Up a fire road to a pristine mountain lake, over a high alpine pass to a tumbling river
I have wanted to do this hike for a while. I have been intrigued about exploring the area of Banff NP east of the Trans Canada Highway, the Sawback Range of mountains. What was attractive about the hike is that it is possible to to do it as a point to point, not your traditional out and back. The trip was to start at the Mt Norquay ski hill parking lot and hike to Mystic Valley Campground on day 1. Then hike to Mystic Lake on day 2, this requires a short excursion of about 800 m one way, then hike over Mystic Pass, to the Ink Pots and down to the Moose Meadows trailhead. Total distance about 37 km evenly spread out between the two days, total elevation gain 639 m (290 m day 1 and 349 day 2) and elevation loss 70 m day 1 and 839 m day 2)
So, two fairly big milage days (there are campgrounds that could be used to shorten the days) but with not a lot of elevation. In fact, the hike had a net elevation loss.
Emily was keen to join me on the hike, but our days off did not overlap completely. I work Monday to Friday and Emily works Sunday to Thursday. So we can hike together for Friday afternoon and Saturday. Luckily for us the majority of the trail for the first day was an old fire road, which would enable us to maintain a good pace to compensate for a late start time . Additionally, most of the first day was buried deep in the woods, with little in the way of views, so we would not be missing anything by our hurried pace.
To make the point to point trip easier, we took my car to our terminus, Moose Meadows Trailhead the night before we left on the hike. This saved us about 45 minutes the day of the hike, avoiding the shuttle back to our starting point, which was important given out late start time.
The hike is summarized nicely in Graeme Pole’s book “Classic Hikes in the Canadian Rockies”, in the description for the Sawback hike. The portion that is not summarized is from Larry’s Camp to the Ink Pots and then to the Moose Meadows trailhead, which we have hiked frequently.
Mystic Lake and Mystic Pass are worthy destinations, adding in the Ink Pots makes for an amazing trip.
What We Learned
- Mountain House meals labeled for 2.5 servings, still only satisfy one person
- Having coffee and Logan Bread for breakfast speeds up the time it takes to hit the trail, compared to having coffee and hot oatmeal