing of Cairne Creek wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated due to two large trees allowing us to cross albeit a little wobbly. The next 7km was yet more bushwacking and I would say much harder than that of Amiskwi. We arrived at Lambe Creek soggy & tired but chuffed with a hearty 30km day ready to tackle the glacial river crossing in the morning when the melt water is lower.

We woke early and set about wading across Lambe Creek with some homemade bridge building to aid our crossing. The trail then deteriorated dramatically but we still managed to make good time to the top of Howse Pass hoping the sun might make an appearance to dry out our soggy feet & brains. We had insider information that once we reached Conway Creek we should stick to the Howse River Floodplain as the normal trail through the forest was decommissioned, unmaintained and littered with fallen trees. We stuck to the floodplain as best we could with only getting lost a few times trying to either be on the riverbed or up on the forested bank. Our pace slowed drastically as we picked out way across the large braided blue channels of the river. To avoid the deeper & faster flow of the river we dipped into the forest yet again to truly taste how terrible the state of the official trail was like. Yep, it was bad. We decided that we had enough of being poked by sharp braches, scraped by spikey bushes, pulled down by broken trees & prodded in the eyes by twigs. Joe made the final decision that would we cross the river to the Eastern shore and make our way to another trail which looked more favourable. We cruised along the side of the river and really picked up some speed, right up until we reached the outflow of Glacier Lake. It was fast flowing and far too dangerous to ford so we headed up into the forest in hope that once we reached Glacier Lake we would be able to find a safer crossing. The forest devoured us, this was by far the wildest place I had ever been. The forest grew thick & brutal as it cut more into our skin & our souls. I truly believed we would be sleeping in the woods tonight with no water and still nowhere to go. Just when we thought things couldn’t get harder Joe unleased a Bees nest hiding under a rotten tree swiftly followed by yelling “run for it” from behind me. The lake came into view on the horizon and my soul began to lighten. Oh but wait! We have to swim across the mouth of the lake where the flow of the river was at it slowest, this was not something I thought we would be doing today. A little broken but elated that we didn’t get swallowed by a tree, drown, eaten by a bear or get washed away. This was 159% harder than any day I have had on a trail so far (and I’d like to keep it that way)

What are Marmots? (Banff to Field)

We arrived in Banff looking like homeless hikers smelling like old wet socks and covered in dirt. We headed straight for McDonald’s and easily devoured 2500kcal in one meal. The next 24 hours was full of foody delights from the biggest breakfast at toulouloos to the best pulled pork feast kindly prepared by Luke. Thanks Banff for once again feeding us up and being so welcoming.

We were dropped back at Sunshine Village by our friends from Banff, Luke & Sasha and we we’re waved off like it was our first day at school. It was great to catch up with everyone whilst we were “home” but inevitably when you only have one town day to resupply, do laundry, have a shower and claw back the calories you lost there are very few hours left to do anything else. So big apologies if we didn’t get to say farewell to any friends before we left.

We hopped back on the trail at Sunshine Meadows and cruised along the well maintained path past Twin Cairnes, through flower covered fields and up over Healy Pass. A gentle 15km later lead us to setting up camp at Egypt Lake nestled amongst some true giants of the Canadian Rockies. Unfortunately we’re well in to Mosquito weather at the moment and as soon as you stop walking they descend like seagulls swooping down on abandoned fish & chips. They love me. I layer up with bug spray and protective clothing and then attempt to eat my evening meal whilst they land on my spoon and get stuck in my ear holes.That evening a wild storm of rain & wind swept it’s way through the camp. When I poked my head out of the tent I was expecting to see grey dreary skies but was pleasantly surprised it was crisp, “not a cloud in the sky” blue. And I was gladly reunited with one of my favourite Alpine animals the furry, lazy, grumpy looking kind of beaver; the marmot. Stretching out and sunning themselves on rocks with nothing much to do today other than eat & sleep. In my next life I think I’d like to come back as a Marmot.

