Saturday, December 19, 2020

GDT trip report: Field to Saskatchewan Crossing

 Day 11: 47km/2787m

    We woke up bright and early in the comforts of Jessica and Jay's house. They were so kind to let us feast on delicious cereals and berries. We followed Jay's instructions that led us directly to the trailhead and started up the many switchbacks on the Iceline trail. This trail is located in Yoho National Park. Such a beautiful name for a park! I quite enjoy a good long climb in the morning. I'm a morning person in general and as soon as I am awake I'm already quite full of energy. I drink coffee because I enjoy the ritual but I don't need it whatsoever. In fact, I was the only member of the team that didn't bring it on the trip. I love it in my regular life and drink it daily but I don't want to drink cold instant coffee in a plastic bottle. I like the warm and cozy feelings I get when I drink coffee in the morning and if I'm not going to be feeling warm and cozy, I can go without. Joanna was smart and would put instant grinds in her oats and she said she quite liked that. To each their own!

The Iceline trail is really a thing of beauty. It is definitely a highlight of the GDT and worth taking the alternate route to see. I don't know what the jungle looked like but it couldn't have been as beautiful as this 😜.

    We stopped to have lunch at this really beautiful tarn. I remember it mostly because Joanna shared some of her Hawkins cheesies with me. I couldn't believe that some people were opting not to take this route because it was literally one of the most beautiful trails I had ever been on and was in pristine shape. 

    After lunch we continued on towards the Kiwetinok Pass junction. Joanna was really excited about this junction because she has only ever turned right there and today she would turn left. This felt exciting and I was happy to be there to share this with her. The trail up to the pass was magnificent! A real thing of beauty. It felt wild and rocky but there was a distinct trail up to the pass. I think I may have exclaimed, "Aren't you glad we turned left!"...I may have spoke too soon. 
    I think I have blocked a lot of it out of my mind to be honest as this was my personal worst day of the trip. What started off as an amazing day quickly took a turn. There was no trail off the other side of the pass. Even reading Joanna's account of what the terrain was like seems unfamiliar. I remember there being a lot of boulders. Footing was shitty and slow going. We were doing our best to follow a line on the app but it wasn't easy. At one point it seemed like we were way too low and would have to climb back up into the forested abyss and hope the trail merged. I wasn't a fan of this option so we decided to follow the creek below and hope for the best. The forest was like a big game of pick up sticks as if the skies above just dropped a crap ton of dead logs into the forest and they stacked at random. Somehow, someway, someone flagged a route through this stuff. A huge thank you to whoever did that! We continued to slowly weave our way up and over deadfall. It was quite dangerous in there as the deadfall was sharp where branches had broken off. At one point I slipped and my shin got caught up in a jumble of logs and I cut myself sharply on a broken branch. I was laying on my back and I looked at my shin and immediately knew it wasn't good. I had 7 stitches on my hand a couple years ago and was familiar with what needing stitches might look like. The cut quickly filled with blood so it was hard to tell exactly how bad it was. Joanna calmly took out her medical kit and brought over some tape. She had done something similar to her shin and knew I would be ok which was reassuring. She taped it up and we continued on our way. There was no other option.

    Getting out of this deadfall took many more hours. This was very stressful for me because I was trying so hard to protect my leg and was so worried about banging it or making it worse. I also let my mind go down the rabbit hole of doom. How can I possibly continue? Will this injury be a trip ender? How will I get medical help? What if it gets infected and needs to be amputated? We were 75km away from any sort of civilization. Joanna told me that this is not the kind of injury that we call search and rescue for and hiking out was the only option. We pressed on. Eventually we were out of the shit!! We finally hit a creek and I took off the tape and rinsed the wound. Keeping it clean was going to be very important as to avoid infection. Luckily, Joanna had antibiotics with her from an unused prescription from a similar injury and I could take those if need be. The gash appeared to already be clotting and somewhat closed and that gave me a little bit of peace of mind. I only had smaller bandaids with me and I piled on a few of them to cover the wound and hope for the best. I had never had to deal with anything like this out on the trail before which probably made it feel more stressful internally than it had to be. The trail from here until camp continued to be slow going and challenging in its own way. 

