Autumn of 2021 has arrived, and the smoke has finally cleared from the air over southern Alberta. The forecast was for warming weather and relatively calm winds, so I decided conditions were right for a long ridge walk to check out the larches turning golden in the Castle. Barnaby Ridge felt like the best objective.
Barnaby Ridge is the long ridge directly across the valley from the Castle Mountain Ski Resort. Seen from the resort it is quite imposing but the topography looks fairly mellow. Viewed from the east, like from Whistler Mountain, it has a very stark and rocky character. I’m aware of at least 2 routes to the summit, but the one via Southfork Lakes and Southfork Mountain allows for a 2-summit day and a nice, long ridge walk.
Access is the same as for Southfork Lakes. Check out that post for access details and a description of the ascent to Barnaby Lake and Southfork Lakes. From the lakes, the first objective is the summit of Southfork Mountain. This is attained by following the ridge line ascending west then southwest above Southfork Lakes. As I climbed, I found a discernible trail. It passed into the trees along the ridge and arrived in a picturesque clearing almost completely surrounded by larches. From there, I ascended some rubble-strewn slopes to the summit. There was no tricky scrambling, just steep climbing. It’s a good idea to have a clear idea in your head of the direction you ascended from, though. On your descent you can end up at the top of some steep gullies if you veer too far right.
The summit of Southfork Mountain is a good objective in and of itself if you’re looking for a quick and easy scramble with excellent scenery. It took me 2h 20m to get to this point. Once you’re up there, though, your attention will immediately be drawn south along the broad ridge towards a rounded high-point referred to as “The Amoeba”. From a distance, the lower part of the ascent to this high-point looks like it could involve some tricky scrambling up a rock face, but it turned out to be fairly straightforward. I had to use hand holds in a couple of places, but it didn’t feel very exposed and route finding wasn’t difficult. I would say that it’s a good idea not to veer left as you climb, as that could take you to some very exposed terrain. Rock fall would also be a concern here if you’re in a group.
The top of “The Amoeba” resembles a gentle grassy hill. It’s notably higher than the summit of Southfork Mountain so the views are a little better. At the east end of the mound there’s a small cairn at a prime view-point looking east towards Beaver Mines Lake and the front ranges of the Castle. From here the summit of Barnaby Ridge is in full view to the south. The route is obvious, but involves the loss and re-gain of a little under 200m of elevation. On approach to the summit I could discern 3 high points. The central one is the true summit and you can slog directly up to it or zig-zag as you see fit. I arrived at the summit cairn at 3h 54m. A beat-up register is in a plastic container up there. I decided not to pull it out.
Barnaby Ridge’s location allows for great views in all directions. I didn’t go to the western high point – and in retrospect I don’t know why. It’s only a few minutes walk from the summit and would have allowed for some unobstructed views towards Middle Kootenay Pass. I ended up spending a long lunch break sitting at the eastern-most of the three high points and admiring the view towards Beaver Mines Lake, Table Mountain, Whistler Mountain, Mount Gladstone, Castle Peak, and Windsor Ridge. Gusty winds from earlier in the day had calmed somewhat and it was nice not being chased off a summit by high winds or swarming insects. Golden larches stood out amongst the greenery on the slopes and valleys all around. It was quite the idylic autumn day.
On my return I bypassed the summit of “The Amoeba” on a faint trail to the left (west). This didn’t bypass the scrambling area, but the down-climb wasn’t hard. Between “The Amoeba” and Southfork Mountain’s summit I wandered a little further right (east) so I could have a better view down into the valley holding Southfork Lakes. At the end of the day, the water of the cold West Castle River felt great on my tired feet.
Click on the pictures in the gallery below to access full-resolution images.