I was captivated by Castle Towers ever since I first saw them from Black Tusk in September 2008. I lived in Alberta at a time and knew little about BC Scrambles, but I thought it must be quite a mountaineering experience:
Couple of years passed, I moved to BC & got Matt Gunn scrambles book. Given exceptionally good weather under ridge of high pressure I decided to finally give it a try on October 1, 2010. Logistics are main problem: It is too long as day trip (unless you own portable jet engine, or are one of few chosen speed demons
. Most people do it from "base camp" at Gentian Pass, but I chronically dislike carrying big overnight packs for extended periods of time. Finally I settled on "Helm Campground Variation" -- trail from Cheakamus trailhead is wide and easy, and rest is now feasible as day trip.
[u]Cheakamus Parking Lot to Helm Campground</u>
Left Vancouver at 2 pm on Thursday, Sep 30. About 2 hr drive to trailhead, with last part (about 5 miles) on Cheakamus gravel road, that was rougher than expected, but still easy for 2WD. Took about 3 hrs to Helm campground (8.5 km with about 700 elevation gain). I thought the trail was much nicer than more frequented but boring Garibaldi approach from Rubble Creek. There were a couple of boggy sections about 30 minutes before the campground. Bonus: Camping at Helm is free! To my surprise all padded sites in campground were taken from what looked like school expedition; I settled for nice and secluded spot a bit away in the meadows, and went to bed early
[u]Helm Campground to Gentian Pass</u>
Left campsite around 8 am -- Black Tusk looked quite amazing
After about 20 minutes on main trail headed left across meadows towards Helm peak. Steeper than expected climb, first on heather and then talus and rock lead to low point on Gentian Ridge -- some 400 m of elevation gain. The sun greeted me and views were just fantastic:
I am big sucker for ridge walks -- Gentian is got to be one of nicest I've ever done! Very small ups-and-downs, you can stay on ridge crest for entire part and scramble parts are quite easy. Took about 2 hours to traverse with phenomenal views surrounding me.
After arriving to low point under Gentian peak, much bigger than expected drop to Gentian Pass awaited. I considered abandoning original plan and spending the day circling around to Gentian Peak -- Panorama Ridge, but "Castle Call" was too strong to ignore. So I dropped down uncomfortably steep slope with loss of about 300 vertical meters. I was not too happy about climbing this back on return, but at least I was only with light pack and not carrying heavy overnight gear! I took my first food break at Gentian Pass, about 3.5 hrs from Helm campground. Fresh water and soft grass -- I could see why this makes quite a nice campsite:
[u]Gentian Pass to Polomenium Ridge</u>
Next was hike up to Polomenium Ridge -- I quite enjoyed this part! Mostly on heather, never really steep or loose and just fantastic views!
After about 1hr 15 minutes I was on top of Polomenium Ridge and my heart sank -- intervening dip was much deeper than expected and looked quite involved.
[u]Polomenium Ridge to Castle Towers</u>
There was no turning back at this point! I trashed down wide scree gully, went around couple of rock towers on climbers right, then regained the ridge with several cairns leading me in the right direction. In hindsight, this was technical crux of entire day. It took about 45 minutes to cross; on return I found more direct route straight up the rock which shaved off about 15 minutes.
At this point I knew I would make it, and energized from typical summit adrenaline rush I pressed on:
This last section was mostly easy/moderate scramble up large boulders, quite similar in character to normal route up Pyramid mountain above Jasper in Alan Kane scrambles book. I worked my way around couple of snowpatches and within an hour I was on West Tower feeling immense sense of accomplishment
It was 3:30 pm -- it took me whopping 7.5 hours from Helm campground, but I probably made too many photo stops. After signing summit register, I inspected the traverse to center, marginally higher tower. It looked feasible; there was beaten path in the dirt down to the col, ensuing ridge was wide enough but final part (rated mere class 3) was exposed traverse on snow covered ledge. Taking all into consideration, not the least that I was all by myself, I was content to remain where I am and soak the views for few more minutes before starting my descent
[u]Castle Towers to Helm Campground</u>
Took me about 2.5 hours down to Gentian Pass, then another 30 minutes up that steep slope to Gentian Ridge. Final views after the sunset were stunning
Soon it was dark; I traversed most of Gentian Ridge back with flashlight, in pitch dark. Skies were full of stars, and I quite enjoyed the experience; it reminded me of my ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro earlier this year. However, the descent down to valley bottom was quite unpleasant. I was not sure in the dark when to start heading down, and even considered briefly curling by the rock and spending the night. In retrospect I started descending too early (batteries in GPS died out). After some careful scrambling and final walk on park trail I stumbled back to my tent at Helm campsite around 11 pm. I crashed in my sleeping bag and slept like a log till the morning!
[u]Hike out from Helm Campground</u>
Next morning I packed up the camp and hiked out. Clouds started rolling in; I thought what an incredible weather I had yesterday! I met a fellow, another solo-hiker near Helm campground. He was heading to Castle Towers as day hike and was enquiring about the conditions. It was almost 11 am at this point and I seriously doubt he had enough time with only about 8 hrs of daylight left.
Finally some statistics: (Vertical elevation profile is from Helm Campground to Castle Towers back to Gentian Ridge, where batteries in GPS died out
Better quality pictures can be seen here: http://picasaweb.google.com/zeljkok..../CastleTowers#
Big thanks to M. Gunn for his book, and several CT reports that made this possible for me. What an amazing area -- Garibaldi should really be National Park of Canada.