Summit Elevation (m): 2544
Trip Date: June 23, 2023
Elevation Gain (m): 1400
Round Trip Time (hr): 7.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 25
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something
Difficulty Notes: The main difficulties are on return down Castle Peak if following our (Cornelius‘) route. There are steep cliffs and route finding issues even with a GPS track.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
I’m not 100% sure when I first spotted either Castle Peak or Windsor Mountain but it must have been early in my scrambling career when I first started traveling hwy 22 to the Castle area north of Waterton National Park. I always knew that Castle Peak was out of my comfort zone at a tricky 5.7 but several trip reports over the years from Dave McMurray and Cornelius Rott indicated that the slightly lower south peak of Windsor Mountain was not only much easier but even had the benefit of a trail up its lower forested slopes. I won’t repeat all the cool details on Windsor Ridge – its naming history and geological details, you can visit Dave’s excellent summary for that. With my supply of desired peaks in the Castle area dwindling, I was in no hurry to tag this ridge but I knew I was interested in the same loop that Cornelius did. I may not get to the summit of Castle Peak but I could get close enough for some pretty wicked views.
After an early season canoe trip in late May and early June, I returned with low mojo for mountain adventures for some reason. After skipping a weekend my mojo was coming back and I contacted Wietse for ideas. Conditions looked better in the south Rockies thanks to a huge dump of snow further north and Windsor came up – yet again. This time it finally took first place and plans were made. I knew from my Jutland to Sage Mountain traverse last fall that the South Castle Road was in pretty good condition compared with previous years, with a trailhead barrier located approximately 5.5 kms along it. As long as you have clearance for the odd pothole and puddle you should be able to drive the whole way. Folks regularly pull horse trailers in here and they don’t have a ton of off road attributes. Some cars park part way down the road before it gets too route. Wietse drove the whole thing easily in a regular Nissan Pathfinder.
We set off up the road on our bikes with high expectations that the ride would be short for some reason. Ooops. That was the trailhead for Whistler Mountain that I was thinking of! Oh well. We pedaled a very straightforward South Castle Road ~10kms before finally arriving at the very non distinct trail leading up Windsor’s west ridge. It took us a few minutes to find the overgrown trail but one we found it we managed to stick to it pretty much to the rubble slopes under a key cliff band that breaks to treeline higher on the ridge. This trail is well worth finding and sticking to for obvious reasons.
The day was gorgeous as we worked our way up the rubble to a key break in the cliffs – a very short and easy scramble up a rubble staircase. From here we continued through light forest until finally attaining the views we came for – Castle Peak to our left and easy slopes of Windsor rising ahead. We grunted our way up Windsor until summiting about 3.5 hours into our day.
The views were absolutely incredible and even more amazing was a total lack of wind – rare for this area. We enjoyed a break before continuing towards Castle Peak looking intimidating along a line of cliffs to the north.
Cornelius was very satisfied with the traverse over to Castle Peak and now I know why! The hike is full of spectacular views over sheer eastern cliffs to the deep greens, purples and pinks of the Castle wilderness. Mount Gladstone and Victoria Peak stole the show to the east while Lys Ridge and Mount Matkin showed off to the west and south. Spectacular rock outcrops and cliff faces seemed to greet us at every step and we took our time enjoying the incredible landscape. I’m surprised this isn’t a more popular trip – it’s one of the Castle’s most scenic scrambles IMHO and far outweighed both of our expectations.
Eventually we found ourselves under the very intimidating toothlike summit block of Castle Peak. We wanted to check out the same notch that Cornelius did so up we went! No more than moderate scrambling on loose rock was involved. Finding a comfortable cave near the top was completely unexpected and we again took our time going in and exploring it a bit. I’m not sure what lives here but it’s the perfect bivy cave if you’re not afraid of it coming home when you’re sleeping in it! At the very least it would be a perfect storm shelter.
From the cave it was a short ramble to the col between the two “horns” of Castle Peak. Once again, views were incredible and there was no wind whatsoever. We took another break noting that the climb did not look easy or as straightforward as I thought it might be. (Reading Rick’s account and looking at his photos would seem to confirm this.) We continued along the ridge to complete the loop before starting down an obvious south gully to the approach drainage far below.
Here’s where things got a little trickier than expected. Already earlier in the day we noted steep cliffs and convoluted terrain in the gully near the bottom at the west drainage and our fears were confirmed once we got there. It would be very easy to get onto difficult terrain but we managed to avoid most of that by going left and looking for reasonable routes. Even with a GPS track route finding through this short section was a little challenging.
Once in the drainage we easily followed it back to the approach trail and from there to our bikes. The ride back was quick and easy for a total time under 7.5 hours with lots of breaks and exploration along the way. I loved this trip way more than I expected and it should be on every Rockies scrambler’s list for its varied landscapes and incredible views.