Wednesday, 16 September 2015

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

(Day 2 - August 23 - Baker Lake Campground to Merlin Meadows Campground)
The whole evening previously, I had watched Oyster Mountain drying off. In the end I decided against scrambling it alone though. as it still had some snow along the ridge, and I didn't want to do a long snowy moderate by myself. I also didn't feel like going back the same way as yesterdays hike to get Fossil Mountain. I wanted to go through Jones Pass instead as I hadn't gone that way last time. So I decided to do Skoki Mountain instead. That way I would still have time to go to Merlin Lake in the afternoon before getting to camp. I basically decided at this point, for this to be a relaxing trip rather than pushing myself.The trail over Cotton Grass Pass and then over Jones Pass goes in and out of the trees with good views along meadows. It was muddy because of the melted snow, but not at all unmanageable. 
Once I got to Skoki Lodge I dropped in to ask about leaving my pack there. I was told I could leave it under the tree opposite the main lodge. Many people had done so in the past with no problems, but obviously she could not keep an eye on it except to check once or twice. So I left it under the tree, for once using the option that my Osprey pack has to take off the top pouch and pull out a waist strap. Then to use that as a miniature backpack / very large fanny pack.
The trail up Skoki Mountain starts at the outhouse behind the lodge. It is a very distinct trail up to treeline. Then there is a heavily cairned trail that heads up the scree taking a gentle angle traversing climbers left as it goes. I ascended this way. It traverses so far left you end up on the south ridge quite low down. The view from the summit of the mountain was great and I spent a bit of time up there despite a very cold wind. I went down off the ridge much sooner on descent, on what looked like another trail that steeply descended through scree. Round trip time was only 1 & 3/4 hours.
Once back at my backpack I was relieved it had not been touched, as I had not remembered to remove my wallet or they keys to my brand new Mazda from it. I decided to take the full backpack on the trail up to Merlin Lake, in case the alternative trail from Merlin Lake to Merlin Meadows appealed to me, and I wouldn't be coming back past the lodge. Also I didn't like leaving it behind in general.

The trail to Merlin Lake was built by Laurence Grassi while he worked at the lodge. He was the one who made the wonderful trails around Lake Ohara. It has a similar feel to it, even though there are no ledges as the trail is expertly made to sidehill through boulders and along dirt slopes to the headwall below Merlin Lake. Then it goes through the headwall on trail that is slightly deteriorated since he made it I expect, but easy enough up to the bench above the lake.
Most unfortunately for me by the time I got to the lake the smoke had come in and the views were already hazing out. I decided I was too tired to go down to the lake if I couldn't get good photos anyway, and just stopped where I was above the headwall to look at it. It is a very nice lake with Mount Richardson impressively rising above it. More people should take this side trip. I wish I could have seen it at a better time.

I ended up returning the same way because the book said the trail directly to Merlin Meadows Campground is very marshy and wet. I liked Laurence's trail so I went back down that way. It was late in the day and I didn't want surprises anymore.
At camp I found two ladies on a trip with Yamnuska. They kindly invited me to join their table after dinner. I don't want to sound stuck up, but I cannot imagine paying around a thousand dollars to have a guide come with you backpacking. One mentioned that she couldn't image backpacking alone as I was doing. The other had just never been on a trip before, but said she probably would do it alone or with friends in the future. They were very nice people and I enjoyed talking to them and the guide.

 Oyster Mountain

Looking back south along the trail to Cotton Grass Pass.

Looking north.

After the pass looking north.

Heading up over Jones Pass looking at Skoki Mountain.

Descending Jones Pass looking west at the end of the Wall of Jericho.

Skoki Lodge.

At treeline looking up at Skoki Mountain's scree slopes.

 Ascending the raising traverse path. It was super easy.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking southwest at Myosotis and Zigadenus Lakes. To the left of them is a bump of land that separates Deception Pass on the left, from Packers Pass on the right. Directly above Packers Pass is Mount Redoubt.

 Summit of Skoki Mountain looking west at Merlin Lake and Castilleja Lake below it.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking northwest. Mount Hector in the far distance to the right.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking north. In the far distance in the center is Molar Mountain. I really want to go do that remote scramble. I was thinking about doing it as a three day trip on this weekend. But when it snowed it seemed like a waste if it might be too snowy to climb.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking northeast. One of Red Deer Lakes below. Cyclone Mountain is above, and behind it is the Drummond Glacier which you cannot see.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking east at Red Deer Lakes. I'd gone past those in the rain the last time I was here.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking east at Mount Douglas on the left, and Mount St. Bride on the right, behind Oyster Mountain.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking southeast. You cannot see it, but below here is Jones Pass that goes between Skoki and Fossil Mountains. In the distance you see the area around Cotton Grass Pass.

Summit of Skoki Mountain looking south at Fossil Mountain. Deception Pass is to the left.

Close up of Merlin and Castilleja Lakes.

Close up of Myosotis and Zigadenus Lakes.

Close up of Mount Hector. Of course I want to climb this mountain. Probably on skis? But maybe instead in the summer by going along the connecting ridge from Little Hector, and only going onto the objective hazard of the glacier at the very end to ascend the final summit block.

Close up of Molar Mountain. Doesn't look too snowy, I could have gone there. But this was nice too.

Back down and going to Merlin Lake. From the trail that starts at the lodge and crosses the creek you go less than 1 km and get to this - literal - fork in the road. Very funny. Notice the sign to its left pointing out Packers Pass. I would go down that trail the next morning.

Heading along the trail to Merlin Lake.

Looking back at Skoki Mountain.

Looking down at Merlin Meadows.

Continuing on, Castilleja Lake below.

 Turning a corner near the headwall.

Ascending the headwall. This looks bad, but the way up is easy. A few moves are more scrambling than hiking, but nothing is hard.

  Looking back down.

Final bit is a trail up scree.

Merlin Lake. Note that the haze has already descended upon me. Mount Richardson behind.

Mount Richardson

 The Wall of Jericho. 

(Day 1 - August 22 - Into Baker Lake Campground)
(Day 3 - August 24 - Merlin Meadows Campground Out)

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