Sawback trail – Baker Lake to Skoki Valley (Days 5&6)

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.Day 5 leaving Baker

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. Day 5 view to Skoki valley

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.Day 5 Skoki arrival

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.Day 5 Skoki interior

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.  Day 5 dinner at Skoki

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.Day 6 bridge at Skoki

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.”  Day 6 fork in the roadThe 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.Day 6 cairn spotting 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!Day 6 up the waterfall

I skirted the lower lake, Myosotis, and following the cairns made my way up another rocky incline to the upper lake, Zigadenus.  Day 6 Skoki LakesI 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.Day 6 upper lake

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.

This was a charming little day hike and my photos just don’t do it justice.Day 6 upper lake 2

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.Day 6 back to the lodge

Tomorrow – time to go home!

 

 

Planting milestones for 2015

Almost two weeks into the fabulous NEW YEAR and I’ve discovered that oh yeah, I’m still me.

It’s like when you get married. Or have a birthday with a zero at the end. And everyone’s like, “Do you feel different??”

Well – I’m still me. Disorganized. Like beer. Love sugar. Need to think a little more highly of myself. And other vaguely endearing traits. But traits that aren’t winning me a kick ass new body so far this year.

That is, after all, what I’ve decided my goal is for 2015: to be, like, uber fit. Yes, the scale will always haunt me and I’ll keep standing on the damn thing (aka I want to lose 50 lbs) but overall, the idea is that I get FIT. Reduce fat, increase muscle. Look awesome. Be strong.

Measurables? Erg. Yes. This is the hard part.

Well, let’s start with some milestones. January: weekend in the mountains full of winter sports, including snowshoeing (yep – another trip out to Skoki Lodge, but this time only one night, so that’s 11 kilometres, 2 mountain passes and a bunch of elevation times two.  Just enough time in between to eat and get a good nights sleep).

May: trail racing! The trail racing season will kick off in the Spring and I’m already signed up for a 10K, with a few others in the pipeline. June: Epic (oh yes, very epic) National Three Peaks Challenge = flying to the UK with my girls to hike the highest tippity-top mountains in each Scotland, Wales and Britain…all in 24 hours. WOOT.

July: Running a half-mara, trail style in the mountains, Powderface. Hiking the West Coast Trail with my most awesome blood relatives who are dear enough to put up with me and give me rides to all the very best trailheads. August: More Rocky Mountain hiking and a half-mara road race in Van, Seawheeze.

Oh, and I did sign up for some online “run 2,015 miles in 2015” thing, too. But they’re PURPOSEFUL miles, not just all my FitBit steps.  Let’s just say, I’m currently a little behind on that goal.

Did you catch all that blank space? Sort of between February and May? That’s gonna require some serious training….However, my KNEE (and I’m so sorry that I’m going to go on and on about this to the point of boredom) is killing me.  The doctor says to go get orthotics and new runners.  Apparently my issues are due to the fact that my feet turn in.  The rehab guru gave me 10+ boring but important exercises to do to strengthen the glutes.  Apparently my issues are due to the glutes not firing…putting pressure on other parts of my legs.  Soo.. being a good girl I’m just doing it all.

new shooze

I need my knee back so that I can walk, run and hike.

I suppose in many ways getting an injury is beneficial. It gives the opportunity to learn more about your body and be more careful. It’s also upping the ante right now, making nutrition my #1 star, not sweaty workouts.  Insert sad face = I LOVE sweaty workouts.

The shock of going back to work (no more 8-hours-a-night) has made me all lethargic.  Last week, I only made dinner once, and left the family to fend for themselves.  We all ate poorly.  One day, I think I ate nothing but carbs. It was so weird.

With that top of mind, on the verge of a new week, I decided to ensure that THIS week was not going to be a nutrition disaster.  Today was BEAUTIFUL out = sun + blue sky. I was dying to go for a snowshoe or over to the winter festival…but I promised myself that I would go shopping (Costco!) and prep meals for the week.