The trail gently climbs up to Whistling Pass which lies beneath even more majestic snowy giants. It then descends through boulder fields down to Ball Pass Junction. But that was just pass number one of the day. The trail climbs once again up Ball Pass via some pretty steep switchbacks. But not for long. We slowly descended down the side of Hawk Creek to the valley bottom. Just by crossing over the pass we we’re transported to another world. A burnt & black vista of dead trees and washed out river beds. This area had suffered a fire nearly 15 years ago in 2003 and it was nowhere near to recovering. But if you stop for long enough you start to notice dots of red, blue, yellow & purple. These colourful & plentiful wildflowers remind you that this land will soon regain it’s former glory.

Now at the valley bottom we cross the highway and begin on the Rockwall Trail. The biggest and last climb of the day. 30km, 1400m of ascent & 1400m of descent later we arrive at so aptly named blue jewel of the Rockies, Floe Lake. We earned this. Eating noodles never felt so refined sitting on the shore of Floe Lake whilst enjoying the sun on our faces before it ducks behind the mountain tops for the night. Tired and achy from the day we relax in the tent away from the pestering mosquitoes but just as the mountains grow silent for the evening a crashing noise echoes around the basin most likely a chunk detaching from the tumbling glacier.

I eagerly woke to the sound of my watch informing me it was 6:26am (don’t ask why but it’s pleasing to the eye). Eager to go fishing. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and headed round the lake to see if I could muster up the fish from the deep. With no fish for breakfast it was time to head up to Numa pass for an outstanding panoromic view above Floe Lake. We descended down a treefall ridden path which felt like we’re we’re hurdling for Britain in the Olympics. A leisurely & much needed break at Numa Creek Campground and it was time for some more up. We were both feeling strong and crushed the ascent up to Tumbling Pass in no time at all. This pass was to be my favourite. Tumbling Pass lead us to the most awesome view of Tumbling Glacier, clearly very old but still going strong and refusing to budge. I have grown to love glaciers and they’re majestic mysteriousness, of how they hang to mountains, slowly receed into the valleys, scouring the landscape to what we see today. Due to the changing climate theses glaciers aren’t as big as they once we’re. Yet still they are beautiful, blue & full of character. Even in the small time we spent in the presence of this glacier I could here it cracking & crunching ready to break free from it’s ancient prison.

Sadly the GDT veers off the Rockwall Trail, away from the crowds and sends you over Goodsir Pass which was an easy climb up from Helmet Falls (the second largest waterfall in the Canadian Rockies). The pass is mostly in the trees and you catch glimpses of the Goodsir glaciers. Unfortunately we’d become accustomed to the well trodden & maintained routes of the Rockwall Trail which meant that the descent from Goodsir Pass was slow, arduous and down right hard work. A number of avalanches have tumbled there way through this area scouring the landscape and leaving behind a Jenga tower of trees. The temperatures skyrocketed to 32°c and clambering over piles & piles of trees sapped all the last of my energy and I was glad to make it down to Ottertail Creek. We had reserved McArthur Creek Campground at the end of our day and what we found was a little unexpected. It was a disappointedly run down area & covered in yet more fallen trees so instead we resided outside the Patrol Cabin which is sat on a lush meadow overlooking the river with the Goodsir mountains in the background. My absolute favourite camping spot by far and we had it all to ourselves.

This time the alarm beeps me awake at 4:55 (again, don’t ask me why) and it’s time to mission on to Field. I’m so excited for bacon & eggs.

What Do Bears Smell Like? (Section 3: Kananaskis to Banff)

As soon as I stepped foot on paved road I stuck my thumb out and the first car stopped. They through us and our packs into the back of their pickup truck and whisked us away. I told them our story and on the way to pick up our package the family stopped by a store. They bought me some Calamine Lotion and Antihistamines & refused to take my money. Following this another man heard my story and popped out from the bushes. He had every kind of essential oil on the planet and offered me Frankincense as it’s known to help with Posion Ivy. The offers just kept on coming. I now needed to wash all my clothing and equipment to get rid of any leftover oils from the plant. Unfortunately it was a pretty busy weekend in the park and so all the campgrounds we’re full. On wandering through the final campground in attempt to find a spot before the thunderstorms ensued we yet again stumbled on some kindness from a stranger. Laurie was having trouble pitching her tent in the wind and so decided to leave for home. She gifted us her camping spot and once again refused to take my money. It feels like purely saying ‘Thank You’ just isn’t enough but knowing that some good comes from their actions is enough for them.

