Friday, November 21, 2014

Conquering the Castlecrag Circuit

Time continually twists our perceptions of the past. Looking back, we uncover insecurities, worse writing and great memories. The following is post-dated from an Aug. 2010 hike on the Castlecrag Circuit in Vancouver Island's Strathcona Provincial Park. Earlier this year, I had the chance to revisit the area during a multi-day search for Sylvia Apps and a short weekend trip. The circuit is a wonderful, accessible mountain experience, especially in August (or January!).

Rainy day at Forbidden Plateau (Aug. 2010)
Heavy rain and lingering clouds on Friday afternoon failed to deter hikers from trekking into the wilds of Strathcona Park's Forbidden Plateau on the last weekend of August.

At the trailhead, returning day trippers had reports of hail and sleet and snow at various points throughout the day. Nice to finally see some weather after nothing but blue skies and sunshine for so many weeks on the south coast.

Summer is so overrated.

I longed for the high temps and sunscreen after getting thoroughly drenched about 30 minutes into the eight-kilometre hike to Circlet Lake. Aside from my lousy rain jacket, the walk into Circlet is a breeze with very little elevation gain and plenty of dramatic vistas to start the trip on the right foot.

About a kilometre from our destination for the night, a BC Parks ranger bounded up the trail to tell us the Circlet Lake campsite was overflowing with people.

"There are even all sorts of kids and dogs there," he said.

Based his caution, the group reversed course and took the turn off to a deserted Kwai Lake Campground. The sun came out, and it was good times for all.

Camping at Kwai put plans for the Castlecrag Circuit in jeopardy. The detour added about seven kilometres to our original plan. After a good meal, we decided our group of 10 would split into two groups. One would take a slower pace and enjoy the out-and-back journey to Mt. Albert Edward while the second opted to make time and rise early for a pre-dawn start.

It took our group of four about 4 1/2 hours to reach the summit of Castlecrag Mountain (1,740 m / 5,709 ft). The ascent involved a wonderful sunrise over the east coast of Vancouver Island as we ascended a relatively easy and well-marked route into some awesome alpine scenery.

North aspect of Mt. George V, with flowers
Castlecrag's northern aspect presents itself as an impenetrable fortress, forcing all but the bravest of climbers to circle the mountain and access the peak via the south. A quick scramble off the main route to the summit revealed some stellar views of Strathcona Park from this slightly off-the-beaten-path peak.

Scree slope off east side of Castlecrag Mt.
From the summit, the second of the day's three peaks looming in the west. Whereas Castlecrag demands a swift assault, Mount Frink (1,948 m / 6,391 ft) requires a steady and deceptively long ridge slog. It only took our group about 90 minutes to navigate our way up Frink's mostly barren and snow-free eastern slope, though the number of false summits on our way up quickly went beyond humour.

A pepperoni and cheese summit lunch was followed by a well-deserved ride down several hundred metres of snowfields into a col en route to Albert Edward (2,093 m / 6,867 ft). From there it was another steady slog up the slope to more views and the next peak.

Breathe, smile, enjoy.
On Vancouver Island, 2,000M is a big deal!
It was great to finally get above 2,000 metres and enjoy some of the great alpine country that Vancouver Island has to offer after a summer I'd spent in marathon mode and messing about in boats.

Northeast aspect of Mt. Albert-Edward (left) and Mt. Regan (right)
There were loads of people crawling all over the summit and we saw many folks hiking up quite late in the day. Seemed like a last-ditch effort to make the peak before the autumn rains and snow bring an end to the hiking season.

The hike out proceeded down a nasty, steep trail along slick clay and, eventually, out onto the main trail to Kwai Lake.

Total time from tent to tent was a few minute over 12 hours. Conditions couldn't have been better and there was little snow along the route. Basing out of Kwai allowed us to travel fast and light throughout the day. The ideal weather conditions made it almost too easy, though I was out cold within minutes of hitting my Thermarest at 8 p.m.

Day three was a sleep in and quick two-hour hike past the humble Mt. Elma and out to the parking lot, where we whisked ourselves to the lunch buffet and cold beverages on offer at the base of nearby Mount Washington.

Rarely gets any better than this.

The original version of this trip report was published on Club Tread.