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The Great Divide X-Country Trail

So last weekend, I went to the cross-country ski trail of the Great Divide. For those who do not know what the Great Divide is, it is the major continental divide in Canada that originates at the Chutki Sea in Alaska only to go all the way to the Mexican/Guatemalan border. The Great Divide is right at the southern part of the BC-Alberta border. You can very easily head there on the Trans-Canada Highway: a hour and 56 minute drive from Mount Royal University to Lake Louise, where one of the trailheads for the Great Divide ski trail begins. However, there is another trailhead to the Great Divide: called the Lake O’Hara Parking Lot in British Columbia.

Don’t worry, you will not need to go on a massive road trip, as Lake O’Hara is close to the Alberta-BC border. I went to the parking lot – where there is a view of Mt. Bosworth and Paget Peak. Mt. Bosworth was named in 1904 by George Morris Bosworth, who managed freight traffic on the Canadian Pacific railway. By the way, there are a couple of CP rails close to both the Trans-Canada Highway and the parking lot which are actively used by freight rail traffic there.

Caption: Paget Peak/Mt. Bosworth near the Alberta-BC Border, seen from the Great Divide X-Country ski trail, located at the fringes of Yoho National Park, BC.

It takes a very short amount of time to get to the Alberta-BC border from the parking lot. At the Alberta-BC border of the cross-country ski trail, I found a large wooden house and a big sign that says “Great Divide.” Alongside with this, there was a boarded-up washroom. The large wooden house is good enough for a lunch if you are either coming from Lake O’Hara parking lot or the Lake Louise parking lot. Then comes a huge slope once one enters Banff National Park (you can tell if you entered Banff National Park by a sign that says so after you passed the Alberta-BC border). I can’t seem to find who constructed this house or what.

Caption: My mom standing next to the Alberta-BC border, as seen by the wooden entrance. Seen next to it is the sign that says "Banff National Park."

Then comes a very long linear trail that sort of makes one wonder just how long one can see. Next to this long linear line, to the left if you are coming from the O’Hara parking lot is the Pope’s Peak. Pope’s Peak was not named in tribute for the Catholic Pope as some of you might be thinking (the Pope, in 1887, when the mountain was named, was Leo XIII), no, it was instead named after John Henry Pope, who was the minister of Railways and Canals, who acquired funding for the construction of Canada’s national railway.

This was not the first name given to Pope’s Peak, however. It was originally named Mount D’Espine, which Samuel Allen, who visited the Rocky Mountains in 1891, named for a man who had ventured with him to the Swiss mountain of Matterhorn, located at the Italy/Switzerland border. He is considered to be one of the first to visit Lake Louise, and was an exceptional man, from Yale University at New Haven, Connecticut.

Right next to Pope’s Peak is a mountain named Mount Saint Piran. Mount Saint Piran was named by our good American friend Samuel Allen, for St. Piran. However, a new character has emerged in our exploration of the Rocky Mountains: Willoughby John Astley. Astley, had come from Cornwall in Ireland, and was a manager of the chalet in Lake Louise.

St. Piran is a figure of legend in Ireland. Made a bishop after studying scriptures in Rome, one legend says that he would often raise soldiers from the dead. However, the kings of Ireland were not impressed, and reports say that he was flung into the sea. He survived, built a small chapel, and allegedly lived for 200 years.

The Great Divide is where an intersection of colonial men, American explorers, with Irish legends all united, providing in a way, a deep history of those whose mountains were named after, some of whom never saw the majesty of the Rocky Mountains.

I have gone on a tangent about obscure Irish history and the American impact on exploring the Rocky Mountains: so, here is a bit of something else: there is a dog trail right next to the Great Divide, and I even managed to see a few dogs manage to pass me, carrying a couple of people. According to Tripadvisor, there is a tour called the Kigmik Dog Sled Tours, which has been reviewed positively.

Caption: Dogs pull the sleigh of a group of people travelling with a dog sled tour.

Kigmik Dog Sled Tours operates a tour of the Great Divide that takes you around 1.5 hours to venture there and back. The website of the company calls this the “most popular tour” and departs every day at 9:30, 12:00 and at 2:00pm. I managed to snag some photographs of the dogs. One of those days I am going to end up paying $400 to do one of those tours. The dogs move pretty fast from my own observation.

Given the close proximity to the Trans-Canada Highway, carrying traffic to British Columbia from Alberta, I could hear cars on the pavement of the road. However, I did not gain any sort of clear view of the highway. There were of course a lot of trees that separated the 400m between the trail and the highway.

There was a lot of slopes as well traveling through the Great Divide. Throughout the trail there were many shortcuts or other trails that ranked from easy to difficult. I didn’t go on any of them, but I will consider it for the future.

However, before the trail ends, there is a majestic view of another mountain: Fairview Mountain. Fairview Mountain was hiked by our dear friend Samuel E.S. Allen, and Walter D. Wilcox around 1893, but it was officially named Fairview Mountain by Walter D. Wilcox the following year.

Caption: Fairview Mountain, as seen from the Great Divide X-Country ski trail.

The trail ends at a parking lot near Lake Louise. If one goes back, it’s a similar experience of going up and down slopes whilst looking at mountains named after explorers from Europe.

Of course, there are no sources on how Indigenous people looked upon the mountains in this trail, nor any writings that I could find about who inhabited this land. If I ever find some, or if you email the SOB of any sort of stories about how Indigenous people named the mountains, I will probably incorporate some of the stories into an article on how the Indigenous saw the Rockies.

The Lake O’Hara trailhead for the Great Divide is 2 hours and 4 minutes west of MRU, while the Lake Louise trailhead is 2 hours west of MRU.

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