Canadian Continental - The Great Divide Trail
The Rockwall left behind now, the trail climbs again for 1,500 feet (450m) and 2.5 miles (4 km) to the wide, flower-filled alpine meadows of Goodsir Pass, where a park warden on horseback told me there were signs of recent grizzly bear activity. Ahead tower the twin peaks of Mount Goodsir, at 11,700 feet (3,510m) the highest in Yoho National Park which is entered at the pass, while behind stretches out the Rockwall all the way south to the still distinct pyramid of Foster Peak. The descent from the pass to the Ottertail River is long (2,400 feet/720m) and waterless, and in thick forest that seems airless on a hot day., I carried no water and regretted it, arriving at the river dry and dusty. At the river, the route turns downstream past the McArthur Creek Warden Cabin to the McArthur Campground situated in dense lodgepole pine forest, where I camped, although I set up my kitchen on the banks of the Ottertail, marveling at the view of the northeast face of Mount Goodsir rising 6,200 feet (1,860m) from Goodsir Creek, a phenomenal mountain wall.
The 2,400-foot (720m) climb to the last pass on the route, McArthur Pass (7,250 feet/2,175m) is arduous but there are many opportunities to stop and look back over the thickly vegetated avalanche chutes it traverses to the soaring peaks of Mount Goodsir. The rich plant and animal life of the McArthur Creek valley attracts grizzlies and I saw much fresh dung on the trail as I ascended. A warden I met near the top of the pass said three bears were active in the area. The Trail Guide warns of grizzlies here too, so it would be advisable to be extra cautious when in this valley. The warden also advised me against the Duchesnay Pass route out to the highway from Lake O'Hara as described in the guidebook (which does say it is for experienced backpackers only), saying that the trailless route involved some dangerous scrambling and also that it crossed some important fossil beds on a trail closed to the general public.
From McArthur Pass it is a short walk to Lake O'Hara, situated in spectacular alpine scenery and boasting a shuttle bus from the highway below, an impressive private lodge where afternoon tea can be had if you arrive in time to place a reservation (if not, there are soft drinks and candy bars for sale), Alpine Club of Canada cabins, a warden cabin, and a busy campground. The variety of walks and climbs radiating from the area make it a popular base for day trips. An extensive trail system visits just about every lake, cirque and ridge in the area.
To reach the road in the valley below, you could walk down the Lake O'Hara access road (closed to public traffic), but far better is to descend the trail on the west side of the Cataract Brook valley. This route, mostly in forest, provides several good views of the peaks around the lake and above the creek, as well as those across the highway to the north. It's eight miles (12.8 km) down the trail to the roadhead and the end of the Great Divide walk. A cafi lies on the Trans-Canada Highway a short distance away and from the highway. buses can be caught to Lake Louise and Banff.
For those who wish to walk further, north of the highway lies the Yoho Valley and some fine trails, although there is no easy through-route and if you don't want to undertake difficult crosscountry travel and risky stream fords you will have to return to the road. For those who do wish to continue north, I suggest a route along the Iceline Trail to Little Yoho Valley and then over Kiwetinok and Amiskwi Passes to the Blaeberry River and a return to Banff National Park at Howse Pass, but be prepared for some rough country.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication