Larch season beckoned.
Sometimes you just need to go. To the mountains.
It doesn’t matter that it’s not planned or perfect or comfortable. It’s about throwing it all to the wind, getting in the car and driving.
Screw the 10K race I’d signed up for. I’d already missed a weekend hike in Lake O’Hara with M. due to a cold, and knew this might be the last chance to hit the backcountry before the snow flew.
Hugh said he’d come with me, along with his friend, Migs.
We didn’t end up leaving the city until 8:00 pm on Friday night. Normally that in itself would be discouraging… the boss keeps you late, the boys are’t packed, etc. But you know what? I wasn’t going to let that slow us down.
Driving under the starry skies, along the long lonely roads of David Thompson country and then through a wild rain storm, we reached Lake Louise around one o’clock in the morning. We pitched up to the campground in the downpour, and snagged an empty campsite in the darkness. The boys slept in the car, and I curled up in Hugh’s pup tent. ZzzZZzzzZzzz.
The next morning we fuelled up at Laggan’s deli and bakery in the village – one cannot have too many pizza bagels and brownies for the trail – gulping down coffee for a quick pick-me-up. We left the bakery quite content, and took our time adding in granola bars, cheese and chocolate to our packs before hitting the road again for a quick drive.
Parking at the Fish Creek trailhead near the ski hill, we began the monotonous ascent up the gravel access road that would take us up and around to the back bowls where we found the trail marker to Skoki Lodge.
Having hiked through Boulder Pass and Skoki Valley with Hugh just a few months ago, I was in awe of the magnificent change in scenery. While Alberta doesn’t get the brilliant red hues like Canada’s east coast, the larches pretty much make up the difference. The back bowls were scattered with towering golden larch trees, burnished in the autumn sunshine, standing out against a bluebird sky.
Boulder Pass itself transformed from green to gold.
We made good time up the pass and around Ptarmigan Lake. We didn’t meet too many people at all along the way which was surprising given that it was the weekend, and such a short window for the larches.
This was a little slice of heaven.
Atop Deception Pass, the siren call of a scramble beckoned the boys skyward towards Ptarmigan Peak.
They disappeared and reappeared for about 45 minutes, each time popping up higher and further away than the last. I hunkered down in a nest made of backpacks, wearing all my gear to keep warm, watching through the zoom lens on my camera.
After the scrambling break we headed down into Skoki Valley, looking back over at the Wall of Jericho, and to the ridge they’d explored. A drove of mountain sheep sprang out of a gully and near scared the life out of us, and trotted up the slope for a brief survey before disappearing.
Onwards into Skoki Valley, the trip was still lovely, but not as pretty as Boulder and Deception with all the larches. By the time we’d reached Skoki Lodge we were getting tired. Only one more kilometre to Merlin Meadows, our home for the night.
We decided to pop our heads into the lodge to see if they had any hikers’ tea left. Despite it being after the given time, the Skoki staff loaded up plates of muffins and three kinds of cakes for us, plus all the tea we could drink. I was grateful for being so spoiled, and more appreciative of this hospitality than ever when I’d actually stayed as a paying guest at the lodge. After being warmed by the wood stove and hot tea, and stuffed with baked goods, we needed to get moving.
Merlin Meadows was only a short distance from the lodge, and it didn’t take long to set up our tents. The weather was still pretty cool, and nobody wanted to go for any more day hikes, so we packed it in for the night.
Migs and I worked on starting a fire, but it was a challenge, as the backcountry campground had been picked clean over the summer of all the natural deadfall. What bigger pieces of wood remained were soaked. At least we killed some time, and soon enough we all went to our tents.
For breakfast I hauled out the big guns: Starbucks instant pumpkin spice lattes (so we could all feel like teenage girls), biscuits, bacon and eggs.
Can I just say BACON? Why didn’t I do this every trip? I guess I felt a little indestructible on a one-night backcountry trip…normally I wouldn’t want to haul bacon/bacon juice around through the woods.
It was a slow and easy start to the day, savouring our last morning in the backcountry. Once we hit the trail we made for Skoki Lakes.
Another crisp, cool morning, and the walk to the lakes was nothing short of magical.
We spent the rest of the day lounging at Zigadenus Lake, and the boys scrambled the ridge up to the glacier. They were gone forever, and I only had a minor panic attack in their absence…haha. Next time, I’ll scramble, too…
It was late Sunday afternoon when we slung our packs back on and headed up over Packers Pass.
Every moment – so worth it. By the time we got to the Fish Creek parking lot, it was evening. It was ridiculously late. But it felt amazing. Talk about maximizing a weekend and disappearing into the woods.
We drove home in the dark, watching the reddish glow of the lunar eclipse, and crept into the house well past midnight. Back in the city. Tired. Happy.