My hands slowly but surely started to recover from unbearable blisters & swelling with blood throbbing at my finger tips, like my hands we’re on fire. You don’t realise how much you rely on your hands until you can’t use them. And trying to keep open cuts and blisters clean on the trail was really challenging. They turned from swollen fiery hands to now just covered in broken blisters. Yuk. I wouldn’t wish Poison Ivy on anyone. That and Joe named me the ‘Filthy Leppa’ or if he was feeling elaborate ‘The Plague Hands Lady’.

The time spent resting at Peter Lougheed really helped my hands recover and recoup my hunger levels too. We packed far too much food in our resupply box which fortunately meant we could gorge on excess trail bars and noodles for the following two days. Being able to devour 750g of Peanut Butter in such a short space of time should be a difficult task to undertake but it was smashed with no hesitation; 4000kcal in one hit. Also, tip to future GDT hikers….get your chops on the ice cream from Boulton Creek Store, it’s the best I’ve ever tasted (and the size of my head).

But enough of this lying around and eating, it’s time to start hiking again. I was so happy to be hiking this next section as I thought I might have to miss it. The weather forecast looked like glorious sunshine & clear skies for the next few days so we headed back to the trail. The path meandered along the shore of Upper Kananaskis Lake and the views we’re out of this world. And it didn’t stop there. As we climbed high above the lake, the mountains grew ever higher making me feel even smaller. I had only really seen places similar to this in the High Sierra’s in California. And this was hopefully setting the scene for the next few weeks on the trail. We cruised up & over the North Kananaskis Pass leaving behind giant hanging glaciers and electric blue lakes. Our first night stop was just below Palliser Pass by a little murky pond and the towering rock face of Mt Monro looking over us.

Apparently we’re in Bear Country. With still no bears to be seen I begin to wonder whether they really exist. I see prints, poop and claw marks everywhere on the trail but never the bears themselves. I suppose this is a good thing as I’m not sure I want to shake hands with a big furry-nope. With plenty of time to ponder I started to ask all sorts of questions; Do bears smell like horses? Do they like eating Toads? And do Bears stay in bed when it’s raining? All of which I’m not sure I’ll ever have the chance to ask a bear these questions myself.

From Palliser Pass to Big Springs Camp in Banff National Park we crossed the divide between Alberta & British Columbia another few times. These last couple of days have been the most outstanding so far & I have never seen so many mountains upon mountains. The rivers are crystal clear and the lakes turn a beautiful turquoise from all the blooming rock flower. Snow lingers on the moraines that refuse to melt in the sweltering summer sun which will surely still be there come next winter. The trail flows and undulates through flowery meadows along the Spray River, with unfortunately no moose in sight.

Whilst picking our way through the meadows beside Belgium Lake I spotted some other human beings. They waved us down and we strolled on over to their breakfast spot. We were greeted by Heather, Gina & Judy, a mother and daughters crew hiking southbound on the GDT. That is one cool mum. They had adopted the collaborative trail name “SOBO SAM” (Southbound Sisters & Mum) They kindly brewed us up a coffee whilst we swapped knowledge about the trail ahead. Judy has also been involved with the recent trail maintenance at Dutch Creek as they carve out a new trail with hopefully an improved route. This prompts me to thank all the hard working volunteers who help make the trail what it is today.

Big Springs campground was quiet and peaceful with Bryant Creek running by drowning out any noisey bears during the night. We decided with only one more day before we hit civilization again that we should probably have a wash. I found a secluded spot down by the river and managed to have an ice cold bath before swiftly throwing on some clothes before the mosquitoes found me. Just as I was dressed and feeling fresh I slipped on my flip-flops, slipped on the wet grassy bank and fell in the icey pool. My attempt at a wash isn’t quite the same as jumping in the shower.

