Great Divide Trail Section A - Days 1 - 3

December 06, 2021  •  Leave a Comment


Looking Back at Lineham Lakes before descending to the valley.Looking Back at Lineham Lakes before descending to the valley.

Day 0 – June 30/21 Road Trip

It’s a sunny and warm day and Mark & I are all loaded up to head down the Parkway to Waterton to start our Journey!  We have said our good byes and I’ve hugged and kissed my cats a hundred times. Our wonderful friend Kirstie has volunteered to transport us down to the border and will be hiking with us the first couple of days.  We are super excited but have a fairly long road ahead of us.  We both took a personal day for the last day of school so that we could take the whole day for the travel down.  Its 800km from Japer to Waterton, and we will be staying at a cabin just outside the park, which was provided to us by another friend, Andrew– I sent him some of my photographs to use in his wonderful hiking books last year and he contacted me when he heard we were going to hike the GDT and offered the use of his cabin for our first couple of days.  Thank you, Andrew!

After grabbing some road trip snacks, we head south – which will be the only time we’re heading that direction for another 6 weeks until we arrive in Jasper and then flip-flop1 up to Kakwa Lake to hike south back home to Jasper. There are some huge thunderclouds rising from behind the peaks as we drive down, a testament to the heat wave that has been occurring this past week.  We are lucky to be starting on the tail end of it and will only have a couple days of the 30-40C heat (today’s high hit 37C).

We make good time down the parkway and chat the entire time about school (we know Kirstie and her husband Chris and their daughter Hayley from teaching together in Whitecourt, AB), common friends, and of course the big hike, specifically the resupplies.  I have organized all our resupply boxes and Kirstie, Chris, and/or Hayley will be bringing them to us as we make our way North. Mark and I are beyond grateful to have such amazing friends who will do this for us – there is a LOT of planning that goes into planning a thru-hike of 1200km, and knowing that our resupplies are taken care of is an immense relief. The first drop will be in Coleman, AB (our first zero day2), then Baril Creek (they will hike in 9km with our fresh supplies), then Kananaskis Lake (second zero day), then Healy Creek (they will hike in 6km again), then Field, BC (3rd zero Day), then Saskatchewan Crossing (a nearo day), then Pobokton Creek (Hayley will hike in our supplies), which brings us back home to Jasper AB. We have arranged for a supply drop in the wildlands of the Willmore Wilderness via an outfitter we call Kakwa Dan – for a sizeable but completely worthwhile fee, he will hike our week resupply up to Blueberry Lake and stash it in a bear hang for us to find.  It will mean we only have to hike with one weeks-worth of food at a time, as opposed to hauling the entire two weeks-worth.

The sun is low in the sky as we pull into the very scenic driveway of the cabin. The peaks of Waterton and beyond to Glacier are on the horizon.  After unloading our stuff, we crack a cold beer and sit on the porch and use the binoculars to spot mountains that we know and/or have climbed in the two parks. We also trace the skyline north and envision the unknown trail that awaits us past Waterton.  Most of the trails in Waterton/Glacier National Parks are very familiar to us as we have spent extensive periods of time exploring the area.  On day 3, when we get to Lineham Pass and drop down to the valley, we will be on brand new terrain all the way to Coleman, and then further north yet till we reach the junction of trail that leads to Marvel Lake. After that the trail will all be familiar all the way north until we take a left to GoodSir Pass off of the Rockwall.  We are excited to revisit the what we’ve hiked in the past and also stoked to see the new terrain.

As the sun set around 10pm, we settled into our bed and tried to get some sleep before we start the biggest adventure on which we’ve ever been.

[1] On a thru-hike, a flip-flop is a change in the original direction you were travelling.  Occurs due to weather and other reasons such as remote access to trailheads.

[2] A zero day is a day were no distance is hiked, similar to a nearo day, when not much distance is hiked.

The southern peaks of Glacier National Park, MTThe southern peaks of Glacier National Park, MT Binocular viewing of Waterton at duskBinocular viewing of Waterton at dusk Mountain sunsetMountain sunset

Day 1: July 1/21 Waterton Lake

We’re up early at 6am so we can get a jump start on the heat of the day. The three of us make coffee and breakfast to go and head back onto the road into Waterton. Today’s journey starts at the Bertha Lake Trailhead, which undulates through the forest along the shore of Waterton Lake to the International Boundary. After the “first day of hiking picture” Kirstie, Mark , and I head onto the trail at just before 8am.  Its only 18C and the trees proved shade for the first bit, until we break out into the sunny hillside of Bertha Peak. The Kenow Fire of 2017 becomes evident as we hike, but the wildflowers and returning vegetation are a reminder of how important fire is to an ecosystem. In about 30min we get to the bench that overlooks the huge lake and take a short break before descending back down to the lakeshore amid beebalm, gaillardia, columbine, trillium, harebell, etc.  We also go through a rocky section with a cliffy overhang, and then through some more forest until we hit an avalanche chute and sit down for a snack. It is quite warm, so we continue along through the forest and come out to a real nice beach at ~4km ad another at ~5km. 

