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Haig, Mount & Gravenstafel Ridge

Summit Elevation (m): 2618
Trip Date: Saturday, June 22 2019
Elevation Gain (m): 1750
Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 14
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2/3- you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: No major difficulties – mostly an easy scramble and some route finding, especially if there’s ongoing ski hill construction activity.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd class)
Map: Google Maps


The last time I scrambled this circuit was over 10 years ago in the opposite direction, on June 14, 2008 with Wietse. I don’t generally repeat trips and despite not planning this particular trip for this particular day, on hindsight I’m perfectly OK with repeating it – it’s a beauty! Our destination peaks for the day were originally Boot Hill and Tombstone Mountain. The reason we picked the deep south Rockies yet again, was to avoid another huge dump of snow and subsequent bad weather blanketing the Rockies (yet again). June 2019 has been a pretty interesting month. Driving down hwy 22 we were a bit apprehensive about the weather. We stopped along the way to take some dramatic landscape photos before continuing towards Crowsnest Pass.

A dramatic landscape as we drive hwy 22 towards the southern Rockies.

Soon after stopping for photos of the dark clouds along hwy 22 we noticed clear blue skies over the Crowsnest Pass area. Our hopes went way up that we might actually get a pretty decent day. Then we drove through the hamlet of Beaver Mines (population exactly 100 ;)) and realized we were probably in for a bit of a “day”. Dark clouds were pouring over the divide and the closer we got to the SW corner of Castle Provincial Park, the darker and lower those clouds were! The one issue with driving so far and into this area was that we really didn’t have good backup options, so we shrugged our shoulders and hoped for the best. Soon after leaving the Castle Ski Resort parking lot we came on our first sign, guiding us straight ahead to access “Haig Lake South” or turn uphill to access “Haig Lake North”. I wasn’t aware there were two “Haig Lakes” but we chose the south option. (There is only one “Haig Lake” – the different routes go to the same lake.)

Castle Ski Resort Summer Trails Map. We couldn’t access either the “Paradise Lake” or “Haig Lake South” trails thanks to construction work and a sign at the trailhead. So we went way around on “Haig Lake North” before cutting across the valley and up to “Haig Ridge”, losing height from there to Paradise Lake before finally ascending Haig’s east ridge.

Within 100m of the first sign we came on another. This one told us in no uncertain terms that the ski hill and all access through it was closed for the summer for anyone but the construction crews that were working there. We hummed and hawed and tried to reason around the bright orange sign with symbols from hiking to biking to horseback riding all clearly crossed out with a “NO GO” message. This was really crappy! Eventually we decided that the sign just 100m back didn’t say we couldn’t hike to Haig Lake North, so we’d try that option and hopefully figure out a route that gained Haig Ridge higher up above the construction.

Our convoluted route up Mount Haig thanks to the closed area. We traversed the south face to find a direct route towards Boot Hill that avoided ascending Haig – it worked well.

It was all very strange and discouraging, to be honest. The weather combined with the now-convoluted approach was adding up to make me feel a bit “meh” about our planned objective and we’d barely left the parking lot! (Originally I was planning to use the “Paradise Lake” trail which is by far the most reasonable approach to Mount Haig’s east ridge.)

Phil hikes along the “Haig Lake North” approach.

Despite the morning being beautiful with blue sky, low clouds and lush green flora all around, both Phil and I felt that familiar “rushed” feeling that is a result of being thrown a loop right from the parking lot both in terms of weather and closures. We were kind of worried that we’d be turned back by another sign higher up, not to mention we were 1km off course and a whole valley too far north of Haig Ridge and our approach! I won’t belabor the story too much other than to say we were not in as good of moods as we probably should have been considering how gorgeous the hiking was.

