Southfork Mountain to Grizzly Lake Traverse, 21-25 June 2017

Grizzly Lake as viewed from Lys Ridge.  We had originally intended to complete the lower Great Divide Trail from north to south, starting at Southfork Mountain and ending up at Red Rock Canyon in Waterton.  However, poor route descriptions combined with fatigue and an abundance of snow from La Coulotte Peak onwards, caused our group to change plans and turn around on the ridge above Ruby Lake.  As a consolation, we backtracked to Grizzly Lake before eventually hiking out to the South Castle Road.  Nevertheless, it was still a highly enjoyable trek through an amazing part of the world!

⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer⚠️

One of my favourite places to hike is the Castle Wilderness, so when my friend and chair of the Southern Alberta Chapter of the Alpine Club of Canada (ACC), Brad Hagen, proposed a multi-day trip from Southfork Mountain to Waterton National Park along the lower Great Divide Trail (GDT), I was all over it.  I had already been planning a one or two night excursion to tackle a combination of Jutland Mountain, Mount Matkin, and Font Mountain, and Brad’s ACC trip would include these – along with La Coulotte Peak and for me, return trips to Southfork Mountain and Barnaby Ridge.  A total of six peaks over five days… yes please! 🙂

While the official GDT descends from La Coulotte Peak and continues along the West Castle Road to Castle Mountain Ski Resort, others have incorporated an alternate traverse of Barnaby Ridge and Southfork Mountain.  Of the sources for information that we had for this route, most went from south to north and surprisingly, all contained scant information about the section of scrambling between Barnaby Ridge and Grizzly Lake.  From my trip up Lys Ridge last year, I knew that there was a cliffy section to negotiate at the south end of Barnaby Ridge, but my pictures could only tell us so much.  However, we knew that once we reached La Coulotte Peak, we would connect with the main GDT for which there was much more information.

Our original plan was to spend our first night at Southfork Lakes, our second night at Grizzly Lake, our third night near Jutland Mountain, our fourth night near Font Mountain, and then walk the ~17 km to Red Rock Canyon in Waterton.  Definitely big days, but similar to the itineraries of other parties.  Complicating things however, were reports of a party of German backpackers who had completed the traditional GDT route from Waterton the week before, but were forced to add an additional two days onto their trip due to waist-deep snow between Font Mountain and La Coulotte Peak.  Thus, we decided to also pack snowshoes.

Our primary sources of information for the alternate section of the GDT were, Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail, by Dustin Lynx (Rocky Mountain Books, 2007) and an online trip report by the Rocky Mountain Ramblers from 2015.    Regarding the scrambling section on the south end of Barnaby, Lynx states, “Leaving the trees for the open shale, the route climbs the crest of Barnaby Ridge.  Approximately 2 km north, you start a scramble along a 500 m-long section of very narrow and rocky crest.  Take your time and watch for loose rock!  The route reaches a 2420-m-high summit above a small lake 1.1 km after the scramble.” (p. 47)  The Ramblers online TR conveyed even less information, and when combined with Lynx’s description, led us to assume that it would be fairly straightforward.  Boy, were we in for a surprise!

We knew that route finding would prove more to be more challenging because we would be descending, and all went well until we came to the crux: an exposed block near the southern end of the crest.  Here, the lack of any decent description from Lynx or the Ramblers proved frustrating as we searched for safe way past it.  I scrambled across the block and could see two potential routes on the other side: a steep gully that descended to the west; and a gap in the crest that allowed passage to the eastern side.  Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera while I looked for a possible route, so I can’t show what it looked like.  My scrambler’s instincts told me that one of these two routes was the correct way, but either would be tricky to down-climb given our heavy packs.  Moreover, while it was within my comfort level of scrambling, it definitely would not be for others.