    I feel like a theme was starting to develop on the GDT. Each day was the full meal deal. There was always some insanely beautiful well manicured trail that just took your breath away. On the flip side, there was also challenging terrain that was at times hard to navigate. I think it is this dichotomy that makes the GDT so special and so memorable. Because of this you get to feel the full spectrum of emotions and the experience gets solidly imprinted in your heart/mind. 

Day 12: 60km/850m
    We woke up really early today because today was a big day. I feel like I say that a lot but we were scheduled to meet people for a re-supply and we like to be accountable to those people. We fell short on our mileage the day before which meant we had to make up some ground and the only way to do that was to give ourselves a lot of extra moving time. I think we got up around 4:45am. We had pre-discussed taking the Collie Creek alternate that Joanna saw on the map even though we had pretty much sworn off alternates. By taking this alternate we would cut off 15km of logging road and instead only have to hike 8km to this particular junction. In theory, this should be faster as this route looked more direct and efficient. The 1km down to the creek was through a plush mossy forest and was quite nice. I was so far enjoying this alternate. 

    My tune changed as soon as we got to the creek. This creek was raging! The water was moving extremely fast and we had no idea how deep it was. As nervous as I was there was no way I was climbing back up the 1km to the logging road. We found a cairn and it appeared to be the best place to cross. Joanna offered to go first and I was fine with that. Things were looking ok until she was about 2/3rd's across the creek. The water was rushing up onto her waist and she was struggling to keep balanced. She was having a hard time stabilizing herself with her poles and I was growing worried that I just might watch my friend get washed down this creek. Joanna knew she was seconds away from being knocked off her feet and in a desperate leap of faith she jumped towards the other edge of the creek. Somehow she managed to grab hold of a rock and pull herself to safety. I don't want to downplay what I witnessed - it was a very stressful event. Joanna is built solidly and strength trains regularly and I started to get quite nervous that if she was struggling, what hope did I have. 

    I gave her a look that said, I don't want to fucking do this, but I knew I had to. My only other option was to abandon my friend and turn around and walk the 1km back up to and out 15km on the logging road. That just wasn't going to happen and I decided to risk death instead. I wasn't keen on crossing where Joanna crossed and I took my time and found a slightly better alternative further down. I like to think that my mind and body went into a sort of terminator like state. Without overthinking, I got into the creek and turned myself into Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I was a solid brick that could not be pushed around. Every step felt so fucking solid and I did not waver. When I reached the other side I took some deep breathes in order to calm my nervous system. This might have been one of the scarier things I had ever done in my life. 

    The remainder of the alternate was pretty exciting. If we weren't having to wade through the now much calmer but very cold creek we were bushwhacking through a thick forest along the shore line. I wasn't crazy about the bushwhacking because I was still pretty protective of my shin. I have to laugh because the 15km on that logging road that we chose to skip was sounding pretty nice and most likely would've been pretty uneventful. Although, I don't think it would've made for a very good story. But who knows - maybe we would've had to dodge logging trucks and other exciting unknowns! 

All of that excitement happened before lunch! 

    The next section of trail looked a lot like the pictures above and was my first introduction to the world of hiking on flood planes. We were following the Howse River but there really was no path to follow. We pretty much walked along any dry ground available that appeared to follow the line on the app. This also meant we were going in and out of water constantly to do so. Sometimes we found a path inland but the trail was rough and poorly maintained. If we could stick to solid ground out in the open we would but it wasn't always an option. I noted that my feet really enjoyed being in water and I had zero hot spots. I also wasn't as concerned about the cut on my shin as it was getting quite the cleanse! Silver linings!