Haig Ridge sits across a lush valley from the North Haig Lake hiking access. We need to get over there somehow…

After hiking a good way up the North Haig Lake route we started looking for an escape to Haig Ridge. Eventually we had two choices. Either bushwhack to a steep scree gully splitting Haig Ridge (unknown if it would “go” or not) or follow a trail / ski run back down across the creek and then backtrack east towards Haig Ridge’s NE end, intersecting it at some point where cliffs petered out – near the lift and near the closed area. We didn’t like either choice but settled on the easiest, crossing Gravenstafel Brook (knee deep) and continuing a backtrack to the NE end of Haig Ridge. Eventually I got tired of all the screwing around and suggested a bushwhack straight up a small drainage towards Haig Ridge. After thrashing through soaking wet vegetation we stumbled on an obvious trail that led right up to the crest of Haig Ridge. Phew!! That was a lot of unnecessary work just to get to this point.

I was feeling a bit flustered as we continued up Haig Ridge. The day was actually quite nice, with amazing views of Southfork Mountain and Barnaby Ridge with fresh snow on their summits and lush green valleys beneath, but we were going much slower than anticipated and the clouds coming over the Divide were still mucking with our original plan of heading up Boot Hill and the hard-to-access Tombstone Mountain. I also knew we had at least 200-300 meters of height loss ahead of us to get down to Paradise Lake and onto Haig’s east ridge yet.

An interesting “gate” on Haig Ridge.

We debated about cutting across Haig Ridge’s lower east aspect to gain the Paradise Lake valley but choose to stick on the open road / track on the ridge instead. On hindsight we should have shortcut the elevation gain and avoided some of the subsequent loss but again, we were out of sorts and still very unsure what we were going to do considering all the clouds still pouring over the Divide. We knew there was no point in going all the way into Tombstone in a complete grey out. The effort to get in there required at least some decent views!

Gorgeous views up the West Castle River towards Lys Ridge. Middle Kootenay Pass is hidden at mid right.

Too soon we were at our apex along Haig Ridge and realized we’d better start the inevitable descent to Paradise Lake before we reached the summit of the ridge! (On hindsight I kind of wish I’d done that summit now – at least I haven’t done it before…) The descent to the east ridge of Haig past Paradise Lake was a bit depressing but easy and scenic. Soon we were on the Paradise Lake approach trail before finding a route up to the east ridge of Haig, which was a bit mankier than expected. Once we gained the east ridge we enjoyed a carpet of Glacier Lilies and more great views down the West Castle valley towards Lys Ridge.

Paradise Lake sits under Mount Haig’s east face and ridge.
Glacier Lilies with Barnaby Ridge in the distance seen from Haig’s lower east ridge.

As we ascended into the clouds on Haig’s east ridge we kept debating about continuing to Boot Hill or not. Eventually we simply gave up on our original idea and I suggested we bag Mount Haig and Gravenstafel Ridge instead. Sure! I’d done them already 11 years ago but Phil hadn’t and I remembered the traverse being rather fun so why not? We decided to traverse the south face of Haig to see if this route would work as a shortcut to Boot Hill the next attempt. The traverse worked perfectly. With low clouds over Boot Hill we made a final decision to abandon that idea and turned up towards Haig’s dreary summit slopes.

Traversing the SE face of Mount Haig. Middle Kootenay Mountain in clouds at center.

As we approached the summit of Mount Haig the clouds threatened to lift but they never did. We touched the cairn and turned to the north ridge descent to the Gravenstafel col.

As we descended easy scree slopes to the Gravenstafel col the clouds finally started to lift and our views once again became stunning. I remembered Haig Lake being very charming under Haig’s north face and it was! It was sobering to see the ski tracks from a recent trip where a skier was killed by rockfall from this face – we heard rocks tumbling down it the rest of the day.

Haig Lake sits between Mount Haig (R) and Gravenstafel Ridge (L). Haig Ridge rises at center here.

As we continued down the col I remembered how much height loss this traverse entails – much more than it appears at first. The terrain is much more fun and scrambly than I remembered too – for sure moderate scrambling in spots and very blocky (and loose). The views just got better and better and by the time we were nearing the col with Gravenstafel even Boot Hill was coming out of the clouds. This was a bit of a bummer, but we both still felt OK with our choice to switch objectives. The views of Gravenstafel with its uniform shape and the aqua gem of Haig Lake sitting under the brooding north face of Mount Haig more than made up for a “missed” new summit opportunity.

