Banff Backpack – Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake

August 21, 2018

This is Day Two of a three day backpack starting from Sunshine Village and ending at Vista Lake off Highway 93 South. Click to read about Day One and Day Three.

My husband Mike and I awoke to a very niply morning at Egypt Lake. The tent was covered in frost, and it was in the shade. We were with a couple brand new to backpacking, and they were not exactly moving quickly on this brisk morning. It was going to be a slow start.

To dry the tent fly as much as possible, I hauled it over to some nearby bushes that were basking in the early morning sunshine. After several rotations, the fly was not exactly dry, but at least I wasn’t packing it up encrusted with ice.

Once everything was packed, we began to slowly make our way up the trail for our day’s adventure.


The trail from Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake is about 15 km, with some mild elevation gains and losses that are well spread out. From the campground, the trail heads up to the high point of Whistling Pass. It is then a long and gradual descent to Shadow Lake.

Trail Head

From the Egypt Lake campground, head SW as if you were going towards Egypt Lake. Hopefully you visited the lake the night before, and can head straight for your next destination.

Main Trail

Go past the turnoff to Egypt Lake, and continue up and around the left flank of Pharaoh Peak.

Day 2 - 1

Pharaoh Peak looms overhead as we leave the campground. The sky was clear last night (hence the freezing temps), so we started the day with brilliant blue skies.

This section of the trail is by far the most interesting. As we ascended above the campground, we were in a lush old forest, with huge boulders strewn about from the nearby peaks.

Day 2 - 2

Gorgeous forest with shade. Despite a chilly morning, the day was heating up quickly and Mike is already stripping down.

As we made our way west around the base of Pharaoh Peak, we arrived at an absolutely gorgeous meadow. The Ball Range dominated the view ahead, with Haiduk Peak taking centre stage. There were marmots playing and squeaking all over the boulders.

Day 2 - 3

If you are only going to Egypt Lake, it’s worth the time and effort to pop up here before you head home. Enjoy this stunning view, because it’s one of the best on this section.

About 2 km from the campground is an optional detour to the left to visit Scarab Lake. It only adds about 1 km return, but I had my eye on a bigger prize. If you are not going up Pharaoh Peak, then it might be worth the little extra distance to see this gem.

As we continued to contour NW around the base of Pharaoh Peak, the landscape changed to wide open meadow and small boulders. The view to Whistling Pass is straight ahead.

At 3 km from the campground is the trail that leads up to the main Pharaoh Peak. We now had a decision to make.

Day 2 - 4

The trail heading up to Pharaoh Peak. Yes, the trail is straight up. And why yes, it does bite.

Our friends were lagging behind. There is nothing worse than being dragged along at a pace you can’t (and don’t want to) maintain. The only thing worse is dragging your butt trying to keep a group together, especially with a big pack. As the trail to Whistling Pass and then onwards to Shadow Lake was straight-forward, we decided to split up. Mike and I went up Pharaoh Peak, and the other couple continued to the campground.

Pharaoh Peak

The trip up Pharaoh Peak is well worth the extra effort. It is only 2 km return, but it adds an extra 365 m (1,200′) of elevation gain and loss to your daily total. We stashed our big backpacks behind a boulder, and took one fanny pack (top of my backpack) between us with some water and snacks.

The first 700 m to Pharaoh Peak is a straight up grind through churning, dusty rock with grades as high as 45 to 50%. Switchbacks do not exist.

Day 2 - 5

This is coming back down, but it’s a good view of the miserable trail. My boots are normally multicoloured.

Once at the col, things improve dramatically. Turn right (east) and enjoy the trek.

Day 2 - 6

View of lessor Pharaoh Peak from the col. The trail blessedly improves 100%. The grade backs way off, and the large rocks and boulders are fun to climb over.

The last 300 m are a huge improvement, and kinda make up for the previous 700 m. The rubble changes to large boulders, and it was an absolute joy to work our way through this landscape, surrounded by the most impressive views.

Day 2 - 8

Mike working his way up the large boulders from the col.

Day 2 - 7

Fantastic views of the lakes surrounding Pharaoh Peak. Scarab Lake is the round lake directly below, and Mummy Lake is long and narrow, heading off to the south.

As we neared the summit, we were treated to the immense mountain panorama to the west and north.

Day 2 - 9

Alisen with the Ball Range stretching out behind. I love to fill my soul with the power from these immense stone sculptures.

From the summit, we could look down and just see the edge of Pharaoh Lake to the north east.

Distance from Egypt Lake Campground is about 4 km. Additional elevation gain from pass to summit is 364 m (1,201′). It took us about 2 hours and 45 minutes (with lots of dawdle time).

Day 2 - 10

A peak from the peak – Pharaoh Lake below.

