I woke early this morning, made/ate breakfast and, armed with the information I received from the very helpful park ranger yesterday, headed out for a long (and hopefully un-crowded) day of hiking. When I reached the trailhead it looked promising as there were only 4 or 5 other cars. So I quickly loaded my day pack, laced up my “serious” boots and hit the “trail” (more on that in a moment)…..
The hike I ended up doing today actually combined pieces of at least 3 trails. I combined pieces of the Skoki Lodge trail, the Boulder Pass trail and the Packer Pass & Packer Peak trail (this is the “little known” trail that the ranger told me she had done last week). Before the day was over I would hike for almost 9 hours, cover 20 miles, on at least 3 or 4 different trails and climb almost 4700’….oh, and pass less than 10 people all day!
The trail began in a remote parking area for the Lake Louise Ski Resort called the Fish Creek lot. The first 2.5 miles of the hike is on a steep, gravel road that is used by resort staff called the Temple fire road. It’s basically just a grudge climb with nothing to look at but trees on either side of the road. So I put my earbuds in, put on some upbeat music, put my head down and marched up the road as quickly as possible. After 2.5 miles I reached the Temple Day Lodge that is used by skiers during ski season. At this point I finally reached the actual trailhead for the hike and headed back into the woods for another 1.5 mile or so.
So after about 4 miles of climbing through mostly thick woods I finally began to get some open views of some of the mountains in this area. And although the clouds were low on the mountains I could already tell this was going to be good….and it only got better as the day went on!
After another 1 – 2 miles I came to a place they call the “Halfway Hut”. The Halfway Hut (images) a small, log cabin that was built by the Ski Club of the Canadian Rockies in 1931. It’s actually listed as a historic building in Canada and maintained as such. It’s currently only used by day hikers as overnight camping is not allowed. And one last thing, there are legends about the hut as well. One legend is about the ghosts of 4 mountaineers who were killed in avalanches in 1933. The legend says that during winter months, their packs filled with rum, they ski to the hut to drink rub and play cards until dawn. I thought that was awesome!
After a few minutes checking out the Halfway Hut and taking a few pictures I was back on the trail. After another mile or so and walking through and over a field of large boulders (hence the name) I reached Boulder Pass. It’s the lowest of the 3 passes I did today. Once you reach the top of Boulder Pass you get a good view of Ptarmigan Lake (images), and on a clear day, the mountains in the Lake Louise area that I hiked/saw yesterday. Unfortunately however, it was too cloudy to see any of them this morning. But what I could see was beautiful!
After taking in the view, and taking a few pictures, I started back on the trail. It was at this point that I began to keep my eyes open for the unmarked trail to Packer Pass and Packer Peak that the ranger had told me about. She said it was easy to miss as she had actually missed it herself last week and had to double back to find it. All I knew was that it was somewhere on the left about halfway up Ptarmigan Lake. Unfortunately, although I kept looking and looking before I knew it I came to the end of the lake….and no trail. So, I doubled back and began looking again and about halfway back down the lake I came across something that could be a trail and since it was best option I had seen yet I decided to take it and see where it led.
It was a pretty steep climb and I wasn’t sure I was on the right trail, or even on a trail at all, until I reached the pass. Once I reached the pass I could clearly see the peak. From the little reading I could find on Packer Pass & Peak I knew there was no trail to the summit of the peak but you had to “rock scramble” to the top. So I took one quick 360 picture from the pass and then took off for the top…
It only took about 15 minutes or so to reach the top but I was a strenuous 15 minutes of climbing over rocks and patches of snow. But once I reached the top it was worth every step….WOW! From this point I could see 6 lakes, 2 glaciers, Deception Pass and the Skoki valley full of Larch trees with their beautiful fall yellow colors. It was truly magnificent…..
I stayed on the top for probably at least 30-45 minutes taking pictures, eating a quick lunch and debating on whether I could make it to the Skoki lodge and back to my car before dark. After quite a bit of debate I reluctantly 🙂 decided that I probably did not have enough time to make it to the lodge and back before dark. But I REALLY wanted to see the other side of Packer Pass so I decided I would descend the other side of Packer Pass and then come straight back up Deception Pass and return. I had I plan, I felt good about it and I so I scampered back down to the pass….keeping in mind there was no trail to follow.
As for the other side of Packer Pass, although there was not an official trail, there were no trail markers and nothing showed up on any trail maps, I had read that there was a worn trail that you could follow down the other side. And when I reached the pass I did find a worn trail heading down the other side. I had no idea if it was the “right” trail and/or where it went but I figured why not and down I went. About halfway down I was really glad I had not come up this way because it was pretty nasty….steep, tons of lose rocks, snowy, muddy and slick. So after about 5 minutes of descending I knew my fate was sealed and I was committed to following this trail as there was no way I was turning around and going back up this. ha ha
Once I reached the bottom I was rewarded with a fantastic view of two of the lakes I could see at the top…..Skoki Lake and Zigadenus Lake. Although I could have probably walked by/around them both in 15-20 minutes it probably took me almost an hour because I literally stopped every 100 yards or so to take pictures. They were both stunning!