Amazing views of Gravenstafel Ridge (C-L), Haig Ridge, Haig Lake and Mount Haig (R) as we descend Haig’s north ridge.
Gravenstafel Ridge has an amazingly pyramidal shape. St. Eloi at left and Southfork / Barnaby at distant right.

From the col to the summit of Gravenstafel ridge the scrambling was fairly easy depending on which line we took. I found some nice moderate scrambling on the nose of the ridge which had the added bonus of keeping Haig Lake in sight longer – which had the added effect of filling up my memory card on the camera…

Haig Lake is an emerald gem tucked under the north face of Mount Haig.
The ski lift is tiny compared to Southfork and Barnaby rising over the West Castle River valley in this view from the south ascent ridge on Gravenstafel Ridge.
Southfork Mountain, Barnaby Ridge, Haig Ridge, Haig Lake, Mount Haig and Boot Hill seen from the south ridge of Gravenstafel Ridge.
Nearing the summit of Gravenstafel Ridge.

The summit views from Gravenstafel Ridge were as good as I remembered them. Looking out over the prairies we could see large storms building. Despite the clouds lifting and even revealing Tombstone Mountain there was obvious instabilities in the atmosphere and we didn’t linger long after taking a break and enjoying the views of many familiar peaks and valleys in the Castle area.

The views from Gravenstafel Ridge include (R to L), Phil, Syncline, St. Eloi, Tombstone, Boot Hill, Haig, Rainy, Lys, Barnaby Ridge and Southfork Mountain.
Barnaby at left with Lys Ridge rising high above the Sage Pass trail at center.
Views from Gravenstafel looking towards Mount Haig and Mount Tombstone which is now finally out of the clouds.

Our descent of the ski hill on the east slopes of Gravenstafel was quick and easy. As we exited the hill we were slightly annoyed by the fact that the strict “closed” sign was now moved aside (so how strict is it then?). Our decision to abandon the original Tombstone plans was justified as heavy rain came over the Divide just as we were pulling out of the parking lot.

I’m not gonna lie – it was a bit of a bummer to be forced into doing a repeat after driving over 6 hours return to the far SW corner of the province for a much larger objective. BUT. That being said, it’s pretty hard to remain disappointed when I look back on the beautiful summer day with clouds, blue skies, bright flowers, green valleys, chirping birds, waterfalls, tarns, ponds and good exercise. The fact that I live somewhere where a day this nice is the backup plan when “all else fails” makes me pretty darn lucky. 

