I can't quite recall exactly how I discovered that the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) and Great Divide Trail (GDT) terminus' were so close to me. But when I found out it was at Boundary Bay in Waterton Lakes National Park, it was so exciting to me that I would be able to go and stand at this monument where so many have started and finished their thru hikes. When I had learned of these long trails, and the world of thru hiking it was something I knew I wanted to do, but it seemed so impossible, so far off for me. Being able to to go to these monuments was motivating and made it seem more realistic in my mind.
It just so happened that I had already planned to spend a weekend in Waterton Lakes National Park, and I actually already had my eye on summiting Bertha Peak. Now all I had to do to get to the terminus was add a few kilometers to get to Boundary Bay.
Solo to Boundary Bay
After a breakfast sandwich and coffee, I stepped foot on the trail at about 11:30am, ready for the kilometers ahead. The trail is well travelled, a packed easy to follow path, slowly gaining elevation. As I completed the initial ascent I broke from the tree cover to overlook Waterton Lake, and behind me Waterton Townsite. Standing in this clearing looking out over the lake, land and trees I observe some of the impact of most likely the Kenow Wildfire of 2017. Reaching this point most people continued up toward the lake, but I headed down towards the monuments.
As I descend, the trail levels off, and I am surrounded by the trees and enveloped in the silence of nature. I have not seen another person for a while. I love being able to enjoy the trail by myself, left to go at my own pace, along with my thoughts, and my surroundings. However, as I walked through the canopy of trees, passing small creeks, I felt slightly nervous about bear encounters. I carry my bear spray in hand and break out in song, because singing makes the solo quiet parts seem less scary.
Soon I come to a clearing that opens up to the shore of Waterton Lake. There is no one here now but I would say it is likely an area used for camping. There are some fire pits and sitting areas, food lockers for bears. I take a short break to walk down the gravel beach and look out over the lake. The trail travels along the lakeside, and as I climb up an easy rock section I can see and hear boats out on the lake.
Not far ahead I catch up to a couple of hikers. They are backpacking in to go camping. After following at a short distance for a while they ask if I would like to pass. They are hiking at a good pace for me and I feel a bit more at ease by having others nearby. I tell them if they don't mind, I'll just keep following behind. We introduce ourselves to each other. Their dog as the one leading the way and we hiked together until they stopped for water and continued on.
Boundary Bay - Where Thru Hikes Begin and End
A while after leaving my adopted group, I arrived at the monuments that mark the US/Canada border, CDT northern terminus and GDT southern terminus. Another small rock beach is here, with some people enjoying lunch and dogs fetching sticks in the water. I decide to walk down to the end of the dock. Take off my boots and socks to put my feet in the water. I eat my lunch of beef jerky, an eat more bar, and some hi chews. It is so indescribably peaceful. The calmest of the lake, the vast views of the surrounding mountains. The silence in the air.
Even though the water is like ice, I can't resist going in and take the plunge. After a quick swim, I sit to dry off my feet before continuing on. I still have Bertha Peak to get to.
Heading away from Boundary Bay I passed several people heading down, families and groups of friends playing music. It was nice to beat the crowds. Once I climb back up to the lookout I take a short break before starting on the path to the peak.
To Summit or Not to Summit
The trail starts moderately climbing, but it is completely exposed to the sun and hot. The views are open as the trail winds around the side of the mountain. I can see the lake behind me, the mountains above me, and the valley below me. I come to a fork, to the left, Bertha Falls, and to the right, Bertha Lake and Peak.
Now the switch backs start, the repetitive, seemingly never ending climb up, turn, climb up, turn. I'm still passing quite a few people heading back down. I spot a group of men who look like the did the peak. I stop them and ask how the climb was. They tell me it was a great climb and share a bit about where they traversed from. They asked if I was planning to make the peak. By this time is was around 3 o'clock. I was a little concerned about the amount of daylight I had left. But more so the amount of energy I had. I was running out of gas. I decided I would make the call once I got to the lake. However, as I continued on these switchbacks that seem to not be leading anywhere, I contemplated just turning around without even making the lake.
I pushed on, finally arriving. I walked around the lake, taking it in. Eventually, I found a spot close to the shore to sit for a break. Of course because I can't resist, I jumped in for another lake swim.
Ultimately, I decided I didn't have enough left in me to continue on to Bertha Peak. This was a tough decision because for some reason I felt like if I didn't summit then my hike wasn't complete and was all for nothing. Which I know is 100% false. Its is important to check your ego in the mountains, better to be safe than sorry. The summit will still be there another day.
Boots back on and time to head back down.
Run, Quails, and Peace
On the descent I practically ran. While making my way back down the switchbacks I encountered a strange bird, likely a quail. He ran along the trail just ahead of me. My hiking buddy, leading the way for about a minute before finally veering off into the bush.
Just before reaching the trailhead where I began my hike, I passed on older gentleman heading up. He stopped me and asked about my hike. Impressed by the kilometers I had put in, concerned if I had had enough water. His name was Barry, he was heading to Bertha Falls only. Barry was from Lethbridge, Alberta but rented a place in Waterton and spent his summers in the park. He told me that he had travelled to and spent time in over 35 countries, but Waterton Lakes National Park remains his favorite place he has ever been. He said "when I'm here, peace comes through me like the sun comes through the trees." We talked a bit more, I wished him a good hike and made my way back to the car.
6 hours, 22.5km (14miles), a blister on each pinky toe so big and painful I could barely walk once I took my boots off, and just in time to be the last person in line at Wieners of Waterton before they closed, later.
I went on this hike almost 10 weeks ago now. I did not keep a trail journal or any other way of documenting my experience on this hike other than some pictures. Yet I remember it so well. In real life most of the time I couldn't even tell you what I did the day before, but I can see myself on this trail almost perfectly. When you are out there immersed in nature you are so much more aware of yourself and your sense that you remember things differently. You are not on autopilot trying to get through the day. I am truly enjoying who and where I am.