Ever since last year’s ascent of Three Lakes Ridge, I’ve looked forward to returning to Middle Kootenay Pass. This region has quickly become one of my favourite locales in the Castle because it rewards a long approach with great scrambling and scenery. Ideally, the best way to explore the area is to camp for a few days at the Middlepass Lakes, but you can still pack a lot into a day trip – especially if you are willing to push a bike up, thus ensuring a quick trip back at the end of the day. However, be warned that riding down requires a certain level of proficiency as portions of the road are covered with bike-flipping baby heads and tire-grabbing sand.
On this day, I was once again blessed to be accompanied by my son, Nathan, who was looking forward to tangling with the small, but feisty cutthroat that inhabit the first and third lakes. In fact, I too was looking forward to flogging the water after neglecting to bring my rod last year. So, after a long hike under a hot, morning sun, we finally arrived at the Middlepass Lakes and were delighted to see lots of rising fish. Bypassing the first lake, we hiked to the campground at the third lake so that we could eat our lunch in the shade.
After chatting briefly with a nice couple who had camped overnight, Nathan and I found a comfy log to sit on where we could eat lunch and string our fly rods. Once on the water, the action was swift and it took me only 6 casts to land 4 fish, while Nathan got off to a slower start as he searched for the right fly. Once he found it, he was soon catching and releasing 6 to 8-inch cuts. While fishing, I kept eyeing the summit of Rainy Ridge and asked Nathan if he wanted to join me in scrambling to the summit. He declined, preferring instead to keep fishing the pristine alpine water, while encouraging me to go and tag the peak. Boy, kids these days have no ambition! 😉
From the third lake, it didn’t take me long to gain the col on Rainy’s northwest ridge. I then scrambled to the summit where I spent several minutes enjoying the panoramic views before returning to meet Nathan, who had spent the hour and a half that I was gone, catching fish after fish. He even caught and released a fat, 11-inch lunker! 😉 We then decided to pack up and head home, and thanks to our bikes, we made it from the Pass to my 4Runner in only 48 minutes.
All in all, this was a great day with beautiful skies, little to no wind, and plenty of obliging cutthroats. With so many mountains in the vicinity, I will definitely be making more trips to Middle Kootenay Pass. Finally, and as always, it was a gift to spend quality time in the backcountry with one of my kids.
We followed the route described by Andrew Nugara in the third edition of, More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies, so I don’t think that I need to elaborate much more, other than to say that instead of traversing the far west ridge from Middle Kootenay Pass, we first hiked to the Middlepass Lakes (a.k.a. Burl Lakes) where we enjoyed some lunch and some fishing, before ascending to the summit.
We also brought our bikes and were able to make excellent time from the parking lot of Castle Mountain Ski Resort to the start of the first gnarly section of road up to Middle Kootenay Pass, which for the sake of reference, begins approximately ~2.8 km from the junction with the West Castle River Road. We then pushed our bikes up the remaining ~2.3 km to the top of the Pass before ditching them alongside the road. From here, we hiked southeast on an excellent trail towards the Middlepass Lakes for ~1.7 km, before arriving at the first lake.
The trail leading to the col between Rainy Ridge and the highpoint on the northwest ridge, begins near the outlet of the upper lake. I followed the trail to the point where it turned into a vertical mess of mushy scree (~300m), not something that was appealing to ascend. Fortunately, another trail branched off that headed towards the col and it wasn’t long before I was at the base of Rainy Ridge. From the col it was another ~800m to reach the summit as I more or less follow the ridge crest. As Nugara notes, “The terrain is never committing, and easy slopes are always available to the right if the scrambling gets too difficult” (161), however, I found scrambling along the ridge crest to be infinitely more fun than traversing on scree.
After snapping some pics on the summit, I returned the same way I came, except instead of following the trail back from the col, I descended a scree slope all the way to the northeast end of the third lake. I then walked around the lake and rejoined Nathan who was still fishing. We returned to our vehicle the way we came, and because we had our bikes, it was a quick trip back from Middle Kootenay Pass.
Our total distance covered was 24km with total elevation gains of 1228m. Our total roundtrip time was 7 hours and 32 minutes.
A topo of the area shows the location of the three Middlepass (or Burl) Lakes as well as the Rainy Lakes – which are not to be confused with Rainy Ridge Lake which is located to the northeast of Rainy Ridge and can be seen on the far upper right portion of the topo map. I couldn’t find a really good vantage of the lake from the summit ridge, and I could barely see it from the col, so I can’t comment on the condition of the lake. Note: the Middlepass Lakes are in BC and therefore all anglers are required to have a BC fishing license.
Gearing up at the Castle Mountain parking lot. My trusty 4Runner just rolled 380,000km and she’s still humming like new.
What an incredible morning to play outside! Three Lakes Ridge is the peak on the far right while the other two are unnamed outliers of Rainy Ridge.
A bull moose monitors our progress from a distance.
