A lazy early morning start and a lift up to Sunshine Village was followed by some pack organising, some last-minute cherry eating, and a start up the hill out of the Village at about 7.45am. Past the scenic construction work, and the beginnings of the new Strawberry Lift, and we were into the meadows.
The ground squirrels obviously sleep in as well, and were only just beginning to hop out of their burrows and scoot around. We dropped our packs and wandered over to Rock Isle Lake – blue sky and not a breath of wind, and too early for the bus to be running and bringing other hikers up here, the lake was calm, still and peaceful.
It was easy walking across the meadows, a smooth flat path, and beautiful views, and lots of ground squirrels running around to provide distraction. There were absolutely hundreds of them, standing up on their hind legs, and squeaking, and poinging through the undergrowth, diving into holes and then peering out suspiciously. Even a few chasing each other round in circles.
For a long time all we could see when we looked back was the ski resort infrastructure sprawled out all over the mountains, but eventually it faded into the mountains, and you could barely pick out the lift towers from the meadow land they were standing on.
A few drifts of snow still lay around, and we had a few to walk over before we reached Citadel Pass – but there were none of the waist-deep drifts that the Banff Parks site had warned of, and the trail was easily passable. We ran into a couple of people who’d been warned off doing the hike – apparently the trail was still snow-bound. We laughed, and thanked the Parks office for keeping the trail quiet for us (and then wondered if it was the same Banff Parks guy who’d warned our friend off doing this hike last Summer, and warned us against doing the Egypt Lake ski tour a couple of months beforehand).
We reached Citadel Pass for lunch – it seems to mark the end of the Sunshine Meadows, and quite a few hikers who’d caught the first shuttle bus up were beginning to turn up. With only 4km to our campground, we had a long lunch and lazed about in the sun and watched the day hikers come and go (and a few keen lightly-loaded overnight hikers who were making the full 30km to Assiniboine Lodge, where they’d get to sleep in a bed and have food cooked for them).
Out and away from Citadel Pass, we started going downhill, gradually at first, and then the land around us changed entirely as we dropped into a valley and started following switchbacks through lush overgrown forest – still speckled with tiny flowers though, like the alpine meadows, although the ground squirrels disappeared (to be replaced with an occasional tree squirrel or chipmunk).
I was glad for the occasional shade of the trees, as the sky had stayed mostly clear, and the sun was doing its best to bake us – with the assistance of the complete lack of wind. The trail was dusty as we kept switch-backing down and down and down.
Finally things flattened out, and a few hundred metres later we arrived at Porcupine Campground, guarded by three ground squirrels standing sentinel on the cooking tables. As some have said, it’s a little like camping in a hole, and lacks the scenic lakeside views you get at some of the other campgrounds along this trail. But it’s quite a charming little hole.
Of course after a clear sky all day, some clouds had gathered to rain on us just as we went to set up tents. Some Englishmen turned up shortly afterwards though, so I’m assuming they brought the rain with them. Apart from them and the ground squirrels though, we had the place to ourselves, and spent a peaceful night eating quite a lot, and lazing, and reading, before retiring early to the tents.
Days total hiking distance: 14km