⚠️ Hiking and scrambling are inherently dangerous activities. Please read my Disclaimer. ⚠️
With a beautiful (but hot) forecast ahead of us, Andrew suggested that we use the opportunity to explore the expansive ridge located to the northwest of Mount Haig (2610 m). I’ve wondered about this ridge off and on for several years and so it took little effort to convince me that this would be a worthwhile trip. 😀 Andrew was particularly interested in visiting Saint Eloi SW3 (2330 m) which is the lowest official peak on the ridge after it pivots to the southwest for ~5 km; eventually ending at Packhorse Peak (2411 m). One of the many attractions on this route would be the chance to see the large, unnamed lake that serves as the source of Packhorse Creek.
After further discussions, we decided to add Saint Eloi SW1 (2469 m) to the agenda as it’s the third highest official peak in the immediate area. Curiously, there’s not a Saint Eloi SW2, but there is a distinctive peak immediately to the south of Eloi and just prior to SW3. The summit of this peak is where the northwest ridge to SW1 joins the southwest arm of the ridge from Haig. At 2375 m, this peak looks most dramatic from Haig and Gravenstafel Ridge; though more benign from SW1. This is perhaps why it wasn’t given an official designation but more probably, it wasn’t where the Provincial Boundary Survey set up a triangulation or photogrammetry station. Regardless, it’s the second highest of the three peaks on the southwest arm and is a worthwhile objective.
For this reason, we took to calling it “Sapper Peak” in keeping with the 1916 Battle of Saint Eloi Craters where an unprepared 2nd Canadian Division received their first combat experience and where both the Allies and Germans began optimizing the use of sappers to tunnel under enemy trenches to detonate mines. The Saint Eloi actions began after British sappers detonated six mines under the German trenches in a massive explosion that was said to be heard in England. (source) The resulting craters deeply pitted the landscape and is where the ensuing battle took place, first between the British and the Germans, and then with Canadians in relief of the British. These craters were up to 15 metres deep and filled with mud and water. In short, it was a nightmare scenario where the inexperienced Canadians found themselves exposed to both small arms fire and constant shelling. In the end, the Germans remained in control of the battlefield while the Canadians suffered 1373 casualties. (source)
Private Donald Fraser of Calgary related the following experience of being shelled while holding a defensive position inside a crater: “When day broke, the sights that met our gaze were so horrible and ghastly that they beggar description. Heads, arms and legs were protruding from the mud at every heard and dear knows how many bodies the earth swallowed. Thirty corpses were at least showing in the crater and beneath its clayey waters other victims must be lying killed or drowned. A young, tall, slim English lieutenant lay stretched in death with a pleasant, peaceful look on his boyish face. Some mother’s son, gone to glory.” (source)
Again, “Sapper Peak” is a nickname because we did not know of any local or Indigenous names for this prominent landmark. If there is another name, please let me know. 😊
Our day began in the parking lot at Castle Ski Resort where we elected to bike the ~4.5 km to Haig Lake using the south trail – well, I pushed my bike while Andrew enjoyed riding on his e-bike. In hindsight, this restricted our options off the ridge should we have decided to change our plans later in the day, but it also saved our bacon when the late afternoon sun was scorching hot.
After scrambling up to the col between Gravenstafel and Haig and then onto the main ridge beneath Haig, we could see our objectives off in the distance. As we set off, we knew that losing the initial ~95 m from where we gained the ridge followed by another ~120 m from the top of the first high point would suck to regain at the end of the day, but the incredible views soon made us forget. The scenery was outstanding!
In fact, I think this rates as one of the most scenic ridgewalks that I’ve done in Tatsiki-Miistáki (Castle). Having a near windless, clear day allowed for panoramic views in every direction. The only drawback was the scorching heat as the day progressed. With no snow on the ridge to replenish our water, we were limited by the 5 litres we both carried. This is why after making the ~4 km hike from the base of Haig to “Sapper Peak”, we decided to prioritize SW1 as our second destination. That we would also see two beautiful lakes from SW1 was extra motivation.
Indeed, it was only after returning to the summit of “Sapper” under sweltering heat, that we made the decision to forego SW3, as it would’ve added at least 2 hours onto the trip; leaving us little to no water for the long trip back. This was a tough call to make, but it was the right choice. The sun was merciless in its intensity.
