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
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.
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