The Great Divide Trail Pt5 – One journey’s End

My last week on the Great Divide Trail is not what I expected.

Though fires to the south of me in Canada did not exist in an extreme way, I forgot about the fires in Montana affecting both sides of the border. Or that the 500+ fires in Alberta and BC will affect the experience in aggregate regardless of the location.

But, as I wrote before, any person planning a long hike in our current climate will have to validate their plans and decide what constitutes a thru-hike for themselves.

In my case, a closure extended further north than I realized. The GDT is not accessible from the Castle Ski Area to Waterton (and beyond because of a closure in place from last year). Nor even some alternates planned. I anticipated Coulotte Ridge as an ending highlight of my journey. But not in the cards this year.

An extremely helpful Alberta Conservation Officer drew me a closure map and helped plan a route when he spotted me walking an improved gravel road.

I ended up walking a mixture of ATV, snowmobile tracks, dirt, and gravel roads. And some hitching when excessive pavement walks on a busy road loomed.

But life rarely goes exactly as planned.

And, even when the plans get changed, something unexpected and wonderful can still happen.

I witnessed a small town parade complete with bagpipers and Mounties!

The presence of a rodeo group, land management agencies, car dealerships, and the presence of the local high school football team gave this parade the feel of a small town parade anywhere in the Rockies. Be it, Montana or Alberta. Wyoming or British Columbia.

I made my way to Warterton Lakes National Park and made it down the trail towards the US border.

About 4k before the border. That’s not fog.

A post shared by Paul Mags (@pmagsco) on

I could see damage from last year’s fire. The trail to the border only recently reopened.

And then I reached the border monument.

As I wrote on Instagram:


The last few days is not what I envisioned for the ending of my trek in the Canadian Rockies. But, ultimately, it is the journey itself that matters.

I started this journey last September when I left my beige box behind.

Since then I walked across Utah, explored the Pueblo Path, spent Thanksgiving in the Grand Canyon, walked where bison range free, ate chowder at the Atlantic and the Pacific coasts, and saw grizzlies in the Canadian Rockies, and other places.

I made new friends and saw old ones.
A new chapter starts for me next month. A new home in a new state. And there is no beige box involved.

The Great Divide Trail has been difficult, and full of curve balls, but also beautiful, striking, and full of wonder and delight. And, ultimately, affirmed I can’t go back to where I was a year ago. The smile in my photo is genuine. The healthy glow from an outdoor lifestyle is apparent. And an unconventional choice leads to the next stage in September.

The journey on the GDT finished. But life’s journey continues. And I look forward to where it takes me.

I gazed at the lake and sat by the border. I sat by the very place where I started my CDT journey in 2006.

So much happened since I started walking south on the divide that year. An echo of my past self did not seem far away.

I walked back the way I came. Went to the Waterton townsite, grabbed a walk-in tent spot, and ate dinner. My GDT hike complete.

Much different in temperament from the quiet, remote, and lonely place I ended a hike in November of 2017.

I am now being hosted by some generous people in Calgary until my flight leaves for Denver.

Then I’ll pack up and start a new phase in life. I’ll write more about that next week.

For now, I am processing the journey on the GDT. And how much this journey has added to the richness of my life.

One journey ended. The overall journey continues!

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5 years ago

Congratulations! Even though your ending was not what you envisioned, it looks interesting–parade and all!
Best wishes for your future, wherever it takes you!

5 years ago

Congrats on an amazing hike! Wish those fires in the West weren’t part of our realities now, but you made a great trek happen anyway–Yay! & Best Wishes on your next chapter–thanks for sharing.