Distance: 31 km
Elevation gain: 1250 mView mapDownload GPS track
I've wanted to visit the Skoki Lakes since getting a glimpse of them decending from Deception Pass in 2009
, but our attempt in 2012
failed due in large part to our inability to navigate through some seemingly impenetrable cliffs guarding the lake basin. A bit of research since then revealed a simple route through these cliffs as well as the best time to visit the area - fall larch season!
We had originally envisioned this trip as a leisurely 3-day backpack, camping at Hidden Lake on Friday and Saturday nights, but with our increased level of fitness this year and perpetual heavy work schedules we decided to do the entire trip in one long day. To get ahead of the crowds and to ensure we weren't pressured by sunset, we began the hike at 7:30 am, getting up at 4:40 am to make it there in time. It seems early, but getting up to have fun an hour earlier than a I do for work isn't all that unreasonable!
It's often possible to hitch a ride up the initial service road and today we were able to shave 1.5 km off our trip doing this. We kept a leisurely pace after this and arrived at Boulder Pass, still largely shaded by Redoubt Mountain, at about 9:45 am. We then set our sights on Packer's Pass, which is the obvious pass to the east of Ptarmigan Peak. It is west of Deception Pass, which is the pass at the base of Fossil Mountain. From the top of the pass an obvious trail descends moderately steeply to Zigadenus Lake, the upper of the two Skoki Lakes.
...And our trip just about ended a few hundred meters from the lake! Despite a good breeze at our backs and my usual frequent yelling of "hey bear!" we came within about 50 m of a mother grizzly and her large cub. We froze, drew our bear spray and slowly retreated, quickly realizing that they were well aware of our presence and didn't want to do anything but dig up roots and eat in peace. Instead of retreating back through the pass we instead ascended the hill to our right, putting distance between us and the bears while making a broad contour around them as we headed for the lake outlet. I wasn't expecting to see anyone else, but as we neared the lake outlet we saw a couple heading straight for the bears and yelled to warn them. As it turned out, a few others departing Skoki Lodge had already passed by, but those we warned proceeded with noise and extreme caution. We later encountered the bears again near Ptarmigan Lake, suggesting they were driven up over Packer's Pass by the advancing tourists. Had we retreated that way we would've blocked their escape and things may have ended differently...
Buoyed by the absence of screams and the statistical odds they'd be eaten before me, we descended to the lower lake (Myosotis Lake) on good trail and made our way to the top of the cliffs that had thwarted our attempt last time. This time, however, I knew of a small chimney to the right (east) of the outlet waterfall that would take us safely down. The top and bottom of this route are well marked with cairns and the route through is easy. If you're approaching from the bottom the route begins to the left of the falls at a large cairn in a muddy spot. You won't be able to see anything resembling a route through the cliffs at this point, but just follow the cairns and soon you'll be staring up an easily ascended crack.
From here we made our way up and over Deception Pass, moving off trail through larch forest for much of the ascent, planning to head into Redoubt Lake via the heathery slopes at the east end of Ptarmigan Lake. Thankfully someone pointed out to us that two grizzly bears (mother and cub again) were digging in a small patch of trees a few hundred meters from the east end of Ptarmigan Lake! This necessitated a route change into Redoubt Lake and we ended up entering the lake basin via the west end of Ptarmigan Lake (i.e.
, from Boulder Pass). Thankfully, crossing a rubble field via this route proved far easier than it initially looked and we arrived at Redoubt Lake just 25 minutes after leaving Boulder Pass.
Redoubt Lake is a moderately large lake and the environment around it is in my opinion nicer than that of Ptarmigan Lake. More interesting, however, was the vast basin of larches to the south and east of it. Perhaps it was the aerial view we had of the region, but it seemed like one of the largest and nicest concentrations of larches I'd ever seen! We certainly had no time to explore it today, but I'm already plotting out some interesting loop routes into this area for the future.
After more than an hour wandering the lake basin we returned to Boulder Pass, admired the larches that were now brilliantly lit by the afternoon sun, and then began the long and dull plod back to the car. The entire trip took over 11 hours at a leisurely pace.