Saturday, December 15, 2007


(An excerpt from "Crossing the Divide")A Family Adventure Along the Continental Divide

Two books in one. Covers my hike from Mexico to Jasper, Alberta along both the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail and Canada's Great Divide Trail.

The last leg of the Great Divide Trail took me into the unique and remote area known as the White Goat Wilderness. My entrance would be a long slow day walking along and through Owen Creek. It took nine hours of my day to climb six miles. The trail was nonexistent. The boulder strewn creek bed was nature’s idea of a compound angle, the steep drop creating steep sides. Several times, becoming frustrated with my progress, I would climb the creek bank and have another try at hiking the forest edge. Each time I would be turned back by thick forest tangle. I was now entering the land of unnamed passes. I reached the first one by early evening and my route opened up as I began to hike above timberline. To my right was Michele Lake, a glacial fed beauty framed by an immense background of blue sky and dirt-brown mountain terrain. I lingered to capture the lake in perfect evening light on film then continued to climb to the highest pass on the Great Divide Trail.
At the top, darkness was beginning to get serious about shutting the day down. According to my guidebook I should study the valley below and locate my route to the next unnamed pass before dropping in. It looked simple enough. It was beginning to rain and as I hiked into this verdant valley I thought to myself, "I can’t believe this all belongs to only me. It seemed as though I could see for a hundred miles in every direction and every eyeful was filled with beautiful mountains. Waterfall Creek cut the valley in two and ample moisture gave it a lush look of green, splashed with a rainbow array of wildflowers. The evening light added shadow. Sun rays bursting through broken cloud cover, lighting the field below me, gave the setting a spiritual glow.
I often think about space in time. It takes a leap of faith and much effort to place yourself into special moments during your life. This valley between two unnamed passes would be one of my moments.
I was completely wrong about my enormous real estate holdings. I spent a very peaceful night in the valley before I met the actual owner. Morning broke in a drizzle. As usual I was warm and dry in my down bag and didn’t want to get up and deal with the cold and wet. I can never just lay there and relax. Partly because I know I have miles to cover and partly because I am excited about discovering what is over the next pass. Making plenty of noise I broke camp, retrieved my food hanging in a nearby tree, packed my damp gear into my pack and, covered in my poncho, headed across Waterfall Creek.
Studying the valley from my eagle’s perch the night before, I could see that the bench I needed to reach began to climb directly across the creek from where I had spent the night. Midstream, up to my knees in "wake-me-up" water, I noticed a movement just ahead. Looking up I was a little shocked to see a very large, wet and muddy grizzly working the field on the opposite shore. He had a huge patch of thick grass completely rototilled and he didn’t look like he was anywhere near done.
They say not to make eye contact and I like to follow good advice when it comes to grizzly encounters. I immediately started backing water and slowly making my way back to shore. At that point I continued to walk backwards in the direction of a ridge behind my campsite. I kept looking at the bear to see if he was going to look at me. He never did. He never even acknowledged my presence. He was as intent on his excavating as I was on my evacuating.
After slipping quietly over the ridge and out of sight, I hiked quickly downstream about a half mile before making another attempt at crossing Waterfall Creek. I was confident that my friend was still upstream digging but now I had a new problem. To reach the bench that would take me out of the valley would mean a very steep climb through dew damp vegetation and rock outcropping. It would mean an hour or so of exhaustive climbing but I wouldn’t have to negotiate land issues with an 800 pound earth mover.
By noon I had entered the White Goat Wilderness. Immediately I was confused. I was standing in the middle of the Cline River when two Indians on horseback pulled up along the shore. I could tell by the look on their faces that they thought I was nuts. I scampered out of the river and asked them the best route to reach Cataract Creek. They explained it in two broken sentences, kicked their mounts and splashed across the river. I kind of wanted a second opinion but decided instead to follow the trail they were taking. Had I continued on that trail I most likely would have joined the trail I was looking for but I am too impatient for that. I pulled out my GPS, crossed over and up a new tributary and headed straight north. Within an hour I connected with the trail that would follow Cataract Creek for the rest of the day. I still had the fresh vision of the morning’s encounter in my mind. All along Cataract Creek there were fresh diggings to remind me.
I spent the night at the base of Cataract Pass on a small rock bench overlooking the creek. It rained hard all night and the wind blew cold. My Akto tent had its first good workout. The nylon sang all night but everything held together. Not one leak and it stood the wind like a portable bomb shelter.
The climb in the morning showed no sign of trail. I would not see trail again for several hours. From atop the pass I could see several hours of hiking into the valley below along the Brazeau River. It would be a steep descent across shale slopes. I was so cold I took shelter in a rock crevice and decided to boil water for coffee. Knowing I would be above timberline, I carried a small plastic baggie filled with wood chips I had collected the day before along the creek. I had just enough to fire up my Zip Ztove. Just as I was about to add the boiling water to my cup of instant coffee, I poured it into my wet boots instead. It was wonderful. I started hiking soon after and my feet stayed warm the rest of the morning.

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