While I was checking for a route past the crux, Brad descended ~100m to the east where he became cliffed-out.  Fortunately, he discovered a small, but steep gully that we could safely rappel.  This was assuredly the best decision because once we were down, we could then traverse past the crux along the east face and continue unimpeded towards Grizzly Lake.  However, most of our group were gassed from the immensity of the day and we ended up camping along the ridge about 2.3 km north of Grizzly Lake.  It was decided that night that we would alter our plans to make La Coulotte Peak our turn around point with an egress back to Castle Mountain Ski Resort along the West Castle Road.

The next day we bushwhacked our way along the overgrown trail and scrambled over two bumps on the ridge just to the north of Grizzly Lake.  We then ascended the impressive headwall to the south of Grizzly Lake and followed the ridge until we reached a quaint col above Ruby Lake.  In total this was ~4.3 km from our previous night’s camp and we still had another ~4.3 km to go to reach La Coulotte Peak.  While the group ate a late lunch in the col, Brad and I ventured towards the connecting ridge that led to La Coulotte Peak.  We could see that the route up La Coulotte was snow covered and so we looked for a place to bivouac on the ridge.  After weighing our options and considering the pace we were travelling at, we decided it might be best to change our plans again and return to Grizzly Lake for the night, and then hike out the next day – with a possible fourth night on the shores of the South Castle River if it were too high to cross late in the day.

While I’m disappointed that we didn’t achieve our original goals, I do think that our traverse to Grizzly Lake was worthwhile in and of itself.  Indeed, it provided me with a couple of potential trip ideas to pass along:

  1. A repeat of our trip, though in reverse – making camp at Grizzly Lake on the first night and then tackling the scrambling section on Barnaby Ridge the next day; or
  2. Combining it with an ascent of Lys Ridge, thus making for a very scenic loop.  To do this, I would start by ascending the northern end of Lys Ridge and then camping overnight at either Ruby Lake or Grizzly Lake.  I would then ascend Barnaby the following day and camp one more night at Southfork Lakes before finally hiking out.

Either trip would be highly enjoyable!

Finally, despite our change of plans, what ultimately made the trip were the people that I got to know.  Beforehand, I only knew Brad, but it was a sheer delight to make a set of new friends in Spencer, Sarah, Courtney, and Benjamin!  Thanks everyone!

High water levels on the West Castle River meant that we could not cross at the Southfork Lakes trailhead.  Instead, we had to use the bridge at Castle Mountain Ski Resort and then backtrack for ~4 km along a connecting trail located on the east side of the river.  Once we were back on the Southfork Lakes trail, we then followed it for an additional ~3 km and an elevation gain of ~470 m to reach the lower lake (for a description on how to find the Southfork Trailhead at the river see my previous Southfork Mountain report).  Here is where we spent the first night.

The next morning we set off for the two upper lakes which are located ~920 m from the lower lake.  From here we ascended to the summit of Southfork Mountain, a distance of ~2 km with an elevation gain of ~432 m.  After tagging the summit, we then made our way to a high point along the ridge affectionately known to the locals as, ‘The Amoeba’.  Instead of gaining its summit, we chose to save energy by side-sloping it immediately beyond a short section of scrambling.  We then descended into the intervening col before ascending to the summit of Barnaby Ridge.  The distance between the summit of Southfork Mountain and the summit of Barnaby Ridge was ~3.8km with an elevation gain of ~137 m.

We descended from the summit of Barnaby and followed the southern ridge for ~3.1 km until we came to the summit of a 2422 m unnamed high point after which, the ridge began to rapidly descend for ~2.6 km to a lower ridge north of Grizzly Lake.  The hike from the summit of Barnaby to the point of descent was uneventful but long.  From the summit of Barnaby we lost an initial ~152 m in elevation before having to regain ~96 m over the remaining section of ridge.  With heavy packs, this made the trip feel longer!

Approximately ~200 m from the summit of the final unnamed high point, the ridge began to narrow and the crux itself, was located approximately ~740 m from the summit.  As previously mentioned, I do not have good beta on the scrambling route beyond the crux, and can only guess where it actually goes.  We would end up rappelling down a steep gully on the east side of the crux.

