Banff, from Birdwood to Allenby Junction

The hardest part of a great hiking trip is returning to reality after a period of serenity and adventure off the grid.  I’ve returned from my Canadian adventure on the Great Divide trail and have had a few days to catch up on life and heal my blistered feet.  Coming back to a full-time job the day you return will throw you into the real world so quickly you can forget that just days before you were in complete peace and serenity on top of a mountain. So I’m taking a quiet moment to reflect on my experience and de-brief.  I’m an obsessive photographer on my trips because I love to re-live my favorite spots and moments time and time again when I get home.

A relentless climb up Citadel pass
Banff, from Whistling Pass to Ball Pass

As I’ve shared before, this trip was not my average backpacking trip. I was lucky enough to get an extended (2 week) period off of work to take on this extreme adventure (which I had jammed packed to the brim). This trip was 11 days of hiking, and ten amazing nights under the stars. It included 3 Provincial parks, 3 National parks, two provinces, one raging snow storm, multiple mountain passes and a whopping 140 miles.

Climbing out of Sunshine meadows in an August snow storm.

I normally only take long weekends to go on hiking trips, and most of my hikes are leisurely paced and/or short in time.  Eleven straight days on the trail was a new experience for me, as was high-mile days. Although I have hiked in the Rockies before, this is drastically different terrain from what I am used to in the midwest.  Relentless mountain passes, freak snow storms, grizzly bear country; it’s safe to say this trip pushed my limits and tested my mental strength.

Before I left, I shared my expectations for my adventure on the Great Divide based on what I knew from reading, my previous experiences and my various jaunts to the Rockies while I lived in Alberta. So how does the trip stack up to my pre-trip expectations? Let’s review !

  • Lots of ups and downs and steep climbs.

    • Reality:  As much as some days didn’t feel like it, the trail had a nice mix of lovely meadow walks and steep, relentless mountain passes.  Sometimes it felt like the trail builders just said screw it to switchbacks and as a sick joke, made the trail go directly up the side of the mountain.  All in all, I decided that I now appreciated a short, steep section as opposed to a never-ending, gradual climb.

Decent from Whistling Pass, Banff
  • Lots of route finding: not all of the trail are marked.

    • Reality:  I was pleasantly surprised how well-worn the trail was. Navigation was not much of an issue, even if a section wasn’t signed or marked.  However, the trail was certainly overgrown in the less popular sections.

  • Rugged, exhausting terrain leading me to sore feet.

    • Reality: Sore feet? That’s an understatement. The constant ups and downs, rocky trail and repetitive high mileage days wreaked havoc on my feet.  But.. the pay off was worth it.

  • Grizzly bears and critters galore.

    • Reality: Disappointed… I think. I saw lots of scat and tracks but no grizzly sightings and minimal animal activity.

A furry friend visiting the trail near Birdwood
  • Amazing mountain views and vast landscapes of wildflowers and rugged terrain.

    • Reality: YES! My photos don’t do most of the terrain justice. My favorite park for ruggedness was Height of the Rockies. I think that whole park represented the essence of the rugged Canadian rocky mountains.

  • Unpredictable weather. Snow in August? It has happened to me before.

    • Reality: The weather in the mountains is crazy and unpredictable. I experienced a full-blown snow storm followed by several days of shorts weather…go figure.

  • My Goal: A most amazing adventure with a feeling of great accomplishment.

    • Reality: Definitely.  I’m proud to have pushed myself beyond my limits and comfort zone. My body and my feet realistically accept that going from smaller hikes to a more brutal hike (despite my best attempts at training) is hard. Worth it? Yes. I know I certainly enjoy a leisurely pace and time to kick off my feet.  But the trade-off for this ultimate experience was worth it.

Entering the rugged Height of the Rockies Provincial Park

This hike provided me with a sense of accomplishment, was a true Canadian rugged adventure and some of the most incredible scenery I’ve been able to experience so far.  Obviously hiking an entire section isn’t feasible for most, so I’ll do my best to break the hike down into smaller, more manageable sections for long weekend hikes in my upcoming blog posts.  Alberta and British Columbia have so much to offer, the possibilities are endless.  This section was but a small fraction of what is out there to explore.  I will be back Canada, there are more adventures to be had here.

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