Trip Report: GDT Section C August 2021 Days 5 and 6

Section C of the Great Divide Trail according to most information is a hair over 200km of hiking trails running through mostly National Parks. I’ve been dreaming about this hike for 3 years, and I finally got to go, despite my hiking partner once again canceling on me, because my wife signed up to go with me! You can read about our first two days on trail here, and days 3 and 4 here.

The story so far: no plan survives contact with the enemy. So far we had made changes to our itinerary almost every day. But thankfully we had only fudged one campground (and that was only because Parks Canada said the campground was fully booked when it was empty!) Today (spoiler alert!) would return us to our schedule.

Our original plan was:

  • Day 5: Marvel Lake to Porcupine (Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park) – 26km
  • Day 6: Porcupine to Sunshine Village (Banff) – and sleep in a hotel! – 14km

But we weren’t starting in Marvel Lake. We made it up to Magog Lake in Mount Assiniboine. So things were going to be different.

We woke up in the Magog Lake Campground, or at least I did. I’m an early riser – once my body starts getting achy or my bladder gets full, I am getting up. Thankfully I only beat the sunrise by about a half hour so it was light enough to find my way to the outhouse over the frozen grass without my headlamp. I then proceeded over to the covered cooking area in the frosty morning air to make myself some tea, and was struck by this view:

The view from our tentpad of the majestic Mount Assiniboine.

Our friends were planning to dayhike and spend another night here before helicoptering out, so we packed up early and hit the trail, enjoying every second of the stunning vistas and the sunny skies. We had been told to watch out for bears, but never saw one.

Our first stop of the day was Og Lake, which would not have been a bad place to camp at all if there had been a site available! But there wasn’t. In fact, this was the first camp on our trip that was actually full when we arrived. We got there before 10am, so we just filled up our water bottles from the lake and kept going.

The trail then dropped into an area called “Valley of the Rocks”. We didn’t appreciate it enough as we passed through it – the ground was broken and complicated, but in retrospect, unique and fascinating. Then we reached a fork in the trail: to go right was to hug the side of the Porcupine Valley, and hook into the Citadel Pass trail which would take us out of Mount Assiniboine Provincial Park and back into Banff, where Sunshine Village awaited us and our ride… but she wouldn’t be there until tomorrow, so we decided to camp in our planned location at Porcupine, down at the bottom.

Cheryl loading up her water at Og Lake

Our planning information did not make clear enough to us how steep the descent into the valley was going to be. It’s a tough go! If you can plan around Porcupine, do as it is a hard climb in and out no matter which side you start from.

At this stage in the trip we both agreed the hardest climbs weren’t uphill, they were down. Downhill was just as slow for Cheryl as the uphills, as she was not confident in her balance and felt out of control on descents. The only good thing about them was we didn’t get winded! But we finally got to the bottom and pulled into the camp. Here’s a tip: the best water at Porcupine is just as you get to the camp. The creek behind the camp is muddy and hard to access. There is a handy bench between two old trees by the good spot in the creek.

Strangely, the night at Porcupine, though much lower in elevation than Magog Lake, was just as cold. We got up to frost once again, which after lessons learned in the first few days, was actually cause for rejoicing – it meant no morning dew to soak our feet on our climb out of the valley and up Citadel Pass. And we didn’t need any complications on that stretch – it is a HARD climb up Citadel Pass!

See that treed valley down there? That’s Porcupine. See that triangle behind the range? That’s Assiniboine teasing us.

It went on forever it seemed, until we finally reached the meadows of the pass under the watchful eye of Citadel Peak. Believe it or not, Mount Assiniboine was still showing off from there! Once she gets ahold of you she doesn’t stop taunting you with her beauty.

Howard Douglas Lake was a welcome sight. Quartz Hill just on the other side. Doesn’t look like much, but it was our last climb of a long day, and beasted us.

But our day was not finished. After lunch at the top of the pass, we had to descend, then ascend, then drop into the picturesque Howard Douglas Lake bowl, then climb the sunny, hot Quartz Hill saddle, then drop down into the gorgeous Sunshine Meadows, THEN climb up to Sunshine Village, THEN walk down the steep, brutal, and LONG access road to the parking lot! Let me tell you – this area was beautiful, but if I EVER have to walk that Sunshine access road again… (Thankfully, the Sunshine Gondola is running again for 2022!)

Our actuals:

  • Day 5 – Lake Magog to Porcupine (Mount Assiniboine) – 20km, mostly downhill.
  • Day 6 – Porcupine to Sunshine Village – 23km including 5km roadwalk because the gondola wasn’t running.

We made it to the parking lot, incredibly footsore, and ready for a soft, comfortable bed in Banff. Unbelievably we managed to walk the length of the shopping area to get to a thrift store and buy some not-stinky clothes before showering, sorting our kit, inhaling an obscene amount of Indian food, and passing out.

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