    I don't know how else to describe how I felt about this section other than it seemed never ending. The scenery didn't change for close to 7 hours. The last 3/4 of this day was so intense that I almost forgot that the first 1/4 was bananas! Joanna almost getting swept down a creek was already a distant memory. We pushed fairly non-stop all afternoon. We were well past the point at which we were supposed to meet up with our crew. We were able to notify them with the inReach so they knew about our delay. Once onto a main path we had a choice to make on the best route to the highway. There was a shorter alternate route that appeared to be very direct to the road or a longer main path. I think at this point we really really didn't trust the alternates and feared that although it was quite a bit shorter, it could take twice as long as who knows when it was last maintained. I'm quite happy with the route we took through Mistaya Canyon as it's   quite spectacular. Classically, as it was the end of the day, we were moving very fast as day light was fading. We finally popped out onto the highway. We thought our crew may have decided to meet us there because we were so behind but there was no one there. 

    We now had 5k of highway walking to get to The Saskatchewan Crossing. There was some urgency to get there before 9pm which was when the store closed where our-supply packages might be. Although, our crew may have picked them up for us but we didn't know and were rushing to be safe. We had to go about 1.5km past the GDT trail junction off the highway to get to the crossing and Joanna suggested we hitch hike. I thought that sounded like a fabulous idea so we stuck our thumbs out as we walked. Cars were few and far between but all of a sudden a car coming from the opposite direction did an abrupt u-turn and pulled over on the side of the road. Joanna thought it might be one of our crew members coming to find us. We approached the car and discovered it wasn't our crew. A man rolled down the passenger side window and said he would give us a ride. Immediately I had a terrible feeling in my gut about this man. I couldn't help but wonder, who does a u-turn to give someone a ride in the opposite direction? I also felt terrible not taking the ride because he was so generous to stop. The internal dilemma was real. We kind of hesitated and eventualy he said "Well, are you coming or not?"...which was enough to make us jump in the car. My heart was racing. Joanna was in the front seat and did a great job making conversation. As I sat in the back, I started to contemplate my death. Was this how I was going to die? What do I have on me to defend myself? What would I do if he decided to drive past our destination. I couldn't believe that I didn't listen to my gut and decline the ride in the first place. It was the longest 1.5km drive of my life. Luckily, he pulled into our destination and dropped us off. Crisis averted and lesson learned. 

    We were greeted by our crew members Becky and Mark (videographer). We caught up with them and told them all about the exciting events that occurred in the last 16 hours. Becky had made some amazing snacks for us to replenish ourselves with and she also brought me a plethora of large bandages, sanitary wipes and polysporin. At some point today Joanna and I had predetermined that we were going to be staying at the hotel here. She warned that it would be very expensive and I didn't care. It had been a very long day and I just wanted a place to dry out my clothes and tend to my wound. I asked if they had a thru-hiker rate and the lady said they did not but they were having a special promotion. Honestly, I was pretty hell bent on sleeping here and was prepared to spend whatever necessary. Someone had tipped us off that they heard there was an all you can eat breakfast buffet but that person heard wrong and I was a bit sad. A breakfast buffet is like music to a thru-hikers ears and stomach apparently. 

    We went to our room and chilled out a little bit before going to sleep. We both got to shower and attempted to dry out our gear. I was really nervous about looking at my shin wound for the first time but to my surprise it looked really good. I felt like a bit of an idiot for feeling so paranoid about it. I was stoked that I now had the proper things to keep it clean and covered going forward and was feeling confident in being able to continue the hike. I think wanting to protect the wound and not knowing how it would look under the bandage took an emotional toll on me this day. I felt exhausted and wished we could just take a day off the following day. But we had an FKT to chase so I kept that to myself and instead gave us an extra hour of sleep in the morning. 

