Pika Peak is part of the “trifecta”
(along with Mount Richardson
and Ptarmigan Peak) as I call it. The Skoki area in Banff National Park
, one of four connecting national parks making up the central Canadian Rockies, is a scrambler’s paradise. Although it offers little in alpine objectives, being located closer to the front range and therefore containing dying glaciers, the scrambling opportunities are almost endless. Alan Kane published nine of those objectives in his popular “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies” guide book. Camping and peak bagging in Skoki reminds me of “connect the dots” in elementary school. What makes Pika, Mount Richardson and Ptarmigan that much more special is the ability to summit three of these published mountains in one day. And in my case, I added a 4th unpublished peak for a personal record of four summits in one day.
Mount Richardson, Pika Peak and Ptarmigan Peak are located behind the Lake Louise Ski Resort and make up a significant section of the Slate Range along with Redoubt Mountain
to the south and Fossil Mountain
to the east. The range is of course named after the slate like rock prevalent on its mountains. Pikas
are common in the area, thus the naming. Pika Peak was first ascended in 1911 by Delafield, Earle, Aemmer and Feuz. Although there remains some remnants of glaciers on Mount Richardson’s eastern ridge, most of the pocket glaciers for these peaks lie further down on their northern flanks.
The only published route on Pika Peak is the difficult rated scramble route in the “Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies” guide book published by Alan Kane. I rate this scramble a moderate at most. Although the ridge line looks intimidating, there is little to fear as you can stay left of the ridge if you are not that comfortable with hands on scrambling. The rock is actually quite stellar compared to other mountains in this area and it is only an 800’ gain from the Mount Richardson col to the summit of Pika. The total elevation gain this day exceeded 7000’, but I made four summits and did not calculate Pika’s gain alone. Many scramblers camp at Hidden Lake for these objectives, but they can be achieved in a long day from car to car. Although Ptarmigan Peak is conducive to a winter ascent on skis, Pika Peak would not be. This is mostly a summer scramble and even then, an alpine ax is handy on the descent down the east ridge of Mount Richardson towards the col with Pika Peak if you are doing them in conjunction with each other.
The Trans-Canada dissects Banff National Park east to west as you come in from Calgary. Travel to the Lake Louise exit and turn right towards the Lake Louise Ski area and drive 1.6kms and take another right onto the Temple Lodge access road. Proceed another kilometer and turn right into the Fish Creek Trailhead parking area on the right before the gate to the Temple Fire Road. You definitely want to take your bike or skis for the 3.8kms climb up Temple Fire Road.
Some people hitch a ride with Lake Louise Ski Resort employees who drive the road periodically both winter and summer, but officially they are not supposed to assist. The bike ride/push climbs 1100’+/- past horse stables, ski lifts etc. until you reach a bridge and small storage building on the left. No bikes are allowed beyond this point and it is well signed regarding this fact. The Skoki trail starts just slightly up the road from the bridge.
You will be required to purchase a national park pass as you enter Banff National Park coming from the east on the Trans-Canada. This pass is good for all four national parks. If you plan many visits to Canadian National Parks within one year, you should purchase an annual pass. There are no permit requirements to climb in Banff National Park, but all camping is regulated. There is also a backcountry permit required if you plan on spending a night in the backcountry versus the town campsites. This can be obtained via the parks website which is included in the camping section below. Parks Canada headquarters are located in Lake Louise and you will drive through the manned kiosks as you enter the park.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should have bear spray on your person, particularly for the Hidden Lake area. The lower slopes on approach are active female grizzly territory, however, this trail is rarely if ever closed. I do advise checking with Parks Canada
for any area and/or trail closures.
When to Climb
As with most scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Richardson, Pika Peak and Ptarmigan Peak in mid July. Although snow remained on remnants of a dying glacier on Mount Richardson’s east ridge, I found easy glissading down the right hand line. An alpine ax was required. There was additional snow glissading down the descent gully between Ptarmigan and Pika peaks.
There are four excellent back country camp sites in and around the immediate Skoki area that can be used during the summer months
: Hidden Lake Sk5, Baker Lake Sk11, Red Deer Lakes Sk19 and Merlin Meadows Sk18. For summer or winter there is also the Skoki Lodge
option, but it is relatively expensive. It is a backcountry lodge located through Deception Pass.
You can go on line at Banff National Park
to pick a camp site and obtain your camping permit. You will also be required to obtain your backcountry permit which is separate, but can be obtained simultaneously if you plan on camping at a backcountry site. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas unless you are also in possession of a specific horse grazing permit.
The Banff National Park website
has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel. Canadian Alpine Accident Reports
is also extremely useful.