Approximately ~ 2.3 km from the parking lot, the road bifurcates with the right fork leading to Middle Kootenay Pass and the main road or left fork leading to South Kootenay Pass.
Shortly past the fork, we crossed the first of two bridges. Somehow, I think Nathan is well within the load limit. 😉
Approximately 250m from the second bridge, the West Castle River briefly parallels the road.
After riding 2.8km from the junction with the West Castle River Road, we reached the point where the lower snowmobile route begins and the road branches to the right (pictured). Here is where things get steep and we ended up having to push our bikes up much of the remaining ~ 2.3 km to the Pass. Nugara suggests leaving your bikes here.
All this pushing would pay off at the end of the day – at least that’s what I kept telling Nathan – that and make sure your brakes are working. 😉
A white-tailed jackrabbit hare remains motionless as it waits for us to pass by.
The grade moderates as the road draws closer to Middle Kootenay Pass. A kilometre or so before the top, a sign and a closed gate (pictured) prohibit ATV access, though now that they’ve been banned in the Castle, the gate may no longer be needed.
The reason for the gate is to prevent ATVs from damaging two streams that flow across the trail. The first stream is found immediately after the gate and the second (pictured), is found a little further up the trail.
A closer look at this gorgeous little stream.
Looking back down the trail from the other side of the stream. Barnaby Ridge is in the background.
Arriving at Middle Kootenay Pass. The far west ridge of Rainy, which is Nugara’s starting point, begins on the foreground left.
Three Lakes Ridge rises in front of Nathan as he crosses the Continental Divide into BC. After stashing our bikes next to the road, we kept walking until we reached the trailhead for the Middlepass Lakes. We had no trouble finding it because it was clearly marked by cairns (pictured). In fact, there are at least three separate trailheads that all merge into one.
The road continues on for another ~17km before connecting with the Commerce Forest Service Road.
From Middle Kootney Pass, it’s an enjoyable ~1.7km hike to reach the first lake (not shown).
A series of unofficially named peaks sits to the northwest of Three Lakes Ridge. Andrew Nugara named the two peaks to the left of centre, “Mount Miles” and “Krowicky Peak” (furthest left) in honour of his good friend and fellow bandmate, Miles Krowicki. You can read the story behind this here. The summit of “Middle Kootenay Mountain,” aptly named by James Yearous, is on the far right.
The first of the Middlepass Lakes sits beneath the summit of Three Lakes Ridge.
We were glad to see lots of hungry cutthroats cruising the crystal clear water.
The summit of Rainy Ridge from the trail beside the second lake. A few cuts must have made their way from the third lake into the much shallower second lake during spring runoff, because we could see them cruising and rising. I doubt however, that this lake is deep enough to allow these fish the chance to overwinter.
Nathan looks towards those awesome ascent slabs on Three Lakes Ridge.
Making our way along the shore of the third lake. We ended up startling a couple from Calgary who were fishing near the campground’s fire pit. They were very friendly and politely put up with my exuberant extroversion. 😉 They had camped overnight and I appreciated how they kept their well-trained dog on a leash the entire time which is not only great etiquette, but it prevents other, perhaps larger furry friends from following Fido back to camp.
This wasn’t here last year. Someone has started building their own little cabin next to the lake.
A handwritten sign asks people not to touch. Judging by the work that’s going into this, it’s either a group of people who are coming up on the weekends, or there’s a determined plan to remake Grizzly Adams.
I can’t think of a better spot to spend a day with your kid – whether they are young or an adult. “We could never have loved the Earth so well if we had no childhood in it…” – George Eliot
Nathan (lower right) fishes while glancing nervously at the cliffs above him after rocks suddenly, and continuously began to fall. I thought it might be a goat or sheep, because it was pretty sketchy terrain for people to be on, but then Nathan noticed three guys traversing the steep and narrow scree band near the top centre of the picture. I was genuinely concerned that one of them was going to fall.
Not hearing anyone fall (whew!), I resumed fishing and quickly was into more action. I took this picture while I had a fish on, and in the background on the right, I happened to catch a rather dramatic rise from another little cutthroat. Note: the Middlepass Lakes are in BC and therefore all anglers are required to have a BC fishing license.
A gorgeous little cutthroat that was quickly released back into the lake.
Rainy Ridge provides a dramatic backdrop.
Another brightly coloured cut.
After nervously watching the three guys pick their way across dangerous terrain, one of them decided to boot ski a large snow patch at the base of a steep gully. I captured him near the bottom as he was moving fast – like really fast – and had he fallen, I’m sure I would’ve been pressing the emergency button on my Spot. A second guy tried to follow but quickly aborted and the third wisely avoided it.
While Nathan stayed to enjoy the feisty cuts, I left to tag the summit. The trail to the highpoint on the northwest ridge of Rainy starts at the outlet of the third lake and is clearly identified by a cairn (pictured).
Approximately 300m from the trailhead, the trail becomes quite steep and turns into mushy scree -not something that is fun to ascend. However, a secondary trail begins at this point that leads towards the col before eventually turning back to rejoin the main trail. I left the trail at this point and kept angling towards the col.
