Day 6, August 13th, Random Camp Howse Flood Plain to Mistaya Canyon, 21.3 km, 342 m elevation gain, 282 m elevation loss, 9 hrs 3 min, Segment 23.
The overnight was a little more exciting than usual. First there were a flock of birds that landed out on the sandbars and decided to have a party in the middle of the night. I was never able to see them but their squawking was very harsh and penetrated right through the ear plugs. Then the wind came up and flattened both our tents. I was able to rearrange my rocks and restake the tent and it was good enough for the rest of the night. Afterwards the moon popped out for a little bit to light up the tent so bright I could almost read. Then the clouds rolled back in and it started to rain. Since I was worried that the tent may come down again and I was awake I decided to get dressed. After getting dressed I snuggled back up in my sleeping bag trying to rest and relax. I was just ready in case things got ugly. At 5:10 am the rain stopped and the clouds did part making way for a beautiful morning.
Since I was already dressed I was ready quite quickly. I had enough time on this morning to have a double coffee. Now that is what I call starting the day the right way.
We were all packed and ready to head out on our last day at 7:45 am. We had all heard horror stories about crossing the flood plain now we were going to see what it was like in first hand. Lucky for us we were together and as a team we knew we could resolve any challenge we faced.
The first trip into the forest was very short and led to an early morning water crossing that was just below the knees. The trail then headed up into the woods and that is when the fun began.
As we headed up the hill into the woods we were definitely on a trail. Very quickly however the trail disappeared and we were all left just looking around wondering what to do and how did we lose such a well defined trail so quickly. Since I carry my tablet in my cargo pant pocket making it easily accessible I took the lead and proceeded to bushwhack through the forest for the next hour. We were always moving in the right direction and there really was no chance of getting lost but the progress was very slow.
After nearly an hour of bushwhacking we popped out on a trail next to side channel of the river covering a distance of just over 1 km from camp. We stopped and discussed our next move. I thought it could be beneficial to go out onto the sandbar and make some easy progress down the river. The drawback of this was crossing the channel back and forth as the water can be quite deep. This was not a very popular option. After a few minutes of discussion we decided to follow the trail back into the woods to see if it continued. We lost the trail almost immediately. It was Lillian who did a quick 180 degree turn back to where we had just come from and discovered that the trail actually continued downstream along the river bank. After this we made a rule that if we lost the trail we would backtrack to where we last had the trail and stop and look carefully around the area. Once on the trail the hiking was much easier than the bushwhacking.
At first we were hiking in the woods along the river bank and the trail wove its way in and around the trees but soon we were emerged onto the banks of the river and progress was much easier on what was a faint but noticeable trail.
The walking along the Howse river was very easy after escaping the forest except for the two small cliffs. The first cliff had been very easy to move past but the second cliff would pose more of a challenge. It was a nice walk to the top of the second cliff and the views were spectacular so we spent a few minutes soaking in the scenery. As we continued on across the cliff the trail became very slabby with a steep drop to the river. The trail then appeared to get cliffed out with no obvious way off the top. A quick scramble over a couple of fallen trees and we arrived at a well used if very steep trail down.
It was almost 10:30 am as we left the cliff behind us. It had been 3 hours since we left camp so much had already happened and we had not yet covered 5 km. The walking became quite easy except for a few periodic water crossings. There was GDT orange flagging and Sara’s eyes were keen to spot the flags to keep us on trail. The hiking was really quite straightforward from this point as we were just going to stay on the side of the Howse River until we joined up with the Parks Canada trail system connecting Glacier Lake and Mistaya Canyon parking lot.
We had lunch at noon. I used my backpack as a back rest and took my shoes off to air out the feet. We had traveled a total distance of 8 km in just over 4 hours hiking. I used my Spot to message Laura to come another hour later as we still had another 13 or so kilometers to go and I did not want Laura arriving early and having to wait for me. Now the pick up time was 4:30 pm. After a nice 35 minute lunch we packed up and headed off on the next part of our adventure. The goal was the junction with the Parks Canada trail to Glacier Lake and Mistaya Canyon a distance of about 3 km from our lunch spot. Once back on Parks Canada trail I was expecting the hiking to be easier and quick. I was to be very disappointed.
The trail quickly disappeared and the Farout App had the trail out somewhere in the middle of the river. We ignored the app since we knew where we had to go and made group decisions on what exact route we would follow. One obstacle that appeared was when the river cut in close to a small hill. There was no possibility of walking alongside the river past the hill but there was a reasonable trail up the hill where many other hikers must have walked. The east side of the hill involved a short but serious bit of bushwhacking.
We made the junction with the Glacier Lake Trail at 1:45 pm. I am amazed that people are able to the follow the trail across the floodplain to Glacier Lake. We had just over 9 km to hike and with 3 hours to when Laura was due to arrive at Mistaya Canyon parking lot we needed to average 3 km/h. On good trail I was confident that we could arrive comfortably on time.
Lillian knowing that I was in a bit of rush hustled off down the trail with me in hot pursuit. We managed a very brisk pace despite the constant clambering over the deadfall that littered the trail. When taking a little break Sara mentioned that she thought we were sprinting a bit. I had been doing the math and were going a bit over 4 km/h so we backed off the pace. The storm was still chasing us but apart from a few sprinkles it never amounted to any precipitation. As we moved off down the trail Sara reminded us to be conscious on the wind and the trees around us. Sara said something to the effect “there is a reason for all the deadfall”.
After a long stretch hiking Lillian sat down on a log needing a 5 min break but when she got up she was on fire down the trail with Sara in tow. I started to lag I was so tired and my feet where wet and hot. I had mistakenly put my spare socks inside my Bear Can which was in the bottom of my backpack and I was not very interested in digging through my entire pack to get at my socks. I was starting to get blisters in my shoes so I stopped to change into my boots. I figured at least the boots were dry and had would different pressure points than the shoes.
I was eating my words on this section of trail as I had promised Sarah that we would be on “groomed Parks Canada Trail” to finish the hike. Boy was I wrong. The trail was easy to follow but so much deadfall really spoiled the flow of the hike. The trail had been very dry and dusty as we left the bluff but then as we approached Mistaya Falls there was a lot more more moisture in the environment making the the trail a little tacky and the everything much more green. There were signs of some recent trail maintenance but there was still a lot of deadfall
Our arrival at Mistaya Canyon was celebrated by high fives all around. We spent a few minutes being tourists and taking in the falls before heading up the hill to the parking lot. As we headed past the the trail head for the GDT another hiker appeared. He flopped down at the end of the trail to catch his breath. After introductions we learned our new friend was Rory. Rory explained that he had come all the way from Conway Creek several kilometres further than we had hiked. He said his summer plans were to complete the GDT and finish the last 400 miles of the CDT that he had to give up on last year due to snow. He looked to me like he was a pretty hard core hiker. He was carrying the same camera as I had and a similar lens and his backpack was a largish old canvas pack which had a Bruce Trail badge on it. He explained the Bruce Trail was his first ever thru hike. I asked him how he negotiated the flood plain and he said he just followed the line on the FarOut App. He admitted that some of his water crossing were up to his chest. I cannot imagine how cold that must have been. We slowly made our way up to the parking lot. We all knew about the beer and pop and were eagerly looking forward to a refreshing drink.
Shortly after Rory left to continue his hike on Section E Laura arrived with Margaux. Lillian and Sara got to meet Margaux and Sara got Margaux to sit and lie down, good girl Margaux. We had hugs and said our goodbyes. After putting on my sandals I ran back to their car for one last hug before we both headed on our separate ways. After three attempts I had finally finished Section D. I really could not have completed the hike without the friendship and support of Sara and Lillian.
Final thought Section D:
“If you have not touched the rocky wall of a canyon. If you have not heard a rushing river pound over cobblestones. If you have not seen a native trout rise in a crystalline pool beneath a shattering riffle, or a golden eagle spread its wings and cover you in shadow. If you have not seen the tree line recede to the top of a bare crested mountain. If you have not looked into a pair of wild eyes and seen your own reflection. Please, for the good of your soul, travel west.”
― Daniel J. Rice, This Side of a Wilderness