By Jocelyn Wood
An eight minute helicopter ride above snow covered valleys and meadows, past sheer Rocky Mountain faces and a sharp left over Assiniboine Pass across the Great Divide into British Columbia and there I am stumbling out of a helicopter and post-holing my way to the cooking shelter. Little did I realize that my brief, but beautiful preview of Bryant Creek would be extended into an eight hour adventure. That was a year away.
What a wonderful way to bring in the New Year with three days of exploring Mt. Assiniboine Provincial Park pristinely blanketed in a foot of snowy powder from the base camp of the cozy Naiset Huts. Mt. Assiniboine, the Matterhorn of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, greets us every morning as we set out in our snowshoes. In the shade, every part of me is so frozen I can barely feel the -30°C, so we seek out patches of sun peaking between the sister peaks of Mt. Assiniboine.
On New Year’s Eve we decide to tackle the Nublet for a better vantage point of the lakes and meadows lapping at the toes of the continental divide. We switchback up in our snowshoes on top of ptarmigan tracks and enjoy frozen chicken wraps at the chilly sub-summit of Nub Peak (even our water bottles were almost frozen solid!). The way down on crazy carpets is much faster and we ruffle the feathers of snow chickens as we woo hoo our way down. Who needs skis? Cheese fondue and good conversation with new friends carries us to midnight when we all leave the warmth of the cooking hut to howl at the moon. Good-bye 2015!
The New Year begins with contemplation of 2016 resolutions under the guidance of Mt. Assiniboine and a snowshoe pursuit of Wonder Pass. The short day and trail breaking results in Wonder Pass just out of reach, but we make time to create a crazy carpet luge named “Wonderful Pass.” We savour the warmth of the cooking shelter, big dinner and good company on our final night because we know that the next day on the Great Divide Trail we will be more than playing in the snow with the 28 kilometres back to our car.
When we leave, it is still dark and my burnt out headlamp is not the deterrent you would assume it to be as the moonlight on the winter wonderland lights my way. As we connect with the Great Divide Trail at Assiniboine Pass, dawn is tickling Mt. Assiniboine’s ribs. We cross the divide back into Alberta and into Banff National Park. From there it is a power snowshoe through shady forests to patches of sun in frozen meadows. My ears are overtaken with the crunch of every step. The silence is deafening when I stop to take in the magical surroundings.
The Great Divide Trail is quiet with only a handful of skiers which contrasts from its high summer traffic, a winter perk. The sun dips behind the Rockies just after lunch and we never feel it on our faces again as we push on past Bryant Creek Cabin, Big Springs and Mt. Shark off the Great Divide Trail and onto wide, crunchy groomed ski trails. As we leave the backcountry behind, we meet Canmore’s Nordic community all out enjoying the first ski of 2016.
What took eight minutes by helicopter takes eight hours on foot. The power of my own two feet is maxed out and my face is numb, but I feel alive and like I have started 2016 trying to be a better me doing the things I love. The winter Great Divide Trail still boasts wilderness majesty under all the powder. I feel as if I am part of the privileged few to share in the secret rewards of adventuring on the frozen Great Divide Trail.