January 13, 2019. A tedious climb to a low summit in the Castle Wilderness.
Distance: 6.25 km round-trip
Total elevation gain: 478 m
Elevation of objective: 1800 m
Hiking time: 3h 13m
Steep, uphill bushwhacking. Barbed wire. Copious deadfall. Traveling through trees. Bare ground alternating with thigh-deep snow. These are the features that await on Mount Backus.
Mount Backus isn’t a particularly interesting peak. I’m not sure why it, of all the low peaks along Highway 774, attracts hikers. Perhaps the other low peaks don’t have treeless summits. The summit view from Backus is amazing, but it’s the same summit view you’ll get at the top of Carbondale Hill. But whereas Carbondale Hill made for a pleasant climbing experience, Mount Backus was anything but.
I followed the directions in Nugara’s Beginner’s Guide to Snowshoeing in the Canadian Rockies and Bob Spirko’s route description. The trail begins 10.1 km from the intersection of Hwy 507 and 774, heading towards the Castle Mountain ski resort. A pull-out on the south side of the highway adjacent to some cattle fencing is the place to park. The route starts on the opposite side of the highway. Between the highway and the climb to the summit is a low outlier that needs to be climbed up and over. Apparently other routes can be attempted that don’t involve this gain and loss of elevation but they aren’t so great. Once on the opposite side of the outlier, a direct uphill climb awaits to the summit. There is no trail, and any route will do. I tried to follow Spirko’s advice and angle towards the small treeless clearings. Nevertheless, I spent a lot of time huffing and puffing through the trees and over copious deadfall.
So, it wasn’t an enjoyable climb. There are no views until you’re close to the summit, so there isn’t much to break the monotony of the climb. Maybe if there was consistently deep and more supportive snow it would have been more fun. Once high up on the slopes some views opened up, and they were spectacular.
I reached the summit in 1h 46m of steady climbing. The weather was fair, but the wind was picking up by the time I got there. A cairn marks the main summit, and a 2nd cairn marks a slightly lower summit a short distance west. I hung out for a while then followed my footsteps back down to my car.
I don’t know if I’d do this trip again, even in better snow conditions. Carbondale Hill is right next door and a much better winter outing.
Click on the pictures below for full-sized images.