From our rappel site, it was a ~1 km hike down packed scree slopes to the beginning of the treed ridge above Grizzly Lake.  A further ~ 700 m brought us to a bare patch along the ridge where we would camp.  Thankfully, there was lots of snow to melt for water!

The next morning we followed the overgrown trail through thick forest towards the first of two bumps located along the ridge.  The first was located ~1.3 km from our campsite and did not present any significant obstacles.  The second, located ~2.2 km from our campsite, did however require work to find a suitable route.  The crux was a large rock wall that blocked the trail.  After some searching, we negotiated a path by sticking to climber’s right and circumventing it along its western face for ~110 m before scampering up a steep ~90m ramp to the summit.  Approximately ~400m from the summit we arrived at Grizzly Lake.

We continued along the ridge and proceeded to climb ~1.40 km up the steep headwall above Grizzly Lake, an elevation gain of ~239 m.  We then followed a delightful ridge for ~764 m to a col immediately above Ruby Lake.  This was our turn around point.  We then retraced our steps back to the ridge above Grizzly Lake and then down the ~300 m trail to its shore.  Here is where we camped.

The following day we enjoyed an easy ~9.83 km hike down the Grizzly Lake trail to the South Castle River.  As suspected, the river was a little high to cross, but two helpful conservation officers marked out a spot further up the river that we could cross when the levels were lower in the morning.  After crossing, we then walked down the South Castle Road for ~4.7 km until we rendezvoused with Brad’s wife, Lisa, who had come to pick us up.

A topo of the traverse between Southfork Lakes and the summit of Barnaby Ridge.

A topo of the traverse from the southern end of Barnaby Ridge to our turn around point above Ruby Lake.

Our total distance travelled was 44.5 km with total elevation gains of 2420 m.

Day 1: Castle Ski Resort to Southfork Lakes

The river was too high to cross at the Southfork Lakes trailhead, so we had to cross the bridge at Castle Mountain Ski Resort and then double back for ~4 km on the other side of the river.  Thanks to warnings from some German backpackers about deep snow, we added snowshoes to our already heavy packs – though we avoided the temptation to all cross the bridge at once… 😉  From left to right: Spencer, Brad, Benjamin, me, Sarah, and Courtney.

The connecting trail starts in the trees on the other side of the bridge.

Fresh tracks indicated that a grizzly had recently used the trail.  Apparently, it didn’t want to cross the river either. 😉

After a ~4 km detour we were finally on the Southfork Lakes trail.  We followed the trail through the woods until we came to a fork.  A small blue sign indicated that the trail to Southfork Lakes went to the right…

… and just in case there was any doubt, a second sign confirmed things.

From the fork, the trail ascended steeply through the trees for about ~ 1.75km to the top of a small ridge.

Once we crested the ridge, it was a pleasant hike across meadows and through forest to reach the lower lake.

Looking west at Syncline Mountain from the ridge.  Just poking over the skyline ridge to the right of centre is the rounded summit of Mount McCarty.

Brad was the first to reach the little waterfall located near the outlet of the lower lake.

The first of the three Southfork Lakes.  The last time I was here, I promised myself that I’d bring my fly rod – and just like a mall Santa, I broke that promise…  I was REALLY kicking myself for not having my rod when we were camped beside Grizzly Lake.  There were so many delicious slurps in the evening and in the morning, that I had to turn away.

There is a backcountry campground located on the north shore of the lower lake.

Setting up camp.

Brad not only led the trip, but he doubled as the evening’s chef.

Sarah and Spencer relax after setting up camp.

We had excellent weather throughout the trip with the exception of the first evening, when gusty winds and intermittent rain showers forced us to take cover under a tarp.

Day 2: Southfork Lakes to Grizzly Lake

This was a big day as we anticipated tagging the summits of Southfork Mountain and Barnaby Ridge while covering the ~12.75 km distance between Southfork Lakes and Grizzly Lake.  Therefore, we packed up camp early in the morning and headed out under windless conditions.  It is important to note that unless you can find patches of snow along the ridge, there are no other options for finding water.  So make sure to stock up at whatever lake (Southfork or Grizzly) that you choose to depart from.

