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Canmore man smashes Great Divide Trail's fastest known time for charity

Canmore's Andrew Cotterell averaged approximately 60 kilometres per day for 20 days to set the new Fastest Known Time.

CANMORE – The Great Divide Trail's Fastest Known Time didn't stand a chance against an ambitious Canmore man looking to get disadvantaged youth an opportunity to visit the mountains.

Andrew Cotterell set the 1,130-kilometre trail's new fastest known time (FKT) with a scorching record of 20 days and seven hours, smashing the previous record of 23 days and eight hours by 73 hours.

"It's an awesome trail, but I didn't set the record to hold onto it forever," said Cotterell. "I hope someone goes out there soon and gets it and has a great time on it."

The Great Divide Trail runs between the borders of Alberta and British Columbia, and goes from Kakwa Provincial Park, around 200 km east of Prince George, B.C., to the Canada and the United States border in Waterton National Park.

For a little extra motivation, Cotterell set out with a $10,000 fundraising goal for the charity Crossing the Divide Experience, a Calgary-based registered charitable organization that has taken at-risk and disadvantaged youth into the wilderness since 1995.

In order to beat the previous FKT set in 2019 by Elaine Bissonho and raise awareness for the charity, Cotterell averaged approximately 60-km per day through the backcountry, which he said got off to a rocky start in the "remote and rough" wilderness.

Prior to the trip, Cotterell listened to a podcast with Bissonho, who described the Great Divide Trail as tougher than some in the U.S. such as the Appalachian Trail and the Continental Divide Trail, but it was "even more difficult" than he expected.

"I had to dig really, really deep to get through that first section and I was kind of playing catch up from there for a week or 10 days after, just trying to hold on," he said.

He thinks he was lucky with the weather, dodging bad spells of dark grey wildfire smoke flooding into the Rockies, and due to unusually hot temperatures and a lack of rain in the Alberta Rockies, nights were mostly perfect for sleeping.


"I had one incident with a pack rat," Cotterell said with a laugh. "I was sleeping and it kept running up and jumping on me over the night and trying to eat my pack. It ate my hat, which I left out, so that was a bit of a shame, but it's better that it ate my hat than my pack."

Toward the end of the trip, the little bumps and bruises of bushwhacking nearly 60-km a day starting to add up, but nothing was worse than how his feet felt at the end of the 20-day adventure.

Cotterell felt he could have continued longer if not for his worn out dogs.

"My feet started swelling and getting more blisters and I wasn't fitting any shoes anymore and that was just kind of painful, so luckily it was close enough to the end there to just kind of manage it the best I can and know that it was going to finish," he said.

Cotterell’s record is classified as supported, meaning he received help along the way such as with food drops at pre-determined areas.

On top of setting the Great Divide Trail's FKT, Cotterell helped raise $8,100 as of Wednesday (Aug. 4) for Crossing the Divide Experience. The fundraiser aims to reach $10,000 by the end of the month.

As the charitable cause is trending toward being successful, Cotterell said he's in no rush to attempt another FKT for the charity anytime soon.

"I really enjoyed it and I really loved the experience, but hiking a couple hours less each day would be a lot more enjoyable," he said.

Jordan Small

About the Author: Jordan Small

Jordan Small joined the Outlook in 2014 and covers the vast world of sports in the Bow Valley. A Barrie, Ont. native, he also wrote for RMO's Mountain Guide section and the MD of Bighorn beat.
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