Castleguard Mountain June 2, 2007           

Mountain height:           3084 m
Elevation gain:              1420 m
Ascent time:                  10:35
Descent time:                7:35

Snow-shoeing and mountaineering with Mark.

We’ve had a few long and physically strenuous days in the mountains, but weren’t expecting Castleguard Mountain, the dwarf of the Columbia Icefield, to provide us with the biggest #$!-kickin' of our short mountaineering lives. Even though the ascent of Castleguard was considerably shorter than our 30 hour epic on Andromeda and 27 hours on Kitchener, I have never felt so close to death as I did stumbling back to the car after an ascent of Castleguard at 12:35 in the morning, about 18 hours after leaving! I’m sure Mark felt exactly the same way.   

Normally ascended on skis in early spring, we opted to try the ascent on foot and take our snowshoes instead. The thought of carrying skis about 8 km to the toe of the glacier was about as appealing as pizza without cheese. Hoping the approach would take about 2.5 hours, it was a little disheartening to run into difficult terrain right before the glacier. We stayed on the left side of the North Saskatchewan River and thus had to rope up to get past a tricky section above the lake at the bottom of the glacier. It therefore took us 3.5 hours before we stepped onto the Saskatchewan Glacier. Fortunately the scenery en route was very entertaining. And then it begins…….

Near the beginning of the long approach


Typical scenery en route to the glacier


Same as above; the southeast flank of Mount Andromeda at the right


Same as above


One of many unnamed peaks on the south side of the valley


A rock with a surprisingly symmetrical fracture pattern


Approaching the Saskatchewan Glacier; Castleguard is at the distant left


The lake at the toe of the glacier


Same as above; 


The turquoise lake 

Ascending the Saskatchewan Glacier bares an almost eerie similarity to the experience of driving to Saskatchewan – point your car east, hit the gas and take a 5 hour nap. When you open your eyes, the scenery will be the same and you’ll still be in the middle of your lane on the road. Had we mastered the art of sleeping while walking, we could have caught up on 4 hours of sleep, not missed a thing scenery-wise, and remained in the middle of the glacier throughout. That sheet of ice and snow goes on and on and on and redefines the term “foreshortening”. 

We started with crampons, but soon had to trade them for snowshoes. This was a decent method of ascent, but anyone who has snow-shoed long distances knows full well how the extra weight on your feet soon takes its toll on you physically. It took us 4 grueling hours to finally arrive at a point up the glacier where we could turn south towards Castleguard. At this point, our turn-around time was nearing and we were both wiped-out. The summit was still a fair distance away and we pretty much wrote that idea off. Of course, we at least had to get a look at the intended objective and so we started south, up a steeper and again brutally foreshortened snow slope. 

Ascending this slope, though long, at least gave us some elevation and soon the giants of Columbia Icefield started to pop up over the horizon to the west and north – first Snow Dome, then Mount Columbia, and finally The Twins – a satisfying view, to say the least. Higher up Castleguard suddenly appeared, with stunning Mount Bryce behind. Striking Mount Saskatchewan added to the spectacle.  

More scenery on the south side of the glacier


A very foreshortened view of the glacier 


One of several breaks along the way


Another break


In need of another break


Now only 200 vertical metres from the summit, an attempt was obligatory, though it almost guaranteed that some of the descent would be done by headlamp. The northeast side of the mountain was beautiful: fresh snow glistening in the sun, the curves of the snow slopes, and a significant bergschrund lining the face. We picked a line where the ‘schrund was completely filled in and enjoyed a problem-free ascent to the ridge. It was also the wrong ascent line, as steep cliff bands guarded the summit. This necessitated a small elevation loss into a small bowl, after which we regained the correct ridge to the south. By now Mount Forbes and The Lyells were visible, and the overall view was increasing in beauty exponentially with each step. The remainder of the ascent was short and easy.

Finally, the biggies of the Icefield make an appearance: 
to the left and The Twins just right of centre


Castleguard Mountain


Traversing the northeast slopes


The beautiful northeast side of Castleguard


Leaving the snowshoes to kick-step up to the ridge


On the ridge with the summit block ahead


Same as above


Traversing over to the correct ridge


Same as above


Mount Bryce


Same as above


Mark makes the final few metres of the ascent

We arrived at the summit more than 10.5 hours after leaving the car. Admittedly, we were both very surprised to have made it, given that we were ready to turn around numerous times during the ascent. The summit view was astounding – possibly the best we’ve ever seen. Seeing the expansive Columbia Icefield stretched out to the north was extremely gratifying, as was the phenomenal view of Mount Bryce. Innumerable other shapely peaks, including Alexandra lined the horizon in every direction. One would expect that as the lowest mountain on the Columbia Icefield, the views from Castleguard would be blocked by much taller peaks. However, Castleguard sits alone at the south end of the Icefield and even the closest peaks are far enough away so as not to impede the views. Clear skies, no wind, and warm temperatures further contributed to our thorough enjoyment of this particular summit.    

Checking out Mount Bryce from the summit of Castleguard


Mark at the summit; Mount Saskatchewan to his left


The view to the south; the highest peak in the distant centre is Alexandra


A closer look at Bryce


A farther look at Bryce

The descent was straightforward, but mind-numbing. We tried, with little success, to Crazy Carpet down the slope that joins Castleguard to the Saskatchewan Glacier. Unfortunately, the snow was too soft. Once back down to the glacier the return slog ensued and it was as tedious as the ascent of the same terrain. I thought the end of that glacier would never come. The last couple of hours were excruciating, due to exhaustion. We were both physically depleted and struggled to just keep moving.


On descent


Same as above; the snow covered peak at the right is the top of the Skyladder route on Andromeda


The snow sculpted northeast side of the mountain again


More terrific scenery on descent


Same as above with Bryce to the right


Mark attempts to Crazy Carpet down the route


I just walked with my Crazy Carpet in hand


Andromeda and Unnamed behind


A close-up of the above


Another repetitive photo of the same thing 


The same thing from a different angle


A common scene on descent


A last look at the Saskatchewan Glacier and Mount Castleguard in the dying light


Overall, an outstanding day out. Besides the phenomenal scenery and summit views, perhaps the best part of this trip was that since we did make the summit, we’ll never have to endure the Saskatchewan Glacier again!