Saskatchewan Crossing to Maligne Lake – 135km

June 2 – Washout

I left Saskatchewan Crossing on a crisp morning. It felt like September, not the beginning of July. The walk along the highway was actually quite enjoyable. There was no traffic at all.

David Thompson Highway… empty

I’m on to my second pair of shoes! It feels great to put on brand new kicks. Almost right away, though, my achilles tendon started to hurt. To relieve the pressure, I had cut open the heel of my first pair of shoes. It irked me to do the same to a brand new pair, but I didn’t really have much choice.

The views over North Saskatchewan River reminded me that I’d like to paddle that river someday.

North Saskatchewan River

Soon, I began climbing up Owen Creek. Very quickly, the creek turns into an incredibly deep and narrow slot canyon. I had no idea this was here, despite driving past it many times.

Owen Canyon

The creek has washed away the trail in many places, leaving me to pick my own way up, hopping boulders in the creek or just clinging to the side.

This is the “trail” up Owen Creek

I made sure to move quickly but safely. I sure wouldn’t want to be here in a rain storm!

Once I got above the trees, the views really opened up.

Views from Owen Pass

Owen Pass was still covered in deep snow and I didn’t have my snowshoes anymore. I could have actually made good use of them up here.

Owen Pass

I found a great place to set up camp overlooking the spectacular Upper Michele Lake. Helicopter tours and hiking is popular here but I saw no one else at all.

Camping at Michele Lake

July 3 – GDT High Point

It was a chilly night. My first objective of the day was (unofficially named) Michele Pass – the highest point on the Great Divide Trail! The snow was so firm that I couldn’t ascend directly but instead went far to the right where the snow is less steep.

Looking toward the GDT high point
Looking back down

It felt great to make it to the top! All downhill from here, right?

Made it!

I made my way down from the pass through increasingly mushy and wet trails. The weather grew colder as I went and it began to rain.

Wet trail on the way to Pinto Lake

July 4 – Christmas in July

I woke the next morning to damp air and cold rain. Usually, I just speed up to keep warm but I couldn’t walk fast enough given the poorly defined trail and tricky navigation, so I stopped under the shelter of a big tree and put on my nice warm fleece hoodie.

Cold, foggy, rainy

The rain turned to snow. Bushes saturated with cold water droplets soaked my feet with every step. Each soaking sucked the heat out of my body. Somehow, it was still quite fun. After not too long, I broke out of the trees and the foot-soaking stopped.

Approaching Cataract Pass

My first thought: “Wow, there’s a lot of snow up here!” Kicking steps up the soft snow was actually warmer for my feet than the soaked bushes and I enjoyed the feeling of being up high. Limited visibility made me pretty cautious, especially after hearing the rumble of a far-off avalanche.

Looking up at Cataract Pass

I made it to the top of the pass, standing in ankle-deep fresh snow and with big fat Christmas-like snowflakes falling all around me. My views were pretty limited but it sure was fun to be up there in the middle of a July snowstorm.

Cataract Pass

I made my way down, very happy with the feeling of accomplishment you get from completing something that looked so uncertain, feeling progressively warmer as I went.

Looking down from Cataract Pass

July 5 – Over Jonas Shoulder

Brazeau Loop is a very popular backpacking trip and I have fond memories of doing it five years ago with good friends.

Jonas Pass

The “terrible” weather must have sent a lot of people home. I saw only one other person on my way up to Jonas Pass.

Jonas Shoulder often has snow at the top but now the cornice extended much further than it did on my first trip. I managed to find a less steep spot and made my way down the snow.

Jonas Shoulder

Soon, I was back on solid ground. Well, it was muddy and mushy but not covered in snow.

Muddy trail along Poboktan Creek

I was actually quite worried about a notice on the Parks Canada website: “Bridge out, creek impassible, no detour available”. I decide to give it a go anyway, reasoning that I could always turn back and I’d get to see Jonas Shoulder once more. To my relief, a new bridge was already in place! It must have just been put in – fresh sawdust covered the ground.

Brand new bridge saves me!

July 6 – Forgotten Maligne Pass

I felt unusually tired in the morning, sleeping in until 8am. Usually, I’m up by 5:30am out here! The trail worked its way up higher and higher, crossing some pretty impressive creeks. Parks Canada doesn’t maintain this trail anymore, so I was impressed to find any bridges at all.

Semi-functional bridge

Maligne Pass is beautiful! In a way it’s a shame Parks Canada has decommissioned this area because it means not many people will ever see it, but it sure was nice to have it all to myself.

Approaching Maligne Pass
Views from Maligne Pass

It was a slow day for me, so when I reached long forgotten Mary Vaux campground I decided to call it a day.

Camping at Mary Vaux

July 7 – Scary Maligne River

Maybe it was a bad idea to stop so early. The next morning it began to rain, picking up as I went. The walking was slow with all the dwarf willow taking over the trail.

Yes, the trail runs right through the middle of this

The rain became more intense and the trail filled with cold water. I was worried about crossing the Maligne River. Later in the season, it’s pretty easy but with all this rain it might just be too deep for me.

…then this

When I got to the crossing, the river was flowing strong and fast. At the marked crossing, I’m sure I would have gotten swept away. There’s an old bridge but Parks Canada has removed it, leaving it at the side of the river. I carefully made my way downstream of the old bridge, making each step very intentionally. Bit by bit, I made it across, safe & sound.

Crossing the Maligne River… not particularly easy

The rest of the day went uneventfully. A hoard of mosquitoes found me and were so intent on drawing blood that only a hard rain shower forced them away. What a relief that rain was. I made it to Maligne Lake ready for a break but excited for my next section, the famous Skyline Trail!

3 thoughts on “GDT – Christmas in July

  1. 12 July, Hi Justin, Hope you will have good weather for the Skyline Trail towards Jasper. Having done this trail years ago is one of the most scenic parts of the GDT with view of Mt. Edith Cavell. Enjoy it .

    Michael

    1. Thanks Michael. It’s quite a rainy summer so far but I think the weather is getting better. You’re right, the Skyline Trail has fantastic views and it’s certainly a highlight of the GDT.

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