Our detour into the Skoki Valley was not really part of the SawbackTrail. To wrap it up, we only had to hike 13 more km from Baker Lake down past Ptarmigan Lake and Boulder Pass, through the Lake Louise ski area and to the trail head at the Fish Creek parking lot.
Skoki Valley offers a whole whack of quintessential Rockies eye candy waiting to happen. So close, we couldn’t pass up a couple of days exploring this destination…with a solid roof over our heads at night. As a less-than-roughing-it way of ending our hiking trip, we reserved our last two nights at Skoki Lodge, a 1930s-built backcountry log cabin which serves homemade meals and provides shelter from the elements, all in the heart of Skoki Valley.
Start point: Baker Lake campground (Sk11)
End point: Skoki Lodge
Distance: 6.5 km
Elevation: Gained ~224m, lost ~310m
Highlights: Clean sheets, four walls, bottomless watery lemonade
Trail notes: How quickly the body and mind adjust to new routines: walk, rest, eat, sleep – repeat. I’m ready to go from Baker Lake fairly early. Part of this need to get up, however, is due to an aching body of hours invested inside the tent. I’m sore, wanting to stretch and run and move. My clothes-sack-as-pillow is proving to be not as comfy as I remember it. I wake up every time I need to shift and/or and turn over – which is often. I think I’m getting old.
Funny thing when you know you’re going to be back in “civilization” – even if it’s just backcountry civilization… I’m acutely aware that my sleeping bag smells like sweaty Doritos. I haven’t even seen my own face for days. My socks can stand on their own. I need to do a serious bird bath at the lake before smoothing out my least-offensive hiking shirt and heading to Skoki. Hugh and I were looking forward to Skoki and the change of scenery. In particular, Hugh was still very bear-aware and was happy to be sleeping safe and sound tonight in a lodge. I was more about the clean sheets and having someone else making the food.
We said goodbye to Mr. D., who gave us a parting gift of Gouda, an extra fuel canister and the coveted Bushman bug lotion. Woot. From Baker Lake we could get to Skoki Lodge by hiking around Fossil Mountain or over Deception Pass – Hugh and I decided to go up and over Deception.
It was a steep start but with fantastic views of the valley ahead, blue layer upon blue layer into the distance, and a gentle descent into the valley to the lodge passing by glaciers, lakes, creeks, meadows and endless trees.
Skoki Lodge check in is pretty mellow. Take your boots off at the front door, poke your head into the kitchen, and they’ll tick your name off their guest list, give you the brief verbal tour (outhouses out back, dinner at 7:00 pm, etc.) and let you find your room. We’d booked a lodge room – Deception – with two single beds. We arrived at teatime, which meant a little buffet of salsa & chips, cheese & crackers, scones, cake, fruit, and all the lemonade, tea and coffee you could guzzle. We plunked down at the long polished dining table to snack before heading upstairs to our room.
Our packs would undoubtedly be the biggest here as most people bring little more than a day pack to Skoki since everything is provided. We gratefully emptied out our things in our room, rinsed and hung up any offending clothing and stored our tents and sleeping bags under the beds. I fetched hot water in the jug provided in our room, and we washed our faces. Bliss!
Hugh immediately curled up in bed, and I took a wander around the lodge. The two-level lodge houses the dining room and lounge on the main level, and above are bedrooms. Several log cabins for both guests and staff are close by, within ringing distance of the dinner bell. Just behind the lodge are outhouses for men and women.
It was my first time at Skoki in the summer season having stayed twice before but only in the winter, hiking in via snowshoes (skiing is the usual method for winter, but a few snowshoe). Pretty much the same. The most notable difference was that winter’s tea includes a hot soup and the lodge has a slightly more cozy feel with snow packed all around. Summer leaves the lodge much more accessible to passerby hikers and campers, and there is much more foot traffic in the valley than in winter.
After a quick walkabout I went back up to our room and fell into a deep slumber on a soft bed with a deliciously fluffy duvet. Hugh and I both dozed, shaking off sleep just minutes before the dinner bell rang.
