Distance: 12 km
Elevation gain: 1225 m View map Download GPS track
For our last camping trip of the summer before work overwhelms us, Sandra and I decided to head down to the new Castle Provincial Park west of Pincher Creek, an area we absolutely love.
After driving down early Wednesday morning and spending the rest of the day reading and relaxing, we awoke Thursday to hot and somewhat smoky conditions. I’m beyond sick of this weather this year – it’s apparently the hottest summer in recorded history
and the smokiest since Neil Armstrong walked on the moon
– so we had a hard time getting motivated for another coughing sweat-fest, but with little interest in sitting around for two days in a row we eventually decided to attempt an ascent of Mount Haig, one of the highest mountains in the vicinity.
An ascent of Mount Haig is often combined with an ascent of Gravenstafel Ridge
. We’d planned to do that last year around this time, but ran out of energy after topping out on Gravenstafel and chose to pick huckleberries instead. When done as a single ascent, Mount Haig is typically ascended using Nugara’s route
via the northeast and east ridges. Rated a moderate scramble and involving considerable elevation loss and regain, however, this route was of little interest to us and thus we decided on an ascent from the Haig-Gravenstafel col, one of Nugara’s recommended descent routes.
We parked in the huge parking lot at the Castle Mountain ski resort, then made our way towards the southwest corner of the resort. At the base of a ski slope we encountered a trail sign for the north route to Haig Lake and followed the arrow up the steep slope (I’d recommend using my GPS track or a printout of the map to find where to start. We really lucked into finding the trail sign!). The steep ascent relented after a few hundred meters, then climbed gently but steadily towards Haig Lake.
As we neared Haig Lake we turned off the trail and angled towards the Haig-Gravenstafel col. The terrain was much steeper than I’d anticipated and the sidehilling was atrocious, slowing us down to a crawl as we carefully picked our way up the least awful terrain. In retrospect a more direct line of ascent may have been a better choice. Very near the col, above a set of crumbling cliff bands, we encountered a faint and intermittent trail that we were able to follow to the col, although in many places some sketchy sidehilling was still required.
At this point we had a mental and food break while I considered the next part of the ascent. The crumbling cliff bands didn’t look at all easy for us and I was fairly certain we’d end up retreating and hiking up Gravenstafel Ridge instead, but I decided to investigate the route anyway knowing that things often end up looking easier as one gets closer. This was indeed the case, and with careful (mostly simple) routefinding and with the assistance of a few bits of trail we were able to keep the scramble at the upper end of easy or lower end of moderate. The terrain was steep enough in spots that it felt exposed, however, and Sandra found these sections – especially on the descent – a bit mentally daunting.
At the top of the cliff bands was a wonderful grassy plateau that gradually transitioned to rock and scree as it steepened en route to the summit. The only difficulty we encountered was annoyingly loose scree over the final 200 m of ascent, but a faint sheep trail helped us a bit with some of it.
The view from the summit, albeit a bit smoky, was quite wonderful and allowed us to scout out many of the peaks and valleys in the area we’ve already explored or will be exploring in the future. The profile of Barnaby Ridge
, our destination a few days later, dominated the view to the east and it was nice to see that its many undulations didn’t look too onerous. Unfortunately, a cool and strong wind drove us from the summit quite quickly, and after a pleasant lunch in the excellent shelter of some krumholtz on the lower plateau we picked our way back down to the col and on to Haig Lake.
We took a break at the lake to cool off – the cool wind on the summit was completely absent below the upper plateau – and then made our way back to the truck. We’d hoped to pick lots of huckleberries, which were very plentiful near the lake, but as a result of the incredibly hot and dry summer most of the berries were very tiny and not very juicy. The few that were nice were, of course, consumed on the spot. In a normal year, however, the picking would be great, and we met a couple groups heading up on our way out with exactly that in mind.