Visitors 77
89 photos

Distance: 32.5 km
Elevation gain: 1865 m
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With Sandra away this week I've been taking on a few longer objectives that she'd find difficult, but also sticking to well-used trails since I'd be solo. A few days ago I endured an incredibly boring approach on a scramble up popular Cascade Mountain, and today I figured I'd tackle the Castle Mountain massif, another popular trail with an equally long and boring approach. My goal was to summit the 4 peaks of the southern part of the massif - Castle Mountain (Kane and true summits), Stuart Knob, and Helena Ridge. I estimated this would involve well over 30 km of travel and more than 2000 m of elevation gain, making it by far the most strenuous trip I'd ever undertaken. After an uncomfortably early wake up I found myself starting the hike at 7:15 am.

It was 7.5 km of viewless boredom on rock-hard trail before I reached Tower Lake, then another 800 m or so to Rockbound Lake. At a moderate pace I reached Tower Lake by 9 am, but slowed down considerably at this point to soak in the views and try to boost my motivation for the exceptionally long day awaiting me. After a quick food break in a swarm of mosquitoes at Rockbound Lake I started the ascent to the Castle Mountain plateau at 9:30, reaching the rocky plateau between Helena Ridge and Castle Mountain shortly after 10. I set my sights on the Kane (south) summit of Castle Mountain and began a wonderfully pleasant walk towards it over 530 million year old bedrock. A few cairns did their best to guide me, but in general I stayed low and simply aimed for the peak. Travel along this section was a bit slow as there was a lot of rubble to move through and step-height ridges to climb up and over, but in general it was nice hiking with no scrambling required at all. I arrived on the summit at 11:30 and took a 30 minute lunch and photography break, likely appearing in dozens of tourist photos from those 1.4 km below at the Castle Mountain viewpoint.

After lunch I set my sights on the true, official summit of Castle Mountain, 5 km to the north. It is typically accessed via a connecting ridge from Stuart Knob, which is usually ascended directly from the rocky plateau. I decided I wanted to lose as little elevation as possible and so set a fairly direct route towards it, below the ridgeline but well above the plateau. This worked okay for a few kilometers, but 2 km from the peak my route started to involve significant sidehilling. I stubbornly stuck with it, but things continued to get worse and my forward pace slowed to a crawl, sometimes literally. Finally, after getting myself into and out of more than one precarious predicament, I found myself on easier terrain and shortly broke through onto the ridge. After a short and easy walk I found myself on the official summit of Castle Mountain, over 100 m higher than the Kane summit. Unfortunately by this point I knew I would not be completing my planned circuit to include Helena Ridge. While I was remarkably still full of physical energy I had been very mentally tired for most of the day and my struggles over the past hour had exhausted my reserves. Scrambling, especially solo, is about 50% mental for me and it would have been terribly unwise to tackle something where I wasn't entirely certain of the route.

I did, however, decide to head over to Stuart Knob, a dead-easy 1 km away and just 80 m higher than the low point on ridge. A faint path led the way up its backside, culminating in a short moderate scramble about 3 m in height. After a refueling break I started back down, heading down to the rocky plateau from the low point of the ridge between the official summit and Stuart Knob. Several cliff bands lower down required a bit of routefinding to get through, but then it was an easy and enjoyable walk back to the point where I'd gained the plateau earlier that day. The plateau itself was fascinating and I could easily have spent an entire day just wandering around it.

From Rockbound Lake it took me just under 2 hours to get back to the car. I'll endure the approach one more time to tag Helena Ridge, which I've heard is the nicest of the 4 summits, and perhaps extend the hike north to Stuart Knob (and maybe all the way to Armour Peak!).

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory:Outdoors
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Banff National Park, Castle Mountain, Rockbound Lake, Stuart Knob, Tower Lake, hiking, scrambling