Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Skoki Revisited - Banff National Park, AB    August 22 - 24, 2015

One of my very first backpacks was to the Skoki Area in the first year I started backpacking. It started raining the first night, and didn't let up till it snowed overnight on the second night. Despite that (or because of it?) it was a memorable trip. We just did the normal loop on the trail though, and I've been wanting to go back and bag some peaks ever since. 

After the snowfall the few days prior to this trip covered everything in a fresh layer of slippery, my original plans fell through naturally and I decided to go to Skoki again instead. A lot of the mountains are rated easy, so they could be done even if the snow didn't melt too fast. As well, I'd been there before, so it would make it a more comforting and less stressful option for a solo backpack. Thankfully they still had room for a last minute booking and I was off. 

I had the same campground itinerary as previously: Baker Lake then Merlin Meadows. However this time I would not be going around Red Deer Lakes to Merlin Meadows, and I hoped to scramble some mountains and visit Merlin Lake. I only got up Skoki Mountain, but I did see Merlin Lake, as well as the small lakes just south of Baker Lake. The off trail hiking in that area was very enjoyable, and it was great to see across to Pulsatilla Pass where we had been the year before on the Sawback Range Circuit. So despite the lack of scrambles I had a good trip. The weather was really nice, it was sunny the whole time melting a lot of the snow.

(Day 1 - August 22 - Into Baker Lake Campground)

I had called Skoki Lodge to see about the possibility of getting a ride up at 10am with their clients, but they said no one was going in that day. So instead I left earlier and was walking up the ski out road at 9am. I made good time, while Lake Louise workers drove past me back and forth (making the march up the road more ridiculous), and was at the beginning of the actual trail in one hour.

As I got out into the meadows before Boulder Pass it was clear that there was indeed a lot of snow up in the alpine. Fossil Mountain had been on my to-do list for this afternoon or the next morning, but looking at its snow covered slopes I lost motivation to do it that afternoon. I was worried that there would be snow on the tent sites at Baker Lake, and wanted to get there to set myself up on a dry(ish) one before too many people showed up. So I went straight for camp. Indeed the current snow line was just slightly above camp elevation and a lot of the spots were muddy. I picked out one I liked and then wondered what else to do with my afternoon.

I had printed out some information from the "Don't Waste Your Time" book about the three small lakes to the south. I decided to wander over there to take a look at them. I got off route right away when I followed a trail from the campground down Baker Lake's outlet stream for ~300 meters instead of crossing right beside the lake. I ended up passing one small waterfall and crossing the stream above another. On the other side of the stream there was no trail. 

Wondering if i was too far east, but not overly worried about getting lost, I headed off bushwhacking through the larch forest to find the lakes off trail. Doing the Woodbury to Silverspray Traverse had given me a lot of confidence in my off trail route finding skills alone, so I wasn't worried about the lack of trail at all. This worked well, as the underbrush was thin and the larches spaced out far enough apart for easy walking. 

I soon descended down to a draw and found a trail anyway. It ended at Tilted Lake. From the description the trail should take you on a loop to see two of the lakes but I couldn't find it. So I just wandered off into the trees again. After passing two small mud holes I found Little Baker Lake. I stopped there for a short time then headed further south along the edge of Anthrozoan and Brachiopod Mountains. The terrain was open and made for good walking. In no time I found Brachiopod Lake. Its water level was very low, but it had not dried up completely. 

I could see further south that the terrain was also open, and it rose slightly but then possibly dropped off for a good view down the valley, so I continued on. I got up a small rise and found another tiny lake below. There also looked to be the drop I was hoping for just in the distance, so I continued on until I was just south of the tiny lake. From there I could see down into the valley were Wildflower Campground is. I could also see clear across to Pulsatilla Pass which was nice. As well as to the southwest I could see some of Wonder Valley were Mitella Lake is on the Castle/Protection Mountain massive. 

After stopping there I headed back continuing along beside Anthrozoan and Brachiopod Mountains instead of trying to go back the same way. This took me back onto a trail at the north end of Little Baker Lake, which then faded in a meadow as you descended to Baker Lake. Along Baker Lake I found a more distinct trail that took me to the crossing of the outlet stream right at Baker Lake's shore. 

It was a good little trip, and I thoroughly enjoyed it despite not summiting anything. It amazed me that those waterfalls had been so close to camp, but I had not seen them the last time I was here. It is all too often when I am backpacking that by the time we get to camp and set up, we don't feel like exploring around the area off the main trail. But those explorations can be the most rewarding and scenic parts of the trip. I really need to do this more often.

 Mount Richardson, Pika, and Ptarmigan from left to right on the way in. 

 Looking back at Mount Temple.

 Nearing the top of Boulder Pass looking back. 

 Top of Boulder Pass looking down Ptarmigan Lake. Trail continues on left. If you go right you get to Redoubt Lake. That was the only side trip we went on the last time I was here, so there was no need for me to head over there today.

 The main trail looking at Fossil Mountain.

 Descending to Baker Lake.

 Going along the outlet stream I passed this waterfall. Its not two minutes from camp.

 Right after it is this much larger waterfall. This is the view after I crossed above it on boulders. I didn't search around for a good view of this fall, but there might be one somewhere without descending completely. 

 After some light bushwhacking I found this trail for a while. 

 Then it ended at Tilted Lake here.

 More light bushwhacking brought me to the eastern shore of Little Baker Lake. I went around the southern side to get out in the open along Brachiopod and Anthozoan Mountains. Here is the southern shore view looking at Fossil Mountain behind.

 Western shore view of Little Baker Lake. 

 View back at Little Baker Lake as I ascend over to the next lake. Fossil Mountain to the far left.

 Brachiopod Lake below. Going past it the first time I went left around its eastern shore. Coming back I went left again which was then the western shore. Both are easy.

 Brachiopod Lake from the other side looking back.

 Looking onwards to the south.

 View from the edge of this bench like feature containing the lakes south. Directly south is Pulsatilla Pass and the valley to the right of it is Wonder Valley. I now feel no need to travel over this section of trail as I saw it from here, and I hear the trail is overgrown.

 Close up of Pulsatilla Pass

 The small lake near the edge.

 Back past Brachiopod and Little Baker looking south at Little Baker Lake.

 Then descending to Baker Lake on somewhat of a trail. Good view of Fossil Mountain.

 Baker Lake with Ptarmigan Peak behind.

 Where you should actually cross the outlet stream to find the trail around the lake, on these stones.

Baker Lake from the campground looking at Brachiopod and Anthozoan Mountains.

(Day 2 - August 23 - Baker Lake Campground to Merlin Meadows Campground)
(Day 3 - August 24 - Merlin Meadows Campground Out)

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