Morning hiking along the lakeMorning hiking along the lake The bench over looking Waterton LakesThe bench over looking Waterton Lakes Gaillardia and Queens CupGaillardia and Queens Cup
When we get to a shaded forest with a bridge that crosses Bertha Creek we take some time to filter water, wet our hats, and enjoy the shade. You’d think that a trail along a lake shore would be relatively devoid of elevation, but by the end we have ascended a total of 500m overall. That said, we took advantage of many of the scenic beaches along the way, and weren’t in too much of a hurry. By the time we got to the border monument it was 10:45am and it was HOT. We sat in the shade and then on the dock before settling on the shore with our feet in the very chilly water.  Lunch is enjoyed chatting to our new friend Sean, with whom we’ll spend the later half of section A hiking.  We swap stories (he lived in Jasper for a time) and discuss our respective itineraries – he is a speedier hiker and plans to finish in 45 days while we stretch our journey out to 60. After lunch we say our “see you laters” and head back on the pretty trail back to the townsite. We meet a few more thru-hikers along the way, and say our hellos.  As we get closer to the townsite it is now above 30C and we are thinking about sitting on the beach with a cool one, which we do….after we walk from the Bertha trailhead to the trailhead were we will start the next morning at Cameron Falls. Supper is Subway eaten on the hot but scenic benches overlooking Waterton Lakes at Maskinonge Beach, and then back to the cabin to post to IG/FB and prep for the next day. We have one more day of "slack packing" before we have to load up our big packs and start north to Coleman, and it's nice to enjoy the couch to sit on as I write in my journal and chat with Kirstie about the next day. 

Distance: 14km     Elevation: +520m

Border Monument  - composedBorder Monument - composed To the south lies the beginning of the Continental Divide Trail that runs all the way down to MexicoTo the south lies the beginning of the Continental Divide Trail that runs all the way down to Mexico The Official Start to the Great Divide Trail!The Official Start to the Great Divide Trail! The shade in the forest was most welcome on this hot day.The shade in the forest was most welcome on this hot day. Aspens and regrowthAspens and regrowth Kirstie enjoys cooling her feet at the end of the hike.Kirstie enjoys cooling her feet at the end of the hike.

Day 2: July 2/21 Carthew-Alderson

Up and at ’em early again, and a repeat of the previous mornings activity. Cameron Falls is somewhat busy and we chat with a man that is astounded at what we will be doing for the next 59 days. At 8am we say goodbye to Kirstie for the day; she will pick us up at the Rowe Lake TH (where we will start our Day 3) and we’ll head back to the cabin. The day is nice and cool as it is slightly overcast, although the sun is trying to break through and lovely sun beams are over the lake to the south. We hike up the valley with great views of Crandell Mountain down into the canyon. We cross a few streams and past many ferns and through the burned forest up the flank of Bertha Mountain. We make good time and arrive to Alderson Lake for an early lunch. The flies are ridiculous and the heat is making a comeback.  Alderson Campground is very pretty and we wish that we had stayed here – a completely reasonable itinerary would have been to go tag the border and then hike here to camp.  Maybe next time *wink.

Heading up the valley from Cameron FallsHeading up the valley from Cameron Falls Kenow Fire of 2017 burned extensively in WatertonKenow Fire of 2017 burned extensively in Waterton Fern gullyFern gully One of many trail streamsOne of many trail streams Trail stream long expo (used a downed log for balance)Trail stream long expo (used a downed log for balance) Alderson LakeAlderson Lake

As we leave camp, Sean rolls in from the Boundary Campground (like I said, he’s a speedy one), and we chat briefly. We exit the campground and continue heading up the valley towards a waterfall. The views open up and we look down onto Alderson Lake nestled beneath the towering Alderson Peak. Stopped at a switchback for a picture, something catches my eye – there is a wad of toilet paper stuff under a rock that is billowing in the breeze. I roll my eyes at the ignorance of some people.  If you need to go number two on the trail, the appropriate course of action is to go off trail 40m, dig a 6” deep cathole (always carry a trowel) and then bury the evidence.  We find some more rocks to cover up the mess and then carry on. 
The valley out of Alderson lake was full of waterfalls and mountain viewsThe valley out of Alderson lake was full of waterfalls and mountain views Alderson LakeAlderson Lake Heading up to Carthew LakesHeading up to Carthew Lakes

