Mount Gladstone (via North Castle)

June 11, 2021. A bike & scramble featuring some great views but also some prolonged hiking off-trail in dense forest.

  • Region: Castle Wilderness. Traditional territory of the Tssu T’ina, Ktunaxa, and Blackfoot First Nations
  • Distance: 20.5 km round-trip
  • Total Ascent: 1500 m (the route involves some gain/loss/gain of altitude)
  • Elevation of Objective: 2453 m
  • Time: 7h 18m
  • Safety and Disclaimer

Mount Gladstone sits adjacent to the very picturesque Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain in the Castle Wilderness. The most frequently described scrambling route to the summit approaches from the east and ascends the southern aspect. This route appears in Nugara’s More Scrambles in the Canadian Rockies 3rd ed. Gladstone was on my list of objectives, but I decided to come at it from the other direction – from the west, first biking roughly 4 km along the South Castle Road, then ascending a wooded peak called North Castle, then following the connecting ridge to Mount Gladstone.

My reasoning was twofold: I could tag two summits this way, and I would also have the chance to explore a little further along the South Castle Road to see if it was bikeable. The South Castle Road is a rough and rutted backroad that is blockaded beyond a parking area near the start of the Whistler Mountain trail. I have a goal of eventually climbing Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain and the start of that trip would involve hiking or biking several kilometres past the vehicle blockade at the parking area. Thus, using the western approach to Mount Gladstone would allow me to scout the road and see if it was feasible to bike it.

I had a GPS track on the TopoMaps Canada app that would serve as a guide. This was essential during the initial portions of the climb which goes through dense forest. I referenced trip reports from Sonny Bou, Bob Spirko, and Dave McMurray to prepare. Bou mentioned that when he went up this way with Spirko they used a GPS to stay on-route so I didn’t feel like too much of a cheater. The trip reports that I referenced all dated from before the road was blockaded near the Whistler Mountain Trail – they were able to use 4×4’s to drive almost all they way to the start of the ascent.

Access is the same as for Whistler 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. At the blockade there is parking space, a small kiosk, and signs pointing the way to various trails.

I biked about 4 km beyond the barricade. The quality of the road was variable, with some areas too rocky for me to negotiate without walking the bike. There were a few reasonably mild areas of ascent and descent. At about 2.4 km I crossed a broad cutline, then at 4 km I reached a creek which ran across the road in a shallow flow. Just beyond here was the start of the ascent through the forest. One distinguishing feature of the creek marking the start of the ascent was an orange sign fixed to a tree describing information relevant to a Forest Management Project. I stashed my bike and plunged east into the forest.

The initial climb involved negotiating a great deal of deadfall impeding easy or direct movement. I just had to move generally east and make a point of ascending, not just traversing, to try to get to the top of the broad, rounded ridge completely covered with trees. The GPS was very handy here, though it was pointless to try to follow the GPX track too closely because of the deadfall. After a little over 1 km of this I reached the edge of a clearing which was the first of a collection of interconnected clearings that I could follow for about 500 m more until I finally got above the trees. This allowed me to see some views of the surrounding mountains. From here the way to the ridge top was visible and I climbed up the wonderfully clear terrain.

Once on the ridge top I could see the remainder of the ridge as it headed to the treed peak of North Castle. Much of that route was tree-covered, but the trees were not as dense as below, and travel among them wasn’t a problem. Shortly before getting to the summit I deviated south a bit to a clear area that allowed an amazing view of Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain. I then carried on and reached the summit. There was a lot of snow between the trees as I got closer to the summit. I don’t know if there’s a cairn up there under the snow or not. It took me 2h 50m to this point. From North Castle’s summit, the summit of Mount Gladstone and the intervening ridge were in view.

Getting to Mount Gladstone’s summit involved losing about 100 m to get down to the col then climbing about 200 m to the summit. On the way down to the col were 3 rocky steps that had to be down-climbed. The terrain would qualify as moderate scrambling. Beyond the col was just some steep hiking to Gladstone’s summit. I reached the top at 3h 50m. The weather throughout the day had been unsettled. Passing bands of clouds would periodically obscure adjacent peaks, rain and ice pellets fell from time-to-time, and the wind was strong enough to almost push me over. Thus, my stay on the summit was pretty short. I retreated to the col and sheltered behind some trees to eat lunch and enjoy the views of Castle Peak.

