Wrapping up with Sections F and G of the Great Divide Trail (GDT). Check out the previous article on section E here. Knock on wood, the next time I’ll be talking about these sections, I’ll be sharing my experiences from the trail. As with all things this year, COVID is still a concern, and while many of the provincial parks will be opening June 1, but we’re still waiting on word from Parks Canada.
We’ll combine these two sections as they are often treated as one continuous part of the trail. It is here where the GDT really start to become remote. The route heads north from the more travelled sections of Jasper and deep into the hinterlands. Before attempting this section, ensure you’re comfortable with off trail navigation and being self-sufficient. It’s not uncommon to go several days without bumping into anyone.
Several sections of the trail vie for the moniker of “heart of the GDT”. Section B contains some of the first dedicated sections of trail (and it’s where a lot of current work is being done). Section C passes through some of the most spectacular scenery on the trail, but it is also the most popular and crowded. Parts of Section E spend mile after wondrous mile in the high alpine. However it is sections F & G where you truly encounter the remote wildness that the GDT is known for. Once you leave highway 16 past the Jasper townsite, you won’t cross another road until you finish the trail. Here trails are rarely maintained, bridge crossings are few, deadfall is plentiful and bail out options are limited.
Leaving Jasper Townsite
Heading west from the town of Jasper, lies the Yellowhead highway. It’s named after Pierre Hastination, a 19th centuriy Iroquois trapper and fur trader known for his blonde hair earning the nickname Tete Jaune (or Yellowhead). Alternatively you can follow a network of trails and bushwacking to make it to the Miette River Trailhead. Chasing Miette river up to its source, you’ll climb over Centre, Grant and Colonel Passes before climbing down into the adjacent Moose River valley. A long alternate here follows the Moose River back down to Highway 16. You’ll ford the river several times as you head up the valley towards the pass at its head.
Mount Robson and Berg Lake
At Smoky River you’ll encounter a key decision point. It’s a junction with the world famous Berg Lake Trail. This route through Mt Robson Provincial Park was the original terminus of the GDT and many still exit here. It’s much easier to access the trailhead here when comparted to the present terminus in Kakwa Lake Provincial Park. Others will use Mt. Robson as a resupply point. It is however, a 30 mile (50km) round trip and permits to camp along the Berg Lake trail can be difficult to obtain (reservations open every Oct 1st). The trail passes by Mt Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies ( just shy of 13,000 ft).
The North Boundary Trail
Continuing on the main route of the GDT, we move from section G to section F and the remote (and soggy) Smoky River valley. At Chown Creek and Bess Pass you’ll be following parts of the Jasper North Boundary Trail. This can be hiked as a separate 115 mile (185 km) thru-hike taking you through the remote northern sections of Japer National Park. From this point on, you may encounter horses on the trail so make sure to brush up on your etiquette.
Leaving the North Boundary Trail you’ll cross into the Jackpine Valley and the first of several common decisions you’ll make from here on in. At several points the trail splits between a high route and a low route. The high routes typically take you above the treeline, giving you incredible views of remote peaks, glaciers and valleys. On the flip side, these high routes are exposed to lightning and often involve cross country travel (no trails). If conditions are good, I’d recommend taking the high routes. If weather is poor, you may have to constrain yourselves to the muddier, brushier valleys.
Taking the high or low road
For the Jackpine, the main trail takes you across a ridge line with a lower alternate trail in the valley. You can exit the trail at Holmes River, but this is a 25 mile (43km) unmaintained route back to highway 16. At Jackpine Mountain, you can again can choose to stay in the alpine along the Perseverance and Loren Lake High Routes or climb down to the Jackpine River.
The trails rejoin each other at Big Shale Hill and closely parallel the Great Divide for several miles with an optional side trip to the summit of Mount Talbot. Staying up high, the trail heads over Morkill and Fetherstonhaugh Passes.
Back down into Casket Creek valley, you’ll find a junction with the Sheep River trail and an exit to Grande Cache. This 45 mile (72 km) unmaintained trail through the Wilmore Wilderness ends at the town of Grande Cache. For my trip this summer, this is my planned exit point after I hit the terminus at Kakwa and backtrack.
Passing into BC and Kakwa Provincial Park, the next two alternates are the Surprise Pass and Providence Pass high routes. If conditions allow, again, taking these high routes are preferred as you can enjoy beautiful views of Cecilia Lake. The two trails meet up again at Kakwa Lake and the official end of the trail. A campground and cabin mark the terminus of the GDT.
Not Quite Done
This isn’t the end though. Several bridge washouts on the Kakwa Lake road currently makes the terminus inaccessible by vehicle. From the lake it’s a 30km walk to the Bastille Creek Trailhead which is the closest you can get by vehicle (and on a fairly rough forestry road at that). Down the road, it’s 74 km (46 miles) to highway 16. While some have managed to grab a hitch along the forestry road, others have had to walk all the way to the main highway. From there you’ll need to get a ride west Prince George (the closest Airport to the terminus) or east towards Valemont and Jasper