The views are now open all the way out to the prairie and we do a couple switchbacks to the left of the waterfall and pop out at the Lower Carthew Lake. Having hiked this trail before, we have seen the beautiful view, but it stuns us nonetheless and we stand for minutes in the wind, enjoying the scene. We decide that it's so pretty that we should sit by the lake and have another snack to prolong our time here. A few people pass as we enjoy our snack of salt & vinegar hickory sticks.  I take a couple of pictures to send to Kirstie & let her know we are slightly behind for pick up time. The signal is weak and the message finally goes through and we pack up to continue.  The trail wraps around the north shore of the lake and then crosses the outlet beneath a waterfall, where we gather some water. 
Lower Carthew LakeLower Carthew Lake The waterfall in between Carthew LakesThe waterfall in between Carthew Lakes

The trail crosses up some snow and then a few switchbacks over the waterfall coming from the upper lake. After a few minutes of steep up hill, we arrive at the Upper Carthew Lake and we appreciate the ice/snow shelf at the head.  We wrap around again and head up a bigger snow patch up to the "shelf" above the lake.  Fabulous views back and ahead through the proliferous alpine wildflowers. The views just keep getting better and better as we ascend the trail through the red rock.  After many stops for pics and to catch our breath, we make the final push to the high saddle over looking the lakes. To the east are the prairies and the blue gems of the Carthew Lakes, and to the west are the massive peaks of Glacier National Park, including Mount Chapman, with the jewel of Wurdeman Lake nestled at the base. 

The trail leading up to the passThe trail leading up to the pass Ice shelf at Upper Carthew LakeIce shelf at Upper Carthew Lake The alpine wildflowers were profusiveThe alpine wildflowers were profusive Out to the prairiesOut to the prairies
Carthew LakesCarthew Lakes Chapman Peak and Lake WurdemanChapman Peak and Lake Wurdeman

We take a nice sit down break and take more pictures and send a message again. This view is a favourite of ours since we have spent so much time in Glacier - we have even stood on top of Mt Chapman and looked south to where we are sitting now. Reminiscing about past adventures, we eat our snickers bars, drink water, and reapply sunscreen. Not wanting to get too behind, since Kirstie is picking us up at the trailhead, we end our break and head down the steep scree trail towards summit lake. The trees are burned from the 2017 fire, but the wildflowers are beautiful- we even spot some Bear Grass. Hiking down, we wrap around the bowl and have to negotiate the trail around some steep snow.  The fire must have burned hot here, because there is still barely any growth on the blackened ground. The trail starts to head directly through the trees to Summit Lake and leads us to a stone path that spits us out at the lake...right next to some more human feces. I'm not sure what allows a person to justify leaving such a deposit next to a trail, let a lone a water source, but I'd like to think there was some outstanding reason, and that it wasn't just ignorance or lack of common sense. But then you'd think they would do a better job of burying it, or in the very least, transport it to an area away from trail and water. So perhaps voluntary ignorance and a general lack of concern for their fellow hikers is a more likely cause. Sigh. 

Heading down from the passHeading down from the pass Wurdeman to your mother.Wurdeman to your mother. Resting the feet and enjoying the viewResting the feet and enjoying the view

After a quick break to appreciate the peaks lining Summit Lake we headed back on the trail and towards Cameron Lake.  We needed water, but did not want to filter from the compromised water source we had just left - of course we filter our water, but the knowledge of feces so close to the source was enough to make us wait. Hearing the stream before we saw it, we cut off the trail and over to the small but clear water.  Using our pump, we filled our water bottles and chugged some of the chilly liquid.  Back on trail we saw that if we had just stayed on trail 20 more metres, we would cross the stream on a bridge. 

Chapman Peak from the shore of Summit LakeChapman Peak from the shore of Summit Lake The burned forest on the way down to Cameron Lake was quite prettyThe burned forest on the way down to Cameron Lake was quite pretty Down to a very busy Cameron Lake.Down to a very busy Cameron Lake.

