Castle Mountain, just north of the Trans-Canada
Highway, is one of the most photographed peaks
in the Canadian Rockies. Typical of many big
limestone peaks, the mountain consists of seemingly
impenetrable cliff bands between broad, sloping
plateaus and long horizontal ledge systems.
Routefinding on this rock is very counter-intuitive
for the climber raised on a diet of long Yosemite
crack systems. Lateral traverses are frequently a
major aspect of the routes and approaches.
Similarly, on the serrated ridges, the limestone
crest often presents the line of least resistance:
something that would, on a similar shattered
granite arete, lead repeatedly to difficult
gendarmes and impassable notches.
August 2, 1998. Pre-dawn, Castle Mountain Hut: It
rained last night. Our approach yesterday took us
up a fourth-class cliff band and along rubble-packed
ledge systems, in an insidious, saturating drizzle,
until we staggered at nightfall onto the doorstep of
this tiny hut seemingly perched on the edge of the
We cook a quick hot breakfast coffee while munching
energy bars. As the sky lightens to a grey-blue,
heralding clear weather, we depart the hut, hiking
across the shoulder of Goat Plateau to the narrow
ledges and steep scree at the base of the route.
Brewer's is a classic twelve-pitch limestone buttress
that ascends directly from Goat Plateau to the summit
of Castle Mountain. Frighteningly steep, unexpected
route options constantly unfold. The exposure is
simultaneously terrifying and invigorating.
Spacious belay ledges presented themselves as we worked
upward. Occasionally linking pitches, we were soon at
the crux of the route, a 5.6 wide slot. I begged Em
for the lead on this pitch, placed a few pieces, clipped
the chicken bolt at the crux, and within moments, had
her on belay.
Soon we were cleaning our last anchors, snapping
summit photos, then motoring across the long summit
ridge above Rockbound Lake as clouds began to congregate
overhead. We passed numerous hikers clad in shorts and
tee-shirts. Decked in fleece, with our summit pack of
goretex and sundries, we felt like over-prepared
gumbies on their first alpine outing.
"I think I'm over-dressed."
The Sean Dougherty Guide, "Selected Climbs in the
Canadian Rockies" says of Brewer's Buttress: "an
excellent climb of moderate difficulty that leads
to situations not typically associated with a climb
of this grade."
We reached the top of the descent gully just as rain,
sleet, and snow began swirling down from the darkening
skies. Concerned about potential lightning strikes
on the serrated ridge crest, we increased our pace,
half-running, half-sliding down the ever-steepening
loose scree until the gully narrowed and dropped into
Rappel Anchor. A piton comes out in my hand as I give
the slings a cursory tug. In the interval of a heartbeat,
the storm explodes around us. Lightning rips across
the narrow gash of sky; thunder crackles and a closer,
more intimate crashing raises my hackles -- that of
rocks clattering down the chute over our heads.
Rain and hail slash down. Frantic flaking of ropes,
digging for storm gear. One rope down. Em has her shell
on; A rock capers past, Both ropes down, "GO! GO!"
No time for gloves Freezing fingers stumbling over the
rappel setup A small rivulet of water trickles past
the anchor A flock of rocks flies past "ROCK-ROCK-ROCK!!!"
"OFF RAPPEL!!!" One sleeve of my goretex parka still
turned inside out Sleet-curtained gloom The stream
turns into a brown raging torrent Parka still unzipped
I jump-rappel down through the waterfall swinging
inward as I slow under a chockstone as a herd of boulders
the size of televisions chug through the
air-water-mud-slush-filled-gully; Rap rope is down, us
fleeing down-down the gulch ankle deep in the angry
maelstrom; Dodge to the side, a fist-sized chunk of
the mountain ricochets off my helmet, another slams
my shoulder, Em is hit too, last rap, one rope, the
other a tangled mess in my paws (a 5-year-old half-carrying
half-dragging a double-armload of dirty laundry to
the washroom) jacket finally zippered, rope is threaded
Straight down through the waterfall Em goes, me knee-deep
above in the frothing river I clip, jump off, hold breath,
falls pouring over my head, finally down
... And sprint from the death-trap out onto Goat Plateau,
pulling one end of the rope with me as I run; we're down,
we're safe; a filthy wall of boulders, rock, mud, and foam
churns down the gully behind us wall-to-wall and six-feet-deep,
spilling out past wide-eyed us onto the plateau, its
furious energy finally spent.
We began to comprehend the meaning of Dougherty's
"Uhh... OK. OK.... You OK?"
"I don't feel over-dressed anymore."
"YEEEEE- HAAAAAAA!!! Welcome to Canada, Eh?"
Before we could catch our breath from the violent descent,
the rain ceased, the sun erupted from the clouds, and our
drenched gear began to steam.
Another night at the Castle Mountain Hut, revelling in our
success, enjoying the sunset, and relaxing in our high
mountain chalet. preparing for our next adventure, an attempt
on Mt. Alberta.
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