OverviewOverall, this is a very satisfying route to the mountain. It leads through a sub-alpine valley head not often traveled. Yes, you’re likely to be alone in there (once you leave Turner Bridge) so enjoy the solitude. This approach has the added benefit of putting you in position to climb other nearby peaks—peaks such as:
Full Moon Rising (Pk 7855) – an appropriately named unnamed summit WNW of Castle Peak. It really does look like a full moon rising (when snowcovered). See this photo or this photo.
Freezeout Mountain (7,744 ft) to Castle’s southwest. Freeezeout has an outstanding Northwest Face (see here). From the south it is largely a walk-up.
Three Aunts (Pk 7760+) to the southeast of Freezeout Mountain. Three Aunts is slightly higher than Freezeout. The west summit is the highest of the two 7760+ tops. The West Ridge is merely a scramble.
Joker Mountain (7,603 ft) 1.5 miles south of Freezeout Mountain.
For the Castle massif itself, the climb from Freezeout Creek rates as Class 3 with perhaps the odd move of Class 4 here and there (depends on snowcover). If still snowcovered, you have the option of climbing up the WSW Ridge or up a steep but short couloir in the west corner. The final climbing is up an open slope on the south side.
Driving to the TrailheadYou need to get yourself to the Hozomeen Creek Trailhead (also called the Willow Lake Trail), elevation 1690 ft. The trailhead is just up from Ross Lake and about 1.5 road miles south of the International Border. If the gate at the border is closed (call ahead to find out), you’ll appreciate having a bike to travel those 1.5 miles.
To get to the trailhead (from civilization), drive to Hope, British Columbia (Hwy 1 from the west or north or Highway 5 from the northeast or Highway 3 through Manning Provincial Park from the southeast). At Hope there is a road that parallels the freeway on the south side. From the west, you want to take the exit just before Hope (sorry, I can’t remember the exit number but Mr. Beckey says it’s 30.9 miles east of the Chilliwack-Sardis exit). Silver-Skagit Road leaves this side road and proceeds south up the valley of Silver Creek. The first few miles are paved as it goes past residences. It then begins a slow, gradual climb up to the 1936-ft Silver-Skagit divide at Klesilkwa Pass. Trivial note: this is the saddle by which Mt. Baker’s prominence is calculated, its line parent being Mt. Rainier; see here.) The pass is about halfway to your destination. Drive the windy and somewhat loosely graveled road (beware of potential spin outs, oncoming traffic, and ditches) to the International Border in 37.5 miles (60 km).
Proceed through the border. If the gate is open you can drive into Washington. If the gate is closed you’ll have to walk or bike the remaining 1.5 miles to the trailhead.
Walking the Hozomeen Creek TrailThe trail begins with several switchbacks in modestly rocky forest before leveling out to traverse south at the east base of Little Jackass Mountain. Pass the cut-off for the short trail to Hozomeen Lake in about 3 miles (no camping available at this junction). In about five miles reach Willow Lake Camp (first good campsite). At 6 miles begin a descent into Lightning Creek. A short segment of this trail descends through a narrow ravine with the babbling outflow of Willow Lake at your side. Very pretty and somewhat unique. You lose about 800 vertical feet to get to Turner Bridge, which conveniently crosses Lightning Creek for you. The Freezeout Creek Trail junctions left on the east side of the bridge.
Distance from trailhead to bridge = 7.5 miles
Total gain = +1200 ft, - 800 ft
Hurdling the Freezeout Creek TrailThe trail begins at 2160 ft at Turner Bridge. The first 100 feet of trail is barely visible amidst cedars. Then it is not visible at all for the next several 100 feet as it crosses a rockslide area (may be steep avalanche snow in early season) and a brushy slope. Basically, the idea is to traverse across the rockslide about 20 feet above the creek. Then when you get into the brush climb up slightly but maintain a level traverse. After the brushy area, the trail picks up neatly in the big trees beyond. But that doesn’t mean the trail is in good shape. Windfall is the name of the pain game. I hope you like the steeplechase.
The trail initially climbs 500 vertical feet in several switchbacks before making a level, uninteresting traverse. Another 400 vertical is gained in a series of switchbacks and you turn a corner and are finally within Freezeout Creek. Continue up the trail, making stream crossings (by log, if necessary). In 11 miles (3.5 miles from Turner Bridge) cross a major creek coming in from the south. On the other side just up the slope at approx. 3500 feet resides a great cabin. You can bunk inside. It comes complete with a stove and wood and even toothpaste in case you forgot yours. But please take pains not to ruin this oasis in a desert of conifers.
The condition of the trail after the cabin is about the same as the condition before it: blowdown upon blowdown. At some point for us we lost the trail in snow (May 2007) so really can’t attest to its walkability. The trail crosses Freezeout Creek at 4,400 ft about two miles beyond the cabin and continues to an end somewhere up valley. The map shows it ending at 5,100 ft. Not to despair, at about this elevation the ground begins to open up to parkland where trail is unnecessary (though there may well be brush at creek-level). Good camping is available at 5,400 feet where the trees end. At this point you’ll have your first significant view of Castle Peak. To your right will be the outstanding North Face of Pt. 7647 (“Oxymandias”).
Distance from trailhead to 5,400-ft camp = 15 miles (7.5 miles from Turner Bridge)
Total gain (from Turner Bridge) = 3,200 ft
Time = 8-12 hours from trailhead (4-8 hours from Turner Bridge)
Laying SiegeThe climb up from camp at 5,400 feet is a short one, speaking relative to the arduous approach. This will leave you time to traverse out to other peaks such as “Full Moon Rising” (Pk 7855) or Freezeout Mountain.
Simply hike up the open valley to the first cliff band at 6,200 ft. There are many routes up the cliff. There is a waterfall at its center (good water source). The 200-300 ft cliff isn’t vertical and trees are sprinkled into it.
Continue up the upper basin. There are two ways to easily tackle the Castle: slightly left to a couloir to a notch on the WSW Ridge or rightward to a lower notch (not as deep but just as distinct) where the WSW Ridge more or less ends. The route you choose may be dependent on conditions. The three of us went up the couloir but two of us descended the ridge for the return, finding it not as sketchy. Both ways ultimately link back up again for the final south slope slog.
The ridge route is Class 2 & 3 with one short, easy section of Class 3+ right where the ridge begins (approximately 7,500 ft). The couloir route climbs through a gap to the ridge at maybe 7,900 ft. From there you round a corner and continue unimpeded up an open slope to the final rocks. There is a register up there.
Distance from 5,400-ft camp = 1.6 miles
Gain = 2,900 ft
Time = 2 hours
Essential WeaponryIce axe all year
Take crampons in early season, possibly into summer
Take snowshoes if the snow’s going to be soft in spring
Technical equipment won’t be necessary
Bug spray in summer. The mosquitoes can be horrendous—especially around Ross Lake