Summit Elevation (m): 2250
Trip Date: October 29, 2016
Elevation Gain (m): 1150
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 13
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain something
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties for seasoned off trail scramblers. An easy, but loose and steep scramble from the creek to the summit. Note: We combined several peaks in a high level traverse from Table Top Peak to Whistler Mountain.
Technical Rating: OT4; YDS (Hiking)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
After staring wistfully to the east at the dry terrain around Whistler Mountain the week before while hiking and scrambling the snowy and long Lys Ridge with Phil Richards, I was back near Beaver Mines Lake with Wietse on Saturday, October 29th to try something else in the area. Dave McMurray (peaksandstreams.com) seems to be inspiring a lot of my trips lately (Racehorse, Lys Ridge) and this day would be no different.
Back in May of 2014, Dave and his buddy completed a ridge walk near Beaver Mines Lake that incorporated three summits and the old Whistler Fire Lookout in a great high level loop. Two of the three summits were unofficial, but I share Dave’s opinion that as long as the peaks are prominent and separated by enough distance and height – who cares how officially named they are? A name alone does not make a peak worth standing on or not – IMHO. Dave named the first of the three peaks, “Table Top”, which I found a nice fit to the fact that it’s near the official Table Mountain and is slightly higher – hence the reference to “top”. Looking at the elevation profile, the broad summit of Table Top also resembles a table top. Hmmm.
Wietse and I were delighted to see the weather forecast change from a chance of freezing drizzle to sunny and no wind as we drove the 2 hours from south Calgary to the Beaver Mines Lake campground. I didn’t think it would be possible, but it looked like we might encounter a day like I had the previous week on West Castle and Lys Ridge. Days with little wind are very uncommon in the Castle Wilderness and should be treasured when encountered. Having two of them in the span of a week makes me think that the month of October might be the perfect time of year to hike and scramble the many peaks and ridges of this special area of the Rockies. We were even happier to note that there was very little snow on the peaks around Table Mountain, despite tons of fresh snow on peaks just to the west, including Haig, Gravenstafel and Syncline (which bodes well for the Castle Mountain Ski Resort).
We started the day from the closed Beaver Mines Lake campground, following the route I mapped out beforehand in ViewRanger, using Dave’s Google Earth image and satellite images in Google Maps. The day was already fairly warm and totally windless as we hiked through the eerily quiet and empty campground, heading south to the correct drainage coming down from the bowl that we would traverse high above in a clockwise direction. Our first crux was a barbed wire fence just past the campground that proved surprisingly challenging to get through. There was a “gate” of sorts, but even it involved some form of gymnastics to get through without ripping expensive Gore-tex jackets. After the fence we crossed an open grassy meadow before following the terrain and our noses through a match stick forest to the drainage.
The drainage still had running water – kind of a surprise considering the almost complete lack of snow in the bowl above. We navigated first along the east side of the stream, eventually giving up on the bush and simply boulder hopping our way directly up the stream bed, trying to avoid slick rocks that had a dangerous layer of rime ice on them from the humid air around the running water. Eventually we spotted an obvious drainage heading up to our left and I confirmed that this was the obvious drainage I’d marked on the map. Looking back at Dave’s map, we went up the drainage a bit further than he did, but the gully we ascended worked very well and remained easy to low-moderate scrambling all the way to the ridge above. The gully was longer than it looked from the lower drainage, but staying right in the bottom of it, only detouring where absolutely necessary, proved to be a great route and we quickly gained height. The morning air was incredibly still and we quickly warmed up. I couldn’t believe my luck in getting perfect conditions for a second weekend in a row in the exact same area!
Near the ridge we avoided a steeper wall on climber’s left before finally topping out to great views of the rest of our route to Table Top and most of our ridge walk loop visible. I took a quick detour to a high point just SW of where we topped out on the ridge (“Beaver Mines Ridge“) before rejoining Wietse and continuing our way up towards Table Top to the southeast. Just as the week before on Lys Ridge, every section of our ridge walk that appeared intense from a distance, proved easy scrambling or hiking up close. We followed sheep trails and nice solid(ish) rock to the broad ridge just west of Table Top. From here it was five minutes to the summit where we were spoiled by warm sunshine, great views and very light winds. We spent nearly 30 minutes posting pics on Facebook (!), eating lunch and naming familiar summits. Table Mountain was clearly lower than Table Top but the two Whistable Peaks looked to be very close to the same height.
After a nice break we decided to continue on the high level traverse towards the Whistable Peaks (which Dave named “Eagle” but we renamed to be a combination of “Whistler” and “Table”, considering there are already too many peaks named after Eagles and their location).