Ball Pass Junction Campground to Pharaoh Creek Campground, 17.8 km, 997 m Elevation Gain, 1023 m Elevation Loss, 7 hrs 50 min. Side trip to Pharaoh Peak accounted for 2 km, 497 m Elevation Gain and Loss, 2 hrs 20 min.
It rained gently overnight. I always find the pitter patter of rain on the tent to be soothing, that is unless it is still raining when it is time to get up. The rain ended on this evening well before it was time to leave the tent. I was up just before 7 am and I am very happy I made the effort as the sky was absolutely gorgeous. The last of the rain clouds added extra dimensions of colour to the view and it was a stunning way to wake up.
After the great light had ended I checked on Siobhan and she was still sleeping so I went and made myself breakfast complete with coffee. Siobhan got up around 8 am. We met the other campers that had arrived later the day before. They were more than happy to talk and gave Siobhan a great idea for a daypack. Siobhan was using the bladder bag that came with my pack that I don’t use. The bladder bag converts into a very light daypack but really does not offer a lot of support. We had the campsite all packed up and were ready to leave at 8:50 am. Not exactly an alpine start.
“Siobhan: There are many styles to backpacking and some people are more about packing in miles etc. and that’s okay! I’m a huge proponent of enjoying whatever you are doing! Even if that means sleeping in.”
It was a cloudy and cool start to the day. Siobhan chose the start the hike in her t-shirt. The first part of the day was a pleasant hike up to and along the east shore of Haiduk Lake. The name “Haiduk” is an interesting one as for most of the area the features have names of Egyptian origin. Haiduk is is a type of irregular infantry found in Central and parts of Southeast Europe from the early 17th to mid 19th centuries. Not very Egyptian. The first 4 km of the hike to the end of Haiduk Lake and the base of Whistling Pass rose only 150 m making for a very nice warm up for the rest of the hike. The sun did try and peak through the clouds but for the most part it was a heavily overcast start to the day.
Despite not hiking hard and stopping for numerous photographs it only took us 1 hr 5 min travel the 4 km to the base of Whistling Pass. The pass was named because of the large marmot colony that calls the pass home who whistle at you as you walk through their territory. The next part of the day would be a little tougher. The first obstacle was going up Whistling Pass. The initial ascent up the pass through the trees was quite steep. As we ascended out of the trees the trail flattened out through a small larch forest before it headed up through a boulder field that dominated the north side of the pass.
Once over Whistling Pass we came to another small larch forest and got our first look at the ascent up Pharaoh Peak. There is no official trail up to the peak. The suggested route up just follows a drainage coming off the low point of the ridge.
We made our way up to the drainage to being the climb up to Pharaoh Peak. We decided to stash put all the equipment, tent, sleep bags etc into Siobhan’s backpack and stash it at the bottom of the climb. We then put all the food into my pack which I would carry to the peak and back. We did not want the critters getting at our food but we were pretty confident that the equipment would be safe.
The route was so steep that even though we were not on a cliff there were times when we were using our hands to help ourselves up. I was feeling a little sheepish on the way up. Forgetting my hiking poles at home was now appearing to be significant oversight. With the slope being so steep I was actually concerned about coming down. At one point on the way up I decided to take a test drive down the slope to check out how hard it would be. I was somewhat relieved at how easy the descent appeared to be. There was lots of loose gravel to promote easy downhill scree skiing. Only time would tell.
“Siobhan: This hike was similar to the difficulty of Big Sister which I’ve completed with Micah with different yet challenging terrain. For both hikes I would strongly recommend at least one hiking pole…guess what else I got for Christmas!”
Siobhan did ask several times if I wanted to stop and go back. She could tell I was pretty tense and not very happy. I knew that going up to Pharaoh Peak was an important part of the trip for her so I would mumble unconvincingly that I was good so we kept going.
“Siobhan: Very unconvincingly. When Micah and I hiked Big Sister we had a rule that the most uncomfortable person called it. If one person was too nervous we both stopped. This is smart hiking in the back country.”
As we approached the ridge there was one spot where we had a little bit of route finding. Every push upwards had our feet sliding back down the hill. As we neared the ridge the slope flattened out giving a nice finish to the first part of the climb.
It took us just over an hour to ascend to the ridge. The drainage lead to a little saddle, a low point between the two peaks. The initial climb was 375 m of elevation over just 800 m.
The final push to the summit covered just 375 m distance rising another 120 m from the saddle. It was an easy 15 minute scramble over slabby rocks. While a little nerve racking to be up so high there was actually very little exposure as the ridge was very wide. It was 12:15 pm when we arrived at the summit, I carefully made my way over to the edge and looked down on Egypt Lake Campground.
I missed it in the above photo but Egypt Lake lies at the base of The Sphinx on the left of the picture. The three lakes, Mummy – Scarab – Egypt are called a cirque staircase. A cirque is a glacial created depression typically at the base of a cliff, deeper on the side closest to the headwall becoming shallower as the glacier would have moved away. Sort of like an upside down baseball cap with the brim being the part furthest from the headwall. A glacier would have first carved out Mummy Lake before dropping over the cliff in the above photo and digging out Scarab Lake. A 90 degree turn by the glacier was necessary due to the position of Whistling Pass and Pharaoh Peak allowing the glacier to drop over the last cliff a form the basin that would become Egypt Lake.
