Richard Long has shared this story about his travels on the Trans Canada Trail - specifically his foray over Gray Creek Pass!
Hiker Hits High Point at Gray Creek Pass
By Richard Long
Since dipping a toe in the Pacific at Kilometer 0 of the TCT in Victoria in 2008, I have experienced a lot of ups and downs—although more ups than downs—during the 1502 kilometers of the Trans Canada Trail in BC that I have had the pleasure of hiking since then. Hiking for about two weeks each summer, I am proud to be able to say that I haven’t missed a single step of the TCT in my trek across BC so far. There have been a lot of high points—hiking up Cypress Mountain from Horseshoe Bay and climbing the Paleface Pass from Chilliwack Lake are just two that come to mind—but the Gray Creek Pass definitely has to be the highest of the high, since it is actually the highest point on the entire Trans Canada Trail. It is all downhill—in both directions—from up there!
My hike is a family affair. Supported by my wife, Patricia, and accompanied at different times by one or more of our three sons—Jeffrey, Jeremy, and Michael—who have all walked hundreds of kilometers with me (our youngest son Michael holds the record, having hiked for over a thousand kilometers with me since starting out as a fifteen year-old in 2008), I have now crossed six of the seven mountain ranges on the BC stretch of the TCT. Not bad for a 62 year-old flatlander from Saskatchewan!
This summer, accompanied by my friend Don Ramage, we started off from Kootenay Bay, where I finished last year. After a stop at the Gray Creek Store, where Tom Lymbery welcomed us with an update on trail conditions, the next day we veered off the forestry road onto the alternate TCT power line route at about kilometer 7 from the store. This route is a lot steeper than the forestry road, and the six kilometer stretch to the summit was an unrelenting grind, as the trail climbs more than 2600 feet and never flattens out until the top. But we were rewarded with great views of Kootenay Lake and snow-capped mountains, not to mention the tranquility of not seeing a single living soul on that part of our hike! We would strongly recommend this route to hikers, but cyclists would find it quite a challenge.
Hikers do need to ford the upper branch of Gray Creek, but we didn’t have a problem with that when we went through on July 16. However, we were told that the water was waist deep only two weeks before, and that crossing it then was very perilous. We clocked the summit on the power line route at 6462 feet, which is a bit lower than the pass on the forestry road, but still feels high enough when you hike it! After the summit, there is more than a kilometer of very steep downhill before connecting with the forestry road, and then a 29 kilometer trek to the St. Mary’s River bridge, where we finished for the day.
After a day of hiking down St. Mary’s road, we followed the TCT into the Kimberley Nature Park, which was a nice relief from the heat, and then down into Kimberley, where we had the pleasure of meeting Kaity Brown, who was doing a story on our hike for the Kimberley Daily Bulletin. The next day we took the paved North Star Rails to Trails route to the Cranbrook TCT pavilion, where our hike ended this year. Next summer—2014—we hope to finish our TCT hiking trek across BC, by hiking the 270 kilometers from Cranbrook to Alberta, via the Elk Pass.
We want to mention that we were blown away by the North Star trail, which makes the TCT so accessible to all sorts of non-motorized users over its 27 kilometer gentle gradient between Kimberley and Cranbrook. We saw cyclists, baby trailers, inline skaters, boarders, joggers, and just plain walkers. In all my experience on the TCT in BC, there is really nothing quite like it. Because it is such a wonderful accomplishment, we think that it deserves a lot more fanfare on both ends of the trail, including kiosks with route maps and signage directing visitors to the trail heads, to help show off this remarkable trail. Kudos to everyone who worked so hard to make this wonderful trail segment a reality, and also to the dedicated volunteers at Trails BC, who have worked tirelessly to make the TCT a reality in British Columbia!