After staring wistfully to the east at the dry terrain around Whistler Mountain the week before while hiking and scrambling the snowy and long Lys Ridge with Phil Richards, I was back near Beaver Mines Lake with Wietse on Saturday, October 29th to try something else in the area. Dave McMurray (peaksandstreams.com) seems to be inspiring a lot of my trips lately (Racehorse, Lys Ridge) and this day would be no different.
Back in May of 2014, Dave and his buddy completed a ridge walk near Beaver Mines Lake that incorporated three summits and the old Whistler Fire Lookout in a great high level loop. Two of the three summits were unofficial, but I share Dave's opinion that as long as the peaks are prominent and separated by enough distance and height - who cares how officially named they are? A name alone does not make a peak worth standing on or not - IMHO. Dave named the first of the three peaks, "Table Top", which I found a nice fit to the fact that it's near the official Table Mountain and is slightly higher - hence the reference to "top". Looking at the elevation profile, the broad summit of Table Top also resembles a table top. Hmmm. ;)
[The elevation profile map for the Whistler Loop including the three summits and the lookout. It's sort of amusing that the only official peak is lower than any of the others. ++]
Wietse and I were delighted to see the weather forecast change from a chance of freezing drizzle to sunny and no wind as we drove the 2 hours from south Calgary to the Beaver Mines Lake campground. I didn't think it would be possible, but it looked like we might encounter a day like I had the previous week on West Castle and Lys Ridge. Days with little wind are very uncommon in the Castle Wilderness and should be treasured when encountered. Having two of them in the span of a week makes me think that the month of October might be the perfect time of year to hike and scramble the many peaks and ridges of this special area of the Rockies. We were even happier to note that there was very little snow on the peaks around Table Mountain, despite tons of fresh snow on peaks just to the west, including Haig, Gravenstafel and Syncline (which bodes well for the Castle Mountain Ski Resort).
We started the day from the closed Beaver Mines Lake campground, following the route I mapped out beforehand in ViewRanger, using Dave's Google Earth image and satellite images in Google Maps. The day was already fairly warm and totally windless as we hiked through the eerily quiet and empty campground, heading south to the correct drainage coming down from the bowl that we would traverse high above in a clockwise direction. Our first crux was a barbed wire fence just past the campground that proved surprisingly challenging to get through. There was a "gate" of sorts, but even it involved some form of gymnastics to get through without ripping expensive Gore-tex jackets. After the fence we crossed an open grassy meadow before following the terrain and our noses through a match stick forest to the drainage.
[Approaching the fence and grassy meadow before the matchstick forest to the drainage. "Beaver Mines Ridge" at left and Whistler Mountain directly above Wietse in the distance - summit not visible here but our descent route came straight down the steep, open face clearly visible here.]
[Classic Castle Wilderness matchstick forest.]
[More forest - we avoided gaining height to our left and stayed relatively flat to the drainage.]
[Looking down the drainage - it's pretty messed up thanks to flooding, which is why we avoided hiking directly in it as much as possible.]
The drainage still had running water - kind of a surprise considering the almost complete lack of snow in the bowl above. We navigated first along the east side of the stream, eventually giving up on the bush and simply boulder hopping our way directly up the stream bed, trying to avoid slick rocks that had a dangerous layer of rime ice on them from the humid air around the running water. Eventually we spotted an obvious drainage heading up to our left and I confirmed that this was the obvious drainage I'd marked on the map. Looking back at Dave's map, we went up the drainage a bit further than he did, but the gully we ascended worked very well and remained easy to low-moderate scrambling all the way to the ridge above. The gully was longer than it looked from the lower drainage, but staying right in the bottom of it, only detouring where absolutely necessary, proved to be a great route and we quickly gained height. The morning air was incredibly still and we quickly warmed up. I couldn't believe my luck in getting perfect conditions for a second weekend in a row in the exact same area!
[Steeper walls of the ridge above us where I believe Dave scrambled up - still only moderate terrain.]
[Looking up the drainage - there's much less debris in the creek bed here. We went around the corner before seeing an obvious ascent gully to our left.]
