Distance: 22 km
Elevation gain: 1450 m View map Download GPS track
Each year in larch season Sandra and I like to undertake a huge hike through prime larch meadows, usually forgoing a summit in favor of a longer and more relaxing hike. This year, however, the extreme fire risk has closed every one of the dedicated larch hikes we were interested in doing, so instead we decided to head to the Skoki area and scramble up Mount Richardson. As the route to its base passes by Hidden Lake and rumored prime larch country, we’d also be able to get our dose of fall larch scenery.
Any hike near Lake Louise, especially in larch season, requires an absurdly early start to enjoy peaceful hiking, and so we were on the road by 5:15 and hiking up the Temple fire road just after 7:30 am. Four trucks passed us on the way up, but despite sticking out my thumb, none offered us a ride. One driver gave me a very sympathetic look, so I’m thinking they might not be allowed to give rides.
Regardless, after 45 minutes of hiking we reached the end of the road, then continued on the trail to Boulder Pass. The trail was generally quite flat and we were able to make good progress, and we arrived at the turnoff to Hidden Lake less than an hour later. The entire hike had been in the shade and my thermometer read -10 C, so we kept up the quick pace through the campground and onwards to Hidden Lake where the sun was shining to have a quick snack.
From the lake we ascended a steep grassy slope to the crest of the south ridge of Mount Richardson, spotting a couple of mountain goats to the east of our ascent line as we grunted up. A cold wind greeted us atop the ridge, and as we made our way along good trail towards the summit I spied a mother grizzly and her two cubs foraging in the meadows of a valley to the west! They were very far away and thus of little concern, but watching them and listening to marmots whistle their warnings was quite entertaining. Coupled with a black bear we’d seen on a ski slope near Temple Lodge, this was becoming quite the wildlife trip!
We continued following the trail around some cliffs and pinnacles before arriving at a broad plateau about 350 m below the summit. Extensive fresh snow patches made it difficult to follow the trail from this point forward, but the broad slope offered a near infinite number of ascent lines and we had little trouble making our way to the summit.
The summit of Mount Richardson is a broad saddle with both highpoints being of equal height according to my GPS. The western one seemed to offer a much better panorama, however, and the view down to Merlin Lake and Richardson glacier was spectacular. The Wall of Jericho and Pika Peak were similarly stunning, and as Mount Richardson is the highest in the Skoki area, so was the entire mountain panorama! It was one of the nicest views we’ve had in quite some time.
Unfortunately the wind, although light, was absolutely freezing (-18 C windchill!) and so we couldn’t hang around very long and soon started our descent. When we reached the warm shelter of the east side of the south ridge we had a quick lunch, then made our way quickly down to the lake. While we could have followed the trail back the way we’d come, we instead decided to explore a meadow to the south of the lake, then cut down to the main trail near the Hidden Lake turnoff. This detour turned out to be very scenic, we saw two ptarmigan and an old skeleton of a marmot, and with the exception of a few short sections of thick brush, was very easy as well. A quick and uneventful walk back along the trail and fire road then returned us to our car.