By Barb Lauer
Lynnie and I once again hit the trail this summer, tackling Section C – SOBO, Field to Kananaskis. After hiking Section E (Owen Creek to Jasper) last summer, we were ready for something a bit longer and wanted to hike the best of the Canadian Rockies!
Probably the hardest part about hiking Section C is …. the planning. The route goes through some of the busiest provincial and national parks in Canada and securing a campsite can be tricky. I booked us into the national parks when bookings opened in January but couldn’t book Assiniboine until 4 months before our date. This meant that we had to re-gig things a bit later; in the end it all worked out.
My favourite section of the trail was through the meadows from the Bryant Creek turn off to Palliser Pass, over Palliser Pass and then down to Leroy Creek. We saw no one on this section of trail except for 10 toads, not including the one I stepped on… Be careful in this section – you look around because it’s green and beautiful and pretty flat as you go through the meadow and before you know it, SQUISH. I didn’t even realize I’d stepped on a toad until I looked back and saw Lynnie closely examining something on the trail. Apparently it looked like something from biology class. Walk carefully here!
Of course the scenery was spectacular along the Rockwall … really, really amazing but with heavy packs and the relentless up, up, up and down, down, down it was hard work! The walk from Healy Pass to Assiniboine and onto Marvel Lake was also spectacular! But our timing was a bit off and we went through there on a weekend with half of Calgary (okay, maybe not quite that many people).
This year we had to contend with a bit of rain and snow, which was a change from the smoke we had last year. It stopped raining at Floe Lake just before we woke up (so lucky!)….and then didn’t start again until we were on our way up Ball Pass. The ground was wet though and the first person through was taking a lot of the water from the plants onto their pant legs… not a nice feeling. And then it started to rain, slowly at first, lulling us into a false sense of security before it started to really come down. At this point we took cover for a bit.. probably the best thing we did. We were a bit bored with putting our rain gear on and off with a number of false starts but have to say that this is all good practice and when it really starts to rain, do not delay – layer up. If your partner looks like they are developing hypothermia (me), help them layer up but then don’t forget about yourself (Lynnie). It stopped raining just before we came over Ball Pass. The orange rock there is spectacular, and we soon forgot about the rain (except for the mud pit waiting for us at Ball Pass campsite).
We had frost on our tent at Ball Pass but it didn’t snow there like it did everywhere else in the area! The walk over Whispering Pass was wonderful. There was snow everywhere. And later that day we walked through Healy Pass and as we were walking through, plants were slowly popping up through the snow, pushing off the snow as it started to melt. It was like a very quiet symphony … a squish here, a plop there. Beautiful!
When we got to Assiniboine, we spend a few hours sitting around and taking in the views. We tried to buy a mid-morning coffee from Assiniboine Lodge but sadly it’s not possible. However, they do host an afternoon tea for campers from 4:00 that people raved about… sorry no information on price but it sounded great if you’re in the area. Later that day we hiked over Wonder Pass and onto Marvel Lake – the views are wonderful here, as you would expect!
The hike down from Palliser Pass to Leroy Creek is pretty straight forward, we were expecting more bushwhacking. It was a bit overgrown but completely manageable. The confluence at the bottom of Palliser Pass can be discombobulating, there is a lot of fast flowing, scary water. As long as you know that the Palliser River is actually a creek and the Leroy Creek is a very fast flowing, scary river at that point and that you do not cross Leroy Creek here, you will be fine. You cross Leroy Creek at the trail heading up to North Kananaskis Pass and onto Turbine Canyon or at the trail heading up to South Kananaskis Pass via Beatty Lake, depending on your route. [NB: maybe the Palliser River is bigger earlier in the summer? We hiked the third week of August].
We saw two bears, a black bear at the North Interlaken parking lot and a grizzly at the roadside as we were driving home. So on the trail, other than the toads, we saw very little wildlife….. probably because we were shouting HELLOOOO! And WHOOOO HOOOOO! at every turn. I did manage to scare a young fellow with one of my shouts. He had his bear spray out and was ready to use! Nice to see young people so prepared!
Overall, I’d highly recommend this section… navigation is very easy – you can rely almost exclusively on paper maps and trail signs; you can do it entirely in campsites if you miss out the random camping at Palliser Pass (saving the need for a bear hang), and the scenery is the best of the Canadian Rockies. However, once you get used to the adrenaline rush of working out “now where?”, it can be hard to go back to well-marked trails. I’m looking forward to going into the more remote, wilder side of the Great Divide Trail again next year.
- We took 8 nights, 9 days to hike Section C. A Here was our plan: McCarthur Creek, Tumbling Creek, Floe Lake, Ball Pass, Healy Creek, Og Lake, Lake Marvel, Palliser Pass and out. Favourite campsites: Floe Lake and Og Lake.
- If you have an inReach and I would recommend it – do make sure you know how to use it. We had some fun arranging a ride from North Interlaken Lake parking lot because I had a brain fart and couldn’t remember how to send a text. Thank you to the family who drove me to the Fortress gas station and the lovely lady and her daughter who drove me back to the North Interlaken Lake parking lot. And thank you Stephen for coming to get us at such short notice.
- Weirdly, it always seems that the trail is harder in the opposite direction to the one you’re going. We had a number of people say to us that they were very happy to be going in the other direction and as we walked up the steep trail to North Kananaskis Pass, we thought the same…. “Boy are we glad that we’re not going in the opposite direct!”
- It’s going to rain, not something to fear but do be happy with your rain gear (I had a poncho and loved it; Lynnie really liked her rain pants and jacket)
If you hiked a section or an even smaller part of the Great Divide Trail, please consider sharing your story with us. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org