At dinner, we met a few families, several sets of couples and a group of friends out for a few days away. Everyone was quite nice, and shared stories of their hikes and outdoor trips. We socialized for a bit, and when dinner wrapped up we hit the sack.
Day 6 dayhiking
Start/end point: Skoki Lodge
Distance: 7 km roundtrip (estimated)
The next morning came rather early due to our neighbours being up before 0600 hrs. There is no way to mute the other inmates when you’re sleeping in a lodge room. The walls are thin and you can hear every cough or sneeze; the floorboards creak with each step taken; and then there’s the stage whispering… so, either get earplugs or book a cabin.
Breakfast at Skoki appears in two courses: one – oatmeal, yogurt, fruit salad and granola; two – something cooked, usually involving eggs. Most of the time I’m skeptical about the cooked stuff despite my love of eggs, so I skip it and have another round of the first course. After breakfast, I sat down with one of the Skoki crew and they drew me a map for a hike to Merlin Lake. I’d wanted to do the hike to Skoki lakes instead, hearing about the waterfall the night before at the dinner table, but the staffer was pretty insistent about Merlin, and that I should save the Skoki lakes hike as an alternative route back out instead of Deception Pass on our departure day. I dutifully took the Merlin map, but had every intention of hitting the trail to the lakes instead.
Hugh was a happy camper in our lodge room, and had no desire of leaving it – ever. So, he skipped breakfast and was completely content with hanging out and reading all day. He’d found a book on a shelf in the lounge by Bow Valley’s Ben Gadd, Handbook of the Canadian Rockies, and was learning about everything from bears to lichen. I packed my hiking snacks from the picnic lunch prep buffet and headed out solo to check out “the Skoki lakes.”
These lakes are actually named Zigadenus Lake and Myosotis Lake on my map, but interestingly enough, the trail from the lodge to the lakes is not marked on my map. This semi-hidden gem is for those in-the-know apparently, and from what I understand, Skoki staff will share a roster of neat off the grid hikes and scrambles as they see fit.
My day hike started over the bridge at the fork in the road, literally, a stone’s throw from Skoki on a well-worn trail with only one sign marked “Packer’s Pass.” The trail wound through the forest for a short time, and popped out in a wide meadow, with a rock wall and waterfall at the far end. Cairns were my best friend at this point, marking the way frequently through a creek and a rockslide. Can you spot the cairns?? Sometimes they really blended in… Upon arriving at the lovely waterfall, I was a little stumped. Because the Skoki staffer gave me instructions for Merlin Lake, not the Skoki Lakes, I lacked details of this hike. What appeared before me was a rock wall with a rushing waterfall, and no apparent way up.
However, upon closer inspection, there were cairns leading right up to the falls. I began to follow them, one by one, and slowly made my way on a very easy trail right up beside the waterfall, under a huge boulder, into a hidden chimney and boom – on top of the falls! What a thrill!
I skirted the lower lake, Myosotis, and following the cairns made my way up another rocky incline to the upper lake, Zigadenus. I parked it at the top and hung out in the sunshine for almost an hour beneath the Wall of Jericho, eating my lunch and watching ice crack off the hanging glacier and tumble towards the water.
I didn’t meet another soul until I began to pick my way down to the lower lake, and head home. Other Skoki guests were using this route as their way back out to Ptarmigan Lake and onwards to the trail head at Fish Creek.
I headed back to the lodge for tea, a rest and then dinner (so much food…). Hugh was still engrossed in his book and not willing to give that up for socialization at dinner. He skipped dinner as well, with the promise he’d come down for breakfast in the morning.
My sleep was restless that night. I was bitten several times by some sort of tiny midge that ended up leaving massive bumps on my arms and legs. Yuck. How ironic to survive the nasty mozzies for many days with only my tent to protect me, but then get taken down by another biting sort within the “safety” of the lodge.
Tomorrow – time to go home!