On Saturday October 20 2007 Wietse joined me for a repeat slog up into the Castle Mountain environs. This time, thankfully, we actually made it.
Don't get me wrong. I love a nice long hike and after 4 weeks with no scrambling since summiting Mount Temple I was more than ready for an outing to the mountains again. BUT... I'm not sure I was ready for what we got! As we drove up to the parking lot we both commented on the amount of snow above 2500 meters. With the forecast calling for clouds and snow in the afternoon we also knew that the conditions weren't about to improve for us either.
Oh well. If we turned back from every nasty weather forecast and little bit of snow we wouldn't be out here at all so with that positive kick in the tush we started up the trail to Rockbound Lake. This trail is exceedingly boring. If you can't find a more interesting trail in Banff National Park you are not looking hard enough my friend! If you're not a peakbagger intent on finishing all of Allan Kane's scrambles there is almost no reason to hike to Rockbound Lake. I think what made it bad for me was that this was my second time in 3 years up this trail. Tower Lake and Rockbound Lake are very pretty and the rock walls surrounding the area are picturesque. There are even larches around Rockbound Lake that must look very pretty in the fall. But I'm here to assure you that there are a lot of lakes and larches and cliffs in the Rockies that are the result of much nicer hiking trails and you should concentrate on them first - unless you really like 8 km approach hikes on rock-hard fire roads with no views whatsoever. Your choice, you've been warned. ;-)
I was fighting a head cold all day but other than that I felt cardiovascularly 110%. The past few weeks found me running quite a bit and I don't know of a better sport to keep you in shape for climbing mountains than running 20-40km / week. Right from the start I knew that the day was going to be a long one because I simply didn't feel like being on Castle Mountain this particular day!
After an eternity (where eternity = 2.5 hours) we came to Rockbound Lake. The sun was actually still out and Wietse and I managed to get some nice photos of the Lake. We had already been hiking in snow for over an hour and looking above the lake we could see that it only got deeper. We skirted around the lake and up the scramble route for Castle. There were a few tricky steps traversing over to the lower hanging valley above the far end of the lake. A slip here would have resulted in a very unpleasant cliff 'dive' to the water below. While I struggled into my gaitors (why does that sound so naughty?), Wietse scrambled up the steep and loose access gully to the upper tier on the southwest corner of Rockbound Lake from the lower hanging valley. Once on top of the cliffs it was a slog through ankle to knee deep snow all the way to the summit. Just to make things more pleasant, there were hardly any views thanks to the clouds that only thickened and dumped more snow as the day progressed.
I honestly wasn't sure I was in the mood for this - but the only thing worse than continuing was the thought of coming all the way back again if we turned around! So we kept going, and going and going and going... You get the point! After six hours we finally stood on the summit in a total grey-out. After some quick photos we were headed back down. An eventful, 4 hour plod brought us back to the parking lot. A 10 hour day that had some good conversation and some good views but I'm sure glad I don't have to repeat it any time soon!
[Wietse nears Tower Lake. Lots of snow already!]
[Tower Lake and the cliffs below the summit of Castle and Eisenhower Tower.]
[Wietse on the trail going up the headwall between Tower and Rockbound Lakes.]
[A wide-angle view of the cliffs again - this time from Rockbound Lake.]
[One more wide-angle shot of Rockbound Lake with some blue sky and fresh snow.]
[The weather is changing as we climb above Rockbound Lake. It's depressing to see how far around we still have to go!]
[Wietse and a cliff gap that falls to Rockbound Lake. Lots of cool scenery here.]
[Wietse hiking on the lower plateau.]
[Looking forward to our summit goal. Wait a minute. We can't see the summit!]
[Wietse comes up behind me. Travel was slippery and slow.]
[A dramatic shot of the clouds over the summit.]
[Another view ahead into the grey-out.]
[Wietse coming up the final summit block.]
[Wietse and Vern on the summit of Castle Mountain. Great views eh?!]
[Don't ask what this is - I would like to know if anyone has an idea! (UPDATE 2018 - See this article for an explanation of the mysterious object.)]
[Can't see much - Wietse is just barely visible through the snow / cloud.]
[The views have not improved down at Rockbound Lake.]