Saturday, June 9, 2012

Castle Mountain

The summit of Castle Mountain is an easy, yet lengthy journey. Be prepared
for an early morning start and a late afternoon return. There are only two
strenuous sections on the trail. The first one is from Tower Lake to Rockbound
Lake, and the other is the section from Rockbound Lake to the upper plateau.
Otherwise, it is a long meander up 12 km of a moderate incline. With an overall
elevation gain approaching 1400 m, more than half of this is accomplished in
the 7.7 km to Tower Lake.
The journey to this summit is a trek unlike any other. When you look at this
fortress wall from the highway, the summit appears to be almost impossible to
achieve beyond this impregnable rock fortification. But the key to this ascent is
that the access is actually around the back end of the limestone wall. The journey
is truly better than the destination.
Elevation gain: 1379 m
Trailhead: G PS: N51 16 08.0 W115 54 57.5
E levation: 1396 m
Rockbound Lake: G PS: N51 18 46.7 W115 55 40.8
E levation: 2221 m
Castle Summit: G PS: N51 18 04.5 W115 55 40.0
E levation: 2775 m
Trailhead: The trailhead is located at Castle Junction, 24 km east of Lake
Louise on the Trans-Canada Highway. After exiting at the interchange,
head north to Highway 1a and proceed east (right) for 200 m. The trail
is marked as the “Rockbound Lake” trail, not the “Castle Lookout” trail.
Like many Rocky Mountain scrambles, this route begins in a dense forest.
The trail is usually in good repair, with no trouble spots. Carry on up this
gentle hike until reaching Tower Lake at kilometre 7.7 Coming out of the
forest into the meadow before this lake is quite an incredible surprise.
Eisenhower Tower looms over the left, as the lake is just in front of you. From
here the trail breaks out of the forest into beautiful openness that lets the eyes
wander. Because of the design of this climb, you will travel 4.3 km in a wide
loop to eventually come back to this approximate point, but 650 m higher.

Follow the trail around the right (northeast) shoreline of Tower Lake
to continue up to Rockbound Lake. This is the first heart-thumping part
of the climb. There are continual switchbacks straight up through forest,
with an elevation gain of very nearly 100 m. It is somewhere up this dirty,
dusty section of the trail that you will curse my name. However, it is also
the point at which you will wish you had spent the extra time on the
treadmill during those long winter nights.

As you come out on the top of this stretch of trail, the unique
Rockbound Lake comes into view. Stop and take a breather. Give the old heart a break before attempting to get to the upper plateau. This gorgeous
lake is aptly named for the limestone walls surrounding it, with the far
shoreline bound by Helena Ridge. Before proceeding up to the plateaus
remember to hydrate, and fill your containers as well. There is still a long
way to go and there is no guarantee of water up top. The rock of the eastern
main ranges of this area lies flatter than in the more eastern front range
mountains. Consequently, they lack the trench-like drainage of the front
range peaks, causing the drainage to spread unevenly, and consequently it
is not pooled for a long time.

Follow the shoreline to the right, travelling north, until you reach the
drainage outflow of the lake. Cross this small stream and continue heading
toward the gullies straight ahead. Pick up the trail here that will arrive
at the furthest channel on the right. Climb up this gully to embark on
the second strenuous part of the trek. This ravine trail is well trodden and
maintains its course right up to the upper plateau.

As you emerge from the gully into a small clearing, the summit comes
into view behind you. It is almost as far back as can be seen, to the southeast
with a bearing of 172ยบ true, 1.9 km distant as the crow flies. As the
hiker treks, however, the long ridge walk to the summit is indeed 3 km,
with only a slight elevation gain of 356 m. Once you are up and out of this
gorge, the remainder of the route becomes a choice between two routes.

The recommended time-saving route is to take the low left trail and not
the steep climb up to the right. The low trail will descend onto a vast
grassy area, which has a lovely clear stream carved through it. At the far
end of the grass plateau look for a cairn-marked gully. This is a quick
climb back up to the upper terrace. Alternatively, after climbing up from
Rockbound Lake, stay to the right, up a steep knoll. The traverse on the
upper terrace is longer than the shortcut through the grassy table, but
is actually a less complicated approach. Regardless, both routes converge
at the upper terrace trail toward the summit. The remainder of the hike
consists of a lot of rock hopping on rubble. This first appears to be never
ending and becomes rather laborious as you hop on rock after rock after
rock. However, as the rock hopping persists, it becomes evident that elevation
is being gained without the tedium of a direct route upward.

Off in the distance the summit is visible as a rocky outcrop. Clamber to the top
of this to reach the exposed summit of Castle Mountain.
The summit is a natural viewpoint with such sights as Pilot Mountain
14.4 km to the southeast and Mount Temple 20 km off to the west.
Directly below are the Trans-Canada Highway and the Castle Junction
Interchange, a reminder of how far you have come today.

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