After getting out the previous two days on an attempt of Commonwealth and then a great day on Nihahi and Compression Ridges, it was time to visit the Castle / Crown area again. Keith and I drove down to the Gladstone trail head as described in Andrew Nugara's scrambling book.
I love this area. It's quickly becoming one of my favorite places in the Rockies. It seems more laid back. Less touristy and certainly less traveled. Case-in-point was the 'camp' we ran into at the trail head. A crooked wooden sign was nailed to a tree. It said "Joe's Camp" and behind it was an old camper with tarps and chopped wood scattered around it. Very rustic and just a wee bit creepy.
The trail was obvious and the description was bang on. Unfortunately we hiked a bit too quickly and it ended up costing us almost an hour and almost a summit considering the weather forecast! We made two basic mistakes but there were good reasons for it. Mistake number 1 was not using the GPS right away to check Andrews grid reference for the creek crossing point. This would have been so easy to do, but we didn't because the route seemed so obvious...
Mistake number 2 was not using the GPS quickly enough once we established that we were off-route.
Good reasons for getting lost? Especially with a cairn marking the Mill Creek crossing? We spotted the cairn on our side of the creek, but there was no matching one on the far side. We assumed that the cairn was simply marking the trail where the creek bed got wider, to let us know we were still on route. (The trail on the opposite side of Mill Creek is certainly not obvious until you know it's there.) So we happily marched on till we got to a place where there was clearly a trail on the other side of Mill Creek (about 150 meters further than the cairn). There was a marker on the tree at the far side and the tracks were very obvious. We assumed that this was "the trail" and crossed the creek, continuing down the trail on the far side. This is where warning signals started ringing very loudly in our heads! Up to this point, Nugara's trail descriptions had been very accurate.
We went a bit left and then the trail crossed Mill Creek again. This wasn't right. The trail was supposed to cross a dry stream not Mill Creek again! But the trail obviously crossed the creek! So we did what every capable scrambler does when their lost. We assumed that somehow the guidebook author forgot to mention something and we started bushwhacking, naturally! Except I really didn't want another bushwhack after the day before on Compression Ridge. So we turned back to the first cairn, assuming that there must be a different trail. As it turns out, we were about 10 meters from finding that trail but we didn't know that. When we didn't find the trail, we want back to the ATV track and bushwhacked just a bit further to see if maybe the creek that was dry was actually running with water this year.
Eventually I had enough and insisted that we try using the GPS and make our way back to the original cairn to check if the grid reference would get closer or further from Nugara's numbers as we worked our way back. Sure enough, just as Keith announced that the numbers matched, I yelled that I found the trail on the opposite side of the cairn! The trail is very obvious when you're lined up with it - it's a very old, overgrown road with a very clear trail running down the center of it! The issue is that when you're on the opposite side of the creek you aren't lined up to see it (trees and shrubs are reclaiming the road and squeezing the trail) and the biggest issue was that the cairn opposite the one we saw was knocked over so it couldn't be seen!
Now that we were 50 minutes late, we were determined to make up some time. We made good time up the trail, that quickly began to climb through very thick vegetation towards Mount Gladstone.
Now the story gets a bit comical. Because of all our thrashing around and getting lost and then finding the trail, we kind of got disoriented a bit. As we hiked up the trail we kept referring to Mount Gladstone as the mountain on our left. Nugara assumes that you actually know where the heck the mountain is, because he never says to ascent 'left' or 'right' off the trail, simply to 'ascend a drainage off the trail'. I think this is an OK assumption for most people, but we were completely convinced that we had to traverse the gully we were hiking beside and ascend to climbers left! It even kind of matched the picture we were looking at in the guidebook. At one point, for some reason, I mentioned to Keith that it would be pretty funny if Gladstone was that ridge on our right. Keith laughed and said that for all he knew, it could be! That made us both stop for a moment - when we realized that the guidebook never said the left side... We walked a bit further and sure enough, to our right was the exact route as pictured in the book. Oooops. That would've been embarrassing - to ascend the wrong peak after finally finding the obvious trail! :-)
Once at the rock above the shrubby slope the scrambling was pretty fun. There were several route possibilities. Don't stick too far to the right, because eventually you have to get over to climbers left anyway. Keith went more up the left and I stuck more to the middle. I ended up climbing through both black bands of rock (I found an obvious break up high) and Keith found a fun chimney somewhere on the second band. The scrambling was moderate with one slab move that would have been a lot trickier if I wasn't 6 feet tall. The slope is also very foreshortened in the view from the trail! From the trail it doesn't look like it, but you have about 750 vertical meters to go, and the high point that you can see is actually very close to the summit.
The summit panorama was awesome, with Castle Peak and Victoria Peak / Ridge and others displaying their colors and their rocky appendages. The approaching rain clouds hastened our stay a bit, which was too bad because it was one of the more comfortable summits I've been on in a while - the ground was soft and flat. North Castle was obvious from the summit of Gladstone so we started our way towards the col that Andrew mentions as the alternate descent. I don't know why anyone wouldn't do this descent over the ascent route. The ascent route is good for going up but would seriously suck for descent! It's too slabby with too much loose stuff to be fun and the alternate descent is simply a scree run back to a great trail.
Before doing this descent we enjoyed some more hands-on scrambling to the summit of North Castle. It was difficult to determine where exactly the high point on this bump was, but we probably got pretty close to the highest one, without climbing a tree!
The descent was fast. We got a bit of rain but it actually felt nice and cool and there was no lightening or hail so that was good. We rebuilt the cairn on the way out and enjoyed the many wild flowers and an incredible butterfly before getting back to "Joe's Camp" and driving home to Calgary. A recommended scramble for a nice two peak day with colors you wouldn't think possible in the Rockies. Just make sure you use your GPS and Nugara's grid references!
Pretty obvious where you start from! Good route description helps here though.
See? The trail is obvious after you find it... ;-)
Good trail the whole way. Some ups and downs but nothing too dramatic.
Looking up the ascent drainage. Eventually we headed for the middle snow patch. This is majorly foreshortened because it's over 700 meters of height gain to the high point (which is just below the summit).
Keith ascending the stepped terrain with Castle Peak in the background.
A bit higher up, the view of Castle Peak is getting more and more impressive. The terrain gets steeper and looser too. Sticking to climbers left helps but is more moderate terrain.
Victoria Peak is awesome.
Now you know why the Castle area is so special. The colors and scenery continue to amaze me when I look back at my pictures from this incredible area.
Looking towards Victoria Peak from the summit of Gladstone Mountain.
Vern and Keith on the summit of Gladstone Mountain.
Another shot looking towards Castle Peak, but this one shows North Castle Peak a bit clearer. It's the grassy bump on the right. While you're here you might as well bag it, even though some don't consider it a 'true' summit. Their loss. :-)
The ridge behind Victoria Peak.
We start heading down towards North Castle Peak.
Looking back at Gladstone Mountain from the col.
Wow! The reds and greens light up. This is the valley you hike in to access Gladstone Mountain.
Keith, with Gladstone Mountain in the background, coming up one of the bumps on the ridge to North Castle Peak.
Vern on the summit of North Castle Peak.
Keith descends toward the North Castle / Gladstone col. We'll head down to the right of the photo.
Keith trying to see what Vern gets all excited about every time he sees a new flower...
Not in my flower book. Must be a weed. I still think it's cool though.
The trail is on an old, overgrown road for the bottom part.
We saw this cairn, but the one on the other side was knocked over. You can't really see the trail on the other side very easily, but it's open gravel flats on the other side instead of thick forest, that may help you find the trail. The terrain isn't the only colorful thing in the Castle area.