Continuing along through the burned forest, the views across the valley opened up and we spotted Cameron Lake, glistening in the sunshine.  Rowe Peak, Akamina Pass, and Forum Peak form the west side of the valley and we appreciated the views before diving down into the forest. Once again, we've been on all three of those peaks/passes, so we recalled past adventures as we hiked through the forest.  We broke back into old growth forest as we neared the lake, and started to hear how busy Cameron Lake was.  Wrapping around the outlet, we were now dodging dayhikers and lake enthusiasts. A short break on the benches was all we could stand; we were still in a pandemic of course, and that was the most people that we had been around all day. We hit the pit toilets in the parking lot before starting the very hot and tiring road walk to Rowe Trailhead down the parkway. We hiked the shoulder facing traffic and had to step into the ditch several times as vehicles passed by. It's unfortunate that there isn't a trail along the roadway, as it is a very scenic stretch, but not ideal to walk on the pavement. Passing Bear In Area signs, we called out around corners to let any potential wildlife know of our approach. As we neared the parking lot at 5:30pm, we saw Kirstie and waved excitedly at her. The road walk was a kilometer more than it should have been according to the maps, so we were very happy to get into an air conditioned vehicle and crack a beer.  We traded stories about our day as we drove back into town to grab supper and head back to the cabin to relax and chat. There was a particularly beautiful sunset to the SW, and I grabbed some pretty shots of the peaks of Glacier reflected in the pond out front of the cabin. I posted as much as I could on my socials, knowing that soon I wouldn't be able to share our adventures until we were back in service on day 7 in Coleman. We packed and repacked our big backpacks in preparation for our next section of trail, and then headed to bed as the sun set behind the mountains. 

Distance: 25km     Elevation: up 1200m down 800m
Carthew "summit' panoCarthew "summit' pano Sunset at the cabin was a delightSunset at the cabin was a delight Chief Mountain - I've been up there!Chief Mountain - I've been up there!

Day 3: July 3/21 Tamarack Trail to Twin Lakes Camp

I didn’t sleep well last night due to thinking about what the GDT had in store for us now that we were officially donning the big packs and starting off north. Slackpacking the first two days was a really nice way to break us into all the walking, but we were both excited to actually head off into the wilderness now.  We cleared our belongings from the cabin and packed into the truck for the drive to Waterton. Saying good bye to Kirstie at the Rowe Trailhead (where we left off yesterday), we headed up the trail. It would be another 5 days until we would see her (and Chris) again when we arrived in Coleman.

The Kenow Fire had not spared this lower section of forest, so we had fairly decent views of the valley leading to Cameron lake as we rose up the hillside. Eventually we hit forest that had escaped the burn, and we were grateful for the shade.  We ran into a pair of friendly hikers and chatted with them a bit on the trail and then again when we got to the beautiful Rowe Meadows. They hadn’t brought a water filter, thinking they’d just go on a little hike, but now that they were on the trail they wanted to push to the scenic Rowe Lakes. We filtered some water for them so that they could continue their hike – we’ve had some really kind people help us on the trails throughout our hiking career, so I’m always grateful for a chance to return the favor to fellow hikers.

Entering Rowe MeadowsEntering Rowe Meadows Rowe Meadow selfieRowe Meadow selfie Heading up out of the meadowHeading up out of the meadow Ascending the Tamarack TrailAscending the Tamarack Trail

As we snacked and filtered our own water, we eyed up the steep ascent as it wrapped around the bowl of Rowe Mountain up to Linehan Ridge. We had hiked this area a few times, but not with backpacks carrying 5-days’ worth of gear.  Deciding that we would take lunch at the Lineham Lakes overlook, we decided we better get going and get the climb done before it got much hotter. Up we went through the forest and the breaking out of the treeline we hiked past an increasing number of wildflowers. Glacier lilies, then skunkweed (which is much prettier than it sounds) and other alpine flowers. Passing by a large swath of snow, Mark grabbed some to stuff into the pocket of his hat due to the heat. We were on the tail end of the heat weave, but it was still plenty warm, especially considering the degree of our ascent.

Above treelineAbove treeline Glacier LilliesGlacier Lillies Looking backLooking back Heading towards Lineham Overlook (Lineham Peak on right)Heading towards Lineham Overlook (Lineham Peak on right)

The red rocks of Waterton makes for a beautiful hike on their own, but then all the wildflowers paired with the stunning view out the valley makes Lineham Ridge a spectacular hike.  Make sure to stop at the Lineham Lakes overlook on your next trip – at the end of the long switchback, before turning right, you should see a faint trail that heads towards Lineham Peak. Take it, and enjoy a clifftop view of the jewels of the high valley glistening in the sun, and the impressive peaks of the horseshoe that makes up the cirque. Directly across is Mount Blakiston, then following left to the red tip of Hawkins Peak, around the ridge to where you are and then following up the right to Lineham Peak. We chatted with some people up here as we ate our lunch – they seemed confused as to what hike they were doing, and it seemed as though maybe the had bitten off more than they could chew.  From their description of the All Trails report, they were planning on doing Lineham Peak, which has a scrambly bit down into the avalanche debris, but they were under the impression that it was just a hike. We gave them the details of what to expect and then carried on our way up to the second highest point on the GDT. First we had to take the long switchback out of the bowl, and climb up the steep block of rock leading to the high point.  I was sweating plenty, but the elevated views were stunning.  We followed the orange markers along the ridge and enjoyed the wide open vistas as we walked in the wind for which Waterton is known.