Looking back at the lower lake.  The trail to the upper lakes was still snow-covered in many places.

Brad leads the group toward the upper lakes.  The slope leading to the summit of Southfork Mountain is in the background.

Arriving at the second lake.

Heading up to the summit.  The third lake is on the right.

A large snow field with a steep runout offered a chance to practice our mountaineering skills.  (Photo by Brad Hagen)

What a beautiful day!  In the background is Syncline Mountain.

The summit comes into view.

The summit of Southfork Mountain (2330 m).  Why is it called Southfork Mountain?  Here is a tidbit of information from my 2015 TR:  “Southfork Mountain is a bit of an oddity and if it didn’t already have an official name, I’m not sure anyone would really take notice of it.  Outside of being located at the northern end of Barnaby Ridge, its stature is muted compared to two other high points along the ridge.  In fact, the second highest point on Barnaby Ridge is located only ~1.5 km to the south and is a noticeable ~70 m higher.  Yet oddly, it doesn’t have an official name though the Castle Mountain folks affectionately call it ‘The Amoeba’.  It’s as if in the mountain naming Olympics, ‘The Amoeba’ was caught using PEDs and was stripped of its name which was then given to the bronze medalist.  Maybe it should be called ‘Ben Johnson Peak’ or ‘Lance Armstrong Peak’?

So, why does Southfork Mountain have an official name?  From what I can gather, it’s related to the original name for the Castle River which was the “South Fork of the Oldman River” and then later, the “South Fork River”.  That the confluence of the West Castle River and the South Castle River occurs directly to the north of Barnaby Ridge and can be overlooked from Southfork Mountain, also plays into this.”

Sarah and Spencer on the summit.  While the rest of the group bypassed the summit, Sarah, Spencer, and I made sure to tag it.  All three peaks of Syncline Mountain can be seen in the background on the left.

I think I’m slightly over-prepared for mighty Southfork Mountain! 😉  I didn’t snap pics of the surrounding landscape because they are already on my previous TR.

The group makes their way from the summit of Southfork Mountain to ‘The Amoeba’ which is located ~1.5 km away.

We stuck to the ridge crest to enjoy the views.

Spencer and Sarah gaze towards Rainy Ridge (left of centre), “Jake Smith Peak” (centre), Scarpe Mountain (right of centre), and Three Lakes Ridge (right of centre foreground).

There is a short section of scrambling required to get onto ‘The Amoeba’.  While I would classify it as fairly easy, our large packs somewhat upped the ante.

Brad looks back after completing the short scramble.

Even though Easter had come and gone, ‘The Amoeba’ was still serving hot cross buns.  😉

Instead of summiting ‘The Amoeba,’ we saved energy by using a goat trail to side-slope it.

Descending from ‘The Amoeba’ to the col beneath the summit of Barnaby Ridge (centre).  From this point, we still had ~1.75 km to go to reach the summit.

Another stunning piece of geology that we found on the ridge.

Looking to the northwest from near the col.  St. Eloi is to the left of centre.

Looking west at Mount Haig and Gravenstafel Ridge.

The summit of Mount Haig pokes above the col.

Spencer makes the steep, but otherwise easy hike up to the summit.

Almost there…

On the summit of Barnaby Ridge (2476 m).  From left to right: Spencer, Brad, Sarah, Courtney, and Benjamin.  This was my second visit to the summit (click for my 2015 TR).

Looking back at ‘The Amoeba’.  The summit of Southfork Mountain can been seen poking over the left side.

The view to northwest includes (from left to right): Gravenstafel Ridge, St. Eloi, Mount McCarty, and Syncline Mountain.

Looking west from the summit (left to right) at what Andrew Nugara calls “Middle Kootenay Mountain” (far left), Tombstone Mountain, Mount Haig, Gravenstafel Ridge, and St. Eloi.

Looking to the south at our route along the ridge (foreground) to Grizzly Lake (distant centre).  In the background is Lys Ridge.