Meal prep January 2015

Now, this meal prep actually took me HOURS. The sun set and I was still prepping!!! Maybe it’s because it was my first time to really do it on a grand scale?? I hope this gets shorter…!  I made 5 lunches + snacks for myself based on the 21 Day Fix nutrition plan, then a set of grab + go snacks for the boys for lunch or after school. Then, I started in on the meal prep for suppers. I posted the menu on the family blackboard, so I’m sticking to it.

MON – Shredded chicken tacos & salad
TUE – Shepherd’s pie & broccoli on the side
WED – Caribbean beef stew
THU – Turkey quinoa taco bake & salad
FRI – Pasta w/Sicilian meatballs & Caesar salad

All of these have healthy and not-as-healthy options. I’ll go heavy on the greens and light on the optional carbs on most of these for myself.

The good news is that in this process I re-discovered what was in the depths of the freezer, and another goal is to use up what we have before buying new stuff.

Now, it’s like, bedtime, and no snowshoeing, no frolicking outdoors…etc.  Sigh. But I think I did the responsible thing… Until next time, some snowshoe shots from LAST week 🙂  Have a fabulous week out there!

Snowshoe awesomesauce

 

Embracing routine

I loved being in the mountains, but I missed my little “health” routine.

Oh my gosh – words of a stodgy middle-aged person??

My 0600 hrs gym workouts. The ability to drink as much water as I need to without worrying about the midnight run to the outhouse. Having a choice about the food I was eating. (What a whiner I am…)

I feel super duper accomplished to have “done” Skoki in the winter on snowshoes.  I ache for the mountains on a regular basis, and it totally was amazing to be there for a long weekend.  But it wasn’t enough.  And now I need a new anchor – a new goal to shoot for. Am thinking about this now… must come up with a fresh, awesome, hard goal.  That requires training. Something short term, something long term.

In the mean time, excited to be back to my little routines, I made a different smoothie this morning.  It was a “Cake Batter Smoothie” with cottage cheese, vanilla almond milk, a scoop of vanilla protein powder, a few drops of almond extract, some vanilla extract, ice and a banana.  It wasn’t too bad, but it didn’t have anything on my chocolate peanut butter banana smoothie

How am I going to live today in order to create the tomorrow I’m committed to?  ~Anthony Robbins

Brain vs. mountain

Well.

I lived. Am here to write about it.

Jill and I arrived in Lake Louise super stoked about snowshoeing out to Skoki Lodge. Woohoo – January challenge is in da howse!  After checking in at the Lake Louise Ski Area reception and cramming into the gondola with our packs, snowshoes, poles and three other boarders that we squashed against the windows, we made it up and over the mountain to Temple Lodge, a log cabin restaurant/bar on the back side of the ski hill.

For some reason, the directions from Temple to the Skoki Lodge trail head just didn’t seem logical. We ended up screwing around for a bit looking for the trail head, and it was in the that moment… that exciting rush of “we’re going to do this!”… that I freaked out. Silently.

My pack was heavy: “better safe than sorry” had been our packing motto. The air was thin. Bloody thin. There were skiers & boarders zipping by us from every direction. Lots of curious stares. The day was already passing quickly (gotta go! gotta go!) which meant the later we started, the later we got there (aka in the dark). My glasses were fogging. The one night stand I had with Rock Creek Dry Cider wasn’t offering any strength to fall back on. And we couldn’t find the trail head.

Turns out that the little sign indicating the way to Skoki is about 100 metres up Larch run #143. We marched – vertical nightmare – up that damn ski run and every cell in my body screamed for oxygen. My legs felt like lead. My lungs could barely suck in enough air. Sweat dripped from my brow as I stood heaving in front of the sign that pointed to a pretty little path through the trees.

At that point, I didn’t care. Not a bit. I took a photo of the sign for posterity, and shoved my camera back in the pack. Jill lead the way, and I followed, feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t keep up with her and I couldn’t breathe. I quietly suffered. Or maybe I wasn’t quiet. I might have bitched and moaned but I don’t remember.

All I know is that it was HARD.  It made every bit of “training” I did seem like a joke. I was sad.

