After approaching and climbing Mount Drummond in some interesting weather / conditions, Phil Richards and I were ready for a nice relaxing day amongst the larches in the Skoki area of Lake Louise in Banff National Park. We were hoping for warm weather and sunny conditions but we got a mix of sun and cloud and quite cool temperatures. It turns out that didn't matter, we still had a sublime day. Before heading out to Jones Pass we took 30 minutes to check out the largest of the Red Deer Lakes near camp. A loon was calling from the lake and the beautiful sound echoing off the mountains around our camp made us want to check it out. I'm glad we did! The upper Red Deer Lake is large - much larger than I thought it would be. This would be a great place to relax with a book some day. I'm sure I'll be back. I find it interesting that the Little Pipestone River flows into the lake from the north and the Red Deer River flows out of it. What happened in the middle to change the name?! ;) After admiring the view of Molar Mountain across the lake we reluctantly turned back to camp to begin our exit.
[Molar Mountain rises dramatically above the upper Red Deer Lake]
[A pano of Red Deer Lake with Cyclone and Pipestone peaks on the right, Molar in the far distance. ++]
[What a great way to start the day! Skoki Mountain and the Upper Red Deer Lake. ++]
From our camp at Red Deer Lakes we trudged back along the trail towards Skoki Lodge. The morning was very crisp and the horse-mangled trail was frozen solid which helped improve it a wee bit. The area from Jones Pass between Fossil and Skoki peaks is a beautiful one, and more open than I remembered. This granted us great views which we admired and photographed liberally.
[Early morning near the Red Deer Lakes campground. Cyclone, Pipestone and Drummond on the left, Douglas on the right. ++]
[The horse mangled trail is at least frozen so we can mostly walk on top of the mucky mess.]
[Phil blissfully walks right past the (obvious!) sign indicating that he's now off the hiking trail. I didn't tell him, but he noticed pretty quickly! LOL.]
[Great views from near Jones Pass of the north end of Fossil]
[Silver Tip (Wall of Jericho) reflects in a small pond along the trail between Fossil and Skoki peaks.]
[Interesting, old tree trunk]
[There really is no excuse to get lost out here!]
Once we made it back to the Skoki Valley we turned right to go to the Skoki Lodge. From the lodge we followed the signed Lake Merlin trail across Skoki Creek until a literal fork on the trail indicated the junction to Packer's Pass. From this point on the hike was fantastic. The morning sun was finally giving some warmth to the valley and we started to shed layers. The larches were a bit duller already than our trip in (when they were saturated with rain) but they were full-on yellow and the sheer numbers of them overwhelmed the visual excitement anyway (I really like larches!). I knew that the hike was going to be special, but I never realized just how nice it was going to be. I can't be sure but I think Phil's idea of the "too popular" Skoki area might be changed a wee bit now. ;)
[Skoki Lodge is a wonderful place. It's not obvious from the signs, but you must cross the Skoki River to Lake Merlin right across from the lodge and follow that trail until a fork. Continue straight for Packer's Pass / Skoki Lakes.]
[The literal "fork" in the trail... Groan. ;)]
Our first interesting bit of trail was near the waterfall coming down from Myosotis Lake. The trail seems like it dead ends against the line of cliffs that the waterfall plunges over - but of course it doesn't. Just left of the waterfall, a series of cairns marks the way up the cliffs and through a narrow keyhole slot, complete with a large boulder that must be passed underneath in a pinched move that had me thinking it better not choose this moment to wiggle free! After this the trail accessed Myosotis Lake - a gorgeous aqua colored glacial body of water showing various shades of green and blue with the mood of the sky above ever-changing. We took many photographs here, falling larch needles gave us a golden carpet to walk on and the occasional burst of sunlight would change the landscape dramatically each time it happened. After skirting around Myosotis vai a good trail on it's east and south shore, we ascended a steep trail up to Zigadenus Lake.
[As the trail starts following Skoki Creek towards Myosotis Lake the scenery gets very dramatic with Packer's Pass Peak on the left and Ptarmigan on the right.]
[The larch forest under Deception and Packer's Pass comes into view with Packer's Pass Peak at center. ++]
[The trail winds its way towards the cliff wall and the waterfall coming out of Myosotis Lake.]
[The waterfall. The trail goes up to the left and straight through the cliff band! This is a magical spot - it was hard not to simply lie down and take a long nap here in the larch meadow!]
[An obscure route through a slot and under a chockstone to break the cliffs to Myosotis Lake]
[Looking down at the larch meadow from the top of the curtain wall with Skoki on the left and Fossil on the right. ++]
[WOW! Myosotis with a frozen "infinity puddle" in the foreground. Ptarmigan looming over in the bg.]
