Summit Elevation (m): 1815
Trip Date: May 28 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 460
Round Trip Time (hr): 2.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 6
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1/2 – you fall, you bruise your ego
Difficulty Notes: Bushwhacking and route finding are the main difficulties with this minor summit.
Technical Rating: OT3; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
After scrambling Prairie Bluff in the morning, we found ourselves with plenty of time for a short objective on our way to setting up camp for the night at the Beaver Mines Recreation Area in the Castle Wilderness. I had a trip report on Mount Backus from Bob Spirko who snowshoed it in March of 2014. Backus was located along the highway leading to Beaver Mines, so it made perfect sense to try it. I was a bit nervous about the level of bushwhacking required but it was short enough that I foolishly decided it couldn’t be that bad. 🙂
As we got close to the trailhead that Bob mentions, we noticed an obvious gravel road leading off highway 507 up towards Backus. This could make a short and easy mountain even shorter and easier! We drove up the road, noticing that it was leading up towards the much less treed southeast ridge of Backus, rather than the bushy southwest ridge that Bob followed up. Alas. As we neared the end of the road we were greeted by many “No Trespassing” signs and other human barriers such as fences and cabins. We followed a side road only to be greeted by more signs. Boo. Oh well – it was worth a shot! (This road is on my attached map as a dashed line from the highway.) We drove back to the highway and parked near the cattle pens that Bob mentions in his report. We noticed that just past the ‘private’ road along highway 507, we entered the public Castle / Crown Wilderness Area. I wonder if that’s why there’s so many signs discourage hikers – it’s the last privately owned land before the park? We couldn’t help but be disappointed by the thick bush that beckoned on the north side of the highway – especially when we compared it with the open southeast ridge that we’d just seen!
After shrugging off our disappointment at a better route, we charged through the ditch and up grassy / treed slopes north of highway 507. Almost immediately we came on a 3-wire barbed fence! There were no signs telling us to stay away (we were now on Castle / Crown public lands) so we carefully stepped over the sharply barbed wires and kept going. On our way up the intervening ridge we actually encountered three barbed wire fences that had to be gingerly stepped over! The bush wasn’t horrible but on our way down the intervening ridge it got a bit swampy and messy. Our motivation wasn’t high as we started up the southwest ridge to the summit in reasonable bush.
There was no rocket science involved in getting to the summit of Backus. We followed the terrain and loosely followed Bob’s GPS track with no huge issues. The views were surprisingly good as we got higher and our moods improved drastically with them. From the grassy summit, we actually had great views which was a pleasant surprise. Our summit stay was cut a bit short by two factors. The relentlessly cool west winds had not died down from the morning and the rotting carcass of a fairly recently killed Elk with enormous antlers near the summit made us nervous for encountering a territorial grizzly or cougar! After snapping some summit photos we started down.
We roughly followed our ascent track (GPS) back to highway 507. The intervening ridge that necessitates height gain on return was as much fun as it sounds – i.e. none at all. 🙂 Bob has the height gain on Backus as around 350m but I measured it at closer to 450 meters with all the ups and downs along the way including the intervening ridge. To be honest, this little peak is actually not too bad. It’s not anywhere close to a “top twenty” but it’s an option for either an easy snowshoe or hike when you don’t have time or conditions for something longer or harder.
I want to put in a plug for the campground at the Beaver Mines Lake Recreational Area. We drove around to check out the sites and there’s a ton of great campsites there! The only bummer is that you can only pay ($23/night) with either cash or cheque. I had to drive all the way back to the hamlet of Beaver Mines to withdraw cash at the general store there – thank goodness it was open or I’d have had to go all the way to Pincher Creek! We enjoyed a cozy campfire and fell asleep to the sound of loons on the lake.