Trip Report: GDT Section C August 2021 Days 7-9

It’s been a bit since I last worked on this report. Here we go again! If you aren’t up to speed, the Great Divide Trail is a stunning thru-hike in BC and Alberta, Canada starting where the Continental Divide Trail ends in Glacier National Park, MT and proceeding north for 600 miles of the wild Canadian Rockies. We didn’t do the whole trail: we only tackled 120 miles of the middle of the trail – Section C – the part that is perhaps hardest to book, though maybe easiest to hike, due to the popular National and Provincial Park trails that are well maintained. To catch you up on our trip so far, read days 5-6 here and follow the links back to our beginning.

When last we left off, we had hiked 6 days and heavily modified our itinerary, adding a camp on the fly using our Garmin Inreach to get family to book a site for us, then using an optional site I had foreseen we might need to get a night in the astonishing Mount Assiniboine basin. But we made it to Banff on schedule!

The plan was to get a hot meal and sleep the night in Banff in a hotel, then hit the trail bright and early the next day up Healy Pass. Like so:

  • Day 7 – Taxi up to Sunshine again, hike up Healy Pass, over Whistling Pass and camp at Ball Pass Camp (Banff) – probably 23km with two passes.
  • Day 8 – Ball Pass Camp to Floe Lake (Kootenay National Park) – 21km with a brutally steep ascent to start and end the day.
  • Day 9 – Floe Lake to Wolverine Pass – 20km over Numa Pass, Tumbling Pass, and Rockwall Pass.

But we didn’t do that.

In planning the stop in Banff, somehow my planning numbers led us to believe the leisurely descent from Citadel Pass to the Sunshine Village parking lot would be easy. As you might have read on our previous entry, it was not. The steep gravel of the access road wore us right out trying to keep our footing, and the staff of the facility, who dusted us out every so often, were not cooperative. Probably due to COVID they were not authorized to pick up passengers, even dusty, tired ones like us. They did however, about halfway down, offer to take our packs and leave them at the parking lot for us. So that was nice.

Our wonderful trail angel picked us up at Sunshine, and we contemplated our next phase. We knew the sleep in town would be helpful, but we were both pretty exhausted from the push out, and felt that getting up early the following day and hitting the trail again for the toughest planned day of the entire hike was beyond us. We decided to take an extra day off in Banff and let our bodies recover, then our trail angel offered once again to astonish us with her generosity and pick us up again, and shuttle us to the Floe Lake trailhead. This would put us back on schedule for our Floe Lake reservation and keep us on schedule. Sadly, we would miss Healy, Whistling and Ball passes, but that section might be best experienced rested and at an easy pace anyway.

So, we relaxed, shopped, and ate for another 24 hours in town. We bought a lightweight massage stick (GOOD investment) and a set of clothes from the thrift store for town, and did some laundry. Sorry, we didn’t take any pictures in Banff – those are a dime a dozen!

So, Day 8 saw us packed up and ready for our ride, who dutifully dropped us off at the Floe Lake trailhead.

Floe Creek on an overcast morning

The Floe Lake push is all uphill, through an old burn so quite exposed. Many people agreed that it’s hard to do in the hot afternoon. So starting on a cloudy morning was perfect for us. Crossing Floe creek we watered up (the cloudy glacial water was beautiful) and then started our push.

The temperature was perfect and we felt good for most of the climb. But as we reached the back of the valley, we saw that Floe Lake was not visible. It was up in a hanging valley to our right, with what looked like a barely treed cliff to climb still! Still, with the reward of a night at perhaps the most popular campsite in the Canadian Rockies, we had a carrot dangling in front of us as we assaulted the steep trail.

Up THERE? Really?

I’m not the greatest fan of sheer drops, so there were places where Cheryl wanted me to stop to catch breath, but I flat out said “Nope!” and continued until I was away from the edge. Sorry, dear, my fear of heights is greater than my fear of your wrath.

But once we made it up, it was worth it. Wow.

Too bad about the clouds, but at least they were high.

Two young ladies had hiked up with fancy prom dresses and were posing for pictures by the lakeshore. Another group had elected for a skinny dip behind the rocky picnic table outcrop. I was more focused on food, as it was starting to sprinkle and I didn’t want to eat dinner wet.

Another pair of hikers were cooking up a big meal on a small burner (a BRS from Amazon – the cheapest and lightest system you can get for backpacking from my research) but demonstrated a limitation of that system: it can’t deal with big heavy pots. The lightness of the stand folded when heated and almost spilled everything. I lent them my Jetboil burner to cook the rest of their meal on. Pro Tip: if you do invest in a BRS, do not use anything heavier than a 500ml Toaks on it, and turn it off after it boils! Not for long cooks.

Got to finally meet up with a hiker using a Durstongear XMid besides ourselves! We knew they would meet us here, as I had made a double reservation anticipating my friend coming with me instead of my wife, and when I realized that wasn’t going to happen I gave away the spot to another hiker who was struggling to find an opening. This is the hardest site to book on the entire GDT.

Ah, Floe Lake in the morning. You are enchanting.

With that, we headed to bed. The morning dawned much brighter. We packed up and began the climb up Numa Pass. A common feature of this trip, I once again underestimated how the climb would feel, and shortly, Cheryl began to inform me this was much steeper than she had been led to believe! But stopping for breath afforded us beautiful views.

Floe Lake looking back. Wow!
Numa Pass

Numa Pass was stark as we crested it. Our descent to the Numa camp area was also nice, and we had lunch there. Numa Camp is definitely a place to stop for sane people, but we are not sane, so we pushed on up Tumbling Pass. Tumbling Pass was not nearly as nice as Numa. It was almost bushwhacking with close alders on all sides and next to no views. Probably the least enjoyable stretch of our hike apart from the roadwalk down Sunshine.

See that light green below us? That was ALDER. Sucky, sucky alder.

But, once we reached the top, Tumbling showed us how it got its name, with the tumbling glaciers down the north side of the pass. It was astonishing with the glacial landforms, the huge lateral moraine, the little pond at the toe. All of it.

Heading down Tumbling. You can see the little lake down there.

It was getting to twilight as we reached the Tumbling Pass Campground, mostly because the rock wall to our west was obscuring the afternoon sun. We were exhausted after having triumphed over both Numa and Tumbling Pass. We sat down to eat dinner, and Cheryl informed me she was not prepared to push up to Wolverine Camp. I didn’t blame her. However, we would then have to hope there was a spare tent pad here at Tumbling, because we did not reserve one. So we lingered for some time, then sought out what was left, hoping we didn’t put anyone out who planned to be here. Thankfully, there were several empty tent pads that night.

Good night, Tumbling Pass.

The sun set on day 9 of our trip. Our actuals:

  • Day 7 – Zero Day in Banff.
  • Day 8 – Floe Lake Trailhead to Floe Lake (Kootenay National Park) – 10km.
  • Day 9 – Floe Lake to Tumbling Pass Camp (Kootenay National Park) – 16km over Numa Pass and Tumbling Pass.

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