I returned the same way with no difficulties aside from falling off my bike when I tried to bike through a rocky area that I shouldn’t have. Overall, this was a bit of a tough day and I can’t recommend this as a good route to the top of Gladstone. I’m sure I’ll eventually try out the usual southeastern approach. However, I did establish that the South Castle Road is something I could bike, provided I’m careful.

Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full resolution images.

Route overview
The blockade at the parking area.
An example of the condition of the road beyond the blockade. Some places were far rockier than this and I had to get off my bike. There were a few ups and downs, but nothing extreme.
The broad cutline. This is the view west towards Lys Ridge.
The creek bed at 4 km from the parking area, near the start of the ascent through the forest. The sign fixed to the tree is circled. Interestingly, no water was coming down the main creek bed, but there was a steady flow of water crossing the trail just beyond it. It’s visible in this picture mostly by the sunlight reflecting off it. With our recent hot weather, this flow might be gone within a week. I continued a short distance beyond here before stashing my bike and heading into the forest.
There was a great deal of deadfall obstructing easy travel through the trees almost immediately after starting the ascent. This has been remarked upon in other trip reports and seems unavoidable. I actually stumbled across a very well defined animal trail at one point, but it just traversed without ascending. I followed it a short distance to what seemed like clearer terrain then left it. A GPS was very handy here.
I eventually reached this clearing and headed uphill. A series of connected clearings eventually got me up beyond the trees. From there I was able to see the ridge top (uphill, to the right of this picture) and easily climbed to it.
On the ridge top. The treed bump to the left of centre is the summit of North Castle. Part of Mount Gladstone is visible further left. To the right is Windsor Ridge. The summits of Castle Peak and Windsor Mountain are in the clouds.
An example of the terrain along the ridge to the summit of North Castle. There were a couple of places with more pronounced rocky climbs or rocky drainages. But it was mostly like this, or this with a lot of snow between the trees.
Looking west at some incoming weather.
On the way to North Castle’s summit it’s possible to deviate a bit to the south to an open area of the ridge which give a great view along Windsor Ridge. If there’s a justification for taking this approach to Mount Gladstone, it’s this particular view – there’s no other way to see it.
A closer look at the summits of Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak during a brief break in the clouds.
From the viewpoint there was only a short distance across open terrain then through the trees to the summit of North Castle.
As near as I can tell, this is the summit of North Castle. The summit of Mount Gladstone is in view from here.
Following the ridge from North Castle’s summit towards the col between it and Mount Gladstone there are 3 rocky down-climbs. The middle one (not very distinct from this view) might have been the trickiest. On the way back I figured the easiest thing to do was stay right on the ridge-top, but the wind forced me off and I was on steeply side-sloping terrain. Moderate scrambling at most.
Looking back from just beyond the 2nd down-climb.
Looking back from the col at all 3 down-climbs.
To the north of the col is a connecting ridge to two distinct high points. These don’t have official names but Nugara has named them Frankie Peak and Larry Mountain in honour of his parents.
In the southern Rockies you know you’re closing in on the summit when the rock turns black with bright green and orange lichen.
The modest rock pile that is the cairn at the summit of Mount Gladstone.
Panorama looking south. Victoria Peak is to the left. Windsor Mountain and Castle Peak are to the right of centre. North Castle is at the far right.
Looking east down a jagged ridge.
Looking northwest along some impressively jagged terrain.
When the sunlight came through the clouds the lichen almost glowed. The peaks of the Flathead Range are in the distant background.
I retreated to the col so I could eat my lunch sheltered by some trees. The wind kept up but the clouds broke up a bit.
Heading back. Scrambling back up the rocky points between the col and North Castle was the most fun of the trip.
Having made my way back along the ridge to North Castle, I started descending back into the trees. I had a last look at Castle Peak before facing the ordeal of descending through the deadfall.

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