For the July long weekend, I decided to put together a camping trip with a bunch of friends. I chose Skoki Circuit because I had heard that while it was incredibly scenic, the trail itself was relatively easy (save for a few parts). This was the perfect choice as many of the people that would be joining us were going to be backpacking for the first time. This adventure ended up having a bit of everything- bears, bugs and bumbling porcupines (okay, the porcupine wasn’t exactly bumbling but I ran out of ‘b’ words so it will have to do).
I’m going to separate the details of this trip into four different blogs- one for each day. I’ll be mentioning a lot of names in the Skoki blog so I’ve included a list below of the people who came on the hike for your reference (because I know you care just that much).
Matt- my boyfriend
Kim- my sister
Jen- family friend
Pam- Matt’s sister and Kim’s best friend
Morgan- childhood friend
Curtis- my brother
Shelby- Curtis’ girlfriend
Fish Creek Parking Lot to Hidden Lake Campground
Distance: 7.3 km
Elevation Gain: 510 m
Time: 3 hours (including stops for pictures and food)
How To Get There: From Calgary, drive west along the TransCanada until you reach the turnoff for the Lake Louise Ski Resort. Turn off at the first road on the right (it is just before the final turnoff for the resort). Park and then hike past the gate, following the Skoki Lodge signs up the fire road.
When Matt and I went on our very first backpacking trip, we ended up sitting around the fire with a couple who had decided to rent all of their equipment from the University of Calgary. They told us that the gear was pretty cheap and in decent condition. So on July 2 at 8:00 am, Matt and I found ourselves at the Outdoor Gear Shop at the U of C picking up various gear for the hikers that were going to be hiking with us. From there, we began driving out towards Lake Louise, meeting up with Morgan, Kim, Pam and Jen along the way (Curtis and Shelby would be meeting us on our last night out). After parking at the Fish Creek Parking Lot, we began organizing everyone’s bags, making sure everything fit properly and that everything was packed the right way. Once we finished with that, it was about 10:30 am (we managed to get everyone fitted with their rental gear fairly quick if I do say so myself). The sky was relatively clear of grey clouds and the temperature was a balmy 20 degrees as we began our journey. The group will tell you that I led them astray (as I thought the trail head was at the parking lot itself, not a few hundred meters north past the gate) but I’m fairly certain that I was just checking to see if they were paying attention. After Pam asked a group to take our picture, we set off.
People will tell you that the 3.7 km of fire road is the worst part about hiking the Skoki Circuit. I’m here to tell you that those people are absolutely right. It’s a tedious task walking on a gradual uphill with a full pack and no views to show for it. There is a bridge, a corral of mules (which Kim and Pam were more than happy to stop at for a rest) and a few nice backward glances at the mountains behind us but that’s about it. On rare occasions, people will sometimes be lucky enough to be offered a ride by a Lake Louise staff member to the top of the fire road. On this day, we were not these people.
Once we reached the end of the fire road, we took a quick break and then started forward once again.
At this point, the trail narrows from a road into an actual trail. Once you get past a brief uphill climb, there is a sign indicating the official trail has actually begun.
There is another 3 kilometers or so where you are once again deprived of any great views. But the trail itself is still beautiful in my opinion.
You walk through a thick forest on a flat(ish) trail and are greeted every now and again with a small meadow of wildflowers while following along the Corral Creek. And then things get really good. All of a sudden, the path opens up to a beautiful full meadow with a highlight of the surrounding mountains all around us. We took quite a few pictures as this was the first truly scenic spot of the trip.
A bit further, you come across a bridge that crosses the creek and then moves up a hill towards the Halfway Hut.
From there, we turned off to the left and walked another 400 m until we came to our first stop: Hidden Lake Campground.
Matt and I set up camp on a tent pad that looked over the valley and creek below and then I helped Kim set up my solo tent which she would be using for the duration of the trip.
Once everyone else was settled, we began hanging our food up on the bear poles.
It was at this point I got the genius idea to start looking for the outhouse…by myself…without bear spray. For some reason, I got it in my head that the outhouse we were supposed to use was the same one that was sitting beside the Halfway Hut (I later discovered that the Hidden Lake campground had its own outhouse). About three seconds after realizing that wandering around by myself wasn’t the smartest idea, I ended up spotting a grizzly bear about 100 meters from me. It was walking towards me, seemingly aware but uncaring of my presence. It wasn’t my first time seeing a bear while hiking but it was my first grizzly, and let me tell you, that’s a different experience all together. Not to take anything away from the dangerous power of a black bear but seeing a grizzly was almost haunting. There is just something about the image of a giant fuzzy muscular bear that really gets the heart pumping. I backed away slowly (internally panicking while the bear continued to not care about my existence) and then, once out of the bear’s eyesight, ran back to the campsite and alerted everyone else to what I had spotted. Turns out, it wasn’t the last time the bear would make an appearance to other hikers (though it was the last time any member of our group saw one, much to Kim’s disappointment).
Once the excitement of seeing a bear died down, we took apart Morgan’s fancy backpack (it came apart into three separate small day hike bags) and headed another 1 km towards Hidden Lake itself. The trail to the lake was a bit mucky but full of wildflowers.
As we climbed over the hill, we were hit with an amazing view of the lake, a mountain wall and the waterfall that fell from it. It was an amazing sight.
So many people claim that Hidden Lake is bland compared to Ptarmigan Lake or Baker Lake but I thought it was definitely worth stopping in for. The place was an oasis of turquoise blue water, a rainbow of flowers and rich green grass. What’s more, our group had the entire place to ourselves!
We ended up hanging out at the lake for about an hour before finally heading back to our camp to start on dinner. This is when we started to encounter the dreaded mosquito.
People had warned me about the mosquitoes at Baker Lake. But they hadn’t prepared me for the fact that Hidden Lake was just as bad. Those things were everywhere! Luckily I had bought everyone a mosquito net shirt and it worked wonders. If you’re thinking of heading into this area, I would definitely recommend you invest in one! Because of the bug shirts, we managed to cook and eat our dinner with limited bug bite consequences.
Afterwards, Matt, Morgan and I walked a distance from the campsite in order to bury our grey water. While digging a hole, we spotted the notorious porcupine that fellow hikers had warned us about.
Apparently he likes to walk around at night and chew on hiking poles and boots if you leave them outside of your tent. Sure enough, later that night, as I was starting to fall asleep, I heard the porcupine outside of my tent, balling me out for not leaving anything outside to use as his chew toy. In addition, Morgan was sleeping in a hammock tent and got to feel what it was like to have a porcupine right underneath, with the quills brushing against her butt. Needless to say, she didn’t get a very restful sleep.