Next up, The Crossing to Jasper

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Great Divide Trail Trip Report: Kananaskis Lake to Field

 Day 7: 51.6km/1527m

    We got off to a bit of a later start. It was hard to peel myself from the comfort of the 4runner and it was nice to linger over breakfast and coffee. I was quite delighted that my foot was feeling better and it didn't appear to be holding any fluid. Joanna also took a look and assured me she didn't see any sign of blisters. I was curious as to why only my right foot was affected and I believe the answer is the calf sleeve. You see, I only wear one calf sleeve. Mainly because I lost the other one but equally as mainly because it's only my right calf/shin that causes me grief (whoops, I realize in my last post I wrote it was my left foot that was affected but it's my right!). My theory is that the heat caused my limbs to swell and because of the constriction of the calf sleeve, my foot swelled with fluid. Thus, I decided to hike sans calf sleeve until all paranoia of it swelling again had vanished. I then proceeded to tape the entire bottom of my foot in an effort to prevent any possible friction against the skin. 

    Matt dropped us off where we had left the trail the night before. We descended for 5km before heading back up towards another pass. At some point Joanna mentioned that she could feel pain in her shin. The pain quickly escalated and she was sure she was getting shin splints! It seemed like every time we were done with one bout of adversity, another one popped up between the group. Thankfully, Joanna had somewhat prepared mentally for this to happen. Prior to the trip she had read many thru hiker reports and almost all of them reported bouts of shin splints. I can attest to this as I had suffered from shin splints on the PCT. We decided to pop in for a dip and have lunch at Maude Lake. I did some make shift active release technique on Joanna's calf and lent her my calf sleeve which I had sworn off wearing. I figured the extra compression would help. I was impressed with the logical approach Joanna took to her shin splints. She knew that the inflammatory process would likely last 72 hours. Mentally, she knew she was in for a world of hurt for a few days and then the pain should in theory dissipate. She took a taping course in high school and used her knowledge to tape her own ankle appropriately. 

    We didn't talk to much when Joanna was in pain. I know that when I am in pain I turn very inward and just focus on getting through it. I figured she was feeling similar and we put our heads down (while still taking in the views) and did the work that had to be done. Similar to Alicia, I was impressed that my friend was managing to move so well despite being in pain. Walking over 50km on shin splints is no small feat! 

    The moon was very full this night. In fact, we slept without the fly on and at one point I really startled myself thinking someone was shining a flashlight into our tent. I was so frightened that I tried to wake Joanna up to tell her but I then I realized it was the moon 😳.

Day 8: 58km/2000m

    I was really excited about this day because we were going to be going through Assiniboine Provincial Park. I had only heard stories about the park and it's beauty and had been looking forward to it the whole trip! We stopped at Marvel Lake before going up Wonder Pass and it was a stunner. As we hiked up past the lake I could hear Loons calling and it was such a picturesque moment. Nature at its finest if you will. I felt so incredibly lucky to be out there. We took a nice lunch break on a bridge in a beautiful meadow. It was a hot hot day and I tried to seek shade as much as possible. Staying cool was now my number one priority after foot gate (when my foot swelled). 

    As we hiked towards Og lake we were passed by many ultra runners. They were doing some 60k run that sounded quite fun. As I previously mentioned, it was a scorcher! Joanna thought there would be some creeks en route to Sunshine Meadows so we opted to not fill up in Og Lake and avoid the detour down to the lakeshore. We weren't keen on doing any extra mileage at this point! However, not filling up would turn out to be a mistake as there were no creeks. Once we noticed that the creeks were dry I began to conserve water. We both fell very silent through this section. I think we both knew we were short on water and there was nothing we could do about it other than keep moving...thirsty. Only sip when absolutely necessary. This reminded me of a time on the PCT where we had to go 17 miles in scorching heat before the next water source. I think I allowed myself a sip every 20 minutes. So this wasn't my first rodeo with conserving water. We were so relieved to spot a pathetic looking pond below the trail at the intersection of Fatigue pass. We both filled our filter soft flasks and chugged an incredible amount of water before filling again. Who knew what other dried up creeks were ahead! We eventually crested Citadel Pass and stopped and filled up water and ate snacks at the creek. Joanna made a video that she later shared on Instagram of her blisters. I will spare you! I had my first package of Idahoan instant mash potatoes of the trip and they went down effortlessly. 10/10 would recommend. Also great with Fritos mixed in. 