Mount Haig & Gravenstafel Ridge
Hwy 22 scenery from an early morning drive south.
Hwy 22 scenery from an early morning drive south.
Slightly off course thanks to construction on the straightforward approach.
Slightly off course thanks to construction on the straightforward approach.
That's the ridge we want to get on.
That's the ridge we want to get on.
Still on the "wrong side" of the mountain and creek.
Still on the "wrong side" of the mountain and creek.
Phil descends to the Gravenstafel Creek crossing that'll get us closer to our ascent ridge.
Phil descends to the Gravenstafel Creek crossing that'll get us closer to our ascent ridge.
Some minor bushwhacking until we find a trail.
Some minor bushwhacking until we find a trail.
Looking back down the ridge, we detoured way to the left to avoid the closure.
Looking back down the ridge, we detoured way to the left to avoid the closure.
Ascending the first ridge.
Ascending the first ridge.
Interesting "gates" along the first ascent ridge.
Interesting "gates" along the first ascent ridge.
Hiking under some creepy sentinels.
Hiking under some creepy sentinels.
Descending a few hundred meters to the tarn under Mount Haig.
Descending a few hundred meters to the tarn under Mount Haig.
Lush views up the West Castle River Valley.
Lush views up the West Castle River Valley.
Mount Haig with its tarn.
Mount Haig with its tarn.
Hiking towards the east ridge of Haig.
Hiking towards the east ridge of Haig.
Ascending a carpet of Glacier Lilies on Haig's east ridge.
Ascending a carpet of Glacier Lilies on Haig's east ridge.
Ascending a carpet of Glacier Lilies on Haig's east ridge.
Ascending a carpet of Glacier Lilies on Haig's east ridge.
A waterfall coming off Middle Kootenay Mountain.
A waterfall coming off Middle Kootenay Mountain.
A waterfall coming off Middle Kootenay Mountain.
A waterfall coming off Middle Kootenay Mountain.
The peak is in clouds above us.
The peak is in clouds above us.
Ascending the east ridge of Mount Haig towards a white out.
Ascending the east ridge of Mount Haig towards a white out.
Traversing the south face of Mount Haig.
Traversing the south face of Mount Haig.
Lush valleys to the south of Haig.
Lush valleys to the south of Haig.
Traversing the south face of Mount Haig.
Traversing the south face of Mount Haig.
Ascending the south scree slopes of Haig.
Ascending the south scree slopes of Haig.
Phil in clouds at the summit of Mount Haig.
Phil in clouds at the summit of Mount Haig.
Southfork peeks out of the clouds for a second.
Southfork peeks out of the clouds for a second.
Looking back up the NW ridge of Haig to the summit, still in clouds.
Looking back up the NW ridge of Haig to the summit, still in clouds.
Gravenstafel starts looking like a peak. Haig at right.
Gravenstafel starts looking like a peak. Haig at right.
Phil descends to the Gravenstafel col.
Phil descends to the Gravenstafel col.
Phil descends to the Gravenstafel col.
Phil descends to the Gravenstafel col.
I love the uniform shape of Gravenstafel Ridge.
I love the uniform shape of Gravenstafel Ridge.
At the col - we're low enough now to be below treeline again!
At the col - we're low enough now to be below treeline again!
Phil comes up Gravenstafel's south ridge.
Phil comes up Gravenstafel's south ridge.
Beautiful scenery towards Mount St. Eloi.
Beautiful scenery towards Mount St. Eloi.
Find the ski hut. Southfork and Barnaby with their green slopes beyond.
Find the ski hut. Southfork and Barnaby with their green slopes beyond.
Views back down the south ridge of Gravenstafel towards Haig Mountain and Lake.
Views back down the south ridge of Gravenstafel towards Haig Mountain and Lake.
Southfork, Barnaby, Lys, Rainy, Haig.
Southfork, Barnaby, Lys, Rainy, Haig.
Approaching the summit of Gravenstafel Ridge.
Approaching the summit of Gravenstafel Ridge.
West Castle and Lys Ridge (R).
West Castle and Lys Ridge (R).
Rainy and Three Lakes Ridges (R) with La Coulette and Jutland beyond.
Rainy and Three Lakes Ridges (R) with La Coulette and Jutland beyond.
View up the West Castle River towards Lys Ridge.
View up the West Castle River towards Lys Ridge.
Southfork (L), Barnaby, West Castle, Lys, Rainy, Three Lakes, Haig (R).
Southfork (L), Barnaby, West Castle, Lys, Rainy, Three Lakes, Haig (R).
St. Eloi and the three peaks of Syncline (C).
St. Eloi and the three peaks of Syncline (C).
Syncline Mountain.
Syncline Mountain.
Now that we're almost done our day, Tombstone and Boot Hill are out of the clouds beside Mount Haig.
Now that we're almost done our day, Tombstone and Boot Hill are out of the clouds beside Mount Haig.
Mount Haig (L), Boot Hill and Tombstone (R).
Mount Haig (L), Boot Hill and Tombstone (R).
Descending east slopes of Gravenstafel through the ski resort.
Descending east slopes of Gravenstafel through the ski resort.
Descending east slopes of Gravenstafel through the ski resort.
Descending east slopes of Gravenstafel through the ski resort.
Descending east slopes of Gravenstafel through the ski resort.
Descending east slopes of Gravenstafel through the ski resort.
Back near the resort the signs have been moved.
Back near the resort the signs have been moved.

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