This past year has been quite busy for us as I’ve been back in school completing a Bachelor of Education, so unfortunately we haven’t found time for any overnight hiking trips. My program finished in July and I had the month of August off, so we decided to take advantage of this and go a bit further from home to return to the Great Divide Trail in Jasper. This trip was a combination of doing some trail maintenance with the Great Divide Trail Association and then doing a short loop of the GDT by combining the Six Passes Alternate with the main GDT route.
As a quick plug here for doing trail maintenance, I can’t recommend it highly enough! We have never done trail maintenance or building before, but went on two trips with the GDTA this year and found it very fulfilling to both give back to the trail as well as quite educational in terms of learning about how much thought and efforts needs to be put in to keeping trails in good condition. We will definitely be back in the future to help on future trips!
This loop is approximately 67km with 30km off-trail, 10km on excellent trail and the remaining 20ish km on trail of varying quality. It combines the Six Passes and the official GDT route through the decommissioned Maligne Valley trail. It should take 2-4 days depending on how fast you are.
We started at the northern end and did the loop counterclockwise, starting with the Six Passes Route as we were uncertain how long Six Passes would take, but knew we could hammer out the Maligne Valley section in one day if needed.
If starting at the southern end, you would add an additional 30 km round trip (15 km one way) to reach the loop from the Poboktan Trailhead.
To get permits, campsites along the official GDT/Maligne Valley can be booked as “Maligne North” on the online booking system; camping along the Six Passes Route needs to be booked by calling the Jasper Parks Office. I’d suggest calling to book everything – you will probably need to leave a voicemail and wait for someone to call back to confirm the details. I’ve found Jasper is quite good about calling back on the same day if you call in the morning.
Beforehand you’ll want to confirm trail conditions primarily for the following: (1) Snow/cornice size on the southern most pass on the Six Passes Route – early in the season this could be too large to bypass; (2) Water levels, in particular for Maligne River – typically this crossing shouldn’t be an issue, but this year water levels were quite high and there was at least one incident of a hiker needing a rescue.
Daily Trip Journals
- Day 3 – Six Passes-Maligne Valley Loop
- Day 2 – Six Passes-Maligne Valley Loop
- Day 1 – Six Passes-Maligne Valley Loop
This is a nice simple loop if you are looking for a few days of hiking and are fairly tolerant of brush. Personally I don’t have any issues with the level of brush in the Maligne Valley, but many other hikers find it to be one of the worst sections of the GDT. It is also possible to do the Six Passes Route as an end-to-end route if you have two vehicles or hitch from one end to the other.
For GDT hikers, I would highly recommend the Six Passes Route in good weather. In bad weather, the main challenges with the alternate are the first/last passes and the ridgewalk on the northern side. Honestly though, the valley route also affords nice views on clear days and really isn’t that bad (especially compared to Section D and some bits of Sections F/G).
Gear-wise we continue to be quite happy with our overall setup (lighterpack – a few things have changed, but this is mostly accurate). Gear of note on this trip:
- Sun hoodies: Both Kyle and I used new sun hoodies on this trip. He has the Arcteryx Phasic and I have the Patagonia Sunshade. We were both quite pleased with how they performed and will continue to use them on future trips
- Baseball cap: Previously we wore bucket-style sunhats, but baseball caps pair better with sun hoodies. I was most impressed with how well the baseball cap kept rain off my glasses – I will definitely continue to use a baseball cap rather than a bucket hat for this main reason.
- BeFree Filter: Our Platypus GravityWorks filter was at the end of its life after the GDT, so we decided to try out something new to replace it. There are some reports on the internet of it clogging early on, but so far ours seems to be working fine – hopefully it stays that way in the future! If it fails, we’ll probably go back to the GravityWorks filter.
- Rain jackets: Our MEC Outathere rain jackets are definitely on their last legs (arms?). I think we can probably add one more set of patches to them before they should be replaced. I’ve got my eye on Arcteryx Zeta FL jackets, but I’m not sure if I’m willing to shell out that much money for a rain jacket.
Food-wise we stuck to our usual diet of mostly bars, supplemented with cheese, salami, and baby food pouches. Kyle had Beans and Rice for his dinners and I dug deep into our food cabinet to use up some old instant potatoes and dehydrated beef. I added cheddar cheese to the potatoes and was quite pleased with how they turned out – not sure how it took me so long to think of adding cheese to the potatoes, but I find it improves them substantially!