    In Joanna's blog she talks about the long bouts of silence between us and hoped I didn't mind. On my end, I really didn't mind. When you are with another human all day everyday for close to 3 weeks I think bouts of silence are both natural and needed! I actually feel like we talked the most at the end of the day once we were cozied in the tent. Probably because this was the only time our minds and bodies could rest and reflect. We made our way through Sunshine ski resort and picked up cell service and wifi. We were delighted to stop and check in with civilization/social media. The bugs were absolutely horrendous but somehow we were unwilling to depart in the name of social connection. We still had a ways to go before camp and kept the social media check in brief. 

Photo by: Joanna Ford

Day 9: 56.7km/2804m

    This was an exciting day because we were going to get to see our crew at Floe Lake and begin hiking the Rockwall Trail. I did the Rockwall last year as a run with my friend Pascal and Julian and it was stunning. This was the only part of the GDT I had done before and was familiar with. 

    The greeting we got at Floe Lake trail head was simply the best! Becky Bates and Joanna's mom came down the road to meet us and walk us in. Marika was there with her parents sprinter van that was fully loaded with a pizza oven and a shade awning. Jamie, who I met at Kananaskis Lake, was also there helping us and it was great to get to see him again. We were spoiled to the max! Becky had given us each a beet Juice made fresh in Kimberley BC. Marika made handmade pizzas/calzones. Jamie served up his famous mac and cheese as well as packed me some to take with me for dinner (anything to avoid couscous). Joanna's mom had also brought homemade chili and salad. It's near impossible to leave your crew when you are being pampered like this. We both felt like rockstars and I felt so grateful that these lovely humans spent their time and energy helping us accomplish this goal. These were Joanna's friends/family but they always made me feel so loved and cared for. Marika had just thru hiked the PCT the year prior and it was fun to reminisce with her about the hike. Becky had decided to join us all the way to Field and Marika and Jamie accompanied us to Floe Lake. 

    When I did the Rockwall trail the year prior it served up a mix bag of weather. We had sunshine, hail, rain, and maybe snow. As soon as we started hiking it began to hail on us and I couldn't help but think this is just how the Rockies roll! We said goodbye to Marika and Jamie at Floe Lake and continued on towards camp. We later found out that Jamie and Marika were bluff charged by a bear on their way back down. Yikes! We made it as far as Tumbling Creek and set up camp. We were happy to see many tent pads available. Poor Becky had only brought a tiny sleeping pad to sleep on. It quite literally was only big enough to cover her hips. She had initially thought she would cowboy camp under a tree but we had an extra spot in the tent and demanded she sleep with us. The tent pad was rocky and couldn't have been very comfortable for her. She never complained and I think the tent was more luxury than she would care for. She is definitely a lot tougher than me! I was happy that my Neoair sleep pad was staying fully inflated every night. The one I brought on the PCT ended up with 5 holes in it and I'd be waking up multiple times each night to re-inflate it. Eventually I bought a new one on that trip and 6 years later it was still working great! Joanna and I were delighted to have knocked off 56km even with a 1.5 hr crew break!

Day 10: 50.5 km, 1320m

     We were the first ones up and out of camp. In fact, we were always the last hikers to reach camp and the first to leave in the morning. This was an exciting day because we were going to reach the small town of Field, BC. In roughly 50km we knew we had access to a shower and a comfortable place to rest our heads. I was also salivating over thoughts of getting to eat at the Truffle Pig! We initially hummed and hawed over whether or not we should just grab our re-supply in Field and keep hiking but eventually came to our senses and decided it would be best to stay the night. 

The trail out of Tumbling camp is beautiful and it was fun to take a left hand turn towards Goodsir Pass versus a right where I had gone the year before. The trail down the other side of the pass towards the highway was quite littered with deadfall. 

