GDT- Stage 2- Banff to Jasper

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Bruin at dusk in Banff National Park

Distance:  297 miles (477.9 km)

Time:  9 days  (8/26/11 – 9/3/11)

Daily Average:  33 miles (53.1 km)

Total Distance:  606.1 miles (975.2 km)

Highlights:

  • Banff, Kootenay and Jasper National Parks were uniformly incredible. Specific areas which come to mind are Whistling Pass, the Rockwall trail and Jonas Shoulder. There were many other equally stunning locales, but when you are hiking in driving rain/snow and it’s colder than a witch’s titty during a Siberian winter, you do not always appreciate the aesthetics as much you should.
  • Climbing up and over Cataract Pass in whiteout conditions provided some of the toughest, but most satisfying hiking of the GDT. Similar weather was encountered going over The Notch, but as that section is part of the well-trodden Skyline Trail, navigation was not so much of an issue.

Lowlights:

  • The stretch between Field and Saskatchewan Crossing was ordinary by GDT standards. Although navigationally simple, most of this section is along valley floors offering little in the way of views. The hiking consisted of neglected trails, little used fire/gravel roads and  a couple of easier-than-expected river fords. The abundant wildlife mentioned by the GDT guidebook author was nowhere to be seen and my last camera battery died not long after leaving Field (I recharged at The Crossing). It wasn’t that the Field-Crossing section was terrible; it’s just that with the exception of the ATV roads into Coleman, it paled in comparison to the rest of the GDT.

Notes & Musings:

  • The Cub:  On the wildlife front, I had two relatively close encounters of the Bruin kind during this section. Whilst crossing HWY 93 near the Hawk Creek trailhead, I spotted a largish grizz rooting around in the bushes, not more than 30 metres or so from the road (see photos). Some days later on Cataract Creek I faced a potentially trickier situation. As the storm clouds rolled in, I stopped to put on my poncho, taking partial refuge under some tree branches.  I heard some rustling on the other side of the trunk. Poking my head around, I was none to pleased to see a bear cub. Hoping the momma bear was not about to tap me on the shoulder and extend an unwanted dinner invitation, I shuffled slowly back into the rain, simultaneously assuring the baby bruin and it’s still unseen but undoubtably close-by mother, that I meant them no harm and I was just a tired, cold and wet antipodean wandering the Canadian Rockies. Thankfully that was the extent of the encounter, and other than the fact that I got completely drenched during the ensuing 5 minutes, I was left to continue on my way no worse for wear.
  • Leaving The Crossing:  On the advice of a Park Ranger who had been hiking in the area for a few decades, I gave the blowdown-ridden Owen Creek section a miss, in exchange for a more direct cross country route. From the Resort, I ascended steeply NNW, skirting the Wilson Icefield before linking back up with the GDT. The initial ascent was difficult in parts and the weather was atrocious, but I imagine in finer conditions the views would have been spectacular.

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