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Visitors 84
51 photos

Distance: 19 km
Elevation gain: 1175 m
Route map

With rain threatening the Rockies north of Crowsnest Pass, Sandra and I headed south for an ascent of Hollebeke Mountain in the Castle Wildland.

The one reported ascent of this mountain I could find approached it from North Kootenay Pass and involved what appeared to be a short but unavoidable moderate downclimb near the summit. Somewhat concerned about this and more interested in exploring an alternate route I’d hatched earlier this year while atop Mount McCarty, Sandra and I instead decided to ascend Hollebeke from Macdonald Pass.

After parking at the end of the Carbondale River Road we set off on foot on the signed trail (an OHV road) leading to North Kootenay Pass, turning left onto the signed trail for Macdonald Pass 3 km later. (While OHV’s aren’t allowed on this trail, regulations designed to protect the environment don’t stop those types, unfortunately). As we approached the pass the trail steepened dramatically; having gained only 230 m over the previous 5.5 km, this was quite a change of pace! It had been unusually hot all morning and we were thankful that this steep ascent was in the shade.

We had a quick break in the pass, plowed through some willows crowding the trail on the BC side, then weaved our way through tight trees to an open slope leading to the east ridge of Hollebeke Mountain. An easy plod up a short section of wonderfully tiny scree then brought us to a very steep slope covered in sparse trees and dense huckleberry bushes. The steepness slowed us down a little, but gorging on huckleberries made the slog go by deliciously, albeit a bit slower than usual.

Near the crest of the ridge the forest thickened to the point of being practically impenetrable without minor injury, but we found an animal trail that cleverly weaved its way through and saved us from torn clothing and skin. The trail continued along the ridge as the forest thinned and the next phase of the ascent came into view. What had appeared to be a relatively easy scree slog in my research instead seemed to involve several minor cliff bands, and while we very likely could’ve gone straight up, we instead opted to follow another excellent sheep trail angling up its northeastern flank. I knew that on the other side we’d need to lose a bit of elevation and hoped the clever sheep would have avoided such nonsense in their trail making.

The sheep trail led us easily about halfway up the slope before it leveled out. Unfortunately it faded and we lost the trail when it reached a minor rock rib. I went over the rib and Sandra went up and around, then we both sidehilled (easy) around the remainder of the subpeak until we reached the col below the summit. On our return we found the good sheep trail leading around the peak on this side of the rib, but it also faded and we lost it near the same rocky rib. My theory is that the scrambling sheep take to the rock at that point while the more practically-minded sheep stick to the scree; the net result being that no good trail has been beaten into the terrain.

From the col an easy ascent up the meadowy slope brought us to the summit. Cloud and a bit of haze obscured the view a little, but as a peak on the divide the views were still fantastic, particularly to the north and south. I found a damaged register from Rick Collier a bit below the summit and brought it back to the cairn, positioning it as best I could to keep the water out, but it’s in pretty bad shape. As expected, this mountain sees very few ascents. The register contained just 9 entries since it was placed in 2006, including an unusual flurry of activity in 2015/16, and three of the entries were from sheep hunters.

After exploring the long and nearly flat summit ridge and eating our summit lunch, we retraced our path back down, gorging on huckleberries again and taking a few breaks along the way to cool down. Thankfully our total OHV encounters numbered just one obeying the law and a group of five weaving around closure signs (“it’s just a few bad eggs”, they say) and we arrived back at the truck a little more than seven hours after having set out.

We’d hoped to truck camp nearby as we’d done on our ascent of Mount McCarty earlier this year and managed to find a very nice riverside spot about 500 m away from the nearest other campers. Sadly, as we cooked dinner the periodic orgasmic hoots and OHV racket of Alberta’s finest environmental stewards began to drift in on the wind and we decided we’d rather deal with city folk than such creatures. We thus set off for home, stopping for ice cream in Beaver Mines.

Instead of going home, however, we turned off the highway and made our way up to the Porcupine Hills, soon locating a fantastic camping spot overlooking the mountains as the sun set. There were lots of hunters around – I think Sept. 1 was opening day – but they were of course dead silent and respectful. We had a wonderful night under the stars while lightning flashed to the east, woke up to watch the sunrise, then made our way home. It turned out to be a great end to the day after all!

Categories & Keywords
Category:Lifestyle and Recreation
Subcategory Detail:Hiking
Keywords:Castle Wildland Provincial Park, Hollebeke Mountain, Macdonald Pass, hiking, scrambling