Arriving at the col between Rainy Ridge and the western highpoint. My approximate route to the summit is outlined in red.
The view to the northeast from the col. In the background is Barnaby Ridge and the northern outlier of Rainy (left) that was visible from the West Castle River Road. It looks less intimidating from this angle! A small tarn sits in the foreground on the left and Rainy Ridge Lake is barely visible on the far right, inside the shadow cast by the mountain.
Looking towards the Middlepass Lakes from the col.
A better attempt to see Rainy Ridge Lake (centre).
Starting up from the col.
I wish the angle of the sun was different, because the cliffs were extremely colourful.
Another band of colourful cliffs mark the start of the summit ridge.
The large summit cairn is silhouetted in the distance.
As Nugara notes, “The terrain is never committing, and easy slopes are always available to the right if the scrambling gets too difficult” (161), however, I found scrambling along the ridge crest to be infinitely more fun than traversing on scree. My route went up on the small ramp in the foreground and then over the rocks.
Heading towards the summit.
The ridge narrows considerably just prior to the summit.
The cliff band that guards the summit can be easily avoided by sticking to climber’s right.
After skirting around the cliff, it was an easy walk to the top.
The summit of Rainy Ridge (2469m) straddles the provincial border.
This is why I love Middle Kootenay Pass! The view to the west includes Three Lakes Ridge (far left), “Krowicky Peak” (left of centre), “Mount Miles” (centre), and “Middle Kootenay Mountain” (far right). The Pass itself can be seen on the far right.
A telephoto of the third lake. Somewhere down there, Nathan was enjoying the fishing.
Mount Haig and Gravenstafel Ridge steal the view to the northwest. On the far left is the summit of “Middle Kootenay Mountain” and on the far right is Syncline Mountain. The trail leading up from the lake to the highpoint is etched onto the black scree.
Here’s a pano that includes the previous 3 photos. My route up from the lake is pretty obvious, though I didn’t appreciate the variety of colour until I looked back from the summit.
Gazing north down the valley. Mount Haig and Gravenstafel Ridge are on the far right, Syncline Mountain is to the left of centre, and Southfork Mountain and Barnaby Ridge are on the right. Our starting point at Castle Mountain Ski Resort is in the distant centre.
A more detailed look at the summit ridge.
Last year, we traversed the entirety of Barnaby Ridge – from Southfork Mountain to Grizzly Lake.
A number of peaks sit to the northeast. On the far left are Table Mountain, “Table Top”, “Whistable 1”, “Eagle Peak”, and Whistler Mountain – the latter three making up a very fun route that I call the “Whistler Loop”. The two twin peaks to the left of centre are “Frankie Peak” and “Larry Mountain”, which were unofficially named by Andrew Nugara after his mother and step-father. In the distant centre are Mount Gladstone and North Castle, with West Castle sitting immediately in front of them. On the distant right are Prairie Bluff, Castle Peak, Windsor Mountain, and Victoria Peak.
Lys Ridge sits across the valley to the east. This is an awesome ridge walk that is best done in the fall after the larches have changed.
Looking slightly southeast at South Kootenay Pass and La Coulotte Peak (centre).
A telephoto of La Coulotte. The West Castle River Road can be seen in the valley below leading towards South Kootenay Pass, which is just outside of the picture on the far right.
“Jake Smith Peak” (foreground right) and Scarpe Mountain (far right) lie to the south.
Gazing southwest towards the connecting ridge between Three Lakes Ridge (far right) and “Jake Smith Peak”. Scarpe Mountain is in the background on the far left. One of the Rainy Lakes can be seen nestled beneath “Jake Smith Peak” to the left of centre.
Once I had finished taking pictures, I left the summit and followed my same route back, except prior to reaching the col, I decided to drop down this soft scree slope to the northeast end of the lake.
This place is so beautiful! My trip from the lake to the summit and back again took me about an hour and a half.
I arrived back in time to see Nathan releasing yet another cutthroat. He said that he had caught one of the “lunkers” while I was gone, figuring it to be close to 11 inches, which in this lake, would be an old fish.
Time to leave, but you can bet that I will be back again!
Enjoying the thought of only having to hike for another ~1.7km – and hoping that our bikes are still at the Pass… 😉
The late afternoon sun highlights “Krowicki Peak” (centre) and “Mount Miles” (right of centre).
Looking back at Three Lakes Ridge.
Thankful for gravity and working disc brakes. 😉
From the Pass, it took us only 48 minutes to cover the distance back to my 4Runner. Like the last time, this trip to Middle Kootenay Pass ended up being a stellar day and I’m already looking forward to my third trip back! I do have to say though, that this was the first time that I’ve wished that I had a full suspension bike rather than a hardtail, as it would’ve made the ride back a little less jarring on the body – which I don’t remembering thinking last year… oh well, I guess I’m getting to the age where I appreciate the creature comforts. 😉