Once I finally passed the second lake I passed through a small meadow and then came to a 35′ cliff! I looked around but couldn’t really tell where the trail went. I could see a trail at the bottom so I assumed there was a way down….but for about 2 minutes I couldn’t find it. Then I finally saw it and realized why I had such a hard time finding it. The “trail” hugged the side of the cliff wall and went under a huge rock. No wonder I couldn’t see it from the top. I had to almost get down on all fours to get under it. I thought, “how in the world did they find this”.
When I got down the cliff the meadow I was in was alive with brilliant yellow from the Larch trees all around me….
Once I was reunited with the trail I began to hike pretty quickly as I realized it had taken way longer than I had expected to get here from Packer Pass and, I had not yet seen the trail that would take me back up Deception Pass, like I had expected. I continued to hike and eventually I came to a fork in the trail…..literally!
I remembered reading something about a “fork” in the trail but didn’t pay a lot of attention to it because I hadn’t planned to hike this far. So when I saw this I at least knew I was on the right trail. I still didn’t know where I was going or why I had not yet intercepted the trail leading back to Deception Pass but I was going somewhere….fast. 🙂
After about 10 more minutes I came to a small foot bridge over a creek and as I was walking across I could make out a log cabin on the other side. I knew immediately that it was the Skoki Lodge . So I quickly realized that, although I had decided I did not have time to make it to the lodge and back before dark…here I was. So all I could do at this point was hump it on the way back! But….since I was already here, and will most likely never be here again, I had to take a few minutes and check the place out. There was a sign on the front of the main cabin asking people to remove their boots before coming in so I did, and I stepped inside.
Now, the Skoki Lodge (website, images) is remote and rustic. It was built in 1931 and is an historic site. The only way to reach it is by hiking at least 7 miles or more but once you are there (I’m told) the food is delicious. The accommodations are well, rustic with no indoor plumbing. And you can have all of this for only $225/per night! Uh….I think I’ll stick with my tent. ha ha
When I stepped inside I was greeted by a 20something girl who welcomed me, told me to feel free to look around and pointed to a table with a lot of yummy looking food and said the afternoon tea was $20 if i would like. She then disappeared into the kitchen and I snooped around. There were 2 couples in the cabin as well and we briefly spoke. When I came back into the main area the girl was putting out some “adult beverages” and said I was welcome to them as well for the price marked on each. I told her I had a 10 mile hike back and if I started drinking now I would probably not make it. 🙂 She laughed and said I was probably right. After about 10 minutes I went back outside and began putting my boots back on. One of the men who had been inside came out and we struck up a conversation. His name was Uli and he was from Germany but had lived in Calgary for the past 10 years. We had a nice conversation and ended up talking for another 10 minutes or so. So now I was REALLY running late! So I said goodbye to Uli, took a couple of more pictures and took off up the trail.
When I got back on the trail my intention was to hike fast and not to stop for anything! Well, that lasted about a mile when I got another amazing view of the Skoki valley and I absolutely had to stop and take some more pictures. 🙂
After about 30 minutes I made it to the top of Deception Pass…and had to stop and take some more pictures. 🙂
After snapping a few more pictures I quickly descended from Deception Pass, passed Ptarmigan Lake and the Halfway Hut but I did stopped just beyond Boulder Pass to take a few more pictures of the valley with all the Larch trees as it had cleared since this morning and the way the sun was shining off of the golden leaves was just breathtaking…..
After that I stopped to take a few more pictures along the way and to visit with some horses that were in a fenced in area along the gravel road leading back to the parking area, but other than that I was all business. And as it turned out I actually made it back to the parking area with plenty of time to spare before dark. I actually had time to put all of my gear away and drive to a park and make my dinner. And this was the last picture I took for the day while I was eating…..the moon over Mt. Temple (images).
I’ve had some great hikes on this trip but I think this may have been my best overall hike so far. It had everything: beautiful snow covered mountains, multiple passes, a summit, gorgeous meadows filled with fall colors, incredibly clear alpine lakes and streams and best of all (after the past couple of days) almost no people! 🙂 As I mentioned above I hiked for almost 9 hours, covered 20 miles, on at least 3 or 4 different trails and climb almost 4700′ and passed less than 10 people all day! Needless to say it was a great day! Kudos to the ranger who told me about this hike (I actually went back into the information centre the next day to thank her again).