He loved mountains, or he had loved the thought of them marching on the edge of stories brought from far away; but now he was borne down by the insupportable weight of Middle-earth. He longed to shut out the immensity in a quiet room by a fire.

~J.R.R. Tolkein, The Lord of the Rings

At that point it became very much an individual sport. I locked into my own world and just walked. One snowshoe in front of the other. When my heart hammered too excessively I stopped and I took long steady breaths, and then started up again when ready. (I felt awesome standing still – I just had trouble with the moving part).

The trail gradually looped up through the evergreens and out into an alpine meadow bathed in sunshine and gloriously warm temperatures for January. I caught up to Jill and we talked to passersby (uber fit skiers, dogs with little jackets) and soaked up the sun as we stood in the middle of the trail eating beef jerky, cheese and energy shots (mmm… Salted Caramel GU).  This break came around 4 kms into the snowshoe.

This was my first experience of athleticism being a mind game  as much as a physical ability.  I calmed down, I accepted what I could do today, and then I did it.  Wasn’t a race, it was a marathon.  It truly did become the journey over the destination.  My body no longer exhibited signs of fight or flight, and I just kept moving slow and steady.

Following the gradual climb to the alpine meadow, we began the short ascent of Boulder Pass, winding up a fairly steep route between boulders capped like massive snow mushrooms. At the top of the pass, frozen Ptarmigan Lake stretched out in front of us with the trail  leading up and over Deception Pass at the far end.

This was my moment of joy.

Not because the lake crossing guaranteed absolutely no incline, but because there was something delightful in front of me.  A couple of the people who’d passed us earlier on the trail were now skimming across the icy surface on their snowboards attached to giant, brightly coloured kites.  Kiteboarding!  How awesome was that?  The thought that people were willing and able to hike into the backcountry in the dead of winter to a frozen lake at several thousand feet above sea level for FUN… So cool. I loved it.

We motored across the windblown lake at a good clip and began the slog up Deception Pass.  One. Two. Three.  Four.  Five.  Six.  Seven.  Eight.  Stop.  Repeat.  That was all I could manage.  Tired?  A bit.  But just not able to physically do any more than that.  Not far behind us was a father-son duo also headed out to Skoki for the night.  Climbing the pass on their backcountry touring gear proved to be challenging for them as well.

Deception Pass rewarded us with stunning views from the top, looking over Skoki Valley and the peaks beyond that would be our backdrop for the next few days.  We had only a few more kilometres to go before reaching the lodge, and all were downhill!  We stopped for a celebratory swig (or three) of peppermint schnapps.  Papa Bear and his son swooped past us on their skis as we continued to snowshoe down into the valley.  Gravity blessed them with a time advantage on the flip side and they made it to the lodge a whole hour before us. (Not that it mattered…but Papa Bear pointed that out to us over dinner later that night…)

We arrived at Skoki Lodge, about 5 hours and 15 minutes from the time we began.  A bit weary on my part, but pleased.  And totally within the suggested travel time to Skoki of “three to five hours”.  Overcoming my own mind seemed to truly be the biggest challenge.  Silly brain.

The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday.

Glitter nail polish – is there an age cap?

I’m sitting in my bathrobe surrounded by piles of things that need to go into my pack and duffel, and I’m painting my nails with rather fetching tiny globes of blue & silver from a bottle of NYC “Disco Inferno” polish.

I needed a break from the frantic pack-a-thon. And because I’ve never been a girly girl and tend to associate getting your nails done with important events, such as weddings or tea at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald, I thought this special going-to-the-mountains day warranted a celebration. I can be backcountry princess for a day with my Disco Inferno toes and fingers.

Might not save me from the cougars, mind you. Might make me a cougar. I’m sure I’m a little old for Disco Inferno, but what the hell. If there’s an age limit on glitter nail polish then I don’t want to know. My inner 13-year-old is loving it.

Have taken “rest days” (a bit more like lazy days) over this week from training, so am all ready for Skoki 2014! Can’t wait to share my snowshoe trip/challenge adventure (if I come back)!

Now, just to pack…