[Nice views back out of the drainage.]
[Looking up the steep gully we would follow all the way to the ridge above, which is out of sight here.]
[Looking further up the drainage from our ascent gully. You could easily hike further before taking other slopes to the ridge, but our route worked very well and got us up high, sooner.]
[We started out on climber's left of the gully proper, but soon transitioned into it.]
[Staying in the gully worked well. It's much further to the ridge than it appears here - the ridge isn't visible yet.]
[Interesting rocks and slabs in the gully.]
[Gorgeous views to the northwest as we gain height. The bump behind us here is the end of the ridge, we descended it's nose at the end of the day.]
[This section of the ascent gully looked to be more problematic than it was. We traversed briefly to climber's right on scree before getting back into it. We also spotted a lone sheep here.]
[Now we can finally see part of the upper ridge in the distance.]
[The views are getting better and better. Syncline and McCarty at left in the distance.]
[Now we can see over the end of the ridge we would descend later in the day.]
[Grunting our way up to the ridge above.]
Near the ridge we avoided a steeper wall on climber's left before finally topping out to great views of the rest of our route to Table Top and most of our ridge walk loop visible. I took a quick detour to a high point just SW of where we topped out on the ridge ("Beaver Mines Ridge"?) before rejoining Wietse and continuing our way up towards Table Top to the southeast.
[We finally top out near the ridge with the Whistler Lookout at far left. ++]
[We avoided this bump on climber's right, but I went back along the ridge top to bag it and take photos.]
[Classic Castle Wilderness photo.]
[I briefly detoured back along the ridge crest to the high point visible here. ++]
[Great views from the ridge high point looking north over Beaver Mines Lake with Whistler Lookout at left and Table Mountain at right. ++]
Just as the week before on Lys Ridge, every section of our ridge walk that appeared intense from a distance, proved easy scrambling or hiking up close. We followed sheep trails and nice solid(ish) rock to the broad ridge just west of Table Top. From here it was five minutes to the summit where we were spoiled by warm sunshine, great views and very light winds. We spent nearly 30 minutes posting pics on Facebook (!), eating lunch and naming familiar summits. Table Mountain was clearly lower than Table Top but the two Whistable Peaks looked to be very close to the same height.
[Pano of Syncline and McCarty at left and Darrah at far right. ++]
[The ridge toward Table Top is much less intense than it appears.]
[Looking south off the ridge over the bowl towards Whistler Mountain. Whistable Peaks at upper left.]
[Once again, the terrain is much tamer than it appears.]
[Gorgeous, black rock and views back over Beaver Mines Lake towards the Flathead Range.]
[Following a sheep trail near the ridge crest - spot Wietse above me here.]
[Colorful rock and brilliant sunshine on this gorgeous late fall scramble.]
[Table Top at far left in the distance, Whistable Peaks at center and Whistler Mountain at right.]
[Great views over Table Mountain (C) towards Beaver Mines Lake. Table Top at far right.]
[Great summit view towards Prairie Bluff, Victoria Peak, Gladstone (L), Castle (C) and Whistable Peaks. ++]
[Centre Peak is drier than it was a week ago.]
[Lys Ridge is a long ways off - and much higher than Table Top.]
[Castle Peak is impressive from this angle.]
[Victoria Peak rises over the shoulder of Mount Gladstone.]
[Prairie Bluff was an excellent hike I did with my kids earlier in the year.]
[To the west lies Haig, Barnaby, Southfork, St. Eloi, Syncline and McCarty (L to R). ++]
[A panorama looking west and north to the Flathead Range includes Darrah just left of center and Coulthard to the right of that. ++]
[Looking towards the Livingstone Range at left and the prairies over a colorful Table Mountain, which is clearly lower than Table Top. I also scrambled Table in the off season - early November 2008 - on a very pleasant day. ++]
[Great view of our next peak - the first of the Whistable Peaks.]
After a nice break we decided to continue on the high level traverse towards the Whistable Peaks (which Dave named "Eagle" but we renamed to be a combination of "Whistler" and "Table", considering there are already too many peaks named after Eagles and their location).