[The larches have already started to shed their needles but this doesn't have to ruin the moment.]
[Myosotis Lake with the trail running alongside on the left, Ptarmigan looming on the left and Wall of Jericho on the right. ++]
[Further around Myosotis now.]
[The cool staircase trail up to Zigadenus Lake from Myosotis Lake.]
Zigadenus Lake was no disappointment either. Another gorgeous glacial lake - this time with a large frozen waterfall coming into it's far end from the glaciers plunging down Ptarmigan and Pika Peak's steep northeast aspects. Again, we spent many minutes photographing and taking in the beautiful lake before reluctantly plodding up to Packer's Pass on a well-worn trail that WASN'T ruined by horses this time!
[Beautiful view of Myosotis Lake from near Zigadenus Lake]
[Zigadenus Lake has a very interesting shoreline, consisting of smooth, sloped granite which reminded me of the Canadian Shield]
[Looking back at Zigadenus Lake as we start ascending to Packer's Pass]
As we pushed our tired legs up to the pass (remember - we're lugging over night packs all day) Phil jokingly mentioned that I should "go bag that peak since it looks easy from here" - gesturing up to our left at the small peak splitting Deception and Packer's passes. To his great surprise I whole heartedly agreed! Serves him right - he should seriously know better than that... ;) Without any unnecessary debate, we dropped the heavy packs at the top of the pass and proceeded to stride up the peak. I took GPS measurements at the pass and the summit to ensure I could actually classify it as a separate peak; at 130 meters higher than the pass, it just qualified. The views from this small apex were naturally stunning. All of the Skoki area was spread out around us, including Mount Drummond. We traversed to the end of the summit ridge to get a pano of both Zigadenus and Myosotis Lakes before descending back to the pass. I was considering naming the peak, Zigadenus Peak but thought that sounded too official and settled on the obvious Packer's Pass Peak in the tradition of naming unofficial summits after their closest pass (i.e. Burstall Pass Peak, Healy Pass Peak).
[Nearing the barren Packer's Pass]
[Packer's Pass Peak is a no-brainer if you have time / energy.]
[Amazing views over Skoki from the summit of Packer's Pass Peak. Summits / Lakes (L to R) include, St. Bride, Baker Lake, Brachiopod, Anthozoan, Heather Ridge, Unity, Redoubt Lake, Redoubt, Ptarmigan Lake, Temple, Boulder Pass and Ptarmigan Peak just to name a few... ++]
[Looking beyond Skoki to the north towards Cataract and beyond.]
[Brilliant larch meadows below Packer's Pass Peak]
[Redoubt Lake and Unity Peak]
[The Lake Louise peaks including (L to R) Temple, Hungabee, Sheol, Haddo, Aberdeen and Victoria.]
[Phil on the summit of Packer's Pass Peak]
[Panorama looking at Ptarmigan, Zigadenus and Myosotis Lakes, Skoki Creek and Fossil Peak (L to R). ++]
[Brilliant lighting over Boulder Pass as we descend towards it.]
The hike back to our bikes via Boulder Pass was anti-dramatic after the great views around Skoki Lakes. We found ourselves back on the horse-trashed mud-fest we'd experienced on the approach. Nothing could really dampen the success of the previous 24 hours, however, and we chatted our way quickly down to our waiting two-wheel 'steeds'. Taking the bikes up the 4km approach road was genius on descent! We blew past at least 10 people, scaring half of them half to death in the process. The most amusing case on my part was a couple who was walking on each side of the road. As I careened, almost out of control, towards them I yelled, "coming through the middle!!" and watched as they each bailed into the ditch on their respective side of the road! Ahhhh - good times on the bike with flesh pylons!
[Looking back up at Packer's Pass Peak. Note how excellent the trail is? No horses on this one...]
[I think Redoubt is one of the sexiest peaks in the Rockies from this angle! Hey - everyone has a 'sexy angle'...]
[Back on the highway along Ptarmigan Lake]
[A great view over Ptarmigan Lake of Douglas on the left and St. Bride on the right.]
[Any guesses as to the source of the name? "Boulder" Pass? Hmmm.]
[Mount Temple with Little Temple glowing in front.]
[A golden, muddy, covered-in-horse-poo trail.]
[Phil is determined to keep up!]
Our round trip distance for approaching the Red Deer Lake camp, climbing and descending Drummond back to camp and then hiking out via Packer's and Boulder Pass was around 60km. Our approach day was 5 hours, our climbing day was 10 and our depproach was 6.5 casual hours. Another fantastic trip in a great area of the Rockies during my favorite time of the year - fall. A highly recommended outing.