After a tedious descent off the Gravenstafel and Haig col, we were thankful for our bikes and made quick work of the trail for about 2/3 of way back. That’s when I blew my rear tire and had to walk my bike the remainder of the way. However, it was still not as bad the flat I got in North Kootenay Pass while returning from our Mount Borsato trip – that one was soul sucking. 🤪
Again, this was an outstanding ridgewalk and I’d have no problem returning in cooler weather when there is some snow to provide a source of water. I’d also recommend reading Rick Collier’s 2006, ‘St. Eloi to Haig Traverse’ as well as Greg Jones’ 2021, ‘Saint Eloi SW3 and SW1 via the West Castle River’. Both approach the ridge from the opposite side, with Jones ascending from the Syncline Brook trail and then scrambling up beside a waterfall into the valley between SW1 and “Sapper Peak”.
Thanks again to Andrew for a fantastic trip selection! 😁
To get to Saint Eloi SW1 and “Sapper Peak”, we drove south from the hamlet of Beaver Mines on Highway 774 until we arrived at the parking lot for the Castle Ski Resort. This was our starting point.
From the parking lot, we biked the south Haig Lake trail for ~4.5 km (385 m elevation gain) until we reached Haig Lake. We then stashed our bikes in the trees and headed past the lake and towards the base of the Gravenstafel Ridge / Mount Haig col. We chose to head for an obvious gully on the north end of the col and stayed in it or beside it until we were parallel with the col. We then traversed a short distance over to the col. From the lake to the col it was ~1.3 km with an elevation gain of 265 m.
From the col, we then scrambled for another ~864 m (185 m elevation gain) until we reached the top of the ridge at the base of Mount Haig. We then descended along the ridge to a small highpoint that was located ~1 km to the northwest (95 m elevation loss then a 40 m elevation gain). The highpoint is larger than it looks from Haig, and we would avoid regaining its elevation on return by following a very obvious goat trail.
From the top of the high point, we descended to the lowest point on the ridge (120 m elevation loss) that was located ~670 m away. From here it was mostly an uphill hike (with a couple small dips) for ~1.6 km (247 m elevation gain) to the start of the ridge on “Sapper Peak”. This is the point where the ridge swings to the southwest and the summit of “Sapper” sits only ~600 m away.
In total, the summit of “Sapper Peak” (2375 m) sits ~4 km from the point where we gained the ridge at the base of Haig and ~11 km from the parking lot at Castle Ski Resort (921 m elevation gain). It took us 4.5 hours to reach it.
From “Sapper”, the summit of SW1 sits a further ~1.7 km to the northwest along a gentle connecting ridge (50 m elevation loss and 130 m gain). It took us 30 minutes to reach from “Sapper” and 5 hours from the start. The highlight between the two peaks is the view of the unnamed lake that serves as the headwaters for Packhorse Creek. We discovered that if we descended a short distance from the summit to northwest, we had a good view of a second unnamed lake. By traversing to the col on the ridge that separates the lakes, it was possible to see both at once.
We then made an easy traverse underneath the summit of SW1 and back onto the ridge, which we followed to the summit of “Sapper”. To reach SW3 would’ve added another ~3 km (~1.5 km there and back) and probably another 400 m in total elevation gains onto our trip. Under the scorching sun we realized that we would not have enough water left to reach Haig Lake if we committed to SW3, and made the decision not to ascend it.
From the summit of “Sapper” we returned the way we came except we avoided regaining the elevation of the high point prior to Haig by using a very obvious goat trail that led from col to col. The scramble off Haig was tedious with the worst section being the descent off the Gravenstafel / Haig col back to the lake. The dirt and scree terrain sucks. 🤪 Once on our bikes, it was a quick descent back to our vehicles.
Our total roundtrip distance was 25 km with a total roundtrip time of 9 hours and 50 minutes. Total elevation gains came in at 1652 m.
Our starting point at Castle Ski Resort with Gravenstafel Ridge in the background. This is my new Tacoma setup that features a Diamondback HD cover with Front Runner load bars. Front Runner’s quick release tent mounts allow me to take the tent off and on in minutes and the bars are wide enough, that I can fit my bike beside my tent using Front Runner’s locking fork mount bike attachment. After many months of researching options that fit my needs, this was the setup that I chose and I’ve been really pleased with it.
Starting up the south Haig Lake trail. Note the ‘Bear in Area’ sign on the right. We didn’t see one, but as usual, we made lots of noise.
The trail is steep and I more or less pushed my human-powered bike the entire way. Andrew however, has an e-bike and he had no problem zipping up the steep terrain.
Me pushing my way up. I find that I can walk my bike uphill faster than I could ride it, especially when it requires really low gearing. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
A small sign marks the point where the south Haig Lake trail diverts into the trees.
Inside the trees it was a single track riding – or walking.
The trail emerged onto another ski run before continuing again into the trees.
Me pushing. (Photo by Andrew ‘Look at me not sweating while riding my e-bike up a steep trail!” Nugara) 😂
Just prior to reaching the lake, we came to a high point on the trail where we stashed our bikes.
