Finding Fall, Part 1: Exploring Skoki

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So I’m incredibly excited to introduce this new series, highlighting some known and lesser-known (but equally beloved) Canadian trails. Earlier this year, I partnered with MEC to ask trail runners across Canada what their favourite trails were. I was blown away by how passionate everyone was about “their” trail, and many of them were ones I’d never heard of before. It got me thinking about what makes a trail special. Is it because it’s the “old faithful” route we run twice a week? Is it our “love to hate” route with that one big climb in the middle that we just won’t let beat us? Or is it a bucket list trail that we spent years lusting after before we ever got to explore it?

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In this series, I’m going to explore some of those trails and what makes them special…and what better time to do it than in the fall, as the leaves turn golden and the trails are at their very best?

So without further ado: I’m very excited to partner with MEC once again to highlight a few of our favourite fall trails across Canada.

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Oh, Fall. That glorious shoulder season of excessive pumpkin spice everythingness, premature Halloween advertisements, and gloriously crunchy leaves. For trail runners, it’s a veritable paradise. Dry trails, buffed clean by summer’s heavier foot traffic, haven’t yet made the transition to winter’s more treacherous conditions. The leaves smell crisp and musty, and the colourful yellows, reds, and oranges bathe the trees and breathe new life into the forest. 

I love all seasons, but I love Fall best. All my summer races have been run, and the training has been done and dusted. What remains are easy, long, social runs with no goals other than finding new-to-me places to explore. And what better place to start than in the heart of the Rockies?

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Home to the cozy Skoki Ski Lodge, which is a popular backcountry skiing destination in the winter, the valley also boasts a beautiful trail network -- best enjoyed before the snow settles in. These trails come alive in the fall, as the larches turn the terrain golden. If you’re lucky, you might see a pica or a marmot scurrying around as well!

The Details:  

Where: Skoki, just north of Lake Louise.

When: July – September

Distance: ~30km round trip loop from the lower parking lot. Approx. 1796m elevation gain.

Time: 5 – 8 hours trail run, depending on how often you stop to enjoy the views…and there are many. Can also be done as a long one-day hike, or there are camping spots along the way if you want to take your time.

Terrain: Beautiful, runnable single track, with a 3km forest service road out and back at the beginning and end.

Pro Tip: You can do this route as an out and back to Skoki Lodge, or you can make it into a lollipop like we did by going over Deception Pass on the way there, and then turning left at the (literal) fork when you get to the lodge, and coming back over Packer’s Pass. The trail intersections are marked, and the trails are fairly easy to follow.

Beloved By:

I can’t take credit for knowing about this trail: that honour goes to my good friend Jen Segger, who is also one of the most badass women I happen to know. She’s a professional adventure racer, and coaches athletes all over the world when she isn’t winning multi-day races. When she told me about this route and shared that it had been on her bucket list for almost ten years, I couldn’t resist the chance to check it out with her. Jen is someone that has explored almost every inch of BC – if she says it’s worth the trip, I don’t need to be asked twice. We grabbed a few trail buddies, and off we went to discover Skoki.

 The trail starts off with a 3km or so jaunt up a Forest Service Road. No pictures of that part, sorry. The views quickly get better as you head onto flowy singletrack, and you are soon running next to the beautiful Ptarmigan Lake.

The trail starts off with a 3km or so jaunt up a Forest Service Road. No pictures of that part, sorry. The views quickly get better as you head onto flowy singletrack, and you are soon running next to the beautiful Ptarmigan Lake.

 Fall colours abound as you meander and slowly gain elevation towards Deception Pass.

Fall colours abound as you meander and slowly gain elevation towards Deception Pass.

 Cresting Deception Pass. It’s (mostly) downhill from here to the turnaround point at Skoki Lodge.

Cresting Deception Pass. It’s (mostly) downhill from here to the turnaround point at Skoki Lodge.

 Approaching the Lodge, approximately 14km or so into the day. In the summer, you can stay there and use it as a home base for hiking day trips (and there are endless possibilities!). Word on the street is that Jen might be putting together a 2019 trail running adventure here…just saying.

Approaching the Lodge, approximately 14km or so into the day. In the summer, you can stay there and use it as a home base for hiking day trips (and there are endless possibilities!). Word on the street is that Jen might be putting together a 2019 trail running adventure here…just saying.

 Oh hey look! A literal fork! I did promise you one, and here it is… pointing straight towards Packer’s Pass. The back half of this loop was by far my favourite, and you’ll soon see why.

Oh hey look! A literal fork! I did promise you one, and here it is… pointing straight towards Packer’s Pass. The back half of this loop was by far my favourite, and you’ll soon see why.

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 One of the cooler parts of this pass was how you climbed up and over two big ledges, each encasing a stunning glacial lake.

One of the cooler parts of this pass was how you climbed up and over two big ledges, each encasing a stunning glacial lake.

 Yes, it was as blue as it looks. And yes, it was just as cold.

Yes, it was as blue as it looks. And yes, it was just as cold.

 Getting a bird’s eye view of where we had come from. It just doesn’t get any better.

Getting a bird’s eye view of where we had come from. It just doesn’t get any better.

If you are looking to find fall in the Rockies, but you don’t want to get sucked into the crowds and chaos of Lake Louise or Moraine Lake, look no farther than Skoki. The trailhead is just five minutes north of the highway at Lake Louise, and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can escape the typical tourists and find your own slice of single-track heaven.

Gear Picks:

You’ll need a good pack for your adventures, especially when venturing further afield in a place as remote as the Rockies. Jen rocked her go-to Ultimate Direction pack, which has 13L for carrying emergency gear and safety equipment. Speaking of safety equipment, bear spray is a must, and so is having a warm layering piece ready to pull out when you stop to take in those epic views. I’ve worn and loved MEC’s Uplink Jacket for over seven years now (and it’s still going strong)! The key with the Rockies is to recognize that the weather can change quickly, so being prepared is essential. Happy trails!

Next Up: I’m heading further west. Stay tuned for Part 2/4, coming shortly!

Hilary MathesonComment