The original plan for Day 4 was to hike from Wildflower Creek through to Merlin Meadows in the Skoki Valley; however, looking at the distances, 6.1 km to Baker Lake looked a lot more appealing than 13.9 km to Merlin. We decided to play it by ear, but pretty much as soon as the topic was broached, we were all for keeping it short and sweet, knowing that today’s hike would include trail-finding, wet feet and, well, distance.
Start point: Wildflower Creek campground (Ba15)
End point: Baker Lake campground (Sk11)
Distance: 6.1 km, give or take some meandering
Elevation: Gained ~420m
Highlights: Trailfinding 102, teamwork, Percy the Porcupine
Trail notes: Hugh and I anticipated today as being our most challenging on the trail because we knew from the Parks folks that the trail disappeared and re-appeared at various points. Not to mention that there was no bridge across Wildflower Creek at all, due to floods in the past years.
Objective #1 was to get out of the campground. We packed up and stood on the bank of the creek. Wildflower Creek is not especially wide, but in the narrow bits, it’s deep and fast flowing. Our goal was to cross without getting 1) hurt and 2) wet.
The logs thrown down by previous hikers in place of the bridge were not especially thick in girth, and were very smooth and slimy, having no bark left at all. Mr. D. removed his pack to test them by taking a few tentative steps across. The flimsy logs buckled and swayed beneath his weight – and he was a slender fellow! This was not the ideal crossing place.
We checked upstream and down, and our best option was slightly downstream where there were rocks already protruding from the water. Hugh passed Mr. D. two pieces of deadfall, both still with bark, and together they created an elevated bridge using the stones. A few steps on the bridge, two steps on the rocks, a helping hand, and a jump to the far bank = we were all across! Go team Wildflower!
Riding high on the first obstacle conquered we made quick time through the forest and came out blinking into a large, bright meadow. This sub-Alpine meadow was home to a massively braided stream, and despite efforts to keep to the trail along the right hand side, we lost the forest trail almost immediately and were forced into the meadow.
Objective #2 was to cross the meadow and find the trail in the forest at the foot of the pass on the other end. Both online suggestions and Parks advice was to stick to the left side of the meadow, beneath the east ridges of Anthozoan Mountain, and then seek out the forest trail somewhere along the tree line once at the other end.
We got right royally soaked fording the streams through this meadow. All crisp, clear, lovely and cold – but wet. Mr. D. had all-leather boots, and the water sloshed about in his footwear like a deviant whirlpool. It was a somewhat enjoyable zig-zag across the meadows. Being together and using our noodles made it more Nancy Drew than Into the Wild.
It ended up taking us 2.5 hours from leaving the Wildflower Creek campground to reaching the hidden forest trail head at the far end of the meadow. We hadn’t actually travelled a great distance, but the route-finding took time. Cairns along the forest entry really helped out to pick up that trail again.
We hiked up a steep, rooted trail through the trees to a great, wide meadow. This has to have been my favourite view of the entire trek. A total treat to glimpse our first look at the Skoki area, with Fossil on the left and the extended ranges on the right.
Ogling all this stunning scenery as we tramped through the meadow, we arrived at a trail junction sign in no time at all. Here was the decision: carry on to Merlin Meadows, or stay at Baker Lake. I got a surge of energy and was okay to go on, but Hugh reined me in, and we decided to go to Baker Lake. I’m glad he suggested this, because, as trail magic works, I was dog tired by the time we reached the campground.
We pitched our tents slightly off-site, hung up our clothes, aired out our boots and performed other camper rituals. Being somewhat close to Lake Louise (only 13.1 km away) and the evening being right before a stat holiday, the campground had a half dozen tents and a quiet buzz of activity. This was a lot of people compared to our last few days of hiking. The sites are all in a clearing, close together in a ring. Not the nicest, I’d have to say. In fact the whole campground had a kind of disregarded air about it, like visitors were a bit careless…everything from bits of paper strewn about to food garbage tossed down the outhouse hole…not cool.
Note: I did feel slightly guilty about staying at Baker Lake without a reservation, since our two sites were reserved over at Merlin Meadows. We were prepared to move, if needed, but in the end there were 4 empty tent pads that night, so we did not displace any fellow campers.
After an afternoon rest – counting mosquitoes buzzing between my tent’s net and fly (39) – we popped out for dinner. We were still kind of prisoners in our tents due to the lack of bug repellent, so resting and hiding were serving an equal purpose.
Mr. D. was already prepping his meal when we arrived to eat, and had a small visitor waddling about his picnic table. Baker Lake’s resident porcupine (we call him Percy) tended to come out in the evenings, we learned, and would do his rounds at each site, checking out what campers may have left outside their tents. Later, he would return and pretty much chew anything vaguely rubbery, such as boots or flip flops or even grips from hiking poles. Percy wouldn’t hesitate to go right under your fly into the vestibule – even in the dead of night. Apparently he scared the pants off some campers the night before doing just that. We hung our gear up in the trees or stashed it in our tent.
AND if you didn’t place the latch on the outhouse door when you were finished, Percy would eat all the wood in the outhouse, too! Half of the toilet seat platform had been stripped away already, and I’m surprised the whole thing hadn’t caved in yet!
Hugh had the Hawaiian rice with chicken again, and I had a Southwestern macaroni with beef. Huzzah for Hugh, and YUCK for me. Not even extra cheese could save that gross Southwestern macaroni. The mozzies were pretty bad, but Mr. D. strolled over and lent us more Bushman cream. That helped a lot. And the fact that I wore my raincoat and a hat…
After dinner, I hung up the food bag and filtered some water at the lake. It was so very peaceful at Baker Lake… I watched other campers go through similar rituals, then headed back to tuck in for the night. As we lay in our tents that evening, chatting and listening to all the crazy birds, Percy came through to check us out. We told him to scram, and he did. Nothing juicy left in our site for him to nibble upon.
Sleep came fairly quickly that night, but at midnight, I woke up because it was dead silent and pitch black. Absolutely not a buzz, tweet or bump in the night. It was so peculiar.
And then a flash. Six counts later, a roll of thunder. More flashes, more thunder, penetrating the otherwise silent campground. Hugh was awake, too, and we ventured that this finally was a product of the insanely hot days we’ve had in the Rockies all week.
The silence was broken once more by a distant rush…something let loose and heading our way in a mighty wave, until a mammoth squall burst over Fossil from the Skoki Valley and unleashed itself upon the Baker Lake campground. The wind howled and buffeted and tore at the treetops, lightning crackling overhead, thunder pounding. The gale was crazy strong, and surprisingly warm, yet our tent flies were barely ruffled. All the action was heaven-ward.
As quickly as the squall came, it left, continuing on towards Pulsatilla Pass, taking the thunder and lightning with it. And then then rain came: heavy, hard and endless. We fell asleep to the downpour, waking only once it was all over at about three or four in the morning. A wickedly awesome way to end the night!
Tomorrow: Baker Lake to Skoki Valley