Blueberry Lake to Kakwa Lake – 130km
July 27 – Back to Blueberry Lake
After a brief break in McBride and Valemount I hitched a ride back to Blueberry Lake. It started raining not long after I arrived but I found the best little tree grove to hide my tent from the cold wet wind.
It’s so quiet up here I thought I had the whole place to myself. Boy, was I wrong. A woman dressed in serious raingear appeared and asked if she could camp nearby. She turned out to be the leader of a group of 18 horse-back riders (and twice as many horses!) camped in the horse campground just below. They ran out of room for all their tents and horses. When she learned I was a GDT hiker, she told me about her horse trip from Mexico to Alaska. Now that’s a real adventure!!
July 28 – I Finally Meet Another GDT Hiker On Trail!
The next morning I set off in the gloomy rain, following a creek coated in a very strange sediment that made it look like it was flowing out of a cement plant.
I had a big decision to make: head up into the alpine for a long, demanding scramble or down to the notoriously overgrown Jackpine River that Tara nicknamed “Swamp of Sadness”. With a day of good weather in the forecast, that pretty much made up my mind.
As I headed upward into the alpine I thought I spotted a strange bright orange object in the distance. What could that be, out here in the middle of nowhere?
As I got closer, I realized it was a tent. What would someone be doing out here, on the edge of a boulder field, inside their tent at 1pm in the afternoon?? I called out “hello!” just to make sure it wasn’t someone in trouble. Out popped a very well-rested looking Colin from New Zealand. My first GDT hiker I’ve met on trail!
Turns out Colin had already been camped in that spot for two nights, going on three. He was waiting out the “terrible rain”. Colin asked if he could join me for the scramble and I happily accepted. It would be nice to walk with someone for a day or two after all this time solo.
I could tell we would get along great right from the start. We cordially debated about who’s trails are better (Colin was certain Canadian trails are in much worse condition), who’s bugs are more horrible (I insisted NZ sandflies take the prize) and, well, which direction we should be walking.
But we managed to agree on the big picture. A great walk through open alpine brought us to the headwaters of Spider Creek where Colin learned of my compulsion for sleeping under a big tree.
July 29 – Perseverance High Route
We got an early start up the Perseverance High Route. Along with Northover Ridge, this is probably one of the more serious options on the GDT. You definitely don’t want to be up there in high winds or a thunderstorm.
Further south, the Rockies are heavily glaciated. Up here, north of Jasper, it’s possible to stroll along the crest of the continental divide itself without running into technical terrain requiring climbing gear. Oh, the freedom to simply walk in such an amazing place!
We celebrated at the summit of Perseverance Mountain, our high point. Then the real treat began – even more peaks along a beautiful and sometimes rather sharp ridge.
There’s nothing too difficult about any of the walking or scrambling but there are a few bits that will get your attention. Here’s Colin working his way up a little notch onto peak #4.
I loved every minute of it. The wind picked up as we neared peak #7 and some threatening clouds began to build. “Good timing”, I thought, as a gust nearly blew me over. We descended down to a nice meadow where we set up camp, safely out of the wind.
July 30 – Down to the “Swamp of Sadness”
That night there was a huge thunderstorm. Lightening flashed all around and wind-driven rain pelted the tent. I love a good storm when I’m tucked into my cozy sleeping bag.
The next morning we walked the rest of the way down to the dreaded Jackpine River. Colin and I said our goodbyes, now both free to lose our own way through the overgrown and sometimes non-existent trail.
I actually enjoyed the challenge of trying to find the trail as it disappeared into meadows or through a burnt area of forest. The worst of Jackpine is already behind me, thanks to the fantastic high route.
The walking is a lot slower down here in the bush. Mosquitoes came out in force, taking advantage of my slow pace, and started to drive me crazy. I think I have some inkling of what Tara was talking about. I put my headnet on for the first time on the trip and felt an instant sense of relief. The world is good again!
July 31 – More Highs
Back up into the alpine! It was a rainy morning but I enjoyed the walk up Big Shale Hill, back above treeline. The views are just fantastic up here.
I scratched a note into the mud so all the GDT hikers to follow would know just how far they’ve walked. Over 1000km!
Aug 1 – Rain All Day
It started raining yesterday as I set up my tent and continued raining all night. Morning came and there weren’t any signs of it stopping.
All the rain combined with those 36 horses made for wet, muddy walking.
Even in the rain, feet soaked, walking through the brushy valleys, it’s beautiful here.
Aug 2 – Surprise Pass High Route
Another opportunity to go up into the alpine! Even though the rain didn’t let up much, I was excited for another chance to get up above treeline and just walk freely. I made my way from Surprise Pass, across the moraine, to this fascinating glacial lake. It has no outflow! Instead, its cloudy water slowly percolates through the rocks of the moraine, eventually seeping out as a beautifully clear waterfall.
I wandered across the moraine, gazing up at the massive cliffs that reminded me of the Rockwall Trail. The glacier here is quickly melting away, exposing thousands of years of history and countless layers of ice.
As I was enjoying my grand tour, I stumbled on this poor little tree, quivering in the cold wind.
I felt so sorry for him, all alone in this harsh world, that I built him a little wind break.
The weather took a turn for the worse. Thunder started to boom in the distance and a cold wind whipped up, blasting me with sheets of rain. I made quick time getting out of there.
Aug 3 – Kakwa Lake: The End
After yesterday’s excitement, I decided to have a relaxing morning. Fog blanketed the landscape outside my tent. I slept in, waiting for the cloud to lift.
Finally, visibility seemed to be getting a bit better, so I set off on my final foray into the alpine. I wandered freely, exploring wherever my heart desired, amazed at the views.
I found a nice lake for a quick swim, stalling really, not wanting to get to Kakwa Lake, the end of the trail, too quickly.
Eventually, it was time to go. Arriving at Kakwa Lake was bittersweet. What a beautiful place to finish a fantastic hike.
Best of all, there is a free, immaculate cabin to spend the night. Volunteers Dan and Donna made me feel like a returning hero, offering me tea and a fresh apple. Fresh fruit never tasted so good.
Later that evening, who did I see pop through the bushes but Colin! It was great to catch up after a few days apart.
Aug 4 – So Much More to Explore
Even though Kakwa Lake is the end of the trail, there’s still a long road-walk to actually reach the highway. That could be as much as 100km more! I decided to end on a high note and treat myself to a helicopter ride. Lucky for Colin, he arrived on time and decided to join me.
Flying out was fantastic.
Looking down on much of what we’d just walked brought back great memories.
I’ve covered a lot of distance in the last two months and seen a huge portion of the Canadian Rockies. Yet, seeing the massiveness of this range from the air made me realize that I’ve only scratched the surface. There’s so much more to explore.
Next Post: Looking back on the GDT
6 thoughts on “GDT – Grand Finale”
7 Aug. Thanks for the great photos Justin. What a great way to end the trip by taking a helicopter ride back to civilisation, well sort of I suppose. And also a surprise to meet Colin the Kiwi. I suppose you two must have enjoyed one another’s company exchanging the tramping you did on South Island.
WHen are you coming back to Calgary and see you again?
regards, Michael T.
Thanks Michael. It was a great hike and very nice to finish by taking a helicopter rather than walking as much as 100km more on gravel roads. It was nice to walk with Colin too. We shared many stories of hiking on the South Island. He even built a hut in New Zealand where I wanted to stay but it was full already when I arrived.
I think I will visit Calgary in the fall, most likely in October. It would be great to see you again.
Congrats on completing the trek. Great blogs. Yup, lots of unexplored territory yet to be traveled.