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post #1 of (permalink) Old 08-28-2020, 02:23 AM Thread Starter
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Default Castleguard Meadows via Saskatchewan Glacier

My friend John Shaw and I hiked into Castleguard Meadows via the Saskatchewan Glacier and out via the Alexandra River on Aug 16-20, 2020.

This may have been the best backpack of my life. The variety of terrain was amazing: walking on a glacier, the expansive meadows, the huge springs in the Castleguard River valley, the broad Alexandra surrounded by rugged peaks and ridges. I could have stayed several more days. I want to do it again, more slowly. An extra day in the meadows, plus one more at Watchman Lake, maybe another night at Terrace Creek to walk the river flat and follow the creek up to its canyons.

The route is not an easy one, but it wasn't as hard as I expected. Some travelers have reported getting lost. The Castleguard and Alexandra rivers have washed out the trail in several places and it can be easy to lose the trail. But we stayed on course with the help of the an excellent gpx track provided by Laurent T.-Blanchet. We bushwhacked where necessary but even then usually could find a faint trail formed by other bushwhacking hikers.

One of the two main difficulties with the route lies at a washout of the forest road trail east of Terrace Creek. Hikers can either bushwhack or walk in the wide river bottom, meeting and fording Terrace Creek to rejoin the trail on the west bank.

The other is the washout along the Castleguard only about 350m from the beginning of the trail that ascends into the meadows. We bushwhacked up and over the several springs including the monster Big Spring that feeds Outram's Shower Bath. With low water, others have forded the Castleguard twice here to rejoin the trail, but I felt the water was much too high and fast.

Thanks, Lobo, for your trip reports about this route and for tips about how to ascend the lateral moraine.

Here's our 60km route in red. Laurent's route from 2018 is in purple.
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Here are a few photos:

Departure from trailhead at Big Bend of the Icefields Parkway
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Approaching the Saskatchewan Glacier
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On the glacier
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The lateral moraine. Access to Castleguard Meadows is up one of the chutes in the steep part of the moraine.
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Me ascending the chute. I love this shot because it shows the scale of the glacier.
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John celebrates his ascent. The Columbia Icefield is up top with Mt Columbia in the background.
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Middle Castleguard Meadows
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Cascade just downstream from official Castleguard campsite. The only facility was an outhouse (deluxe!), no bear hang, no tent pads. Terrace Mountain in background.
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Cascade turns into a waterfall just downstream. Prominent peak at right is Watchman Peak
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Outram's Shower Bath. It is not a river. The flow gushes out all at once from Big Spring just at the top.
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Fields of Northern Mountain Avens gone to seed. This doesn't look like much in a photo, but it was truly delightful in the afternoon sun.
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The broad valley of the Alexandra at Terrace Creek.
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Except for the bridge over the North Saskatchewan River at the trailhead, this is the only bridged stream on the route.
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martin and solo75 like this.

Scott Meadows
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Last edited by esmeadows; 08-28-2020 at 01:18 PM. Reason: Add photos
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post #2 of (permalink) Old 08-29-2020, 12:40 AM
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Thank you so much for posting this Scott. This loop remains one of my big wishes (if I knew you were going I'd lobby to let me come along!)


So glacier is quite safe? No crampons and You didn't rope up?
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post #3 of (permalink) Old 08-29-2020, 10:40 AM Thread Starter
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I used the Hillsound trail crampon. I is very grippy on the ice. It is exactly the right product for the environment.

I, too, was hesitant to travel on the glacier. I imagined a cold and painful death by broken bones and hypthermia in the bottom of a crevasse. But after reading the blog entries on Brian Patton's website, I was intrigued. Last year, I stopped into the Banff visitor centre to inquire. As it happened, Brian Patton himself was manning the trail desk and he advised me it's not difficult to walk on the glacier in summer when the snow has melted. So I attempted this last year, but got stymied by lack of good intel about how to make the transition from the glacier into the meadows. What I now know to be the correct route just seemed wrong, so I aborted and went home. I did more research and this year we got in without a hitch.

