Distance: 17 km
Elevation gain: 1125 m View map Download GPS track
This weekend Sandra and I headed down to the new Castle Wildland Provincial Park for a scramble up Mount Gladstone. This mountain is typically summited via a moderate scramble route from Mill Creek, but Sandra and I prefer to keep things a bit easier and so would be ascending via one of several scree paths from the same creek. The research I’d done beforehand showed several possible routes and I figured we’d choose one on the fly once I could see everything myself.
We followed the directions in Andrew Nugara’s scrambling guide to find the trailhead, parking beside the fence surrounding the small gas installation. We were surprised to meet someone else and their dog at the trailhead (Ron and his dog Zoey from Lethbridge) and as we were starting at the same time we ended up hiking together.
As per the guidebook directions, we made our way along the barbed wire fence for 100 m, then contoured left along a road leading into the forest. Shortly we found a wide, obvious trail leading upstream. It had horse shit on it and was marked with a few blazed and spray painted trees. It certainly seemed to match the horse trail referenced in the book, and it perfectly matched the tracks we each had on our GPS’s, so we figured this was the correct trail and started hiking along it.
A very short distance later the trail was inundated by a side channel of Mill Creek as a result of the 2013 flood, but with a bit of bushwhacking and exploring we were able to pick it up again after the mess. It was faint, but obvious. Soon we arrived at a crossing of Mill Creek and easily forded it in our bare feet. We could only pick up small bits of trail on the other side, but the route seemed obvious (go upstream) and we were still pretty much exactly following the GPS tracks.
Things went rapidly downhill after this. Any vestiges of trail that might have existed previously were entirely wiped out by the flood, and dense brush, spring growth, impenetrable deadfall, and the meandering creek combined to make travel some of the worst I’ve ever done. We ended up crossing the creek four more times, once on a log that Sandra fell from and into the creek, and soaking our boots on the last two crossings when I was simply too pissed to care anymore. At one point we did come across an ATV track, but part of the river had re-routed into it, rendering it impassable.
Over an hour and half later we FINALLY arrived at a cairn marking a trail heading into the bush. I recognized the area as the point at which everyone else crosses the creek and could make out a trail on the other side. We’d investigate that on the way back, but at this point we continued towards Mount Gladstone, heading up the trail that ascended parallel to, but out of sight of, the southwest branch of Mill Creek.
This trail was obvious, but long sections of it had been taken over by alder bushes and for several hundred meters we had to literally plow through them. This was surprisingly difficult work, and coupled with the heat of the day, Zoey the dog finally decided her master and his idiot friends had no idea what they were doing, and Ron and Zoey called it a day. So score one for the dog and zero for the three humans. Sandra and I continued on, hiking along trail in reasonable condition as we steadily gained elevation. Higher up the creek a few washouts and a mud slide made travel annoying again and eroded pretty much all my remaining patience with this trip.
At the base of the general route up the mountain we stopped for a much needed lunch, then started up the westernmost of several partially forested scree ribs as clouds rapidly moved in. The scree on this rib was generally very stable and patches of vegetation helped when it was not, and we soon reached the low point on the ridge separating Mount Gladstone from North Castle. Travel from this point to the summit, 2 km away and 200 m higher, was very easy, and we topped out under cloudy and very hazy skies nearly 5 hours after setting out. Views from the summit were nice in all directions and the view of Castle Peak to the southwest was absolutely spectacular, despite the weather.
To get back to Mill Creek we followed the alternate descent route in Nugara’s scrambling guide, scree skiing most of the way down with a few little zig zags to avoid problematic sections. The scree here was very loose and would’ve been murder to ascend, so continuing further up valley before starting our ascent had been the correct choice.
Once back across Mill Creek we immediately picked up an excellent and pleasant trail. It soon intersected the former ATV trail that was now a river we’d come across that morning, but detoured into the forest at a point we couldn’t have seen from where we’d been earlier. Just 30 effortless minutes after crossing the creek we were back at the trailhead, in stark contrast to the 90+ minutes of hell we’d endured in that morning to cover the same distance.
If you’re heading into this area be ABSOLUTELY sure that when the guidebook states to head 50 m into the forest to find a trail, that you actually go 50 m or so! The actual trail is in perfect condition the entire way to the creek crossing, so if you’re encountering the creek or debris within 5 minutes of starting out, you’re on the wrong trail. Don’t do what we did in the morning! I’d say just follow our return GPS track, but given that using a GPS track is what got us into such a mess, that would be terrible advice! I’d have been fine without it, but because I had the track I felt it knew more than me. [The GPS tracks available on popular scrambling sites were for trips pre-flood, when presumably there actually was a trail where the track goes. That’s no longer the case.]