Lineham Overlook is slightly scenicLineham Overlook is slightly scenic Lineham Lakes & Blakiston PeakLineham Lakes & Blakiston Peak The ridgewalk leading to Lineham PkThe ridgewalk leading to Lineham Pk

Heading back onto the Tamarack TrailHeading back onto the Tamarack Trail High point on Lineham Ridge (L)High point on Lineham Ridge (L) Second highest point on the GDTSecond highest point on the GDT

Alpine CinquefoilAlpine Cinquefoil Taking a moment on the high pointTaking a moment on the high point Skunkweed looks prettier than it smellsSkunkweed looks prettier than it smells Looking down to the valley we'll be soon walking alingLooking down to the valley we'll be soon walking aling

We enjoyed the views along the broad ridge, every now and then making a detour so we could peek over the edge. Approaching the far end of the ridgewalk, before the orange markers led down towards the valley bottom, we sat and had a snack overlooking Lineham Lakes, with Lineham Peak at the end of the hanging valley. The trail traced steeply down from the ridge and wrapped around the northern wall of Rowe Mountain, sending us deep down into another burned Waterton Valley. Deciding that instead of the Tamarack Trail this should be called the Waterton Rockwall, we appreciated the cliffs that surrounded the head of the valley and continued hiking to the east of the precipitous divide. 

Looking Back at Lineham Lakes before descending to the valley.Looking Back at Lineham Lakes before descending to the valley. Time to descend off of Lineham RidgeTime to descend off of Lineham Ridge

The forest was once again burned, the soil was dark, and the flowers abundant.  We spotted bear grass right before pulling over at a little pond from which to filter water. It was hot. The trail undulated along the spine of the rock wall and we hiked a little less enthusiastically, due to the heat and sun beating down. Sunscreen was applied often, but the silty dirt from the trail made a fine mess of it on our skin. Sean caught up to us at a stream crossing where we were rinsing off our arms and legs and dipping our hats into the freezing cold water to cool down. We chatted briefly, and then headed off on the trail together, chatting where the trail allowed. A steep section led through the forest and up to the crest above Lone Lake, where a sizeable snow drift had survived the early summer heat. Wrapping around to the right of the drift allowed somewhat easy travel through the snow and trees back to the bare trail. Sean took off, eager to get to camp. Down we went, with views of the lake at the head of the cirque. The trees had been saved here, except for the area that had obviously been terminated in an avalanche event. We crossed the outlet of the lake by carefully walking over few well-placed logs, and then hiked up to say "see you later" to Sean as he set up his tent. A quick look around at the unique food prep, and we were back on our way beside the spine of the Rockies, through meadows, past tarns (one fouls smelling one), and up and over a couple more ridges.  We stopped, tired, for a snack break as the sun dipped behind the rockwall, and the mosquitos took advantage of our stationary position.  Continuing on, we called Hey Bear more frequently in the dusk-like light, and made one more ascent up to a sunny ridgecrest. One last down! We wrapped around yet another cirque and spotted Twin Lakes twinkling in the evening light. Marmots called from their rocky perches as we hiked by, and we arrived at the meadow leading to the campsite at around 8pm.  We split up duties, with Mark getting water filtered and supper ready, and me going to chose a site and set up camp.  I hiked by a tent with the fly off - the people inside were either not as tired or dirty as we were, and/or just not concerned with privacy. I quickly set up our tent at the back of the campground and arrived back at food prep as Mark was setting our freeze-dried meals aside to rehydrate.  Down a few meters to was a nice place to wash up in the lake (meaning rinsing the layers of dirt off my legs and face, but never with soap), and appreciate the peaceful scene. We ate our hot meals and talked about our favourite parts of the hike so far. Pooped by the days adventure, we resigned to bed shortly after, and a buck deer walked through our site as we tucked into the tent at just after 9:30pm.

The Waterton Rockwall extends from Rowe Mountain to Sage PassThe Waterton Rockwall extends from Rowe Mountain to Sage Pass Almost back to treelineAlmost back to treeline Kenow fire helped with the viewsKenow fire helped with the views Grabbed water at this pondGrabbed water at this pond Many meadows along the routeMany meadows along the route Lower Twin LakeLower Twin Lake

Distance: 25km     Elevation: up 1500m down 1200m




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