A telephoto of the location of Grizzly Lake from the summit (the lake itself is not visible).  It lies immediately beneath the triangular headwall to the left of centre.  Ruby Lake sits further up the valley beneath the headwall on the far left.  La Coulotte Peak is in the centre.

Looking to the southeast from the summit at West Castle and Lys Ridge.  In the distance from left to right: Victoria Peak, Pincher Ridge, Castle Peak, Windsor Mountain, and Loaf Mountain.

Leaving the summit.  Middle Kootenay Pass is in the centre.  “Jake Smith Peak”, Scarpe Mountain, Three Lakes Ridge, and Rainy Ridge are on the left.  The two peaks in the distance to the right of centre have an interesting story.  “Mount Miles” was unofficially named by Andrew Nugara in honour of his good friend, Miles Krowicki, who passed away a few years ago.  He also named the neighbouring peak as Krowicki Peak.  You can read Andrew’s trip report for Mount Miles and Krowicki Peak here.

The trip along the southern ridge of Barnaby offered up some good looks at the surrounding mountains.  This is the view looking to the east.  From left to right: the old Whistler Fire Lookout, Table Mountain, Whistler Mountain, ‘Table Top’, ‘Eagle Peak’, ‘Frankie Peak’, ‘Larry Mountain’, Mount Gladstone, and North Castle.  On the far left is Beaver Mines Lake.

The view back to the summit of Barnaby Ridge.

After descending from the summit of Barnaby, there is a gradual elevation gain along the southern ridge that culminates at the top of an unnamed high point at 2422 m (far left).  There is nothing complex on this section of the ridge – it’s just a long hike.

Another view to the east from along the ridge.  From left to right: ‘Frankie Peak’, ‘Larry Mountain’, Mount Gladstone, North Castle, Victoria Peak, Castle Peak, and Windsor Mountain.  In the foreground is West Castle.

Lys Ridge is one of the most scenic ridge walks that I’ve ever done.  I definitely think that a 2 or 3 day trip incorporating Lys Ridge and Barnaby Ridge would be a worthwhile endeavour.  I would recommend starting at Lys Ridge and then doing our route backwards along Barnaby.

Courtney and Benjamin gaze towards Grizzly Lake (left) from beneath the summit of the last high point (2422 m) on Barnaby Ridge.

Approximately ~200 m from the summit, the ridge begins to narrow.

The distinctive shape of Tombstone Mountain (left of centre) can be seen to the west.  Mount Haig is on the right.

Looking back towards the summit of the unnamed high point.  A well constructed cairn sits at the beginning (or end) of the narrowest section of ridge.  Brad and I scouted part of the route in advance of the group (if you look carefully you can see everyone sitting just above the patch of snow located to the right of the cairn).

Brad scouts out the ridge beyond the cairn.

We roped up to tackle the narrowest section of the ridge.

I took the lead in guiding the group along the ridge crest.

The narrowest section of ridge with the crux visible to the left.  I loved this part of the trip, though it was a good thing that there wasn’t any wind.

We stuck as close as we could to the crest, but found that we could bypass the narrowest and most exposed sections by dropping to climber’s left.

Coming up to the crux.

The crux – an exposed block located approximately ~740 m from the summit of the last high point on Barnaby Ridge.  Here, the lack of any decent description from Daniel Lynx’s, Hiking Canada’s Great Divide Trail, proved frustrating as we searched for safe way past it.  I had no difficulty in scrambling across the block and could see two potential routes on the other side: a steep gully that descended to the west (where it went I couldn’t see); and a small gap in the crest that allowed passage to the eastern side – though I don’t know whether travel was feasible beyond this point.  Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera while I was route finding, so I can’t show what it looked like.  My scrambler’s instincts told me that one of these two routes was the correct way, but it would definitely be tricky to negotiate a down-climb with heavy packs.  Moreover, while it was within my comfort level for scrambling, it definitely would not be for others.

