There are four alpine routes up Castle Mountain
listed in Sean Dougherty’s “Selected Alpine Climbs in the Canadian Rockies”. Eisenhower Tower
, Bass Buttress, Ultra-Brewers and Brewer Buttress
. Quite a few other routes can be contemplated at Tabvar.org
. Bass Buttress, Brewer Buttress and Eisenhower are the “classics” and therefore most common routes. What makes Bass Buttress popular no doubt is the access via the tiny Castle Mountain Hut
(photo provided) managed by the Alpine Club of Canada
. Don’t have any grand illusions of throwing a party up there. Although advertised to sleep six, I feel sorry for the last two of six to arrive.
It is a very cool location for a hut though and even though you can do Bass Buttress easy in a day from the car (as we did), the hut is an experience in and of itself not to miss. And perhaps even more unique is the open air pit toilet on the edge of a dramatic cliff.
Bass Buttress was put in by Brian Greenwood and Joe Farrand in 1968. Bass Buttress Direct, the version I did, was put up by Bugs McKeith and John Calvert in 1972 and I much recommend this line over the original, which involves three alternate pitches raising the rating from 5.6 to 5.7.
It is a shaded route for much of the day, which is a huge advantage on hot summer days, but at this elevation, we are only talking a few days of the year that this would be seen as an advantage. Bass Buttress has less pins than Brewers Buttress and is climbed somewhat less because it normally is considerably colder. The direct route makes it a much cleaner line.
This is a 4600’+/- total ascent trip, car to car.
The guidebook discusses some 3.5-5 hours to achieve the hut from the parking area via the Castle Lookout Trail. However I typically take only 2 hours.
The trailhead is located off of the Bow Valley Parkway less than 5 kilometers northwest of the Castle Mountain Village area at Castle Mountain Junction. Turn right into a parking lot marked as Castle Lookout. From here a marked trail takes you half the distance to the hut. After the trail ends at 3.5kms (an overlook area, no building) you will see several faint trails branch out. They all probably work, but the easiest one is furthest to the right as you face the ascent.
Traverse the lower treed slopes of Castle Mountain south until you get to a significant drainage. Head up from there and start the 4th class scrambling to the left of this drainage. There are rappel chains at the top of the first (and most difficult) pitch of scrambling. Start the scramble to the hut up this class 4 pitch and turn right at the top of the drainage and circumvent right to the Castle Hut. Continue on a trail as you head for the wall and fork left for the Bass Buttress start(s) on the Goat Plateau. The start of Bass Buttress is but 5-10 minutes from the hut. The “Direct” start can be located under some clayish rock that follows a corner up three pitches. There are few pins on this route and you will not see any evidence of any at the direct start. However the corner is obvious (photo). All belay stances are comfortable on this climb and fixed as of 2007. I found none of the pitches combinable, most are fairly long.
Climb the yellowish crumbly rock to the left of the corner until you can work back into the corner and place some gear and head for a piton/threaded webbing belay. Obviously I contemplated combining these first two pitches, but I believe the 2nd one to be slightly more than 40m, so I am not sure that would be a good idea unless you already communicated a simul-climb with the belayer.
The crux pitch of the climb reference to rating, but an easy going and easy to protect 5.7 stem up the corner. Pass a piton or two as you use the large crack to the right to assist in overcoming the slightly overhanging corner section. Three piton belay.
This is the last pitch of the alternate direct start. Continue up the corner to a large ledge atop an attached pillar. You need to build a station here and can utilize a hex somebody left behind that worked well in 2007.
Climb right and then make a short crux move left into the easy chimney and follow it to the top.
Follow a flake to a short chimney on the left capped by a chock stone (good to sling). Continue above the chock stone to a narrow ledge. Follow it right to a shallow alcove where you will find two old rusty pins (look closely!). Allow some slack as you bring up the 2nd.
This pitch is about 10 meters longer than the guidebook suggests and is definitely the crux pitch of the route when considering route finding and exposure. Move directly above the belay via a 5.7 move or move out right on the ledge for easy ground. Either way, this is a hard pitch to protect, therefore, look for two pins that angle right even though you need to eventually angle left (read rope drag). When you find the 2nd pin right, do not ascend any further. This crack closes and becomes loose and dirty. Step down and traverse left until you find a ramp that goes at a much easier grade that is also easy to protect. The traverse is not easy to protect. There was a #4 TCU stuck on the ramp in 2007 that was good for pro. You have to really pay attention for the piton station below the huge roof but can also easily set up a station here if you need to without the pins.
This is the most exposed pitch of the route. Move up and left on good rock over exposed ground. Get to the base of the roof where there were two pieces of old stuck pro you could use in 2007. Do not follow the chimney straight up, but move left of the chimney circumventing the roof and continue on easy ground to a huge plateau ledge. Drag the rope over to the wall and place large gear here for the belay.
Don’t know why, but the guidebook includes this as a pitch. Just walk along the ledge southeast and around the edge of the buttress (cairn in 2007) and start up easy ground on solid rock aiming for a squeeze chimney.
One of the most interesting pitches of the route. Starts out on easy rock that leads into a short and deep chimney where, 2007, you will find a large friend stuck for good pro if you have a long sling or can combine a few. Then turn around and face out as you stem up small features to the top. This is an awkward move with a pack. Proceed up the ramp above and look for fresh (2007) cordellete around a boulder to the left which makes for a comfortable belay angle.
Interesting pitch with several aid ropes towards the top on water worn runnel. The first half is real easy climbing and easy pro up to the steeper water worn area. You can ascend the last third of the pitch without using the aid, but it makes for good pro to clip into. Stem and climb up and over onto the summit plateau. Use a large crack in the wall ahead on the plateau to bring up the 2nd. If you try to set something directly above the route, you will drop debris on the 2nd.
DescentThe descent gully can be difficult to find if there are no tracks in the snow and snow lingers on the summit ridge for much of the year.
You are looking for a gully north of where you top out on the summit ridge. Descend to the north and past the first notch (gully) you come to. Do not get sucked down the east slopes of Castle Mountain by cairns that represent the scramble route up from Rockbound Lake and exits a completely different side of the mountain. After descending to and passing the first notch, angle straight across or up searching for the next gully which will not come into view until you reach it.
The gully you are looking for is below a cairned summit that stands considerably off to the north. Stay to the western edge of the summit ridge where you will be forced to descend and have to gain elevation again as your circumvent this cairned summit on its eastern flank.
The gully just north of it is a wide and easy gully to start your descent. Since it is open and south facing, the gully stays relatively dry and the scree makes for an easy descent until you reach the “chock stone” area. Here you will find several mixed rappel stations starting on the right hand side of the gully. You will end up making about three rappels to maneuver through the different chock stones and waterfalls.
This gully puts you above where you topped out to go to the hut. Descend scree and talus back to the trail that heads back south to the hut or descend back to the Castle Lookout trail.
You definitely want double ropes
for quick bail options as Castle Mountain sits at a precarious cross section of valleys in regards to volatile weather. Rope drag will be an issue as well, particularly on Pitch 6. The grade is accurate in my opinion so you could get by with boots vs. shoes but I used comfortable climbing shoes. You will appreciate having boots for the descent vs. trail runners. A set of nuts and cams to #4 with several #3 Camelots.
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