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

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