|Trailhead||The parking lot is on the Icefields Parkway at Mosquito Creek, 24 km north of the Trans-Canada Hwy.|
|Distance||11.5 km (7 mi.)|
|Elevation Gain||760 m (2,493')|
|Maximum Elevation||2,590 m (8,495')|
The trail up Mosquito Creek and over North Molar Pass is the most popular route to Fish Lakes, and the pass itself is a rewarding destination for fit day hikers. Try to reserve this trip for a dry period, as the trail is quite rough and muddy for much of the way below the treeline. After about an hour's hike from the highway, the trail passes a backcountry campsite (Mo 5) that is handy for backpackers who have been dropped off at the trailhead by the Brewster bus. (The bus arrives at Mosquito Creek in the late afternoon.) This map, based on a Parks Canada brochure, indicates the general location of the trail. Click here to view a portion of the topographic map (Hector Lake, 82 N/9), with a detailed view of Fish Lakes, North & South Molar Passes, Pipestone Pass, Clearwater Pass and Devon Lakes.
The extensive meadows of the upper valley are entered after the 8 km mark, and from that point the trail is fairly level and the views continue to improve. Cross-country scramblers may be tempted to visit the high col that lies directly ahead and overlooks the upper Pipestone valley (see below), but most hikers will continue on the main trail as it veers to the east to reveal the approach to North Molar. (Because of the general bogginess, it's easy to overlook that the trail crosses the Mosquito Tarn outlet stream; trail definition improves thereafter.) The final climb to the pass is fairly steep, but the trail is firm and the destination is impossible to miss even if the path is occasionally faint.
I had an interesting encounter with a grizzly bear here in 2015. Just after reaching the upper meadows, I sighted a bear heading up the ridge above Mosquito Tarn towards South Molar Pass. Since I was about to leave the trail and head in the opposite direction towards Mosquito Lake, I didn't expect to see it again. But it circled around and crossed the trail just below where I had first seen it, and was now just about 200 m away. While it was rolling on its back in the meadow, I continued cross-country on the way to Mosquito Lake, but not long after, it reappeared, this time about 30 m away and travelling in my direction. Before I began the final ascent to Mosquito Lake a half our later, I saw it twice more, the last sighting bringing some relief as it headed down the valley.
Two days later, upon arriving at Fish Lakes Camp, campers reported a bear had walked through the camp that morning. The gouge marks in the picnic tables and tufts of fur hanging from the splinters were remnants of its campsite tour. It's very likely it was the same bear I saw, and suggests it crossed between valleys via North Molar Pass. Plus, it was probably the same bear that appeared around that time at Helen Lake, forcing a closure of the area (there's a ski route between Mosquito Creek and Dolomite Pass).
For those continuing to Fish Lakes, the trail plunges to an alpine meadow that is equally scenic, but more enclosed. Eventually, the prominent horn of Cataract Peak comes into view, followed by the flower-filled meadows around Upper Fish Lake. The Fish Lakes campsite (Mo 18) is just over 3 km and 365 m below North Molar Pass.
Molar Pass is also in the vicinity and is well worth visiting. In fact, as a day-hiking objective, I would recommend it over North Molar Pass. Views from the summit include Molar Mtn. and the main peaks of the Skoki Valley (Mt. Richardson, Pika Peak and Ptarmigan Peak). The trail to the pass cuts away from the Mosquito Creek trail at the 7 km mark and reaches the summit (2,365 m (7,757')) in about another 3 km. In 2011, while descending this trail, I met two grizzly bears heading in the opposite direction, passing within about 20 m of the trail. A larger, greyish bear was pursuing a smaller, cinnamon bear, although before they came into view, the galloping sound led me to expect an elk, moose or deer. Fortunately, they ignored me and continued up the valley.
For the return from North Molar, there is a challenging scrambling route between it and Molar Pass that is highly recommended if the weather is good (see below for an easier option). This route could be done in either direction, but I will describe it starting from the North Molar end. The beginning of the route is visible as you ascend the trail to North Molar Pass from Fish Lakes; note the orange pinnacles ("Molar Castle") on the ridge to the left (southwest) of the pass. From North Molar Pass, drop down to the cornice and climb up to the first bump on the ridge (moderate scramble). From this point, the grade eases somewhat, and the next section to the pinnacles is visible. The ground near the pinnacles is steep and loose, but beyond that point the route to the ridge summit is an easy scramble (click here for a view of the route from the summit). At just over 9,000' (2,744 m), the views of Mt. Hector, and Mosquito, Molar and Pipestone Valleys are outstanding. Mt. Balfour, the highest peak of the Waputik Range, is visible to the southwest. "Hound's Tooth" is the prominent pinnacle that is also seen from the upper Mosquito meadows on the approach to North Molar.
From the summit, descend to the col at GR 53102180, and from there take the easiest route down to the meadows. By heading in a generally southwest direction, across beautiful tarn-dappled, slabby meadows, you will soon arrive in the vicinity of Molar Pass, and the trail that leads back to Mosquito Creek. Additional photos may be found here.
There's another cross-country route between North Molar Pass and Molar Pass that is easier than the highline route, but still very worthwhile. It could also form part of an excellent day trip starting from either the parking lot or Mo 5 campsite. Beginning at the point where the North Molar trail crosses the Mosquito Tarn outlet, turn south and ascend the obvious low ridge directly ahead. From the top, the view across a broad alpine basin reveals Mt. Hector and the switchbacks on the headwall below Molar Pass. Head across the basin towards the ridge separating the basin from the highline route and find a pair of tarns (shown as one on the map) nestled against the ridge. These tarns are the source of the unique "tilted" stream that eventually crosses the Molar Pass trail. From the tarns, hike along the edge of the meadow and drop down to the trail, just below the headwall, and continue to Molar Pass.
Mosquito Lake is another option for hikers visiting the upper Mosquito Valley. (I will refer to the pool on the North Molar trail, that is usually called "Mosquito Lake", as "Mosquito Tarn", reserving the lake designation for the larger body of water NNE of the tarn.) Shortly after entering the meadows, about 1 hr. from Mo 5 campsite, head in the direction of the obvious break in the Mosquito/Pipestone divide. Cross the lake's outlet stream to the west side and ascend easy meadows, arriving at the emerald-coloured (similar to Bourgeau Lake) lake (elev. 2480m or 8,136') after another hour. Looking back, glaciated Mt. Hector is visible (it's not visible from the North Molar Pass trail). While Mosquito Lake is an excellent destination in itself, as a day trip from the parking lot or Mo 5, one can continue further to Pipestone Lookout and on to the Pipestone valley (aerial photo).
The route to Pipestone Lookout begins by walking around the west side of Mosquito Lake to its head, and then ascending the easy slopes in a southeasterly direction. After about 30 min. of hiking from the lake, you will reach the top of the ridge and receive an excellent view of the upper Pipestone valley. The elevation of Pipestone Lookout is approximately 2600 m or 8,530'. Click here to see a picture of the lookout as seen from near the unnamed lake along the Pipestone Highline trail. Besides the unnamed lake, a figure-eight-shaped tarn, "Hourglass Tarn", is visible in a basin far below and to the right. For those continuing onto the Pipestone Highline, this tarn is the feature to aim for on the descent. While it is initially quite steep, I would rate the route as a moderate scramble, comparable to the descent of Mt. Richardson or Mt. Niles. Upon reaching the tarn, hike towards the Pipestone and walk down the easy slope to the mouth of the unnamed lake (photo). Alternatively, bypass Hourglass Tarn and take the route indicated in the photo. From the lake, one can head up to Pipestone Summit or turn right and hike the highline trail back to Fish Lakes.