Once we got our fill of the views, we descended the way we came up. We were almost back to our packs when two trail runners came bounding up the trail. They had run in from Shadow Lake that morning, and made very quick work of running up Pharaoh Peak. Sigh…

Whistling Pass

Back at the main trail, we shouldered our packs, and headed up the final slope to Whistling Pass. From here, the view down the valley was another kind of incredible.

Distance to Whistling Pass from Egypt Campground is 4.6 km (no detour). Elevation gain is 337 m (1,121′).

Day 2 - 11

View from Whistling Pass to Haiduk Lake. The trail snakes along on the right, through the green grassy area.

The final 10.7 km of the trail to Shadow Lake is not very eventful. We passed a few streams, and refilled our bottles with ice cold, freshly filtered water.

Day 2 - 12

We passed several streams with crisp, cold water. It was such a delight to wash off the dust from Pharaoh Peak on this hot, dry day.

Haiduk Lake is just gorgeous, and I was glad to see it while the air was still rather clear. With the rain long gone, the smoke was beginning to creep back in. Soon we wouldn’t have any views.

Day 2 - 13

Haiduk Lake. The trail winds around to the right of the lake, avoiding the nasty scree on the left.

We did pass one interesting feature – a large sinkhole in the middle of a meadow. The surrounding ground must be boggy, because nothing but grass grows here. I hope it’s not like quicksand for any unsuspecting animals walking through. I had horrible visions of deer and elk piling up on top of perfectly preserved woolly mammoths.

Day 2 - 14

This perfectly round pond looks like a big sinkhole. It’s probably perfectly safe, but I wasn’t going to test it out.

When we finally arrived at Shadow Lake, it was a bit of a disappointment. This valley is a different orientation, and the wild fire smoke was already rolling in. As a result, our views of Shadow Lake and the surrounding mountains was greatly reduced. After hearing so much about Shadow Lake, it was a real shame not to see it at it’s best.

Distance from Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake viewpoint is about 16 km. It’s another 1.2 to 1.5 km to the Shadow Lake campground from here.

Day 2 - 15

Mount Ball dominates the view at the end of Shadow Lake. It looks like it’s close to evening in this photo, but it’s only 5:20 pm. The smoke from the nearby wildfires has already filled this valley. I will have to come back here on a clear day.

After briefly admiring the view, we continued along the trail. We knew we were close to our campground by the abundance of well scrubbed-up Americans and Europeans who were staying at Shadow Lake Lodge.

We thought our friends would have rolled into camp hours before us, but it turns out we were only about 30 minutes behind them. They had an enjoyable stroll through the mountains, without us breathing down their necks.

The Shadow Lake campground was supposed to be booked solid, but there were lots of open spots. Not sure if people bailed with the smoke, or the rain on the first night. If so, I sure hope they cancelled rather than letting their spots sit empty. It is very difficult to book campsites in Banff National Park these days, and any availability is greatly appreciated by us locals.

Thank you for joining in for Day Two of the Banff Backpack. Read about Day One – Sunshine Village to Egypt Lake. Don’t miss the final Day Three – Shadow Lake to Vista Lake.

Day 2 Totals – Tracked on Strava

Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake – INCLUDING Pharaoh Peak
Date: August 21, 2018
Group: Two (Alisen & Mike)
Distance: 17.3 km
Elevation: 681 m (2,249′)
Time: 7 hours 30 minutes (includes a few breaks)

Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake
Date: August 21, 2018
Group: Four (Alisen, Mike and two others)
Distance: 15.3 km
Elevation: 337 m (1,121′)
Time: 7 hours (with breaks)

Day 2 – Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake

Day 2 Map

Day Two starts at Egypt Lake campground (Blue dot) and ends at Shadow Lake campground (white dot). There are two side trips – one to Scarab Lake, and another to Pharaoh Peak. The climb up Pharaoh Peak is first thing in the day, but as the rest of the trip is mainly downhill, it’s not a problem.

Day 2 Profile

The elevation profile for Day Two is between the two black lines. Without the trip up Pharaoh Peak (highest point), there is not much elevation gain. It is all gained within the first 5 km (7 km if you go up Pharaoh Peak). This means you can enjoy the rest of your day.

Continue reading about the Banff Backpack’s Day Three adventure as we go from Shadow Lake to the end at Vista Lake.


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Posted in Adventures, Backpacking
6 comments on “Banff Backpack – Egypt Lake to Shadow Lake
  1. marian7373 says:

    Wonderful, I want to climb the mountains with you, take me too, I admire you

  2. Amit Kumar says:

    Hello Ma’am,
    How are you?
    Again I’m enjoying your adventures through your posts.
    When i started reading with first post then continue 2nd,3rd and lastly in Mountains page
    I read it with interested [ beautiful pics].

    • alisendopf says:

      Thank you very much for the feedback. I sure do appreciate it. I have been loving the mountains for over 20 years, and this is the best way I can think to share my adventures AND encourage others to pursue their passions – whatever they may be. I hope you are living your best life, and are able to have some adventures along the way. Enjoy!

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