Confessions Of A Ski Bum

Castle Mountain Traverse/North Bowl

For whatever reason I haven’t been posting trip reports this year, maybe because I feel like what I was skiing wasn’t worth noting or maybe I’m just lazy, either way neither seem to be the case after this last trip.

On Jan 28th Anna and I decided to go look for the drainage that leads up to the north aspect of Castle Mountain, near the Protection Mountain Campground on the 1A. We only ended up skinning a short distance but we found the creek and I marked down on GPS. The following day I convinced Nick to join me on an “exploratory adventure” to see if we could summit Castle from that side. We packed everything but ice screws, not realizing those would have come in handy later in the day.

Nick works the rockfall sidehill section.

We left the road at 8:30am on the 29th. The first 500-600m in the bush ended up being much easier than I was expecting and soon we found ourselves side hilling open rock fall areas that led to the first headwall. Before heading up all I really knew about the area was there was some good ice climbing and there were lots of cliff bands. The first cliff band wasn’t big and for whatever reason I convinced Nick that it would be easier to climb up the waterfall. Of course that wasn’t easier and I’m really shit at ice climbing but regardless we got up and over to find ourselves in the alpine.

Nick at the start of the waterfall climb

Above the headwall we still couldn’t see our objective for the day, which was ultimately the north face of Castle Mountain. In front of us was another cliff band but this one had an easy work around. Once over the 2nd band we could see what we figured was the last major obstacle, a large cliff band with no easy way up. We skinned up the alpine cirque until reaching the edge of the large cliff where we saw a couloir feature with a large ice bulge. We (or maybe I) decided that there would be no more ice climbing for the day so we decided to try our luck with the rock on the looker’s right.

We climbed a short snow slope, traversed a moat, climbed through a skinny mini couloir, up another snow slope to finally reach a short almost overhanging 3 step boulder. We couldn’t be sure but it looked like this would be the last piece of the puzzle to get above the cliff and in the upper north bowl of Castle. The problem was it was almost 4pm and we decided to turn around. We ended our day in the dark, getting back to the road at 6:30pm.

Nick at our turn around point on our first attempt.

Now that we were pretty sure the bottom cliff band could be worked easily we decided to head up Rockbound Lake and traverse up and over Castle. We left Sunday morning around 8:30am hoping the forecast would be wrong and the storm would start a bit later than expected. After getting to the lake we boot packed up Rockbound Lake Couloir (across from the now heavily skied Chokestone Couloir), skinned across the bench and booted up a short steep snow slope to the large open alpine flats. By now the storm had fully come in and travel became difficult. We were in a complete whiteout as we approached the col between Castle and Stuart Knob and I had a hard time figuring out if I had reached the ridge or not. At this point I was seriously considering turning around but then sky cleared just enough to see where we were and what was skiable on the other side. We decided to skip the summit and head down from the ridge just after the false summit in case the clouds came back. I skied first, heading down between the small and broken cliff bands where I cut out several small size 1 soft storm slabs. Once in a safe location I called Nick on the radio and told him to ski down to me. Below us was two large cliffs but there was a long flat bench between them that you could access and use to get to the lower bowl. Soon after we found ourselves at a large terminal moraine with our rappel below. We were able to quickly find our little rock step, rappel down over it and soon enough we were on skis and heading out.

Nick skiing the north aspect of Castle Mountain.

This a great route for those looking for a full day adventure ski which comes in at about 24km and 1500m. You’ll need a 30m rope and a 240cm sling (or cord) if you take our rappel route or a 60m rope and a V-thread kit if you want to rappel the waterfall. To get down the headwall at treeline look for an 3rd class downclimb skier’s left of the canyon waterfall, or rappel off one of the many trees in that area. On our second ski out we found a great route back to the road: 1) sidehill the rockfall fans after the last headwall, 2) once in the trees follow a long, fairly flat/skinny open ridge until it disappears, 3) ski the trees below the ridge heading skier’s left until you are forced into the creek, 4) cross the creek where you will find easy, low angle “glades” for a good distance downhill, 5) once the open trees end get back into the creek, or if the creek has poor coverage cross over to the skier’s left bush. Before coming to the road you will cross an open area with power lines, there is a short uphill section after this and it’s a good place to throw the skins on if you haven’t already.

Our attempt up and our rappel route down in red

Nick pointing to the entry of the rappel, the top of the ice rappel to the looker’s right.

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