Arriving at Haig Lake.
We encountered two guys camping who had a very large dog that didn’t stop barking as he ran up to us. Thankfully, he seemed somewhat friendly, but the campers didn’t even bother to say ‘Hi’ to us or call their dog back.
We followed the trail around the lake for a short distance before heading up and towards the Haig / Gravenstafel col (left).
I ponder whether we should use the gully in front of me, or use an angled traverse. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
It was shaping up to be a beautiful but very hot day.
Starting up the gully…
And then leaving it to traverse over to the col.
At the end of the day, the dirt / scree / tussock terrain would make descending back to the lake tedious endeavour. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Arriving at the col with Mount Haig on the left.
Looking from the col along the Syncline Brook valley towards St. Eloi (centre). The summit of Saint Eloi SW1 can be seen immediately to the left of Saint Eloi.
Starting our scramble onto the ridge.
Getting into the fun stuff.
Andrew makes a brief stop on top of a pillar.
Making our way through the most involved section. The scrambling is not difficult but the route does include some sections with exposure. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Arriving on easier terrain as we get close in on the ridge.
Looking back at Gravenstafel Ridge. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
A pano of from the previous vantage. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew covers the final few metres before reaching the ridge.
On the shoulder near Mount Haig (left) and getting our first taste of the panoramas to come.
Another pano, this time along Syncline Brook valley.
Starting our trip along the ridge. From here we can see Saint Eloi SW3 (far left), “Sapper Peak” (left of centre), the summit of Saint Eloi SW1 (right of centre) poking over the ridge on “Sapper Peak”, and Saint Eloi (right) itself. For whatever reason, I’ve yet to visit Saint Eloi… 🤔
Gazing over to “Boot Hill”.
Losing elevation as we make our way towards the first high point.
Syncline Mountain (right) will be a prominent feature throughout the day.
Inspecting a UFO crash site… or bear diggings. 😂
Huge views into the Cate Creek Valley.
Looking back as we climb the first high point. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
A pano of the previous. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
The first high point was bigger than it looked and we would avoid regaining its elevation on the way back.
Another look at “Boot Hill” – which I will definitely be back for!
Andrew descends towards the lowest point on the ridge. In front of him is Packhorse Peak (far left) and SW3 (right of centre).
Crossing a small shoulder before reaching the low point on the ridge.
The lowest point on the ridge. From where we gained the shoulder beneath Haig it was a 120 m elevation loss to this point. From here it will be a 247 m gain to reach “Sapper Peak”.
Gazing back to the the first high point and beyond it, the shoulder where we gained the ridge. Note the amazing goat trails! We used the one on the right to bypass the high point on the way back.
It was all uphill from here.
Yet another look back. Again, this was an excellent ridgewalk! 😀
Gazing along Syncline Brook.
Approaching a small section of rock… (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
That was easily bypassed to climber’s left. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
My view back from the previous photo.
Still more big views!
Saint Eloi (right) and the summit ridge of “Sapper Peak” (left).
A pano that includes Eloi (right), “Sapper” (centre), SW3 (left), and Packhorse (far left). (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Packhorse and SW3 behind me. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Looking back again. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew comes to an interesting section of quartzite.
The white quartzite contrasted with the argillite on Saint Eloi. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Andrew prepares to crush Tiny Town. 😂
Still looking back…
And more of the same! What a day for views!
Making the easy hike onto the ridge. The summit of “Sapper” is on the left.
Arriving on the ridge where it swings to the southwest. The summit of “Sapper” (far left), SW1 (centre), and Saint Eloi (right) provide a nice backdrop.
A closer look at SW1 (left) and Eloi (right).
Gazing back to our starting point at the shoulder below Haig. In addition to “Boot Hill” (right of centre), we now had a good view of Tombstone Mountain (far right).
Heading to the summit of “Sapper”.
Did I mention this was an outstanding ridgewalk? 😁
The summit of “Sapper Peak” (2375 m). Of the three peaks on the southwest arm, “Sapper” is the second highest behind Packhorse (2411 m) and ahead of SW3 (2330 m).
A pano to the the north. (Photo by Andrew Nugara)
Looking along the southwest arm to SW3 (foreground) and Packhorse Peak.
The large, unnamed lake beneath SW3 is one of the features we came to see.
A closer look at Packhorse Peak.
Tombstone Mountain sits across the valley.
As does “Boot Hill”.
Gravenstafel Ridge is front and centre.
Looking past Eloi at the first peak of Syncline Mountain.
For whatever reason, I’ve yet to visit Saint Eloi. 🤔 Hopefully I will get to it in the near future…