Here are some pictures that might give you a better indication of the conditions on the ice. There aren't that many crevasses on the route to the Meadows. Most of the obstacles are due to the up and down character of the ice surface and the meltwater channels that deepen the indentations. Where there is a crevasse you just walk around. They never extend very far.

I certainly wouldn't say it's impossible to be injured. But the risks are not much different than other backcountry risks. Caution and good common sense are required. You walk around rather than jump over, for example. Most injuries happen not from catastrophes, but from the small things like a loose rock that turns under your foot, or slipping on a log when crossing a stream.

I hope you can go. I truly feel in love with this place! Knowing how you enjoy mountaintop views, you could take a day each to scramble to the top of Mt. Castleguard for a view of the Columbia Icefield and to the summit of Watchman Peak for a panorama of the Alexandra and Castleguard Meadows. Ben Brochu posted a video from Watchman Peak. Matt St. Arnaud is leaving for Castleguard this week. If you can go on short notice, perhaps you could contact him and join the trip.

Here are some pics from the ice that give an idea of conditions. This video also gives a good impression that's probably better than a still. It's really hard to capture scale on the glacier in photos.

My crampons
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The surface is rough
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These two show where I aborted last year. These ledges were wet, steep and covered in loose rock. This is completely the wrong place to ascend as I learned this year.
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This is the point where you step onto the ice. It's just one step from the rocky soil onto the ice.
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Several pics of the ice conditions. The first pic shows the lateral moraine. Ascending any of the three erosion channels leads into the meadows. We took the first.
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Looking back
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zeljkok View Post
Thank you so much for posting this Scott. This loop remains one of my big wishes (if I knew you were going I'd lobby to let me come along!)


So glacier is quite safe? No crampons and You didn't rope up?

Scott Meadows
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Last edited by esmeadows; 08-29-2020 at 10:48 AM.
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post #4 of (permalink) Old 08-29-2020, 02:49 PM
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Thank you for detail glacier info Scott. I hiked to base of Sask. Glacier few yrs ago & am familiar from lobo posts where one needs to step out to get up via that chute to Castleguard Meadows, but whole thing is more than I am comfortable doing by myself. Maybe next summer


Re itinerary: There is also highline route back, that avoids long plod down Alexandra. From Castleguard meadows first you cross over to upper Terrace Creek valley; Terrace peak is apparently just a scramble along the way. Then you cross over the saddle between Mt. Saskatchewan and Saskatchewan Towers into valley south of Big Bend Peak and hike out that way. This saddle is the only problem, but with careful routefinding only steep scree. These two shots are taken from Eric Coulthard site (sadly not maintained anymore)

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[Route from Terrace creek, as seen from top of Mt. Saskatchewan; crux is near the top of the saddle as there are peeling rock bands one needs to contour around]

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[Closer look at the crux from other side; Mt. Saskatchewan behind]

One can also bag Big Bend Peak along the way; I've done it as day hike & it is quite easy. Then you end up exactly where you started from without need for 2 cars.

Last edited by zeljkok; 08-29-2020 at 02:52 PM.
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post #5 of (permalink) Old 08-29-2020, 05:30 PM Thread Starter
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Ha, ha, you and I are quite different in our approach to the backcountry. I know you like to climb and enjoy a long view. I'm perfectly happy walking in solitude in the forest. To crunch up a rocky ridge holds very limited appeal for me. Good that our world accommodates such diversity...

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post #6 of (permalink) Old 08-29-2020, 06:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by esmeadows View Post
Ha, ha, you and I are quite different in our approach to the backcountry. I know you like to climb and enjoy a long view. I'm perfectly happy walking in solitude in the forest. To crunch up a rocky ridge holds very limited appeal for me. Good that our world accommodates such diversity...