While I was checking for a route on the other side of the crux, Brad descended ~100m to the east where he became cliffed-out.  Fortunately, he discovered a small, but steep gully that we could safely rappel.  Who knows, maybe it is easier to ascend the gully and that it is the actual scramble route?  Regardless, it would be much better to tackle this ridge from the south as route finding would be easier going up as opposed to going down.

Brad rigs up a Munter hitch to rappel us down the gully.  This was a much better option than trying to down-climb the crux.

Sarah gets ready to descend.

Who says that I can’t do two things at once? 😉

Spencer rappels down.  It’s steeper than it looks!

Brad was the last to come down.

From our rappel site, it was a straightforward traverse along the eastern side of the ridge.

Brad skirts the lower portion of the crux.

“You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply” – John Denver, Rocky Mountain High (1972)

Looking west at “Middle Kootenay Mountain” (left of centre).  An outlier of Rainy Ridge is in the foreground on the far left.

The lower section of the crux.  I believe the small gap that I saw in the crest from the top of the crux  led to the trees that can be seen on the skyline to the right of centre.

A telephoto from Lys Ridge showing our route, the location of the crux, and our rappel site.  If you know where the actual scrambling route goes, please let me know!

The view once we were past the crux.  The group was tired after a long day, so we began to look for a place to camp along the ridge.  We were able to find a small clearing near the edge of a precipice that offered shelter from the elements, but most importantly, snow to melt for water.  The red line shows the route that we would take the following day as we began to make our way towards La Coulotte Peak.

Our campsite was located at the top of the cliff in front of Brad.

Gazing back from our campsite as evening sunlight rests on the southern end of Barnaby Ridge.

Brad and I found a sheltered spot for our tent among the trees…

…though it still offered some great views of West Castle

…and of Lys Ridge.  Gotta admit that I enjoyed almost every single minute the day, save for when it was my turn to carry the 60 ft rope.  😉  We did however, make a decision that night to scale the trip back and give up on the GDT.  Instead, we would complete a loop that would culminate with an ascent of La Coulotte Peak followed by an egress along the West Castle Road to Castle Mountain Ski Resort.

Day 3: Grizzly Lake to Ruby Lake and Return to Grizzly Lake

The curious case of Benjamin’s boots.  Sometime during the night, a visitor decided to snack on a rather important piece of hiking gear.  Fortunately, Benjamin was able to construct a makeshift repair.

Getting ready to leave our campsite.  The two bumps located just before Grizzly Lake and the steep headwall above it are in the background.  Scarpe Mountain and “Jake Smith Mountain” are on the far right.

One last look at our scramble route off of Barnaby Ridge.

Following the heavily overgrown trail through the forest.  We lost track of it in more than a few places, but were saved by some strategically placed pieces of flagging tape.  Thanks to whoever put these up!

Brad, Sarah, Benjamin, and Courtney stand on top of an impressive patch of snow.  This marked the beginning of the first bump which was located ~1.3 km from where we camped the previous night.

The first bump required a small bit of scrambling, but nothing too serious.

The clearing that marked our previous night’s camp (left of centre) can be seen from the top of the first bump.

The top was carpeted in glacier lilies.

Sarah and Spencer.

Heading towards bump number two…

A cool view of “Jake Smith Mountain”.

The second bump offered up some challenges.  To get by this section of rock, we had to squeeze through the gap just in front of Brad on the right.

Shortly thereafter, we came to a rock wall that blocked our progress.  We tried to find a route by going climber’s left, but it was too exposed.  We then discovered that we could circumvent it by going climber’s right for ~110 m before scampering up a steep ~90m ramp to the summit.  However, the whole process took longer than we had expected.

The slope next to the rock wall was steep and wet from recent snowmelt.  We strung a rope just in case someone happened to slip.

Looking up the ramp that leads to the summit.

It was a steep climb to the top.

A small cairn marks the summit of the second bump.

Thankfully it was an easy hike along the trail from the second bump to the ridge immediately above Grizzly Lake.

