After scrambling Prairie Bluff in the morning, we found ourselves with plenty of time for a short objective on our way to setting up camp for the night at the Beaver Mines Recreation Area in the Castle Wilderness. I had a trip report on Mount Backus from Bob Spirko who snowshoed it in March of 2014. Backus was located along the highway leading to Beaver Mines, so it made perfect sense to try it. I was a bit nervous about the level of bushwhacking required but it was short enough that I foolishly decided it couldn't be that bad. :)
As we got close to the trailhead that Bob mentions, we noticed an obvious gravel road leading off highway 507 up towards Backus. This could make a short and easy mountain even shorter and easier! We drove up the road, noticing that it was leading up towards the much less treed southeast ridge of Backus, rather than the bushy southwest ridge that Bob followed up. Alas. As we neared the end of the road we were greeted by many "No Trespassing" signs and other human barriers such as fences and cabins. We followed a side road only to be greeted by more signs. Boo. Oh well - it was worth a shot! (This road is on my attached map as a dashed line from the highway.) We drove back to the highway and parked near the cattle pens that Bob mentions in his report. We noticed that just past the 'private' road along highway 507, we entered the public Castle / Crown Wilderness Area. I wonder if that's why there's so many signs discourage hikers - it's the last privately owned land before the park? We couldn't help but be disappointed by the thick bush that beckoned on the north side of the highway - especially when we compared it with the open southeast ridge that we'd just seen!
[This was the delight waiting for us on Backus... ;) Not terrible bushwhacking by any means, but certainly not the trails and open terrain we just had on Prairie Bluff earlier in the day either.]
After shrugging off our disappointment at a better route, we charged through the ditch and up grassy / treed slopes north of highway 507. Almost immediately we came on a 3-wire barbed fence! There were no signs telling us to stay away (we were now on Castle / Crown public lands) so we carefully stepped over the sharply barbed wires and kept going. On our way up the intervening ridge we actually encountered three barbed wire fences that had to be gingerly stepped over! The bush wasn't horrible but on our way down the intervening ridge it got a bit swampy and messy. Our motivation wasn't high as we started up the southwest ridge to the summit in reasonable bush.
[I love these plants - there were some huge ones on our way up Backus.]
[We were happy to find some more open slopes between stints in the bush. Syncline in the background, right of center.]
[At least we could see through the trees.]
[Descending the intervening ridge before getting to the south slopes leading up to the summit.]
There was no rocket science involved in getting to the summit of Backus. We followed the terrain and loosely followed Bob's GPS track with no huge issues. The views were surprisingly good as we got higher and our moods improved drastically with them. From the grassy summit, we actually had great views which was a pleasant surprise. Our summit stay was cut a bit short by two factors. The relentlessly cool west winds had not died down from the morning and the rotting carcass of a fairly recently killed Elk with enormous antlers near the summit made us nervous for encountering a territorial grizzly or cougar! After snapping some summit photos we started down.
[Gorgeous wildflowers kept us somewhat distracted from the bushwhacking.]
[Finally higher than the intervening ridge.]
[We start getting views (and more motivation). Table Mountain at left, Haig and Syncline in the distance just right of center. ++]
[Gravenstafel at far left, St. Eloi and Syncline to the right.]
[Bush and low shrubs make this a poor choice of peaks for wearing shorts.]
[Some sections were worse than others.]
[Nearing the upper ridge, we gained extra height on several 'bumps' along the way including the one at left here.]
[On the summit ridge now with excellent views back to the south and west. ++]
[Niko heads to the summit. ++]
[KC comes up to the summit.]
[This elk carcass near the summit made us nervous about possible territorial predators hanging around the area.]
[Death meets a beautiful view in the background in this view from near the summit.]
[Looking north (l), east and south (r) from the summit of Backus. Hillcrest and the Blairemore Ranges at left and Prairie Bluff, Victoria Peak, Gladstone and Table Mountain at right. ++]
[Kaycie and Niko on the summit of Mount Backus.]
[Mount Haig is an impressive peak looming over the Castle Wilderness and the Castle Ski Resort too.]
[Gravenstafel Ridge (r) is part of the Castle Ski Resort and can be combined with Haig (l) for a nice day outing.]
[I think Syncline Mountain is a striking peak (there's actually three summits).]
[We were just up on Prairie Bluff a few hours ago!]
We roughly followed our ascent track (GPS) back to highway 507. The intervening ridge that necessitates height gain on return was as much fun as it sounds - i.e. none at all. :) Bob has the height gain on Backus as around 350m but I measured it at closer to 450 meters with all the ups and downs along the way including the intervening ridge.
[Back down through the forest.]
[Three-flowered Avens. I have to wonder though - why three and never more or less?]
To be honest, this little peak is actually not too bad. It's not anywhere close to a "top twenty" but it's an option for either an easy snowshoe or hike when you don't have time or conditions for something longer or harder. I also want to put in a plug for the campground at the Beaver Mines Lake Recreational Area. We drove around to check out the sites and there's a ton of great campsites there! The only bummer is that you can only pay ($23/night) with either cash or cheque. I had to drive all the way back to the hamlet of Beaver Mines to withdraw cash at the general store there - thank goodness it was open or I'd have had to go all the way to Pincher Creek! We enjoyed a cozy campfire and fell asleep to the sound of loons on the lake.
[A great campsite at Beaver Mines Lake.]
[Many of the available sites are private and sheltered from wind.]
[Why does supper always taste so good around a campfire, outdoors?]
[Beaver Mines Lake is stocked with both Rainbow and Bull Trout.]
[A gorgeous sunset on the lake. ++]
[A hot fire keeps us warm in the chilly night air.]