Hiking the Great Divide Trail used to require piecing together maps and notes and resources gathered by previous hikers. A bit of a planning and logistics headache. It took me hours of cross-referencing blogs to try to just figure out the distance between potential resupply points. And then there were like 4 different mapsets… Oy vey…
No more. That’s how it used to be. Now, the GDTA website has everything you need.
The maps are very accurate (but seemed to be slightly less so as I ventured north of Jasper). I printed them out in B&W en route in Montana because I knew I would want to glance at them often while navigating.
The GPS track synchronizes perfectly with the maps, and features tracks of popular alternates along the way. (click on the dropdown menu then ‘Download KML’ to download)
The resupply page gives the addresses to which you can send resupply boxes, but there is no mileage information to help figure out the distance between towns…
All of the distance information is on the campground spreadsheet, the resource that brings it all together. You can use the campground spreadsheet to plan your permits and resupplies, and you can use it in conjunction with the maps/GPStrack to handle all of your navigation and daily planning while on trail.
Easy. That’s all I used and all you need to successfully hike the GDT. No books, no trail apps.
Bonus Info (resupply, alternates, finish, time)
RESUPPLY STUFF: Based on what I read, shipping resupply boxes from the US to Canada via general delivery would have been expensive and unreliable. So I planned on sending a few boxes out from the first major town (Blairmore) to some of the smaller / more expensive resupply spots (Kananaskis, Field, Crossing). The timing didn’t work out for that (arriving Saturday morning with the PO not open again until Monday) so I just bought food as I went and it worked out fine. Field’s store was pretty small and so was Crossing (a $9CAD bag of chips situation…), but I just bought less food and was a little hungrier to save $. In the end I think I spent less than $400 in hiking the GDT. Money well spent if you ask me, as I definitely plan on revisiting these places again in the near future.
ALTERNATES: There are quite a few route options while hiking the GDT and there is no sense of purism on the trail. My rule was the same as on the CDT: “Don’t be lame.” Sometimes that means you go high, but sometimes you might not for one reason or another. I’m pretty happy with what I did out there and if/when I venture out on the GDT again I’ll be sure to find many different ways to go because you really can’t go wrong up high in the Canadian Rockies.
WHERE TO FINISH: There are quite a few options for where to finish. Almost everybody ends at either Mount Robson or Lake Kakwa. In the spirit of my hike, I chose neither. Mount Robson would be a lovely place to finish, but looking north the GDT gets increasingly remote/wild and the Jackpine High Route alternate is highly rated. The problem with finishing at Kakwa is that you have to face a multiday dirt roadwalk to get out to a highway (unless you are very lucky or well-prepared), and I had heard from some southbounders that a lot of the trail was in the woods and the mosquitoes were exceptionally bad. Add to that a huge food carry and some significant precipitation in the forecast and I wasn’t to stoked about that option. So I did the part of the Jackpine alternate that everyone talks about + a little bit more before making a minor navigation error and running out of food. In a way it actually all went according to plan, and I went rogue down a steep 4000′ bushwack to civilization to end my hike.
LENGTH OF THRU HIKE: Pretty much everywhere I had read said that it would be slow going and I should expect significantly lower daily mileage than on other trails. I expected my thru-hike to take around 5 weeks, but it ended up only being 3 (July 5-27). Granted, I hopped off a couple days from Kakwa, but I still did 50km most days with some 60 and 70km days in there, too. As with most trails, the difficulties were over-hyped. Also, the days were sooooo long. Sunset at 11PM, sunrise at ‘I don’t even know when because I never seemed to be able to wake up at sunrise because it didn’t get dark until 11PM’. My research before the hike also led me to believe that mosquitoes would not be an issue, but the mosquitoes were an issue, and were usually there to cheer me on to continue making forward progress throughout the day.