Agreed; long views are main thing, but even more exploring. Lots of people will tell you long walk up Alexandra River is very boring but they miss appeal of wild untouched valley with many wonders if one only cares to look more carefully (like that 'shower' you have photo off). Main thing is to enjoy the outdoors and there are many ways to do that. For instance I always considered trail running very wasteful way to spend time in mountains, but some do just that. There is no right or wrong (or more or less 'worthy' way).
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post #7 of (permalink) Old 09-10-2020, 03:15 PM Thread Starter
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Here's a long-form trip report with some similar but expanded content.

Scott Meadows
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post #8 of (permalink) Old 09-19-2020, 06:59 PM Thread Starter
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Parks has posted that they completed a small prescribed burn (70 ha) along the Alexandra last Sunday. There's no word yet on whether they'll burn any more this year or whether they'll let hikers through for the remainder of this year. The expected burn size was 1571 ha.

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post #9 of (permalink) Old 09-19-2020, 09:28 PM
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Originally Posted by esmeadows View Post
Parks has posted that they completed a small prescribed burn (70 ha) along the Alexandra last Sunday. There's no word yet on whether they'll burn any more this year or whether they'll let hikers through for the remainder of this year. The expected burn size was 1571 ha.
sounds like they micmic the natural fire ecology of the area, to avoid uncontrollable fires in the future. great management.

Absolutely awesome trip you put in, just did a small glacier walk a week ago. Appreciate the obstacles of crevasses, and your safety comment about not jumping over glaciers.

Very much enjoyed your report and photos and bringing us close to your action.

K

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post #10 of (permalink) Old 09-19-2020, 10:06 PM
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Absolutely awesome trip you put in, just did a small glacier walk a week ago. Appreciate the obstacles of crevasses, and your safety comment about not jumping over glaciers.

So just to follow up a bit on this, having learned about your continuous Wedgemount Glacier visits


Hike up to toe --- and maybe a bit up --- Saskatchewan Glacier is something I feel you'd enjoy A LOT. I've been there several times (this is one report, scroll lower for pics of glacier) and it is awesome hike (much less taxing than getting to toe of Wedgemount Glacier too!) Sask. Glacier itself is quite tame, meaning you can venture up without standard roping up / crampons, just like Scott did (although this is naturally never recommended practice as there are always crevasses where you least expect them).


Just a food for thought. For retirement
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post #11 of (permalink) Old 09-20-2020, 12:52 AM Thread Starter
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sounds like they micmic the natural fire ecology of the area, to avoid uncontrollable fires in the future. great management.
K
I wish they would post a bit more about their objectives for the burn along the Alexandra. It's hard not to feel this as a loss, and it would be nice to have more than a general idea about the long-term benefits of fire. The sense of loss would be offset if we knew what specific benefits are expected for the ecology and future generations. Perhaps this is available somehow, but I haven't seen it online.

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post #12 of (permalink) Old 09-20-2020, 01:02 AM
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I am not so sure... Alexandra valley has been completely written off as far as trail maintenance goes & very few venture there anymore. If there was not for lobo, that first part to Terrace creek would have been completely gone by now
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post #13 of (permalink) Old 09-20-2020, 01:08 AM
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Originally Posted by zeljkok View Post
So just to follow up a bit on this, having learned about your continuous Wedgemount Glacier visits


Hike up to toe --- and maybe a bit up --- Saskatchewan Glacier is something I feel you'd enjoy A LOT. I've been there several times (this is one report, scroll lower for pics of glacier) and it is awesome hike (much less taxing than getting to toe of Wedgemount Glacier too!) Sask. Glacier itself is quite tame, meaning you can venture up without standard roping up / crampons, just like Scott did (although this is naturally never recommended practice as there are always crevasses where you least expect them).


Just a food for thought. For retirement
Really appreciate that Zeljkok... thank you. Good recommendation for the future.

K

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