It is important to understand Picklejar Lakes are best accessed via Lantern Creek on the Picklejar Lakes Trail. You could hike to Picklejar Lakes on the Picklejar Creek Trail and the Picklejar Connector but that would be longer. Thank God we have that cleared up. There will be a quiz.
The weather, as I drive west from Calgary, deteriorates while driving south on the Kananaskis Trail. This is my first run this season south past the turnoff to Kananaskis Lakes. The winter closure gate opened June 15. I am driving into the clouds as I gain elevation past trailheads to the Rae Glacier, Pocaterra Ridge, Rock Glacier and Ptarmigan Cirque among others. My hope that weather will clear south of Highwood Pass is dashed as fog increases in density and becomes accompanied by a light drizzle. There are hundreds of waterfalls on adjacent mountains as spring runoff is fully underway. It is a spectacular amount of running water. I park at the Lantern Creek Day Use area, don rain gear and hike a short distance north on Kananaskis Trail to the very obvious trailhead on the east side of Kananaskis Trail and north side of Lantern Creek. A short stretch of flat, wet trail soon gains elevation, fairly aggressively, above Lantern Creek in the valley to my right. The wet forest aroma is wonderfully powerful.
Visibility decreases significantly as I literally hike into the clouds. Occasional avalanche chutes provide edgy views to the bottom of the valley. Running water on, and across, the trail increases as I gain altitude. It is an ethereal, ghostly scene of drifting mist with limited visibility. As I approach the pass, mud increases on steeper grades and Vibram hiking boot soles struggle to successfully gain traction in mud. It’s a mudder.
The final approach to the pass is steep on a secure, gritty, vertical shale surface. Check dams have been cast aside by recent heavy rain combined with snow melt. Near the top, the trail disappears under an intimidating wall of snow which is deceptively easy to navigate. The snow is dense and load bearing. Vertical faces can be easily negotiated by punching steps into the surface.
I get deceived by game trails and end up too high on the ridge. A quick correction down a scree slope gets me to the tiny scramble over a V in the rock ridge to a downward sloping trail across scree and talus on the other side. Visibility is very limited. I can see no evidence of lakes but I know they are out there somewhere.
Literally, I arrive at the first Picklejar Lake unexpectedly. The trail down down to the lake is over snow, off trail, or over talus with the occasional snippet of waterlogged trail providing a small degree of confidence. I am only a few meters from the shoreline when the first Picklejar Lake appears. I subsequently learn this first lake is actually Lake # 4 (See comments). There is a blue box containing cards called Voluntary Angler Reports, intended to gather fish stock data in this hugely popular backcountry fishing mecca. The majority of the trail at lakeside is under running water as I pick my way along the south shoreline on high spots which keep water predominantly below the top of the Gortex liners in my hiking boots.
This is a very beautiful place. I am seeing these lakes for the first time in unusual, early season conditions. The four Picklejar Lakes reside in large rock bowls tiered one above the other in an east-west series. The short climb from the east end of the Picklejar Lake # 4 is past a fast flowing waterfall, over a shallow ridge and down to a snowbound lake.
Given the depth of snow, and amount of water running, I decide I will turn about and return the way I came. The Picklejar Lakes are very close together and Lakes 2 and 1, respectively, are achievable under adverse conditions, but I decide I will return to enjoy the full impact of the experience later in the season. Ironically, as I head back, the cloud begins to lift and previously unseen mountains take form. WOW!
Following are a series of photos taken along the south shore of Picklejar Lake # 4 as the cloud lifts and previously unseen surrounding mountains begin to reveal themselves. Mist is moving up and down as it laterals at fairly high speed in the developing afternoon breeze. It is a surrealistic and dynamic sight. You may visualize but it can be no substitute for standing there with wide-angle visuals and the sun and breeze on your face.
On the return hike I take many photos looking back because I saw none of it hiking in. The crossing of the scree and talus slope is much more obvious and the notch in the rock ridge can be seen from a distance with the field of snow behind it.
From the top of the pass to parking in the Lantern Creek Day Use area, is an entirely different experience and following photographs illustrate the outstanding scenery which has revealed itself as the afternoon turns sunny briefly.
On the final stage of the hike, loud thunder is increasing in frequency and just as I get in the car, I enjoy a change of footwear with heavy rain pounding on the outside and lightning flashing overhead. Ten minutes later, the sun comes out and stays out on the drive north then east, all the way to Calgary. Amazing and not overly unusual. It is like nature is putting on a perfectly timed, full sensory presentation to reward me for participating and getting the job done.
This hike is done, this day, in varied and unusual conditions. The distance one way to the first lake (# 4) is 4.2 KM (2.63 miles) and the route along the south shore of all four lakes is about 1. 5 KM (0.94 miles). Net elevation is 450 m (1,476 ft) with limited fluctuation, so I would estimate gross elevation to be less than 5% more to a high point at the pass of 2,180 m (7,152 ft).
I will return on a summer or fall, fair weather, day to do a loop of Lantern Creek, the four Picklejar Lakes, the Picklejar Connector and Picklejar Creek, The road distance on Kananaskis Trail is under 3 KM (1.9 miles) so the loop can be completed on foot for a total on the day of around 14.2 KM (8.9 miles). A bicycle or two cars could be used to reduce the time and effort of hiking along Kananaskis Trail.