August 21, 2018
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.
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.
Go past the turnoff to Egypt Lake, and continue up and around the left flank of Pharaoh Peak.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Once at the col, things improve dramatically. Turn right (east) and enjoy the trek.
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.
As we neared the summit, we were treated to the immense mountain panorama to the west and north.
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).
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…
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′).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Continue reading about the Banff Backpack’s Day Three adventure as we go from Shadow Lake to the end at Vista Lake.