Distance: 18 km
Elevation gain: 1635 m View map Download GPS track
Our camping trips this summer have been a good mix of resting, reading, and hiking, and so after another rest day we were ready for our biggest hike of the trip: An ascent of Southfork Mountain with a traverse to Barnaby Ridge. Today was also the day of the solar eclipse, and I figured it would be neat to view it from the top of a mountain.
Our plan was to ascend Southfork Mountain via the Southfork Lakes and then, after hiking to the summit of Barnaby Ridge, to return the same way. The backtracking would add a bit of elevation gain and loss to our day, but would negate the need for two vehicles or bikes as the other common routes
I’d been planning this ascent for over a year now, and last year we’d spent a rest day searching for the trailhead, which simplified matters today. As such, I didn’t pay much attention to how to find it, but it’s a dirt road with a blue street number sign about 4 km east of the Castle Mountain resort. The road heads to a research station that is partially visible from the road, so this can help locate it. Other side roads in the vicinity are either unsigned or are clearly only for ATV’s. This morning we drove down to the end of the road near the Castle River, donned (completely unnecessary) sneakers for the crossing, and walked across the river at a point that was less than a foot deep.
Every published report on the trail to Southfork Lakes – both on the internet and in print – indicated that finding the trail across the river was the crux of the day. Perhaps as a result of the new Provincial Park designation for this area, however, the trail has now been signed and has been brushed out very well. Trail markers, in fact, start even before the river crossing and an excellent trail has been cut through the krumholtz between the Southfork Lakes.
The trail across the river began quite gently, but soon steepened dramatically, gaining 450 m over just 1.5 km. Most of this ascent was on open hillside, and while we had started early enough that it was shaded on our way up, it would be impossibly sweltering on a hot afternoon (and, in fact, it was on our descent!). We were quite happy when the ascent relaxed near the lower of the three Southfork Lakes! A few very nice informal campsites were located on the edge of the lake and a fisherman, who was having no luck, had camped there overnight.
We contoured around the lower lake on good trail before a moderately steep ascent, still on good trail, brought us to the second lake. At this point we turned west and started the steep, off-trail ascent to the summit of Southfork Mountain over mixed easy terrain and through a beautiful larch forest, reaching the summit just 40 minutes after departing the lake. Despite the 1000 m of elevation we’d ascended to get there we were still full of energy and eagerly headed south along the very broad and pleasantly hikeable Barnaby Ridge.
In my pre-trip research the only point of concern I’d identified along the entire ridge was an ascent of a highpoint locally named “The Amoeba
” midway between the summits of Barnaby and Southfork. From afar it looked frighteningly difficult, but as we approached the cliffs on its north end multiple easy scramble routes revealed themselves with a trail indicating the most popular, and presumably easiest, option. For the most part we managed to follow this trail around The Amoeba without gaining too much elevation, but there were several sections of hard mud that were a bit dicey.
On the south side of The Amoeba we had to lose over 100 m, gained a bit of it back before losing it again, then powered up the final 175 m to the summit of Barnaby Ridge. We’d noticed on this section of the traverse that it was getting a bit dark from the eclipse, but it never really got darker than a cloudy day and without any means of viewing the eclipse we were quite underwhelmed by the experience!
We were not, however, underwhelmed by the views from the summit of Barnaby Ridge! Dozens of peaks we’ve either scrambled or will scramble were visible in all directions and the perfect weather allowed us to stay at the summit for nearly an hour. During this time Sandra spotted what she figures was a bear running across a snow patch at a small tarn located in a high valley to the south of the summit.
Our return trip was uneventful with the exception that we decided we had enough energy to ascend The Amoeba rather than contour around it as we’d done on the way. This detour added just 65 m to the day and was worth it for the sake of exploring, but didn’t really add anything to the views to which we’d already been treated. After descending from Southfork Mountain we rested at the upper Southfork Lakes, then continued down the incredibly hot sun-baked slope before cooling off in the Castle River.