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Rockies :: Banff-Louise :: Skoki - Merlin Lake

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Larch splendor in Merlin Lake basin. Mt. Richardson top left, Merlin Castle right of center

Abstract

Overall Difficulty D4 Talus slope traverse with boulder hoping and some stability issues.  Scramble up the headwall (1 class 2 spot)
Snow Factor S5 In winter slopes below Wall of Jericho are huge avalanche trap; ski approach on the other side of valley might be safer
Scenery Fantastic wide glacial cirque below Mt. Richardson.   Beautiful Castilleja Lake.  Exotic 'Merlin Castle' rock formation. 
Trail/Marking Excellent Lawrence Grassi built trail.  Packer Pass junction is marked.  Off-trail for upper basin
Suggested Time 4 hr Just for hike to east end of Merlin Lake. Add several hours/full day to properly explore entire basin
Elevation Start: 2050m     Max: 2290 m    Total: ~300 m (Merlin Meadows to east end of Merlin Lake)

Round Trip: ~9 km  (Merlin Meadows to east end of Merlin Lake)

Gear Full hiking boots. Poles essential for stability on boulder slope. 
Water Creek by Skoki Lodge and Merlin Lake outlet.  Distance is short - 1L should suffice
Dog Friendly Yes Skoki is prime grizzly bear area and has been closed several times in the past due to dog related incidents

 

 

Gallery

Mt Richardson and Wall of Jericho from Merlin Meadows

Skoki Lodge. Merlin trail starts by the creek on the left side

Castilleja lake while traversing slope below Wall of Jericho

Looking back at long traverse. Skoki Mountain left distance

Merlin Meadows & Castilleja Lake from base of Merlin Headwall

Descending to Merlin Lake in full autumn larch splendor

Glaciated east side of Mt. Richardson from Merlin Lake

Merlin Lake Panorama. Mt. Richardson left, Merlin Castle right

Wall of Jericho from north side of Merlin Lake

View back to east end of Merlin Lake

Panoramic view of Merlin Lake from west end below Mt. Richardson

Golden Larch splendor during the hike-out

 

 

Summary

Merlin Lake is fantastic day hike from overnight base at Merlin meadows campground - or at Skoki Lodge, if you have too much cash in your hands.  Day trip from Fish Creek parking is not feasible due to overall length; besides it would leave almost no time to explore beautiful cirque below Mt. Richardson and tucked between exotic named Wall of Jericho and Merlin Castle.  Approach trail starting from Skoki Lodge is fantastic; built by Lawrence Grassi it traverses long talus slope below Wall of Jericho, before scrambling up the Headwall to upper basin. Less popular alternative starts from Merlin Meadows and climbs at north side of the valley.  Although longer, Skoki Lodge variation is preferred.

 

Assuming you camped at Merlin Meadows, make your way back to Skoki Lodge (about 10-15 minutes).  If you have broken the camp, you can ask lodge staff to leave overnight gear there, as you must return this way. Cross the bridge below the lodge, and find good trail heading west.  Soon you come to junction:  Packer Pass left, Merlin Lake right.  Trail rises through thinning forest, dotted with golden larches in 2nd half of September, then starts contouring wide talus slope.  This part looks like it might be rough, but is in fact mostly hands-in-your-pockets, and very reminiscent of Alpine Circuit in O'Hara area.  With snow cover it could be slippery and dangerous, while in spring you should not go this way as it is huge avalanche trap! Terrific view to the right unfolds - beautiful Castilleja Lake, with expansive Merlin Meadows behind.  Eventually trail comes to base of headwall, and scrambles up series of switchbacks that call for use of hands at couple of places.  Topping up, trail branches in several directions but is not needed anymore - just make your way to the slabs and gravel beach by the lake - turnaround point for most hikers.

 

If you are not hiking out of Skoki the same day, it is recommended to spend some extra time exploring Merlin basin.  Easy beach walk to far end of the lake brings different perspective of the lake.  You can also find trail partway along the west end of the lake; it starts by the drainage and cairns lead to upper basin, where you can inspect Merlin Castle from up-close, or even off-trail wonder to saddle below north ridge of Mt. Richardson.  After you senses and sense of adventure have been satisfied return same way back to Skoki Lodge.