The Great Divide Trail (GDT) is widely known as North America’s toughest and wildest thru-hike #wildestthruhike. I remained cynical of these claims as I spent months planning and prepping for the adventure.
How bad can it be?
I have 40 years of backpacking experience, thousands of kilometres on my hikers. Covering every Canadian Province and Territory, and most of the American states. How WILD could the GDT be?
After 5 weeks on the trail, I was profoundly humbled. Frankly, the GDT kicked my ass!
It’s difficult to explain why or how, and my images and video just don’t give this claim justice, yet the GDT quietly and with stealth procession beat away at my feet, legs, gear, self-esteem, and spirit. Yet strangely, I had one of the best and most fulfilling experiences of my life.
The Great Divide Trail Details
The GDT is a wilderness hiking trail in the Canadian Rockies. The route closely follows the continental divide between the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia, crossing the divide no fewer than 30 times. It begins in Waterton Lakes National Park at the Canada-US border (Alberta-Montana) and ends 1,123 kilometres to the North in Kakwa Provincial Park. It is one of the most spectacular and challenging long‐distance trails on the planet. The Southern Terminus is also the Northern Terminus of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT)
On average, fewer than 30 people per year attempt to thru‐hike the entire trail, but this number is increasing every year.
The GDT passes through five National Parks, eight Provincial Parks, three wildland Provincial Parks, two wilderness areas, and two special management areas. It varies from being a well-developed blazed trail to an unmarked, wilderness route where navigation skills are required.
It is very remote and cell phone reception is essentially non-existent.
The GDT is rewarding but not without its challenges: hiking conditions are often strenuous and potentially hazardous, difficult mountain navigation, glacial stream crossings, a deceptively short hiking season, harsh weather including potential summer snowstorms, curious grizzly bears, hungry mosquitoes, and very few trail exit points for resupply or emergency access.
It may sound daunting, but on the GDT you’ll discover a definitive wilderness experience in one of the most magnificent settings on Earth: diverse vegetation, towering snow-capped peaks, iridescent glacial waters, abundant wildlife, and panoramic vistas at every turn!
Our team was Chris “Crusher” Abbott, Tracy “Mango” Généreux, and myself. All experienced backpackers from eastern Canada. A team of 3 made it easier for transportation to and from trailheads and sharing the overwhelming logistical challenges of the GDT thru-hike.
The trail passes through so many different types of public lands, and each one has different rules and regulations. Navigating and acquiring registrations and park passes was our first challenge. This required camping permits for most of the national parks and many of the provincial parks.
To make the matter more difficult, many of the camp locations were in high demand and had limited availability. So when attempting to create an itinerary that synced with our expected hiking pace and campsite availability, it was crazy difficult.
Eventually, our trail itinerary was complete and reservations secured, we still needed to sort our mail drops for resupply. This proved to be more challenging than expected. In most cases, we were able to secure a room at a B&B or hotel every 8 days or so, and they all accepted our resupply boxes. This meant we would only need to carry 7 days of food between resupplies, but there was a new glitch for 2021. Peter Lougheed Provincial Park, one of the past mail drop locations, was no longer accepting GDT thru-hiker resupply boxes. This would mean carrying 14 days of food between drops. Was that even possible?
We were stumped.
Then we discovered “Trail Angel” Nicole Sharpe on a FaceBook page for GDT hikers. She volunteered to receive our resupply boxes and deliver them to Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. This saved us, and frankly, it saved our GDT ambitions. Without Nicole’s generosity, our complete GDT was in doubt. We later learned that she received and delivered many other boxes to several other hikers, hence saving their adventures as well. Bravo Nicole ❤️.
Crusher, Dudley, and Mango started together and ended together, however, throughout the adventure we often had different paths and paces. Our GDT journey totaled around 900 km considering alternates and side trails from Waterton to Jasper.
Unfortunately, the GDT north of Jasper was unpassable and closed by BC Parks due to washouts caused by spring floods. Some brave and tenacious souls (Shira, Marylou, Richard & Noémie) were able to navigate around the closed areas, yet we chose to end our journey at Jasper, the northern end of Section E. Sections F, and G will have to wait for another day!
The GDT Diaries
Words alone can’t show the stunning beauty and personal challenges of the unforgiving wild terrain. Please check out the movie trailer. The 5 episode series “The Great Divide Trail Diaries” will be released soon on our YouTube Channel
Video – The GDT Diaries Trailer
The series will give a daily video log of the complete adventure of Crusher, Mango & Dudley, plus showcasing many of our new friends we found on the trail.
COMPLETE SERIES (as it becomes available) >> The Great Divide Trail Diaries
The Great Divide was absolutely one of the hardest and at times most dangerous adventures I have ever done, yet profoundly fulfilling, strangely enriching, completely rewarding, and breathtakingly beautiful. In good conscience, I can’t unconditionally recommend the hike for everyone, yet if you are experienced, tough, strong, and well-prepared… it could be for you!