It shouldn't need to be said - but we've found through bitter experience that it IS necessary ---The GDT is NOT the CDT -- or the PCT -- or the AT.
Anyone who expects it to be so will be surprised - probably unpleasantly.
Some hikers seem to expect their "next trail" to be nothing more than an extension of the last trail they hiked. While that expectation may be foolish - it also seems to be a very common - and very persistent misconception. At least one hiker (on a different trail) was apparently not pleased by the differences we told them about - and blamed us.
Meaning the footpath - is a wild mix of easy Park trail (a walk in the woods) and steep, overgrown, washed-out, rocky, blowdown-strewn struggles over scree slopes on non-existent trail. That is certainly somewhat of an exxageration with regard to any single spot on the trail - but each of those descriptors applies to one or more parts of the GDT, And sometimes more than one descriptor fits. The following photos illustrate a few of the more egregious spots on the trai --
Those photos do NOT represent the majority of the trail tread - but they ARE representative of some of the worst spots. The next set of photos illustrates some of the better trail that the hiker will find for the majority of the trail --
This kind of mixed trail is what should be expected of a trail that has been abandoned by the government and by all but a few remaining maintainers. The future of the GDT is in doubt. Under the present circumstances, the trail can only get worse, particularly in those places where it has been abandoned - the Howse River, Owen Creek, Cataract Creek, etc.
The entire trail passes through grizzly country. There are also a lot of hungry black bears in the Canadian Rockies. We saw bear tracks and/or scat every day. Learn how to hike and camp safely in bear country before you go. The following are our suggestions for dealing with bears. They come from some 3000 miles of hiking in "bear country" - meaning specifically "grizzly country."
- ALWAYS hang your food. It doesn't take as much time and effort as dealing with the bureaucracy if a bear gets your food. And it's better than being hungry.
- Keep a clean camp. Don't cook near your tent or hang food near the tent.
- Make noise as you walk. But do it the right way - bear bells are just bear attractants. And whistles make you sound like a pika or marmot - both of which are a bear's favorite food.
- Be very careful hiking at dawn and dusk, when the bears are most likely to be feeding. This is something that many thruhikers either don't know - or ignore.
- Some hikers (particularly PCT hikers) have been known to sleep "on the trail" - meaning on the trail tread. Trails are bear, moose, wolf and elk highways. Sleeping on the trail makes one a "home delivery bear taco." It also disturbs the wildlife and pisses off the neighbors.
- Don't get between a bear and her cubs - and don't play with the cubs. Mama don't like it.
- Don't get between a bear and a food source. If you smell something rotten, then walk carefully and get out of the area ASAP - cause Mr. Bear is nearby.
- There are differences in psychology and behavior between black and brown (grizzly) bears. Knowing the differences can save your life if you have a close encounter of the nasty kind. Learn how to identify the bear you're facing - and how to act based on which kind of bear it is. If it's a black bear your actions should be different than if it were a brown (grizzly) bear.
For bear identification training, I'd recommend several sources -
Those pages can be a lot of fun as well as being educational. The BeBearAware page also has information on bear spray for those who think they need it. We have never carried bear spray but YMMV.
The good news here is that, while we carried a filter, we rarely used it. Most of our water came from side streams and was not a problem. In a few places (like Elk Lakes PP campground) the water source was a glacial lake or stream - not good, but usable if necessary. Just don't filter glacial runoff water - it'll kill your filter. Our recommendation would be to carry some form of water treatment - but not necessarily a filter.
Use Deet - or you'll be lunch for the flies and mosquitos. We used more Deet on the GDT than on the AT, the PCT and two CDT hikes combined. Don't leave home without it.
Some hikers might feel the need for a headnet. We carried them, but never used them.
We know it's out there - we saw bear tracks and scat nearly every day, we followed the tracks of a wolf pack, we've been told there are elk and caribou, but we saw none of them. We did see lots of deer, bighorns, marmots, rabbits, ground squirrels, Mountain goats, a few moose and one porcupine.
Whether you see bears or not - don't fail to hang your food unless you enjoy starvation as a lifestyle.