Great Divide Trail - Section E

Hiking the Great Divide Trail: A Backpacking Adventure in Canada's Wilderness

Angelito de Jesus

6 min read

The Great Divide Trail is a hidden gem, often overshadowed by its more famous cousin, the Pacific Crest Trail. Stretching over 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) from Alberta to British Columbia, this stunning trail is a wilderness lover's paradise. It follows the Continental Divide, tracing the spine of the Rockies and offering breathtaking panoramic views, majestic peaks, pristine alpine meadows, and crystal-clear lakes.

Embarking on such an epic backpacking adventure requires careful planning and preparation. From selecting the right gear to stocking up on essential supplies, everything needs to be meticulously planned. The Great Divide Trail Association provides a wealth of information and resources, including detailed maps, trail conditions, and tips for hikers of all levels. It's a great starting point to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.

The Journey Begins at Section E North Saskatchewan River Crossing to Sunset Pass Aug 19-21 2022

As I embarked on the trail on that first day, an immediate sense of awe and wonder washed over me, fueled by the vastness of the Canadian wilderness that stretched out before my eyes. The landscape, simultaneously humbling and invigorating, promised a journey of both challenges and rewards. Each day unfolded with a set of new trials and triumphs, from the daunting negotiations of steep ascents to the invigorating rushes experienced while crossing roaring rivers. The trail became a testing ground for both my physical endurance and mental resilience.

To facilitate our expedition, we strategized our logistics meticulously. One vehicle was left at the trail's endpoint, the Sunset Pass parking lot, while the rest of the group drove to the trailhead at Owen Creek Trail, marking the beginning of our three-day adventure.

The initial day presented a formidable 23-kilometer battle, requiring us to conquer steep ascents and navigate through a labyrinth of fallen log poles. Our arduous journey led us to Michelle Lake late in the afternoon, where we decided to rest for the night. The beauty of the pristine natural environment left an indelible mark on my memory. The following morning greeted us with the gentle glow of the sun peeking over the peaks above the lake. Refreshing ourselves in the glacial-fed waters of the lake, we drank deeply of its pure essence from the waterfalls near our campsite, fueling ourselves for the day ahead. After a hearty breakfast and the meticulous packing of our gear, we set out on a 25-kilometer hike to the next campsite, eager to explore the wonders that lay ahead.

Chris enjoying the solitude at Michelle Lake

After conquering the demanding ascent, we found ourselves at Pinto Lake following a brief river crossing. Here, we decided to establish our campsite for the night. As the evening descended, a comforting campfire flickered to life, casting its warm glow on our tired yet content faces. The camaraderie within our group blossomed as we shared stories, reminisced about cherished memories, and allowed laughter to dominate the late hours of the night. It was a time of connection, solidifying the bonds forged by the challenges of the trail.

The following morning, we rose with the first light of the sun, eager to embrace the new day. Braving the frigid waters of the glacial-fed Pinto Lake, we immersed ourselves for a refreshing wash—a revitalizing ritual that invigorated our senses and prepared us for the adventures yet to come. The crisp mountain air and the pristine surroundings of Pinto Lake served as a breathtaking backdrop to our morning routine, enhancing the overall experience of our wilderness journey

On Day 3, our journey towards Sunset Pass became the most challenging moment of our expedition. Departing from the tranquil shores of Pinto Lake, we embarked on a traverse through the forest, aiming to reach the elusive Sunset Pass. Unbeknownst to us, this leg of the trail would unfold into a daunting test of our resilience.

As we delved into the heart of the forest, the trail abruptly ended, catching us off guard. Faced with an unexpected hurdle, we had no choice but to navigate through the dense, wet forest, resorting to bushwhacking to find our way back to the trail. The navigational data proved insufficient, and our determination was put to the test as we encountered challenges ranging from skipping over dead trees to maneuvering through boggy terrain. We circled the area, consulting the map to decipher the vicinity of the correct trail, only to realize that we were lost.

Despite the adversity, our collective determination spurred us to persist. Chris, our trusted navigator and friend, took the lead in the search for our bearings. After a thorough exploration, we reached the end of the treeline, where Chris scrambled up a steep rock wall to confirm our location with the navigation device. This moment of triumph marked our return to the trail, reinvigorating our spirits.

The remainder of the journey towards Sunset Pass and the parking lot, though relatively easier, stretched into the late afternoon. As the day waned, we reflected on the challenges overcome, the lessons learned, and the indomitable spirit that fueled our perseverance. The trail, now familiar yet still awe-inspiring, guided us towards our destination, leaving us with a profound sense of accomplishment and a treasure trove of memories from our unforgettable wilderness adventure.

On Day 2, the trail unfolded into an even greater challenge as we faced a formidable ascent. The sheer magnitude of the towering peaks that surrounded us induced a sense of wonder and awe, a humbling realization of our minute existence in the grand tapestry of nature. Like tiny specks of dust against the colossal backdrop, we pressed onward, navigating the rugged terrain that lay ahead.

Our campsite at Michelle Lake

Visit Great Divide Trail photo gallery for more coverage of this experience

Back to civilization, Overlooking below Pinto Lake