Lakes the colour of lapis lazuli, forests like oceans, peaks as sharp and white as a wolf’s fangs, plus an amiable bear
By Kevin Rushby, United Kingdom
I like walking. And I like mountains. I also like getting assignments that bring those two together. So when my editor called and asked if I could “hike The Great Trail”, there was no hesitation. It sounded like an easy walk somewhere on the planet. I said yes. It was only later that I discovered that the path, also known as the Trans Canada Trail, was 24,000 kilometres long and the only person known to have completed the route had taken two years.
I mulled it over for a bit, but in the end reluctantly explained to my editor that two years was too long. Maybe I should select a short section? There was a pause. “Make it a new bit,” he said. “In the Rockies.”
Fortunately, at that point, I discovered The Great Trail App – powered by KEEN, a simple way to explore the Trail from an armchair. Zooming in on the Rockies, I could see that the most sustained mountain action was south of Banff around the town of Canmore. There, a new path called the High Rockies Trail looked interesting. Another feature of the app, personal stories, gave me a feel of what to expect, plus ideas for campgrounds and supplies.
Armed with this information, I was in business. A regular bus service from Calgary took me to Canmore where I hooked up with local guide, Nathan, and trail development manager, Kristen Gabora. We drove the last few miles up to Goat Creek car park and got ourselves ready.
In the U.K., where I live, walking can be a nerve-wracking business. I’ve occasionally gone miles without a cream tea and once had to shout at an aggressive sheep. We do not, however, have bears. I would say that the farther away from the Rockies you go in the world, the larger is the perception that the entire place is crawling with bears, all salivating copiously at the prospect of snacking on the latest GoreTex walking equipment – the stuff with soft squeaky centres.
Nathan corrected this perception, “We do have bears and we may see them, but the chances are low and they are usually shy.”
I had always thought the correct response to an approaching bear would be to chuck chocolate bars in every direction, then run screaming while pointing wildly at other members of the group who were clearly more edible.
Nathan disagreed, “We bunch together. Make ourselves look big. We stay calm. We do not run away.”
And then? “If the bear gets very close, use your bear spray.” He handed me a can of bear spray.We set off. The views were shockingly good: lakes the colour of lapis lazuli, forests like oceans, peaks as sharp and white as a wolf’s fangs. Nevertheless we decided to improve things with a side trip up to West Wind Pass. When we got there, admiring the panorama from a rocky bluff, a black bear ambled up behind us. The bear bunched himself up. He stayed calm. He didn’t run. He just kept ambling on by, within twenty feet. Only when he had gone did I remember the bear spray – it was in my bag on my back. Totally useless. Best keep it on your belt, I reckon.
That amiable bear crowned a superb day for us all. “The Great Trail is amazing,” said Kristen later as we strolled along the shores of the Kananaskis Lakes. “It’s like a collection of trails that links all Canadians.”
So far the High Rockies Trail is my personal favourite from that collection. Only 23,920 kilometres left to go!