The weather really was not that great. We had been sprinkled on earlier in the hike and the clouds were still quite thick to the west. I have a tendency to feel little stressed when at altitude if the weather is not perfect. When I had hiked the GR 20 with Micah we had been caught out on a ridge in a thunderstorm and the experience had left me a little uncomfortable about being up high and exposed in anything but perfect weather. After about 5 minutes at the top we headed back down. The first part of the journey was quick as we made our back to the saddle. We met a guy who was heading to the summit solo as his girlfriend had decided to stay at the saddle.
I was still a little apprehensive about the descent. I really should not have been. It was quite easy. There was good loose rock to the edges of the path which made scree skiing down the slope very easy. There were a couple of tricky sections when when had to carefully step around obstacles but the trip down was a quick and exhilarating ride.
“Siobhan: Despite his bad knees he was much quicker at descending than I was, maybe it was his enthusiasm to be off the peak. Ian: I just really enjoy scree skiing”
I was feeling a great sense of accomplishment after finishing our descent. Not only had I made it to the summit and back but we had nailed two of the primary objectives of the trip, making it to Ball Pass and to the summit of Pharaoh Peak.
“Siobhan: I was also feeling very accomplished after suffering so badly from altitude on day one. I’ve also never done back to back backpacking trips and in all I spent 9 of 11 nights sleeping in a tent.”
The round trip time to summit Pharaoh Peak was about 2 hrs 20 min. We decided that we would take a side trip to Scarab Lake and eat our lunch lakeside. The junction to Scarab Lake was a short 1 km hike from where we rejoined the main trail. A quick 500 m downhill walk brought us to the lake. It was quite windy so we tried to find a spot that was somewhat sheltered. At 1:45 pm we dropped our packs ready for some lunch.
We had a little show while we were eating lunch. The guy and who had soloed to the top of the Pharaoh Peak arrived still with his girlfriend. It was a bit of windy, chilly lunch but the guy still decided it was a good time to go skinny dipping. I am quite sure that the swim was quite refreshing and invigorating. After about 25 minutes we were starting to get a little chilly ourselves so we headed off. Our next destination was Egypt Lake which would be a pleasant 2.3 km hike mostly downhill.
As we made our way down to Egypt Lake we met a young couple coming uphill and trailing behind them was a very small dog. We stopped to chat for a couple of minutes. They were headed all the way to Shadow Lake CG. We did ask about their dog as she was so small. They said that when the dog got tired they would take turns carrying her. As they left with the dog lagging behind both of us felt that they would shortly be doing a lot of carrying.
We stayed at Egypt Lake for about 15 minutes. It was getting late in the afternoon so we decided to head off as we had a bit more than an hour of hiking left to get to our home for the evening at Pharaoh Creek Campground.
Egypt Lake Campground had been closed all summer due to the proposed replacement of the shelter at the campground. I feel that was an unfortunate decision by Parks Canada as closing the shelter does not actually interfere with the campsites. Looking around there appeared to have been nothing done by Parks Canada all summer. Without knowing more details it just seems that there was some poor planning by Parks Canada. We would actually get some more details tomorrow.
As we were checking out the the sign and getting ready to leave Egypt Lake Campground. The group from dinner last night at Ball Pass Junction Campground hiked up. We had a brief chat with the guy who was leading the group. They had tried to hike up The Sphinx but ended up off trail and turned back. No other information was offered and he never asked us about our day. They were not any more engaging than they had been last night. We said a quick goodbye and headed off down the trail.
It was a quick 4.6 km hike on mostly rolling trail to the campground. With the great day that we had and the prospect of arriving at camp and finishing our day we made good progress down the trail. We arrived at Pharaoh Creek Campground just 1 hr 10 min after leaving Egypt Lake Campground. There were a couple of tents set up but no one was in camp. We chose a campsite off to the north side. We threw down our packs at 4:40 pm. It was such a nice afternoon and the sun was so warm we both took the opportunity to have a little nap before setting up the tent.
The two ladies who had taken our photograph back on Pharaoh Peak arrived next with their dog. Apparently it was not actually their dog. The one lady was dog sitting for the weekend and decided to bring the dog along an adventure to the Egypt Lake area. Even though they were hiking together they had each had their own tent. They were super friendly and we got lots of opportunity to pet the dog (I cannot remember its name). It turned out that we had friends in common. One of the ladies was best friends with the mother of a kid I coached in speed skating. Small world. Siobhan got to try out some more lightweight camp chairs. A little while later the last group showed up. It was another father and daughter duo.
We had a loud and boisterous dinner this evening. Everyone was very friendly and talkative. It turned out that the other father daughter duo where actually both engineers. It also turned out that they have been mistaken for a couple on previous trips like Siobhan and I were back on our Howard Douglas trip back in 2017. That is always an interesting and awkward discussion. By 8 pm everyone had retired back to their tents. The evening had been a great way to end what had been a long and glorious day
The evening was quite clear so I decided that this would be a good night to get up and take pictures of stars and hopefully the Milky Way in the night sky. With a big meadow I would lots of access to the sky. After going to sleep I woke up at 11 pm and checked the sky. The sky appeared to clear and the stars were out in full force. While a few clouds did appear I was quite happy with my photographs and I just simply enjoyed being outside underneath the stars staring at the Milky Way. I do not think I will ever lose my awe of the night’s sky.
Good night from Pharaoh Creek Campground.