The following day took us towards Assiniboine Lodge up & over Wonder Pass. The trail to the pass sidled along the edge of Marvel Lake and took us up smooth winding switchbacks. Due to inclement weather Assiniboine was hiding it’s summit from us, maybe we’ll see it another day. We arrived at Assiniboine Lodge making use of the dry porch and admiring the mountains glaciers. Unfortunately we were too early for tea & cake served at 4pm for passing hikers. We set off to Porcupine camp and it was soon lashing it down with rain causing morale to dip a little. We passed so many other hikers going the opposite direction and all eager to ask us about our hike. It’s so nice to stop and chat to like-minded folk who have such enthusiasm for hiking as we do. But sometimes a simple nod as you pass each other will suffice when you don’t want to stand around in the downpour.

Trying desperately to dry our gear out under only slightly drier tree cover, we set up the tent. As we were enjoying another round of tea & noodles a number of rabbits and weasels visited the tent. Mr Weasel even brought us a mouse, how nice.

The gloomy & grey smog receeded just as we popped our heads out of the tent door. Snowy peaks and rocky outcrops reached above the clouds just to grasp the chance to get their photo taken. Feeling a little soggy, stinky and hungry we headed up the slope to Citadel Pass. A vast gopher ridden meadow stretching all the way to Sunshine Village. I was incredibly spaced out seeing this vista in the Summer after skiing here all Winter. My favourite powder runs just bare rock and scree, abandoned chairlifts and hikers littering the trails instead of skis. My pace quickened with the idea of getting my lips around a massive burger & fries. People stopped to ask us about the trail and I conciously took a few steps back so they didn’t catch the earthy, sweaty smell that might be leaking out of my waterproofs. Only when you’re close to day-hikers do you realise how bad you stink when they smell so freshly of laundry soap. And now we sit here waiting for the shuttle bus back to Banff in the corner of the coffee shop hoping they don’t put us into quarantine for the stench floating across the room. A brief hiatus in Banff to refuel, see friends then it’s off to Field via the renound Rockwall trail.

Do Mooses Wear Boots? (Section 2: Coleman to Kananaskis)

We woke early to hike into Coleman to make the most of every daylight hour eating large quantities of food and taking advantage of free refills of coffee. Seeing that this town didnt have a large enough store to resupply we hitched into Blairmore. The lady that gave us a ride announced “but isn’t Blairmore 5 minutes down the road?” It is when you’re in a car but it’ll take hours for us to walk.

As soon as we stepped foot on the streets of Blairmore a couple of elderly ladies accosted us. We must have looked tired and in need of coffee “there is a coffee shop here and round the corner & they’re both great” they informed us. So many lovely people approached us and wanted to ask about the hike. We felt like mini celebrities or maybe it was just unusual to have such strange looking people in town. We spent hours in the Stones Throw Cafe stocking up on refills of coffee and wifi. When we realized we hadn’t washed in 8 days we headed to the Lost Lemon Campground. Run by a Swiss couple, this is by far the cutest and cleanest campground I’ve ever been in. It had music playing in the showers, fluffy green grass and the crowsnest river trickling by. I even managed to unpack my fly rod and scooped up a little rainbow trout. I think I’m getting the hang of this fly fishing stuff.

When we finally felt rested we knew it was time to head back to the trail. Hitching back to Coleman wasn’t as easy as the way out. No one wanted to give us a ride. This is the dilemma of long trails like this. When you need to get around to resupply in towns, hitching is the only way to do it. But sometimes you have to give in and start walking. You can’t expect a ride everytime and people have the right not to stop. But I know that when I next see someone in need of a ride I’ll definitely pick them up (unless they look like crazies).

