There’s no getting around it: I’ll have to work to reach my next lodge. Unless you are British royalty (Will and Kate flew in by chopper) or want to hire a horse, the only access to Skoki Lodge is on foot. Fortunately it is one of the most beautiful hikes in the Rockies. From the Lake Louise ski area the trail winds 11 km through forest and meadows, over two passes and beside a large alpine lake.
The first part of the trail is gently rolling, affording fine views of Mt Temple, the highest peak in the region. An easy climb through an impressive boulder field brings one to Boulder Pass.
Instead of descending on the other side of the pass, you find yourself at Ptarmigan Lake.
This is not the landscape of the Purcells (see previous posts). The Canadian Rockies are not painted in large swaths; they don’t overwhelm even though they are higher than the ranges to the west. Rather they invite you to embrace them, to relax, to become one with them.
The trail skirts the lake, passing larch trees and stands of ragwort, valerian, arnica and anemone seed heads. I’ve seen many ptarmigan here, but today I encounter only this hoary marmot, grazing peacefully, not at all alarmed by my presence.
The next section requires some effort as the trail climbs steeply 134 m to Deception Pass. When approached from Ptarmigan Lake there’s no deception in Deception Pass, but from the other side you keep thinking you have reached the top only to find another rise ahead. If the wind is not too violent, this is a good place to pause and enjoy the view.
The pass seems barren, yet somehow a few flowers thrive. I have seldom seen such beautiful scorpion weed.
As I turn to start down toward Skoki, I hear the crunch of hooves on the path behind and step aside to let the horses pass. In winter the lodge is supplied by snowmobile, in summer by horses and in early season when snow still clogs the high country, by helicopter.
The alpine terrain of the pass soon yields to a sub-alpine wonderland, very different from the landscape I have just left. Trees, paternoster lakes and lush growth await.
After a steady descent I arrive at the lodge, nestled among conifers, deep in the valley.
In terms of comfort, Skoki is about as far as you can get from the luxury of Canadian Mountain Holidays. With no running water, almost no electricity, tiny rooms with small windows that let in very little light and an upstairs corridor that loudly proclaims the exit of every person seeking the outhouse during the night, Skoki is not about amenities (the only accommodations lower on the amenities scale are Alpine Club of Canada huts and backpacking tents). Skoki is about history and location. Built in the 1930s as a destination for skiers disembarking at the Lake Louise train station, it is part of the very fabric of Banff National Park. Its logs were hewn in the valley and its walls have heard every tale that mountain men and women could tell of storms, avalanches, wildlife, tragedy and heroic deeds. Because it is a national historic monument, permission for upgrades is given rarely and grudgingly.
What the lodge lacks in facilities it more than makes up for with excellent, friendly staff, fine cooking and great hiking. Dining by candlelight and oil lamps one can almost forget that the modern world exists.
On previous backpacking trips to the valley I have done all of the longer hikes in the area. This time I decide to take it easy and enjoy the flowers. I want to seek out some that grow not in vast stands but individually, often hiding from their pushy neighbours. Because there is a juvenile grizzly hanging about the lodge, too busy eating to pay attention to humans, I borrow a bear banger from the staff and exercise caution.
After two relaxing days I retrace my steps to Lake Louise. It’s hard to believe that my month in the mountains is almost over, but there is still one more lodge to visit.