Great Divide Trail: Section F and a Major Tent Mishap

Posted on: Monday September 6, 2021 Great Divide Trail Hiking

We’re happy to be in town, and grateful that Pat picked us up the day before. But now we have to retrace our steps and hike the 10km that we sacrificed in order to get to town in time for burgers and beers. We take a cab to the Signal mountain trailhead, so we can hike back into town. The cab driver tries to persuade us to move to Jasper with small town stories. He tells us about his friend Rick, the head of the RCMP, who scolds him for traffic violations rather than giving him tickets. He drops us at the trailhead with a wave, and we start hiking, light without our packs, on easy, clearly marked trail. Keith calls while we’re still a few kilometers from the hostel. He’s dropping off two southbound hikers and is on his way through Jasper. We can’t quite get back in time to meet him, but he promises to see us tomorrow on his way home.

We get back to the hostel and try to find a room in town for the next night. It’s the first smoke free weekend since June, and everything is booked solid. We’re so tired, and facing a twelve day food carry with no real options to stop in a town before the end. Pat comes through for us when we can’t find a room under $800. Shake’nBake calls the permit office to move our permits back a day, and we spend the rest of the night trying to finish our hiking chores.

We move our stuff to Pat’s place in the morning, meeting his kind wife Amanda, adorable son and friendly dog. Then, coffee with Keith and a second breakfast. He tells us about the two hikers he dropped off, who started walking north in Patagonia a few years ago. I’m excited to meet them. After Keith leaves, we move to the brewery. Gradually, other hikers trickle in. Sarah shows up first, then Joe and Alison. We drink more than we should, before meeting up with Pat and Amanda for dinner.

It’s hard to leave in the morning. We drink coffee with Pat, and then stop for a second cup heading out of town. Joe and Alison are there and ask if we want a ride to the trailhead. We say no of course- we don’t want to skip 20km. We finally get on the road much later than normal. It’s not too bad at first, but we get a little spooked by a few bad drivers trying to pass. We stop to use an outhouse and a truck driver offers us water.

Halfway on the roadwalk, there’s an alternate that gets us off the highway. Shake’nBake wants to take it, but I’m less sure. We hike 2km on good trail until the alternate splits off. Then there’s blowdowns every 5 metres. I get grumpy, which makes Shake’nBake grumpy, which makes me grumpier. Defeated, we backtrack to the highway, where we know we can make good time. A few kilometres down the road, a car pulls over. He asks if we want a ride. We decline. He asks if we want a beer. We accept! He’s the father of Ben, a thru hiker who just finished, and he’s driving to Kakwa to pick him up.

The roadwalk goes a lot quicker after that, but it’s starting to rain when the trail turns off. We find somewhere to camp, eating Mac and Cheese in the pouring rain. We’re not far from the road and rail line, and trains chug past all night.

We wake up at 11pm, rain dripping on our faces. Which is a problem, considering we’re inside our tent. We investigate by flashlight. Rain is seeping through our rain fly, splashing on our bug net, then falling through to us. Our sleeping bags are already wet, but there’s not much we can do.

In the morning, we talk through our options. We can keep going. But there’s a week of rain in the forecast, so that seems like a bad idea. We can quit. Or we can hike out, hitch back to Jasper, and try to find a tarp or something to pitch over our leaky tent. We go with the last option. It’s 5km back to the highway, but no one wants to stop and pick us up. Shake’nBake calls Pat to see if he’s busy. Pat’s out of town but says he’ll see if any of his co-workers are busy. A few minutes later, Shake’nBake gets a message that his boss will pick us up.

Pat’s boss is Rick, the Jasper head of the RCMP. He shows up in an unmarked car, then flips his lights on to pull a u-turn. We load our packs in the back, and then get in the back of the car. It’s my first time in the back of a police car. It’s surprisingly cramped, but our driver is chatty and friendly, telling us about RCMP’s relationship with Parks Canada. He drops us in town, right in front of a gear store.

The gear store has a heavy tarp, but we want to call and check with Big Agnes first. Our tent is still pretty new, and it failed in the first serious rain of the trip. We’re convinced it’s defective. They agree with us, and offer to ship a new one. Shake’nBake tells them why that won’t work. They say they’ll call a different gear store in town and see if they have any in stock. We head that way.

When we walk in, the guy behind the counter is super apologetic. “I’m so sorry. We only have one tent, and it’s on hold for someone else.” Shake’nBake figures out how to get a tent once we get home and comes into the store, pulling out puppy dog eyes. “The tent in the window was taunting me throughout that whole conversation.” The clerk’s face lights up. He’d completely forgotten about the display tent and tells Shake’nBake to call big Agnes back. We walk out with a new tent, and run to the laundromat to throw in our wet sleeping bags. Then, burgers, and a ride back to the trailhead from Joe and Alison.

We redo the five km from the morning, and then ten more on rough trail. I fall and smack my Shin on a wet log. Finally, we reach camp where we set up our brand new tent.

It rains a little overnight, but stops by morning. It doesn’t really matter though. The alders soak me, even through my rain gear. It’s like walking through a carwash. The trail itself is wet to the extreme- we hike through bogs and marshes, even when we crest treeline at Miette pass. My mood improves when the sun peaks through the clouds and dark spires crowd the horizon.

Morale takes a nose dive in the morning. We have eight km of wicked blowdowns. They aren’t as dense as on Amiwaski, but we still take the entire morning to do those eight k, climbing up and over and crawling under burnt logs stacked like firewood over the trail. Things improve a little after lunch. An apparently tough ford is only knee deep today, thanks to little rain and cooler weather. There is a downed tree blocking the best ford line though. Then we crisscross back and forth across Moose river, before climbing to camp right before moose pass, under tumbling glaciers and skies threatening rain. We set up our tent in a little grove of trees, hoping the new one is waterproof. Shake’nBake checks Guthook. We only have 16km left of section F, our last section. We agree that F has not been our favorite so far: tough trail and hardly any views to compensate. It still has time to improve tomorrow though.

Thankfully for section F, Moose Pass knocks it out of the park. We climb up and up, and the clouds lift just enough for some views. Then the name of the game is fords. We have three big ones, all are glacial cold, and most are only mid thigh. Between them, there is finally trail. Fords always slow us down, so it’s nice to make decent time between them, and not spend our afternoon staring at Guthooks. We have one final ford before bed: icy Chown river, which flooded this summer in 40 degree heat and washed out the bridge by the campsite.

Eloise Robbins (Fun Size)

About the Author

Eloise Robbins (Fun Size) is a writer, triple crown thru hiker, and adventurer. She is a lover of the outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and most of all mountains.

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