This section is just under 200km long and we knew it would be a tough one. The first few days were spent once again on 4×4 tracks and it started to get a little wearing. I spotted some familiar looking people through the trees in the distance. Just as I was giving up all hope of seeing Sydeny & Jonathan again they popped up just ahead of us on the way to Dutch Creek Camp. Just before arriving at our camp for the night we came across a sign notifying us that there was a recent avalanche debris field on the trail ahead. The notice suggested we follow a temporary bypass trail which could spit us out anywhere along the trail. Being the hard headed Northerners we decided to still head towards the avalanche field and make our own decision. Dutch Creek Camp sits below some real giants. Surrounded by Gould Dome, Tornado Mountain & The High Rock Range. These are the mountains we’ve been looking for. We set off at a leisurely pace the following morning and hit the avalanche debris within a few kilometers. Easy peasy! I took a bearing on my compass and we bush bashed up the mountainside and cut out the whole thing. We popped out just below Tornado Mountain and stumbled up the screen slope to the saddle. The views we’re stunning. Cor blimey! Canada is pretty. Hopefully the rest of the trail will be more of this instead of 4×4 tracks.

Now you’re probably wondering why “mooses wearing boots?” Well one particular night on this section we were tucked up in our sleeping bags to escape the rain. It was relentless. It hailed, thundered and rained all night. I drifted in and out of consciousness in between bizarre dreams. I woke to the sound of a four legged animal stomping up to the tent. The only way I could describe the noise was like someone wearing very large boots who hadn’t tied up the laces. It could have been a moose, a bear or an elk. But whatever it was it had some big boots on. It stood outside the tent for some time tearing up grass with it’s teeth and gulping it down. Luckily it ignored our food hanging in the trees and us lying in the tent.

We haven’t seen much wildlife whilst hiking but we’ve definitely seen the signs of plenty. Some of the biggest Grizzly Bear prints that are bigger than my hand & Moose tracks trudging through muddy puddles. Joe then spotted what we can only assume was an Elk running and swiftly being followed by a pretty big Wolf. You also get pretty good at spotting who is hiking ahead of you. You ever start to pick out what size & brand of shoe their wearing (yes, you have a lot of spare time on your hands whilst hiking all day every day).

One of my favourite things about hiking a long trail is the food. You never have a fat day and you can eat pretty much anything you like. Almost two weeks in and I’m starting to really get the hiker hunger again. You start to crave foods so badly and your mind plays tricks on you so well that you can actually taste them in your mouth. Joe turned to me and said “I think I fancy Fish & Chips”. This is all I could think about for days. My problem is when I finish a thru-hike I keep eating like a hiker. You still think it’s acceptable to eat Pop tarts, a whole pizza, with a burger on the side and copious amounts of Mountain Dew to wash it down. You’re hiker physique doesn’t last long keeping this diet up post trail.

On a more serious note….

What I thought we’re simply mosquito bites on my right finger slowly turned into something worse. It soon started to look like a case of poison ivy. Once it started to spread it just wouldn’t stop. Both my hands were covered in blisters and the feeling they were on fire. Controlling something like this in the backcountry where keeping things clean and free from infection are really not an option. I’d tried desperately to not touch my eyes, my mouth or anywhere that could end up being serious. Being stuck on the trail in the middle of nowhere meant I had to muster on. We pulled some really big miles to get to civilization faster. Due to the deteriorating condition of my hands we took a ride up the trail to get me closer. This is not a decision I take lightly on a thru-hike. I like to hike as much as a trail as physically possible in one continuous line. This was now broken, for only 20km, but this feels like thousands to me.

We’re now at at the Peter Lougheed Centre filling up on civilization and letting my hands recover. The amount of generosity I have received for treating my hands is astonishing. Everyone I met along the way has given or offered me medication, creams, essential oils and chocolate. Canada, you rock! The treatment for poison ivy is a slow process but not life threatening to me so I’ll rest for a few days and then hike onto Banff. By this time my hands will have hopefully recovered.

This entire section has been wet, wild, windy, snowy and wet….did I say wet already? It’s been more of an emotional rollercoaster rather than a physical challenge. The next sections offer even more stunning views and terrain and luckily it looks like sunshine.

Banff, we’re coming for you! X

Do Bears Like Disney? (Section 1: Twin Butte to Coleman)

We hitched out of Pincher Creek and made it just outside Twin Butte where our ride had to part ways. There were a smattering cars so we decided it would be more usual of our time to start hiking the road. No one seemed to want to give us ride. Maybe we looked too much like homeless people already. Finally a lady stopped to offer us some water but it didn’t take long for her to listen to our story and she decided to take us all the way to the trailhead. She was a like- minded traveller who had been given so many free rides and accommodation on her own travels that she had been waiting to give something back. She was determined that the next people with their thumbs out she would pick them up. It was our lucky day.

