Day 1, August 11th, Saskatchewan River Crossing to Upper Reaches of Owen Creek. 16.5 km, 1000 m elevation gain, 100 m elevation loss, 6 hrs 30 min (Segment 24).
In my original itinerary the resupply at Saskatchewan River Crossing would have been at around 3 pm after hiking 20 plus kilometres earlier in the day. The plan was to have only a short hike afterward the resupply before setting up camp for the evening. Since this would now be my beginning of my trip leaving the Crossing much earlier than 4 pm would put me ahead of schedule. I did not feel I had to rush to get to the Crossing very early to have a good first day on the trail. Since it was a weekday Laura wanted to get some work done before driving out to the Crossing to drop me off. We left Canmore at about 10:30 am getting to the Crossing just after 12 pm. After eating lunch Laura took my photo and at 12:25 pm I was off.
I headed out across the parking lot. I set a determined pace walking with purpose but I was actually quite unsure of where I should be exactly heading. After I the research I had done I had not looked at how to access the GDT from the Crossing. I tromped off into the trees behind the building on the east side of the parking lot and found a trail. Once I was out of sight of anyone I pulled out my tablet and checked my Viewranger App. The intrepid explorer I was needed some guidance just 200 m from the parking lot. The app showed a service road just up ahead that would lead directly to the GDT. Arriving at the road I decided that it did not look overly interesting opting instead for the trail that lead off to the west side.
Ten minutes after leaving the car my trail ended at Hwy 11 right at the Parks Canada kiosk at the entrance to Banff National Park. I crossed over the highway and followed the side of the road until I met back up with the service road that I had avoided earlier. The service road was now less road like and more like a double track hiking trail. It was an uneventful 1.4 km to the junction with the GDT but now I felt that I was actually on my way and the feeling was great.
I arrived at the junction with the GDT after 30 minutes of flat, easy hiking covering 2.1 km. The junction was a slight let down as I was so excited to be getting back onto the GDT but the junction was quite nondescript.
After shooting the video I headed off down the trail. It would be an easy 5 km walk to where I would cross Hwy 11 again and follow Owen Creek up and away from civilization. When compared to the long distance trails in the United States there is not a lot of traffic on the GDT. Typically there are only a handful of people moving down the trail on any given day. This difference was really driven home on this little section as the trail was very faint in parts and a couple of times disappeared altogether. The hike along the North Saskatchewan River was very pleasant and a good warm up to the elevation I would gain going up Owen Creek.
The arrival at Owen Creek was foreshadowed when I came across a random outhouse along the trail. Ten minutes later I arrived at Owen Creek and was greeted by a quite dilapidated old wooden cabin. The cabin had a lock on it but I explored around the outside. The area appeared to have been used recently as there was a fire pit that looked like it saw regular use. After snapping a few pictures I headed up Owen Creek which would be my constant companion for the rest of the day.
A few minutes after leaving the old cabin I came back to Hwy 11. I scampered up the embankment and crossed the highway for the second time. Heading down the embankment on the north side I came to the car park for the trail to Owen Pass. It was 2:05 pm I had covered a bit over 7 km in just 1 hr 40 min. I was pretty confident I would not be able to maintain that pace heading up the creek but it was a good start.
The initial hike up Owen Creek passed by a stunning gorge. There was a small climb that took me to the top of the gorge allowing for stunning if not hair raising views down to the creek far below. At the head of the gorge was a lovely little waterfall.
After the waterfall the trail flattened out and travel was easy. I came across another little canyon and rapids. I do enjoy the sound of tumbling water. Waterfalls may be loud but I find them peaceful.
I only enjoyed a few minutes of the easy hiking before I came across a section dominated by blowdown of burnt trees. Not paying much attention I followed the trail into the heart of the blowdown. Negotiating all the downed trees was challenging so I decided that the best course of action was to return to the creek. Once back to the creek the hiking was much easier. I was somewhat annoyed at myself for getting off track.
After some relatively easy hiking I entered an area where earlier in the hiking season people had challenges negotiating the trail due to high water flow, bank erosion and series of small land slides that had washed out the trail. I found a note left by couple of hikers who had taken the time to scout out and flag a route around a major wash out area. For me the water level was low enough that I was able to stay creek side and get passed the washout with little trouble.
Despite the dire warning from the letter the water level in the creek was low enough that I had plenty of large boulders to step on. I worked carefully and slowly across the rock slide and made it to the other side without getting my feet wet.
Progress was very good up to the confluence of the east and west fork of Owen Creek. I did come across a wild campsite just off the trail. Like every wild campsite that I would come across on the trip this one came complete with a fire ring.
A little while after the campsite I came across the orange flagging from the detour around the rock slide. It had taken me a little under 30 minutes to walk along the creek so I can only imagine how much time the detour would have added to the hike.
