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Backpacking to Maligne with Mary

Cataract Pass

Navigating Cataract Pass on one of the best weather days experienced by the “Chasing Mary” backpackers on their way to Maligne Lake. Jim Shipley photo.

Five intrepid backpackers celebrate the end of a hot, smoky summer with a soggy ten-day trek from the North Saskatchewan River to Maligne Lake on the Great Divide Trail.

Fog, drizzle, rain, sleet, snow! Jim Shipley and his buddies did
something this summer that I never managed. Backpacking 10 days in the wilderness without seeing more than a few flashes of blue sky and sunshine. And this following one of the hottest, smokiest summers on record.

For their annual jaunt through the wilderness, Jim and companions chose to follow the route that Mary Schäffer, Mollie Adams and their outfitters pioneered in 1908 to “discover” Maligne Lake. They dubbed it the “Chasing Mary Tour”.

Though parts of their journey followed in the footsteps of Mary Schäffer, they actually traced the current route of the Great Divide Trail north from from a trailhead 6.4 kms east of Saskatchewan River Crossing to the north end of Maligne Lake.

And that’s where the value of Jim’s narrative lies for most backpackers—an excellent, detailed description of the joys and hardships of this section of the Great Divide Trail. Of particular interest is the initial stretch via Owen Creek and Michele Lakes to Pinto Lake. This 32-km trek is a mostly trail-less struggle over the highest pass on the GDT.


Maligne River Trail Trip Report

So once again, I provide a link to Jim Shipley’s 26-page account (with photos) of his Chasing Mary Tour 2018.

However, I will provide one historical correction. Mary Schäffer and her party weren’t  the first white folks to visit Maligne Lake. That honour belongs to CPR surveyor Henry MacLeod, who explored the Maligne Valley to the lake in 1875. He named it “Sorefoot Lake”  and retreated back down the valley in disgust.

Maybe Jim and friends can identify.


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