Grizzly Lake from the trail.  Our route would continue to the top of the headwall on the right.  The summit of Lys Ridge is in the background.

What a gorgeous place!

Grizzly Lake resembles a paw print – though I’m not sure this is the reason for its name.

Preparing for the steep ~1.40 km (~239 m elevation gain) hike up the headwall above Grizzly Lake.

There was nothing technical –  just a long slog up the trail.

Looking north from near the top.  The summit of Barnaby Ridge is in the distant centre.

After the major elevation gains were over, the ridge curved back to the south as it headed towards Ruby Lake.  A small bit of scrambling was required to get over the rock ledge that can be seen in the centre.

Heading along the ridge towards La Coulotte Peak (distant centre).

Spencer stops to check the neighbouring peaks for possible B.A.S.E. jump sites.

Ruby Lake is nestled at the end of the valley beneath the summit of Lys Ridge (not shown).

There were several lingering patches of snow on the ridge.  Some were firm enough to walk on, while others were not as we – well only Brad 😉 – sunk waist-deep.

Another shot of Ruby Lake.  Our descent route off of Lys Ridge is the third gully in the trees from the right.  As I mentioned before, you could complete Lys Ridge and then camp at either Ruby Lake or Grizzly Lake, before doing our route in reverse along Barnaby to Southfork Lakes.  This would be a fun multi-day trip if the South Castle River is low enough to cross.

The col above Ruby Lake and our turn around point.  La Coulotte Peak and the connecting ridge to it are in the background.  The route to La Coulotte partially ascends the slope on the left before traversing to the treed connecting ridge and then over an intervening bump (centre) before reaching the mountain.  From this location we were still ~4.3 km from the summit.  While the group ate a late lunch, Brad and I dropped our packs and traversed almost to the connecting ridge.  We could see that the lower section of La Coulotte was covered in snow and we weren’t sure how long it would take to navigate our way through it.  We knew that we would not be able to reach La Coulotte with the time that we had left in the day.  Therefore, our options were to continue and find a place to camp along the ridge or change the trip plan once again and retrace our steps back to Grizzly Lake.  The latter was chosen.  I do have to say that I was quite bummed about not making it to La Coulotte, but it was the right decision.  One might say that I was sans culotte but that I didn’t lose my head over it… sorry, I had to throw in a little history humour. 😉  I have however, already resurrected my previous plans to visit the area.

Brad enjoys the views from the col above Ruby Lake.

One last look at La Coulotte Peak and the connecting ridge from Ruby Lake.

Looking west at Scarpe Mountain (left of centre), “Jake Smith Mountain” (centre), and Three Lakes Ridge (far right).

The view to the southwest.  These are the headwaters of the Castle River and must be preserved.

Heading back to Grizzly Lake.

Though disappointed to turn around, I’m glad that I got to experience this view one more time!

Descending the steep trail to Grizzly Lake.  The trail more or less follows the tree line for ~300m down to the lake.  This works out to an elevation loss of ~122m.

Arriving at the large camping area that is frequented by horse outfitters.

Grizzly Lake from the tenting area.

Whoever camped here last did a crappy job of cleaning up after themselves!

More garbage.

Benjamin holds up an old skillet that was left behind at the fire pit.

This was a great spot to pitch the tents.

Evening sunlight illuminates the headwall.  Around this time, some very large fish began to rise and this continued well into the evening and then again in the morning.  At one time, the lake was stocked with golden trout but now I believe they are all brookies.  Not having my fly rod was torture.

The evening sunlight was eventually replaced by alpenglow.

Day 4: Grizzly Lake to the Castle River

Yes, I know I have included four almost identical shots of Grizzly Lake, but this early morning shot kind of completes the experience.  Besides, film is cheap.  😉

Ahhh Grizzly Lake, where felines and ungulates live together in harmony… 😉  For the second night in a row, I heard the soft, chirping calls of cats in the forest.  As we were leaving, we found this moose track and cougar track in the mud next to the outlet of Grizzly Creek.

