by Joey Gompels
During lockdown in the UK, everyone became obsessed with something. From hoarding toilet paper to home fitness, anything to stay sane. My obsession of choice was the Great Divide Trail. A wild thru-hike over 1100 km from Waterton at the US border to Kakwa Lake, tracing the divide between British Columbia and Alberta. The fault line of the Rockies. It looked wilder and less well known than other long-distance trails and that was part of its appeal to me. I have a note on my phone from the 30th of December 2020 with a link to the Great Divide Trail Association and their wealth of resources on the trail, including detailed itineraries and first-hand accounts. My plan was, and still is, to hike the entire trail.
Fast forward to 2022, I saw a window of opportunity to volunteer, and trail build with the GDTA and fulfill a dream of mine to see the GDT for myself and walk at least some of it. The trip surpassed my cabin fever driven expectations and has renewed my desire to see more than the High Rock Trail section I worked on.
I flew from London to Calgary airport in early July and went via Jasper to see a friend and then onto Crowsnest Pass to begin trail building.
Doug and Kate welcomed us all with open arms. The first day of trail building presented a few language barriers. Tools such as a “rogue hoe” or a “‘mattock” were unfamiliar to me, don’t even get me started on the Pulaski. Doug’s practical demonstration fortunately bridged the gap. Every day began with a hike to our work spot and finished with a hike home. Sometimes we’d sneak a swim at Window Mountain Lake, if we still had fuel in the tank after a day of unearthing and then smoothing large volumes of dirt.
There was no greater feeling of satisfaction than completing even 5 metres of trail. To see it transformed from rough shrub to a red carpet for horse and hiker alike. I took pride in nailing this sign and GDT crest at the right height.
We ate together each night, thanks to the excellent camp cook – Hailey. We would return from a swim in the Lake to bottomless bowls of Mac and cheese or chilli. This luxury isn’t part of every trip, but we were lucky enough to get the full glamping experience.
I am grateful to the GDTA and everyone on the trip for such a warm welcome to Canada. It’s a truly community-centred organisation with advocacy for the maintenance and promotion of the GDT at its heart. I am hoping to come back next year and hike the entire trail, and to reunite with old friends again at resupply points. I am also in the process of making a film on the history of the GDTA and would love to speak to anyone who has been involved. Please get in touch via email firstname.lastname@example.org.