This is Joe’s first long distance hike and his first one is definitely one of the hardest. I’ve told many trail tales from my previous adventures and it’s these that sold thru-hiking to Joe. The idea that you shirk all responsibilities, throw your belongings on your back and head out into the wilderness was definitely the selling point. When we decided to come to Canada a long distance hike wasnt on the cards yet. I always hoped that I’ll be able to do more but I wouldn’t want to force a hike like this on someone unless they wanted to do it themselves. We started to talk about smaller hikes and one thing lead to another. Joe was eager to be fully sumerged in the mountains, see some cool places and go fishing. I knew what the next logical step would be but I kept quiet. He stumbled across the Great Divide Trail and was instantly excited. “Yes!” I whispered myself, I was going hiking again.

You still can’t fully prepare someone for a long distance hike and I tried to give him the overall picture, even the shit stuff. Before my first hike my hiking partner tried to tell me about all the worst parts that came with it so I could make my own informed decision whether this was something I wanted to really do. Being told about losing toenails, constantly wet feet, being hungry, being tired, being eaten by bears, getting lost, being stinky, being thirsty and amongst many other bad points I still couldn’t wait to go hiking.

I felt a lot of pressure with wether Joe would enjoy thru-hiking but he reassured me that it was his decision and I knew he would smash it. He’s quite happy being cold, wet and stinky on a normal day any way.

Due to the wildfires last year the official monument was inaccessible meaning we had to start further north. It was a little strange to not begin at an official point but we we’re just happy to be starting the hike. The Yarrow Creek trail was easy going and luckily it was good weather. The forecast had predicted thunderstorms by the afternoon so we found a small lake at the head of the creek and made camp. Just as we retreated to the shelter of our tent, the thunderstorm began. I’ve experienced some big storms on a hike before but this one was monumental. It last for nearly 5 hours with hailstones the size of acorns. To top it off the tent had a few teething problems which meant it leaked causing us to be on drip patrol until the rains stopped. Luckily we didn’t get struck by lightning and poked our heads out the tent to assess the damage. Phew!

We woke early the next morning as we knew another thunderstorm was due in the afternoon. This section was on an exposed ridge so lightning wasn’t something we wanted to contend with. We headed up the shale slope to the Avion ridge and dropped into thick cloud. The navigation was pretty simple and the clouds let out a few glimpses of the valleys below. You could see the sheer size of the wildfires they had suffered in Waterton. But it still looked beautiful and magnificent.

Most days have been short of around 15km. I was used to blasting out as many miles as I could on the PCT so it was hard to slow myself down and relax. I’m actually enjoying not knowing how far I’ve gone, how far I have left or much pressure to go very far. It was all about the miles on the PCT (and finishing before the snow came) I became obsessed with pushing my physical limits to see how far I could go. I thrived off how strong I felt and enjoyed crunching the miles. But what I realised I had missed out on was the smaller things a trail can offer like swimming in cold mountain lakes or just lying in the tent listening to the rain. Or simply stopping to camp somewhere because it was beautiful rather than passing it to hike on more miles.

By the third day we rejoined the official Great Divide Trail and hiked up. Going up in elevation meant we hit some snow. Not enough to warrant snowshoes thankfully but enough to slow our pace. The next ridge should be interesting. After a slightly soggy camp we set off in the clouds to tackle La Coulette Peak. As we popped our heads out of the clouds and climbed up on to the ridge we turned around to see the world’s best cloud inversion (in my book anyway). The views we’re 360° and this is exactly what we came for. It came at a high price through. Five summits were to be had before you could safely stagger into camp. We battled our way through a mixture of loose rock, scrambling, scree, ups & downs, cut knees and plenty of bush bashing. Only 20km for the day but what felt like 50km. Easily the best day on the trail yet.

