An Origin Story

By Christine Smith

My love of the Great Divide Trail happened by chance. It was the winter of 2010 and Rich, my partner in all things great, bought me a book for Christmas. It was Emerson Sanford and Janice Sanford Beck’s Life of the Trail 1 Historic Hikes In Eastern Banff National Park. It was a habit we had that when we went to bed Rich would read to me.  I would lay there feeling the stresses of the day melting away, imagining what it would be like to hike the trails mentioned in the books, the vistas I would see, the mountains towering over me, the glaciers, the trees and wild flowers.

I would witness the birth of rivers at their headwaters as if I was the first one to discover them. Not to mention the wildlife! Perhaps encounters with the rarely seen caribou or mighty grizzly? I could almost feel the sun on my face, smell the fresh air and experience the complete silence enveloping me. Imagine, no city noise, no people, no day-to-day job stresses. I wondered what it would feel like to be truly free. What would it be like to have no  commitments, no responsibility to anyone but myself? What would it be like to walk the face of this earth like the early explorers to this area of the Canadian Rockies?

Once we finished the book, these dreams might have gently faded, but it just so happened that in the back of this book were other suggested readings, one of which was Dustin Lynx’s Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail. The words jumped out at me from the page, “Trekking the Continental divide from the US border to Kakwa Lake is a demanding adventure”. I hastily purchased the book at MEC and looked forward to a good read. The book it turned out was a trail guide consisting of detailed maps, trail descriptions, mileages, campground locations. “Hey!” I thought, “It looks like it is all laid out here for us”. It looked like the beginning of a plan.

Once we read the trail guide the conversation went something like this:
Me: That trail looks amazing.
Rich: Yes, It does.
Me: I would like to do that trail.
Rich: Me too.
Me: We would have to quit our jobs.
Rich: Yes, we would.
Me: Want to?
Rich: Sure.

It was the beginning of a great adventure culminating in our first attempted thru hike on Canada’s Great Divide Trail in 2012 and our second in 2015. Looking back now, I realize I had formulated a very romantic idea in my mind of what hiking this trail would be like. In reality, I can’t remember once singing “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” while twirling around on any of the mountain passes. However, for the most part all my expectations were met. I did see all the beauty of nature from the hanging glaciers on the Rockwall trail to the beautiful blue waters of Michelle Lakes. We pitched our tent in the midst of a field of wildflowers awaking to their bobbing heads. We stood on the highest pass of the Great Divide Trail in total silence where I gazed above the mountain tops, the valleys, and trees and I felt at that moment completely happy I was there; just being and existing in that moment. I even got to have that close up experience with a few grizzly bears as well. Perhaps too close.

Rich and I continue to plan new adventures. There are always new areas to explore and new challenges to meet on the GDT. All I know is when the Rockies are in view they call to me, “Come home!”

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