About a kilometre before reaching Tower Lake, I passed what looked like a Buddhist monk and his assistant making very slow progress up the trail. It turned out that the monk was stopping and kneeling to kiss the ground after every four or five steps while his assistant dutifully trailed behind him. As I passed them, I couldn't help wondering if they had been going like this all the way from the trailhead (about 7 kilometres back) and if the monk was developing chapped lips! I also wondered whose situation was more maddening--the monk or the assistant?
Past Rockbound Lake, I climbed onto the grassy terrace as per Alan Kane's route description, and after a lengthy plod with some easy scrambling thrown in for good measure, I tagged the south summit of Castle Mountain just after 3:00 PM. During much of the ascent, being able to see the summit cairn was both a blessing and a curse for me. It was a blessing because every time I looked up I could see how far I had left to go, and it was a curse because every time I looked up I could see how far I had left to go. This would become a recurring theme throughout the day.
Leaving the south summit, I proceeded over much snow-covered rubble toward the north (true) summit of Castle Mountain. Hoping to minimize excessive height gains and losses, I chose a line that was well below the crest of the massif but still fairly high above the rocky basin northwest of the aforementioned grassy terrace. Much of this traverse is simply tedious, but that day, the snow made some sections downright miserable. It was almost 6:00 PM by the time I stumbled onto the north summit of Castle Mountain. At this point, I knew I would be hiking out in the dark, but I was more worried about my slow pace and the prospect of having to forego Helena Ridge and perhaps even Stuart Knob.
|Tower Lake sports a remarkably green hue.|
|This view from near the access gully to the upper terrace includes (clockwise from top left) Eisenhower Peak, the south summit of Castle Mountain, Rockbound Lake, and Tower Lake.|
|This is the view of Rockbound Lake from the grassy terrace to the northwest.|
|Sonny trudges toward the south summit of Castle Mountain.|
|Sonny reaches the 2766-metre south summit of Castle Mountain.|
|The south summit of Castle Mountain is a good place to survey the remaining objectives for the day including the north summit of Castle Mountain (far left), Stuart Knob (at left in front of snow-covered TV Peak on the horizon), and the north peak of Helena Ridge (at right).|
|About 2.5 hours of miserable trudging from the south summit grants this view of the final approach to the north summit (left) of Castle Mountain.|
|Sonny stands on the 2850-metre north (true) summit of Castle Mountain.|
|This is looking from the north summit back along the length of Castle Mountain to the south summit.|
|The approach to Stuart Knob from the north summit of Castle Mountain is relatively short.|
|The best scrambling of the day--going up the north side of Stuart Knob--is unfortunately short-lived.|
|Sonny tags the 2849-metre summit of Stuart Knob.|
|This is looking southeast from the top of Stuart Knob. At far right is the south summit of Castle Mountain, and at far left is the north peak of Helena Ridge--the final objective for the day.|
Leaving the top of Helena Ridge at about 8:00 PM, I quickly
descended the southeast slopes and managed to get back to Rockbound Lake
just a little after sunset. I hiked for almost another hour before
taking out my headlamp. After a long and tiresome walk, I was back
at my car at 10:33 PM (round-trip time just under 12 hours). My
feet were sore, but I felt deeply satisfied with my accomplishments that
day. I wondered if the monk felt the same.
|The walk from Stuart Knob to the north peak of Helena Ridge is easy but very long.|
|This is where the final climb of the day starts in earnest.|
|Sonny sits on the summit cairn of the 2880-metre north (highest) peak of Helena Ridge.|
|From the north peak of Helena Ridge, Sonny looks back at the south summit of Castle Mountain where he was about 4.5 hours ago.|
|This view from the north peak of Helena Ridge includes the north summit of Castle Mountain (far left), Stuart Knob (centre), and TV Peak (far right).|