Friday, November 7 2008 found me with a free day. I was just finished my contract with the City of Calgary and waiting to start my new one with a different company. Part of me wanted to get out and do something but the other, equally motivated part of me wasn't motivated to do anything but sleep in!
So that's exactly what I did. I slept in till 08:00 and by the time my day was under way it was already 09:30. But what a day it was! For November it was very warm with the promise of being even warmer by the afternoon. Hanneke and the kids were well-entertained so I started toying with the idea of pulling a 'Sonny Bou' move and summitting a mountain in the late afternoon for once.
By 10:30 I was flying down the Deerfoot, headed for that strange and intriguing area between the Crowsnest Pass and Waterton National Park, known as the Castle / Crown Land Management Area. This area is fascinating for a number of reasons. I love the color of the rock and the fact that the prairie simply ends in a series of small hills before becoming full-blown mountainous terrain. There are no major roads through this area, but there are tons of well maintained gravel roads running through it. There are a great variety of trees and combined with varied plants and animals there is a natural diversity here that is somehow 'different' than other areas of the Rockies.
Another unique aspect of this area is that it is not covered by any National Park boundaries. It is protected, but not to the same degree as a National Park. But unlike the Ghost and Waiparious areas it is not trashed either. There are pockets of messy areas, but nothing like the devastation in other parts of the Rockies caused my misuse - mainly of off road vehicles. Because the area is not covered by National Park rules, there are some very interesting characters living here. Old dilapidated houses sit by themselves in fields of grass and alfalfa, slowly deteriorating in the harsh, dry winds of Southern Alberta. Their stories are written in their old, parched planks and their leaning walls. Herds of cattle can be seen grazing in the vast tracts of prairie grasses as eagles soar aloft in search of dinner. Wind mills generate power quietly and steadfastly while herds of horses run free around their paddocks. Old pickup trucks with old cowboys cruise by slowly, leaving low clouds of dust in their wake.
And always in the background of this land there is a hot dry wind blowing fiercely. This wind starts its journey in the dry interior of British Columbia before being forced up the Rockies and over them, drying it out even more. By the time the gusts hit the down slope of the Alberta Rockies it's ready to enjoy a free run. And run it does! This is possibly the only downside to climbing in the Crowsnest, Castle and Waterton areas. Often the wind is so strong that it takes some enjoyment out of the climb. But every once in a while you get lucky. And those are the truly magical days that one doesn't soon forget. Table Mountain was one of those short, magical outings. I drove the 2.5 hours down to the trail head from Calgary and proceeded up the beaten Table Mountain trail without wasting any time. It was already 13:30 when I left the trail head and I expected the hike to take me around 3.5 - 4 hours. There wasn't a lot of time to 'waste' if I wanted to be down by dark. I felt very alone on this particular day. Not lonely, but alone. There wasn't another soul (that I knew of) within miles of me. The Campground by Beaver Mines Lake was closed up for the season and either the hunting season was over or it was a slow day. And to complete the silence there wasn't even a breath of wind!
[Starting up the trail on a windless, warm day with Table rising on the left.]
I made my way through an old wooden fence and continued up the trail on a carpet of crunchy leaves. The sun was incredibly warm and soon I could feel beads of sweat running down my face. It felt very good to be alive and alone on this mountain. My head cleared of all clutter until all I knew was the smell of a dying summer and the effort of each step. I reached the second clearing within about 15-20 minutes and proceeded up a trail to climbers left just past the clearing. I followed this obvious trail for a while but then crossed the gully and scrambled up the right side of it. On hind sight it's a better idea just to stick to the trail, but I had no issues negotiating back to the left side of the gully through the cliffs before trudging up endless, loose scree to the Western Plateau of Table Mountain.
[Looking back from the lower approach trail along Table Creek.]
[Just past the second clearing there is a trail to climber's left. This trail takes you out onto open grassy slopes where you get this view. You should stick to climber's left of the gully before crossing above the upper grey cliff band on an obvious break.]
[Looking up the ascent gully.]
[Beaver Mines Lake is just visible off the easy ascent slope.]
[Just above the cliff band in the gully (probably a waterfall in the spring) you encounter this terrain. You can either ascend to the right of the upper red cliff band or to the left. Either way gets you up to the Western Plateau. I went up on the left and down from the right.]
[Bypassing the red cliff band to climber's left. This is the view to Crowsnest Mountain.]
[Impressive view to the south towards Gladstone and Castle Peak.]
[Looking north over Beaver Mines Lake to Carbondale Hill with Mount Backus on the right.]
[Mount Backus to the north.]
[Looking forward to the summit of Table Mountain - further than it looks!]
[Wading through these trees was a bit of a pain - note the obvious trail looking back here.]
[I love the shape of the long summit ridge on Table Mountain. The views south don't hurt either...]
[Looking towards the Castle / Crown area.]
[Looking over the impressive west wing of Table towards Syncline and St. Eloi.]
[Castle Peak at left, Southfork on the right.]
Two eagles were keeping me company as I made my way over to the summit from the plateau. It looked a lot farther than it was and within 1.5 hours of leaving the car I was standing on the summit of Table Mountain, surveying the mountains and prairie landscape as the late fall sun cast long shadows all around me. I spent 30 minutes at the summit, taking pictures and letting my thoughts wander around a bit. The slight breeze started to get cooler as the sun continued it's descent in the West and I thought I'd better get going.
[Great summit view over Beaver Mines Lake - note the clouds pouring in over the divide.]
[Great views towards the colorful Victoria Peak.]
[Looking over the myriad of approach roads towards a line of Wind Turbines in the background.]
[The long summit plateau of Table Mountain.]
The descent was quick and easy and soon I was strolling through the forested lower section of the trail again - this time in a warm, hazy light. All too soon I was back at the car for a round-trip time of just over 3 hours, including the 30 minute break at the summit. The drive back home along highway 22 was invigorating with the setting sun and the gorgeous views of the Rockies marching along in a straight, uninterrupted line to the West.
[Starting the long trek back down the summit ridge.]
[Great view off the summit ridge towards the prairies.]
[Looking north along the line where the Rockies meet the prairies.]
[Looking back up the drainage as I work my way back down.]
[Hiking off the shoulder of Table.]
[Late fall hiking with absolutely no wind!]