The approach to the confluence of the two upper creeks that combine to form Owen Creek provided a stunning view of Mt Wilson and the Wilson Icefield. The hiking trail was still a little hit and miss with small areas washed out but for the most part the going was easy.
Just prior to arriving at the confluence I found a small side stream with clear water to refill my water bladder. Since I knew I would be hiking up a creek I had gone a little light on my water when I began the hike. I had figured there was no point in carrying extra weight when I could refill at any time. One flaw with that philosophy was that the creek was very silty. It took a while to find but I did find a side stream that lovely clear water. I was using a Platypus style water bladder that only had a very small opening for filling. This works great at home with a tap but it is challenging on the trail trying to get the water to flow into the small opening. I had discovered that you can purchase water bladders with a fully opening resealable top so I took the idea and modified my Platypus. I sliced the top of the Platypus off and affixed velcro to the opening so I could fold over the top and reseal. The modified bladder worked very well when refilling but it did not seal 100%. To avoid the bladder leaking all over my pack I just had to be careful how I put my pack down. I would call the experiment a win although the amount of benefit the open top provides is debatable. Later on during the trip Emily would just refill her identical bladder using her mug and it really was not a big deal.
Arriving at the confluence I was greeted by an expansive debris field. The creek appeared to be about 100 m across but there was no water to be seen anywhere. I could not find the trail in the trees along what would be the shoreline so I just started rock hopping up the creek. Luckily for me after about 10 minutes of slogging up the creek I spied a trail off in the trees where the bank had been eroded away. The trail was quite good in the forest. There were a couple of washed out sections and a section of side slopping that would not be fun in the rain. At the end of one washed out section someone had attached a rope to aid in climbing up a short but steep section. I am not sure you should really trust a random rope tied to what you are not sure of but I did use the rope to help me up and back onto the trail.
Just a few minutes after the rope section the creek runs up alongside a shoulder of Mt Wilson creating a valley and a little waterfall. As anyone who has hiked with me knows I love a good waterfall. Feeling good about my progress I stopped to take some long exposure pictures using my tripod. It would be about 15 minutes before I put my pack back on to resume my hike.
It was 5 pm when I left the waterfall. The first campground mentioned in guidebook was 400 m past the waterfall but I never found it. My hiking pace became much slower. The slope had grown much steeper and the trail quite rugged. The trail was tightly contained in a small drainage and passed over several small cliffs complete with waterfalls. It was starting to get a little late and my focus had switched from photography to finding a campsite. There was one very boggy section where water was seeping out from a bank. There was no dry way across so I headed into the mud and nearly fell over immediately. I stabbed my pole into the ground and held my balance but bent my pole almost into a J shape. Luckily I have aluminum poles so I just straightened it.
I did meet one person on the trail a hunter hiking back down to the trailhead. We stopped and talked for a couple of minutes. He was hoping to make it passed the washout before dark. He also mentioned that that was a couple just a couple of kilometres ahead of me who were hoping to camp at a waterfall. He did not elaborate where the waterfall was. I did meet them the next day as they were leaving Michelle Lakes.
I found a campsite right beside the river about 2 km from the the original waterfall. I decided to not stay there as it was actually quite sheltered and I wanted a clear view of the sky to view the Perseid Meteor shower that would be on display over the next several nights. As I was approaching tree line I thought I would look for a a fairly open spot with a good view of the sky. The creek was now flowing in a small valley with a bench up a small embankment. I wandered up to the bench and started to look for a flat place to pitch my tent. At 6:55 pm I settled on a spot and declared I that was done for the day. In my video blog I did mention that I felt that the section above the confluence was one of the most challenging backpacking hikes I had done. It had taken me 2hrs 20 min to hike the 4.2 km from the confluence to where I set up camp. The daily total was 6.5 hrs to hike 16.2 km with about 900 m of elevation gain.
It took me a little while to get the tent set up and dinner on the go. The tent was set up by 7:30 pm and I was eating dinner by 7:45 pm.
One drawback of camping near treeline was the lack of tall trees for my bear hang. I was carrying 11 days of food and supplies and the bear canister I had just could not hold all food and smellables. I supplemented the bear canister with a my Zpacks Bear Bag. I did find a somewhat suitable tree and hung my bear hang the best I could. The bear canister is so easy I just tossed it into the branches at the base of the tree.
I crawled into the tent at about 8:30 pm. I only had a very short day tomorrow about 5 km. I did wake up and take some pictures of the night sky and mess around taking some pictures of the tent and the Milky Way. I did not get any meteor shots on this night but they did come by every couple of minutes. I will never tire of see the stars overhead. It is just an amazing feeling to see the universe lit up so clear away from the ambient light of home.