The Skoki Loop Trail in Banff National Park – Day 3

I was awoken in the black of the night by Jennifer pushing on me and whispering, “what is that?” I peeled open my eyelids and sat up in my mummy bag barely able to see out of the small opening and struggling with my foggy brain to remember where I was. It hit me that we were at the Baker Lake Campground on the Skoki Loop Trail in Canada’s Banff National Park. Then I heard the crunch and repetitive chew that I had been awaked for. It was very close to my side of the tent. I opened up my sleeping bag and pushed my head out into the frigid night air for a better view. There under the flap of our tent, which is where we store our backpacks and shoes at night, was a furry creature sitting on my bag and snacking on my expensive backpack.

Big-Agnes-Tent
Our Big Agnes Tent. The left side of the vestibule is wrapped up in this image but you can see on the right the flaps are to the ground on the right.

Stubborn Creature

Accessing the situation quickly, I eloquently yelled in my stupor, “Get out of here!” The porcupine slowly and somewhat laboriously looked up at me as if bothered by the noise that I was emitting but in no way startled by my presence. I yelled again, “Get out of here!” This time he seemed almost perturbed by my audacious nature. How dare I disturb his midnight snack. A third time I called out and he finally agreed, sauntering off scrapping his needle-coved backside on our tent flap for good measure. I had no more pulled our bags inside the tent and placed our shoes on top of them when I heard our neighbor rouse with a shrill scream followed by a yell, “Go away!” This went on throughout the night from tent to tent.

Porcupine Visits

Porcupine
A porcupine investigates the chicken wire, put there just for him, on the outhouse at Baker Lake.

Our backpacking tent is made for two people and no more. At times, even two can be crowded. So with the addition of our large backpacks and shoes the remainder of the night was a cramped one. We were awoken two more times in the night to the quills of our furry neighbor coming by and scrapping under our flap to see if we had put anything else tasty out for him to munch on. Porcupines, like many creatures, seek out the salts in our sweat. Once, Jennifer rolled over and found herself face-to-face with the furry little guy pushing his pink nose up against the mesh side of the tent. It was not a peaceful night’s rest at Baker Lake.

The Skoki Loop Trail Thus Far

This is a continuation of our journey backpacking the Skoki Loop Trail. Use these links to get caught up on the journey thus far.

Stats for Day 3 on the Skoki Loop Trail

View from Deception Pass
Looking south over the Banff Wilderness from atop Deception Pass. Brachiopod Mountain (left), Heather Ridge (center), and Mount Redoubt (right) dominate the landscape.
  • Starting Point: Baker Lake (7,340’)
  • Destination: Fish Creek Trailhead (5,563’)
  • Distance: 8.5 miles
    • Add 1 mile for Deception Pass (8,050′)
  • Rating: Moderately Difficult
  • Highest Elevation: 7,845′
The Skoki Loop Trail - Day 3
Our elevation profile for the third day of backpacking the Skoki Loop Trail.

Assessing the Damage

Depths of Baker Lake
Even under less than ideal circumstances Baker Lake is an amazing place to spend a night.

The next morning we assessed the damage our night visitor inflicted. He had chewed halfway through one of my backpack’s shoulder straps! I later found out that porcupines are common visitors to the Baker Lake Campground as they like the salts found on human gear. I’ve heard of porcupines eating the handles off of hiking poles before. We had even had an encounter where one rubbed up against the outside of our tent while we were on Colorado’s Four Pass Loop. But I have never heard of a creature so brave that they would crawl underneath the tent flap.

Duct Tape Fixes Everything

Thankfully, Jennifer and I have long carried a small patch of duct tape for emergencies. I wrapped the damaged area in the tape and after breakfast and a little further exploration of the beautiful Baker Lake, we packed everything up. I tentatively slung on the damaged bag. Everything held together under the full weight of our gear and we set off back down the Skoki Loop.

Dejivu on the Skoki Loop Trail

Baker Lake Panorama
Storm clouds started rolling in as we started to traverse the trail on the northern shore of Baker Lake.

Leaving the Baker Lake Campground we headed west. The trail traverses the edge of the gorgeous lake for over half a mile. Today was another overcast day. We hadn’t made it to the other side of the lake when yet another thunderstorm quickly rolled in. For the second day in a row, we found ourselves sprinting towards the trees seeking shelter from a storm. We huddled in a dense bundle of trees just beyond the lake. Thankfully this time we had set off with our rain gear in place so we were better prepared for the sudden deluge.

Onward and Upward

Backpacking the Skoki Loop Trail
Jennifer, decked out in her backpacking rain gear, overlooks Ptarmigan Lake.

Once the rain had mostly subsided we continued up the trail which now resembled more of a creek pushing against us as we scaled the 500’ high hillside on the western edge of Baker Lake. Just under 1.5 miles from Baker Lake Campground the path moderates and then arrives at the juncture that leads towards the 8,050′ Deception Pass.

Deception Pass

The Skoki Loop Trail - Deception Pass
Jennifer stands atop Deception Pass overlooking Mount Redoubt.

As the rain had now subsided, and because I’m a little crazy, we decided to scale the pass to see what the views were like. We slogged up the steep 210’ incline to the top where the views back towards Ptarmigan Lake are amazing. This is a rough ascent on tired legs and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it, but I can now say with confidence that I prefer Packer Pass. Although Deception is pretty and the path is much wider and easier to follow. 

Continuing our Descent on the Skoki Trail

Ptarmigan Lake and Heather Ridge
Heather Ridge rises above Ptarmigan Lake.

Back at the intersection, we continued west and soon crossed the trail that we had taken two days prior leading to Packer Pass. We continued our descent to Ptarmigan Lake (7,723’) and then over Boulder Pass. The miles passed quickly but as we neared the Halfway Gut (7,151’) the sky once again opened up and another torrential rain came rolling in.

Haunted Halfway Hut

Halfway Hut
This is the Halfway Hut photographed on the ascent. It was much too rainy to grab a pic on the way back.

We took shelter in the supposedly haunted Halfway Hut looking for a dry place to have lunch. Apparently, we were not the only ones who thought that the small shelter would make a good lunch spot. It was very crowded. There were more people in that small hut than at most of the campgrounds. I don’t know if the hut is haunted, but watch your head as the doorway is a small one and I smacked my head pretty good on the frame. A concussion might be what causes people to hallucinate hauntings.

Return to Fish Creek

As we finished lunch the rain subsided and we bid our new hiking companions goodbye. We set back out down the trail and finished the final 4.5 miles of hiking on the Skoki Loop Trail, returning to the Fish Creek Trailhead where the adventure had started a few days earlier. We packed up our gear and made the drive back to Banff. After a quick shower at the Tunnel Mountain Campground, we hopped on the town shuttle to grab some food at the Eddie Burger Bar,

The Skoki Loop Trail

The Skoki Loop Trail - Day 3
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The Skoki Loop is a great mountain adventure in Banff’s backcountry. The elevation and distance can be tough for those unaccustomed to backpacking in the Rocky Mountains. However, if you are conditioned to hiking in the mountains it is a relatively moderate traverse. Even though we got caught in a lot of stormy weather, the beauty of the mountain landscape and the five alpine lakes we visited in our three-day journey made for a great nomadic memory. I would recommend this adventure to anyone looking for a three-day backpacking adventure in the Canadian Rockies. But, beware the fearless porcupines that inhabit the Baker Lake Campground.

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