Day five was to be a very different kind of day on the trail. We meandered through forests on abandoned snowmobile tracks and bashed our way through yet more foliage. However we saw more bear, wolf, cougar & moose footprints that I care or dare to count. This causes me to have a strange episode of terrets. I shout wildly “Hey Bear!” “Good morning, Mr Bear!” Or generally a mash of nonsensical noises. I have also been found to sing Disney songs but no doubt this eventually will provoke a bear attack as I’m sure that bears do not appreciate The Lion King or The Little Mermaid like I do.

Being ‘bear aware’ is something you should take seriously on a trail like this. I was very complacent with where I stored my food and where cooked my meals on the PCT. Bears just weren’t that much of a problem. However there are more bears, bigger beara and other large animals that would like to eat me so I have to make a concious effort. Ursacks are our choice of bear proofing our food. It’s a food bag that is hung from a tree that apparently not even Grizzly Bears can sink their teeth in to. However the bear can attack & pummel the bag as much as it likes leaving the contents to be crushed into fine crumbs.

Surprisingly we met some more GDT hikers this week. As there are so few hikers that walk this trail compared to the Pacific Crest Trail I was fully expecting to not seeing a single hiker the entire time. Within a few minutes we met two other couples hiking the trail. One couple called Chris & Kirsty from Southampton who zoomed by as they have a deadline to meet. And the other couple were Sydney & Jonathan from Lethbridge. We camped with them on our third night and spent the evening swapping tales. It was also Sydenys first long distance and she reminded me alot of myself when I set on my first hike. We both had no expectations from the trail and looked forward to finding out about ourselves along the way. I thought to myself it would be great to see these two again but they declared that they would be taking their time and going at a slower pace. We crawled into Lynx Creek Campground after 27km on our fifth day. This was the first official campground we’d stayed at and enjoyed the luxury of sitting on a toilet instead of squatting in the woods. A young lady strolled up to our camping spot and Joe proclaimed “It’s Sydney!” which I didn’t quite believe at first. But sure enough the bubbly pair joined us for the evening with Beer Juice all round. Hopefully we’ll see them again soon.

The final ridgeline coming into Coleman is a pleasant walk along yet another snowmobile track. Willoughby Ridge provided us with some cracking views of Mt McLaren, Crowsnest Peak and the upcoming trail. Sadly this area suffered a large wildfire some years ago leaving behind giants which would have once stood proud now left burnt & broken. This also meant we had plenty of windfall to scramble over along the way. It was like running the gaunlet on crystal maze but unfortunately with no prize at the end (apart from all your limbs still attached).

This first section has been a great introduction to what the trail has in store for us. The next part sounds even more wild, ungroomed and home to bigger bears. This should be interesting. But for now I’m off to Coleman to feast on cinnamon buns the size of my head.

Is that enough Peanut Butter?

We put our life into storage and laced up our shoes, packed our hiking bags & stocked up on Peanut Butter. The Greyhound bus service carried us from Calgary to Pincher Creek and we arrived at 4am a little jiggled from the journey (anyone who has travelled via Greyhound knows it’s pretty much the same has been thrown around on the Tea Cups at the fairground). We pitched the tent just as the sun was coming up and tried to sleep it off.

We have spent that last few days camped out at the Pincher Creek Veterans Memorial Campground with the nicest hosts you could ask for. We used these days to ensure we had everything we needed, test out essential gear and iron out any problems. Amongst all of this important organising we managed to find some time to assemble our Fly Rods and head for the river. I’m new to fly fishing and pretty new to fishing all together. I made the decision that if I am to fish in Canada then I must do it properly. The concept of fly fishing is simple yet in practice it’s nails! I started to feel a little discouraged by the constant catching of trees and lack of catching the fish. But today was a success! I caught my first little rainbow trout and I was stoked! Time to catch me some Salmon.

Tomorrow we hike. First it involves hitchhiking to the start of the trail at Twin Butte which might prove a little tricky as it’s a pretty quiet town but hopefully our cheery British faces will help with that. Originally the Great Divide Trail starts at the US border in Waterton National Park. Due to the devastatingly enormous wildfires from last summer the start of the trail is unfortunately closed. We’ve made up a bit of our own route and hopefully rejoin the GDT further North. If the thunderstorms don’t get in our way…..