How to Plan a Really Big Hike

Posted on: Monday June 26, 2023 hiking, Great Divide Trail

I’ve walked all the way along the continental divide from the US-Mexico border to Kakwa Lake, BC (where the BC-Alberta border line goes from squiggly to straight). This year, the plan is to walk another 400km north. There’s a lot of unknowns: some of our route was hiked last year, and some of it we’ve pieced together from maps, satellite imagery and sheer determination. We’ve no idea if a few spots are passable. The route will be some of the most remote hiking we’ve done, and large sections have no trails at all. On top of that, we’re already in the worst wildfire season on record in Canada, and the Rockies received a massive snow dump just a few weeks ago. Plus, bears. So, not exactly a walk in the park, even though that’s literally what we’re doing.

Even getting out the door has been a lot of work. We’ve spent the last few months pouring over maps, route planning, prepping food and buying gear. Here’s the process that works for us when we’re planning a really big hike.

  1. Pick a route. Normally, this is really easy: just choose the long trail that’s currently calling to you, and off you go. This year is a little harder. We’re basing the first part of our route off of Dan Durston’s GDT extension route, although we will take a different route in a few spots. After that, we have to make a decision. The Rockies and the divide part ways at Monkman Provincial Park. We’re choosing to follow the divide where it makes a sharp western turn, through the Rocky Mountain Trench and across waterlogged plateaus. We’ll mostly follow forest roads through this stretch, until we can join the mountains again.

  2. Sort out your navigation. Usually we just download FarOut and print some maps. This year, Shake’nBake has spent hours creating a route and KML track, including distance markers and elevation profiles. He used QGIS, Backroad Mapbooks and BC’s maps to create our route. We’ll get him to write a detailed blog about exactly what he did once we get home.

  1. Sort out your gear. We’re taking a few new pieces this year. Steve’s swapping his Zpacks Arc Haul for a Hyperlite Mountain Gear pack since his Arc Haul has reached the end of its lifespan. We got brand new Zpacks 10 degree sleeping bags to be a little more comfortable if the Rockies dump snow on us again. We’re swapping our Big Agnes Copper Spur for the lighter Zpacks Duplex (which I got free to review). I sewed us some new fleece stuff sack pillows, since the DCF on our old ones had worn out.

  1. Sort out your food. I’m not normally a fan of prepping food ahead of a hike: it’s a lot of work and mailing boxes to yourself means you have to work around post office opening hours. This year, we have some massive food carries and will be caching food at a remote spot, so dehydrating meals makes sense. I spent hours this month dehydrating ingredients, assembling meals and testing new recipes. I think we’ve got some great ones: I’m especially excited about the dal and pad thai recipes that we’ve added.

  1. Train. This isn’t easy to do in flat Ottawa, although we’ve done our best to do a few long walks. We’ll have time to do a few shakedown hikes in the Rockies too before we start our route. I’m especially excited to go hike on the High Rock Trail on the GDT.

Now there’s not much left to do except from get out there!

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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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