My legs screamed at me as I took the first few steps away from the car. I adjusted my purse over my shoulder, pressed the button on the car lock, and hobbled around to meet my husband. He was limping, favoring his foot with the broken toe. Together we started across the crosswalk. The flashing hand seemed to keep time to each slow step we took and I wondered if we’d make it on time. Then we were on the sidewalk, wandering down the street, until we decided upon a restaurant and settled ourselves carefully into the cushioned chairs.
Legs stiffen up remarkably quickly after being confined to a car for an hour following four days of hiking in Skoki Valley. My husband had spent the drive between Lake Louise and Banff figuring out exactly how many kilometers we’d covered in the valley. Somewhere around 50 was the final number, I think. Not bad, as we’d been trying to take it easy.
The day before we left, we finally decided on the trail to hike. He had spent a morning reading over The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide and found several possibilities, which I managed to glance at quickly. Skoki Valley seemed to fit our schedule and fitness level.
Arriving in Banff, we announced we wanted to hike Skoki Valley. The lady at the desk was dubious – it was, after all, the September long weekend and we’d chosen a fairly popular hike. We might not be able to stay in the campgrounds we wanted, she warned us as she called to check. She came off the phone smiling at our good luck. A family of Goofs (their real last name, apparently) had made reservations and then cancelled one tent site – so we could go.
That evening we found ourselves dozing on the edge of Baker Lake after hiking in and setting up our tent. A few white clouds floated in the blue sky above, mosquitoes buzzed around us, and somewhere beyond the trees we heard the occasional sound of the other campers. The wind lightly rippled the surface of the lake while the sun picked out every craggy crevice in the mountains towering over us.
The next day, as we moved from that campground to another, we made a day hike to the Natural Bridge. My husband had liked the description in The Canadian Rockies Trail Guide. I’d looked at it quickly enough to see how scenic it sounded and to miss the part about the “messy trail” getting there. We appeared to be in a group of a hardy few who ventured over the muddy, rooty, rocky, horse-trod trail that crossed the river three times (on logs) to finally reach the cataract that poured over a cliff, dropping down through a hole that formed a natural bridge over the river.
Having gotten there, we admired the thing we had come to view and filled our water bottles. Then we returned the 5 km to pick up our packs and go on to our camp for the night.
The third day found us clambering over a rockslide and along a narrow trail in search of Merlin Lake. If it weren’t so well-trod and well-marked, it would have been called a goat trail. A gorgeous blue mountain lake far below us seemed to answer that description. We happily hiked around it, ate lunch on a rocky ledge halfway up the mountain, looked up the steep, rocky trail that continued, and decided to go back.
On arriving at Skoki Lodge for afternoon tea (chocolate chip cookies, banana bread, and hot tea – a rare treat on the trail!), we found out we’d only actually seen a smaller lake that lay just below Merlin Lake. We studied the maps, half kicking ourselves for not pushing up over the last bit of the trail, and yet knowing we’d both been tired and ready to turn back and, yes, we still had a few kilometers to hike over a pass to our next campground.
The day after that we packed up our camp for the last time and hiked out of Skoki Valley. Our four days back there had been relaxing and fun and a good end to the summer, with fewer mishaps than our last hike at Thanksgiving. And if my legs were still sore the next day at work… well, I could just remember where they took me, and that made me smile.