Whistler Mountain and Lookout

June 10, 2020. A steep on-trail ascent to a summit and abandoned fire lookout site in Castle Wildland Provincial Park.

  • Region: Castle Wilderness. Traditional territory of the Ktunaxa, Tsuu T’ina, and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 8.4 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 840m (elevation is lost and regained on the way to the lookout)
  • Elevation of Objective: 2190 m
  • Total Time: 3h 1m
topo
Topo map of the route. The summit is on the right, the fire lookout location is on the left.

Nearby the well-known and justifiably popular Table Mountain in the Castle Wilderness, is Whistler Mountain. Whistler is less commonly visited on account of its trailhead being along a rough and rutted dirt road – the access to which requires driving across a small creek.  Alternatively, you could walk or bike the access road. If you’re able to find your way to the trail, though, it’s a steep but a rewarding trip with amazing views of the South Castle Valley and surrounding mountains. The route goes up to the summit of the mountain as well as to the site of an old fire lookout.

Access is similar to Table Mountain: from Pincher Creek take Hwy 507 west, then turn left onto Hwy 774 and pass through the town of Beaver Mines. There will be signs for the Beaver Mines Lake campground at about 14.7 km from the turn. Once on the gravel access road to the campground follow it for about 3.7 km and turn right (south) onto a gravel road. This road soon comes to a creek crossing. If the flow is low enough and you’re confident in your vehicle, it can be driven across. If not, there’s space here to park without blocking anyone else.

Beyond the creek crossing is roughly 5.5 km of variable-quality dirt and gravel road. Some stretches were smooth and dry, others were rutted, or pocked with mud puddles of variable depth. I’m fortunate enough to have a Subaru Outback, and managed to drive the road with minimal anxiety. The vehicle-accessible portion of the road ends in a blockade of rocks and concrete barriers. Shortly before this there’s a fence part of the way across the road, and a Texas gate to drive over. At the blockade there is lots of parking space and a small kiosk and signs pointing the way to various trails. Whistler Mountain Trail starts 440 m beyond the blockade, where another little sign points the way up the hill and into the forest.

There’s a trail all the way up so no route-finding is required. It is fairly relentlessly steep until just below saddle between the summit and the fire lookout. Fortunately, the views are also excellent throughout, with only the first part of the trail involving a slog though the trees. Beyond that point, the trail is mostly in the open and the views are excellent. Once the trail reaches the saddle, the summit is off to the right (east) and the fire lookout is to the left (west). I tagged the summit first, then came back down and climbed to the fire lookout. The views were actually better from the lookout, even though it’s a little lower than the summit.

To return, you could walk back to the saddle and descend the trail, or descend southwest for a short distance from the lookout, then bear south and descend directly down steep slopes until you intercept the trail as it traverses below.

Overall, this was a great trip. To contrast it with nearby Table Mountain, the views from Whistler Mountain are more impressive. On the other hand, the actual hike up Table is more fun and engaging, being more than just an uphill slog.

Click on the pictures below to access full-sized images. UPDATE August 5, 2020. Thank you to Jonathan Alston for pointing out that the mountain I keep referring to as Mount Jutland is actually Mount Matkin.

overview
Route overview looking north. L = lookout; S= summit
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The road block, parking area and trail kiosk.
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Clear directions for the various accessible trails.
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440 m from the parking area, this sign points the way up the trail.
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After a fairly short slog in the trees, the trail hits a switchback then brings you out into the open on this ascending traverse. You’re immediately treated to views across the valley [see below]
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The eastern face of Barnaby Ridge, visible as soon as you get out of the trees. The view in this direction was amazing all day, and I kept stopping to admire it.
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The view to the south, down the valley. Like the view across the valley, this vista just got more impressive as I climbed. Castle Peak’s distinctive outline is in the background on the left.
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The same view, a little higher up. A distinctive peak is in the far background to the right. I think that this is Mount Jutland.
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Barnaby Ridge, the Castle River meandering in the valley.
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Shortly before reaching the saddle, the trail passes through a tree graveyard.
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A long-dead tree, blown over by the southern Alberta winds. Roots mingle with branches.
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The remains of a tree stump. Mount Jutland is in the distant background.
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Almost to the saddle between the summit and the lockout. Castle Peak and Mount Jutland looking very impressive from here.
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At the saddle, looking right. The actual summit isn’t quite visible yet. It’s just beyond that high point.
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Looking west from the high point below the summit. Red rocks contrast with the greys, greens and blues.
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Whistler Mountain Summit.
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Summit panorama looking south and west
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Barnaby Ridge, view from the summit.
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Looking northwest from the summit, towards the site of the lookout. Peaks in the Crowsnest Pass in the background.
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The old fire lookout. All that remains is this foundation and another foundation nearby for a smaller out-building.
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Lunch break on the lookout peak.
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Looking north from the lookout. Crowsnest Mountain is in the background to the left. A white speck is visible on a peak in the mid ground, centre-right. That is the (still active) fire lookout on Carbondale Hill.
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Castle Peak
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Some of the big peaks on the Continental Divide with their heads in the clouds.
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Mount Jutland
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Mount Darrah
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In between Whistler and Castle Peak there are 2 other peaks: Mount Gladstone and North Castle.
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A closer look at the sheer cliffs of Barnaby Ridge. The summit of Mount Haig is visible peeking over the ridge on the left.
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Mount Gladstone, North Castle and Castle Peak.
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On the descent. More Castle Peak and Mount Jutland. The changing light and clouds made for a fascinating and dynamic view.
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Sunny views of the peaks in the Crowsnest Pass on the descent.
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A last look at the magnificent view of Barnaby Ridge.
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Rocky peaks. A path among the green plants and wildflowers. Blue sky and white clouds above.

 

6 thoughts on “Whistler Mountain and Lookout

  1. Great description Par! Excellent but fairly intense hike- always windy… Great views and option to connect to Table Mountain trail and (almost) make a loop. Drive or bike the road if you can

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great pics and trail report! Just one small correction – the pics you have identified as Jutland Mt are actually of Mt Matkin. Matkin is the one that looks like a birthday cake or rock fortress. Bob Spirko made the same mistake in his trail report.

    Like

    1. Thank you for letting me know! I had a heck of a time figuring out if it was Jutland or Matkin. I’ll throw a little update/correction at the top of the picture section.

      Like

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