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
. Brewer Buttress and Eisenhower are the “classics” and therefore most common routes. What makes Brewer Buttress more interesting however is access via the tiny Castle Mountain Hut
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 Brewer Buttress in a day from the car, 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. Brewer Buttress was put in by Dave Brewer and Lyle Irwin in 1961.
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 we took 2 hours and were not in any particular hurry. So unless you packed a book to read, you can plan on a pretty late entry into the hut if so desired. Park 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 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. In 2006 there was a large cairn at the base of the rock on the left side of this drainage. Start the scramble to the hut up this class 4 pitch and continue at the top onto a trail that continues to circumvent right below steep walls. Eventually you will come to another deep drainage and be forced to scramble up the left side until you can cross it at the base of the upper cliffs of Castle Mountain. Pick up a trail that leads out right to the Castle Mountain Hut positioned close to the edge of the Goat Plateau.
From the hut, continue south east contouring around the base of the upper massif. You will turn several corners looking for the correct buttress every time. It is about 25 minutes or so from the hut. It is the last buttress before Eisenhower Tower
. You are looking for a low angled somewhat water worn wall on your left about 100’ as you turn the Buttress. It is terraced on up to the start of the first pitch at the center of a bowl.
Not sure why, but there is a bolt belay at this position. At least you know you are at the start of the route if you see the bolts.
1st Pitch- 40m- 5.5/
Could easily be soloed, but not simul-climbed due to potential rock fall. Climb easy rock trending slightly left to a faint crack. Climb it to a steeper blocky section with a bolt belay at top.
2nd Pitch- 30m- 5.5/
Continue up the crack and through a chimney to the top of the first step on the buttress. All the stations are well established.
3rd -4th Pitches- 55m- 5.4/
We combined these pitches. Scramble up a rib on good rock and follow a short crack past a bolt belay at a ledge behind a pinnacle. Move right and climb easy ground via a left face corner and move out right before you top out at a bolt belay on a ledge below a short chimney.
5th Pitch- 35m- 5.5/
Climb up a chimney via its right side, eventually moving out onto its arête. Climb by at least two pitons to a left-facing crack. Keep climbing left to a ledge and then move out right on an easy corner to a large ledge that runs back left to the edge of the buttress. There is a bolt belay between you and the buttress at this point.
6th Pitch- 30m- 5.5/ Move the belay to the other side of Brewers Buttress where you will find another bolt belay.
You can also clearly see the hut below from this location. Climb, angling back right, past a series of flakes and features to the base of a prominent, left facing corner capped by a significant roof. You will be well off the crest of the buttress again at this point. (bolt belay)
7th Pitch- 25m- 5.6/
In my opinion, the 3rd if not 2nd most difficult pitch of the day. Climb the corner on good holds, but be careful not to climb too far in under the roof. Look to exit the corner several meters below on the right via a piton.
This piton can be hard to find and the traverse is the crux. There is an off-route piton on the left of the corner that should be ignored. As soon as you traverse, look for a small ledge with bolt belay.
8th Pitch- 20m- 5.6/
Climb a corner system to the right, past a piton and straight up to a large ledge with bolt belay. This is open ground.
9th -10th Pitches- 60m- 5.6+/
I combined one of the more difficult pitches on the route (9) with the easiest pitch (10). Start out on easy ground up the crack/corner system, staying in it as you move past some undercut sections. I placed maybe one piece of gear and used two or three fixed pieces. Continue past the bolt belay on top of the corner/pinnacle on 4th class ground to the next significant ledge right on the buttress crest again. Look for a bolt belay in a weird place on your left before toping out onto this ledge. This is a full 60 meter stretch.
11th Pitch- 35m- 5.6/
This pitch is a little airy, but has huge holds. Climb out right of the buttress to gain a wide crack. Climb the crack past a roof and a piton on the left. Continue easily up the crack system to a ledge and bolt belay on the left. The first part of this pitch is more difficult, then it eases up.
12th – 13th Pitches- 40m-5.6+/
To me the most challenging and interesting pitch. It is a variation from the original route that allows you to make this one finishing pitch versus two.
Move up right and climb into a right facing corner for several meters then move onto the right face itself. Climb steep ground above following a series of cracks until you top out. Watch for loose rocks of course. There is no station at the top of this pitch (2006), so you will have to drag your ropes quite a few meters to a couple of large boulders from which you can set up a sitting belay.
DescentIf you are not careful, this could be the crux of the day.
My partner had lost what few notes we had for this descent and we had several feet of fresh snow covering any trace of a trail. We knew we were looking for a gully north of where we toped out on the summit ridge. As we moved north and checked each gully out, they were so extreme, it was easy to eliminate each one as the descent gully. Eventually we got sucked down the east slopes of Castle Mountain by cairns that stood out in the snow that were marking the scramble route up from Rockbound Lake. 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 was mostly void of snow and the scree made 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 5 short rappels to maneuver through the different chock stones and waterfalls.
This gully puts you above where you toped 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 if you want to combine a few of these pitches. The grade is accurate in my opinion so you could get by with boots vs. shoes. You will appreciate having boots for the descent vs. trail runners. This is a guided route, thus there is quite a bit of fixed pro and bomber stations. A set of nuts and a few cams up to #3 would be useful, particularly for that last variation pitch.
The hut is equipped with new (2006) sleeping pads and plenty of dishes and pots. You will need to bring your own gas but if you want to risk it, people had left quite a few full canisters up there by seasons end.
Watch out for the critters chewing on anything you leave outside, poles, boots, etc.