I believe there is a connecting trail to Ruby Lake on the east shore of Grizzly Lake.  However, the direct trail out leaves from the north end of the lake and winds its way through forest and open slopes for ~4.6km before it joins with the main trail.  For reference, the intersection with the main trail is ~1.3km to the south from the first (or last depending on which way you are going) new bridge over Grizzly Creek.

The trail from Grizzly parallels the trail to Ruby Lake, which is on the other side of the valley.

Grizzly Creek just downstream from where the trail crosses it (ps: there is not a bridge).

Back on the main trail.

Arriving at the first (or last) new bridge over Grizzly Creek.  The trail to Grizzly Lake intersected with the main trail approximately ~1.3 km from this bridge.

We stopped for a break at the bridge and noticed that on the east side of the Creek, someone had created a bench to sit on.  It had a lovely view of this waterfall.

Wolf tracks.

Brad wades across the lower part of Grizzly Creek.  The thing to know about the Grizzly Lake trail are all of the unbridged creek crossings and the need to wade across the South Castle River.  Depending on the time of year or recent weather, there could be up to five creek crossings between the first (or last) bridge and the river. Add in an additional two or three unbridged crossings if you follow the direct trail to Grizzly Lake.

Arriving at the Castle River.  We bypassed the final crossing of Grizzly Creek and instead followed it all the way to where it joins the river (pictured).

The trail continues on the other side of the river (centre).  Unfortunately, it was a little too swift to cross at this location.

For the sake of comparison, here is what the river looked like in the exact same location in September 2016.

After waiting several hours and contemplating a more promising route that we found upstream, we decided to camp for the night and wait for the levels to drop.

Enjoying a campfire next to the river.

Some very helpful conservation officers chat across the river with Brad.  They would find and mark out an upstream location for us to cross in the morning.  Thanks guys!

Day 5: Crossing the Castle 

Nothing wakes you up in the morning quite like walking across a river without waders!  I went across first and then set up the other end of the rope anchor.

Courtney makes her way across.

Being the last, Sarah gathered up the rope as she made her way across.

On the other side and looking towards the ascent route up Lys Ridge.

Hiking towards our pickup location on the South Castle Road.

After hiking for ~4.7km, we encountered Brad’s wife, Lisa, who had come to pick us up.  Thanks Lisa!

Though our original plan for the trip underwent two significant changes while we were on the mountain, in the end, it still ended up being a really fun adventure.  Indeed, it provided me with a couple of potential trip ideas to pass along:

  1. A repeat of our trip, though in reverse – making camp at Grizzly Lake on the first night and then tackling the scrambling section on Barnaby Ridge from the next day; or
  2. Combining it with an ascent of Lys Ridge, thus making for a very scenic loop.  To do this, I would start by ascending the northern end of Lys Ridge and then camping overnight at either Ruby Lake or Grizzly Lake.  I would then ascend Barnaby the following day and camp one more night at Southfork Lakes before finally hiking out.

I definitely would advise tackling the scrambling section on the southern end of Barnaby Ridge from the south, as it would be much easier to route find while going up, rather than going down like we did.  Also be mindful of three additional things: 1) unless there are snow patches along the ridge, there are no sources of water between Grizzly Lake and the Southfork Lakes; 2) be prepared to cross either the West Castle and/or the South Castle rivers along with several other creeks; 3) and finally, be prepared for big days.  Take the time it would normally take you to complete a route with a scrambling pack, and then double it to account for a fully loaded backpack.

Again, I loved the trip because when I’m in the mountains, I’m in that place of re-creation that helps to make me who I am.  I am already in the process of planning out visits to La Coulotte Peak, Jutland Mountain, Mount Matkin, and Font Mountain – not to mention Scarpe, Rainy Ridge, and Three Lakes Ridge!  So many mountains and so little time… 🙂

I’m also super thankful to Brad for organizing and for leading the trip and for the opportunity to get to know some new friends in, Spencer, Sarah, Courtney, and Benjamin.  Thanks everyone!

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