Tangent warning: Prior to us flying to Calgary to start the trip, Peter gave me a hot tip that there was an alternate trail out of Field and that it was in much better shape than the proper GDT route. I had mentioned it to the team but the idea got shut down pretty rapidly (1) it was last minute and the route planning had already been done (2) we were planning to stick to the GDT proper as much as possible. FKT attempts on thru hikes are interesting. On a short FKT attempt its quite easy to stick to the original route. However, when the trail is 1000km long, it's extremely difficult to stick to the exact route someone else set their FKT on. Some years trails close and you are forced to take others or new routes are established because they are more scenic. For example, we weren't initially planning to take the newly established High Rock Trail (HRT) but it made zero sense not too. Firstly, its more scenic and secondly, it would become the new GDT route in years to come and any further FKT attempt would follow this route in the future. At times I grappled internally about not being on the most scenic route possible as I wasn't sure how much setting a record meant to me. I know walking endlessly on logging roads didn't mean much to me but it is the faster route. To circle back, after the alternate out of Field idea got shut down prior to the trip, I didn't bring it up again...until...THE JUNGLE!

    After hours of deadfall we came across a trail crew. We chatted with the man and the woman about trail conditions and the work they were doing out here. We thanked them for clearing trees as it made our day so much better! We asked the man about the GDT trail North of Field and he was adamant not to take this route because it is a "Jungle". Apparently, it hasn't been maintained in years and most hikers are now taking the alternate out of Field. Hearing this validated my/Peter's initial suggestion. I was happy that we were now considering it but Joanna wasn't convinced quite yet and it took her some time to come around. Once at the road we shared a coke and psyched ourselves up for the 8km of highway walking. The trail crew notified us of a short alternate that would cut off roughly 3km of pavement pounding and gave us the beta on where to find it. They asked us if we needed a lift into town and we begrudgingly had to decline. I later realized that Becky didn't need to walk the highway with us because she wasn't chasing an FKT but she walked with us anyway. The highway was hot! The pavement felt hot on the feet and the sun was beating down on us. I was purposely walking on the gravel rocks that were on the side of the highway as they gave my feet reprieve from the hot pavement. I was chugging water and electrolytes at a rapid rate and was thankful there was one water source along the way.

    There is an odd joy that comes from walking a highway. I can liken it to running on city streets in a downpour. There is something magical about being out in the elements when people are cozied up in the safety of their cars. You feel alive! There was nothing safe or cozy about what we were doing. We all plugged in our music and I air drummed my way to Field smiling ear to ear.

    Once in Field we walked immediately to the Truffle Pig. We got a table right away and were comforted by all the other thru hikers who were there feasting as well. We didn't know what our accommodation would look like and eating out seemed like the best option for dinner. We were just about to order drinks when a man comes up to the table and says "you girls are killing me! We have beer and homemade dinner ready for you at the house". I think we were all a little confused as to who this man was. He introduced himself as Jay, the partner to Jessica, who's place we were staying at in Field. Up to this point we had only been in communication with a woman and neither of us had met her. They had been tracking us all day from our inReach and saw that we had pit stopped at the Truffle Pig and Jay quickly biked down to intercept. We quickly grabbed our bags and he guided us to the house. They have this beautiful 100 year old home with an attached guest house they rent out to travellers/thru-hikers. We were staying in a guest room in their house because the guest suite was rented out. They have a magnificent organic veggie garden in their backyard with a beautiful outdoor space to eat. We feasted on corn, salad, and wild pulled Elk. Jessica so kindly offered to do our laundry (brave woman!) and we both got to shower. This was my first proper shower in 10 days and was the first time I got to wash my hair. They had just bought some property in Kimberley which is where Becky lives and they got the chance to bond over that. 

    That night over dinner we discussed our route plan for the morning. Jay was pretty adamant that we would not be taking the proper GDT route/the jungle and that the alternate was the only option. He explained to us how to access the trail from their house and after Joanna did some research/read some hiker reports we decided that this was the best option. This alternate begins with the infamous Ice Line trail which I've heard about and was really excited to hike. Eventually, we crawled into our queen bed, set our alarm for 5am and slept well knowing this would be the most comfortable we would be for the next 8 days. 

The next few days would be some of the most exciting/scary of the trip...