Trip date: September 24-25, 2022
Moving time: 17hr
Elevation gain: 2800m
On the last weekend of September, Vern reached out to see if I was interested in a two-day trip in the Castle area. Go back to the place where a bear wrecked my shit? Heck ya! 😉 I hadn’t been feeling particularly inspired to come up with my own weekend plans, so I was happy to join in the fun. The objectives for the trip would be Jutland Mountain, Mount Matkin, Font Mountain, and Sage Mountain. With a trip report from Cornelius Rott and another very recent one from Brandon Boulier, we had a pretty good idea of what we were getting ourselves into.
Carpooling with bikes means we had to take Vern’s truck, which had the added bonus of being able to drive all the way to the trailhead on the South Castle road. On the way in, I was wondering if I could have made it in with the Impreza. At first it seemed reasonable, but further up the road there were more big bumps and deep puddles. I probably would have ended up scraping the ground a few times… High clearance vehicle recommended!
Day 1 – Jutland Mountain and Mount Matkin
We started biking from the gate on the South Castle road. There were some large puddles to go around (and occasionally through), and one section of large loose rocks that we had to push the bikes up, but overall this was very nice biking. Perhaps a little too nice… Other than some back pain (this was my first time biking with an overnight pack and it didn’t feel great), I was surprised to be feeling pretty good on the bike. I’d biked a whole 7km in the two months before this! The last couple kilometers were a bit more overgrown, with alders slapping our hands as we rode past. In just over an hour, we were 12km up the road at a junction with another old road on our right. We locked our bikes to the nearby gate and headed down this other road on foot.
Right away, the trail crossed the Castle River, then continued up the Scarpe Creek valley on the west side of the creek. This trail started out pretty good, but we had been warned that it would become a bit of a alder-whack further up-valley. It definitely did get more overgrown, but I think we set our expectations so low that it didn’t seem too bad! There were short sections of tall, but relatively spaced-out alders. Briefly frustrating, but always followed by another stretch of nice open trail.
At around 3.5km from where we left the bikes, at a washout on the trail, a small trail leads off to the left and climbs steeply to South Scarpe Lake. It’s a small trail, but pretty distinct and easy to follow with only a tiny bit of deadfall. We were thinking that it’s probably a hunter’s trail, a belief that was strengthened when we reached the lake and found quite an impressive camp area! We took a break at the lake and watched a family of goats calmly make their way up Jutland’s imposing north face. Eventually a cool wind picked up and it was time to move on from this peaceful place. We followed the shore around to the far side of the lake, then slogged up the grass and scree slope to Jutland’s NE ridge.
What we found there was a little slice of larch paradise! We had to slow down and really take in the beautiful fall colours, it was one of those places you wish you could stay forever. All good things must come to an end, though, and all too soon we were pushing through some stunted trees to an easy scree slope. We reached the summit of Jutland Mountain a lot faster than I was expecting! I actually thought we were just coming to a false summit, before I saw the summit cairn.
From Jutland, we followed the south ridge towards the GDT. The wind here was unpleasantly chilly and we were both at that awkward point where you almost need to put on gloves but can’t be bothered. The ridge was mostly nice hiking and the GDT was obvious when we hit it.
On the GDT, we turned east and followed the trail through forest until we were directly south of the west face of Mt Matkin. We stepped off the trail and headed north through the forest, coming out at the scree slopes below Matkin’s impressive south and west cliffs. We traversed scree below the west face, having a somewhat shitty time of it before finding a good solid sheep trail to the NW drainage. More hiking took us to the top of the drainage, where the upper cliff band had a few breaks that let us reach the summit with only a bit of struggling on loose scree.
We returned in much the same way, and soon we were back to cruising along the GDT. A couple kilometers of hiking brought us over the ridge between Matkin and Font, down to a nice open spot where Brandon had indicated he’d camped (and found water!). It was indeed a great spot for a couple tents, but the little creek nearby had stopped flowing in the time since Brandon was here! Fortunately, a couple pools still had water and we were able to scoop around the dead bugs floating at the surface. 😆
It was still quite early when we set up camp, but bagging Font before dark didn’t seem worth it as we would just have to go back in that direction the next morning anyways. So we enjoyed a very relaxing evening instead, reading our books before calling it a night.
Day 2 – Font Mountain and Sage Mountain
I was pretty surprised to be woken by an alarm at 6:30, I wasn’t expecting to sleep in that long! At sunrise an hour later, we set off.
A gully by our camp provided perfect access to Font’s easy NW slopes. Talus and scree brought us to the saddle between Font’s two peaks, where we turned right and followed some fun stepped terrain towards the summit. There are a couple high points around the summit – you shouldn’t be on anything more than very low Class 3 terrain. I saw a fun 4th Class route up some steep rock and thought I was just taking an alternate route up, only to top out and see Vern at the true summit 20m away! Even with my foolery, it was just under 45 minutes from our camp to the first summit of the day.
We returned to the saddle, then headed south down the other side. We crossed a boulder field, then followed the continental divide ridge until the GDT came up to meet us. I mused aloud that other than in the Castle/Waterton area, there can’t be that many places where the GDT can actually follow the continental divide! This section of the trail was cool and super pretty, winding through a mini canyon along the top of the ridge.
Where the trail traverses a high point south of Sage Mountain, it was time to leave the beaten path. A steep descent was followed by a steep climb back up through burnt forest as we made our way north towards Sage. The morning sun was hot on the shadeless slope and we were pretty happy to only be doing this on an unseasonably warm autumn day, rather than a summer one! Another steep descent finally brought us to the base of Sage’s south ridge. I think this ridge was longer and more undulating than either of us was expecting. It wasn’t hard work compared to what we’re used to, it was just frustrating to continuously lose and regain small amounts of elevation for nearly 2km!
We were planning to follow Brandon’s descent route along the NE ridge and then steeply down through forest to the upper South Castle trail below. But after reading and signing the summit register, we were having a snack when I had a bit of a “Wait a second…” moment and opened the register for another look. Ephraim Roberts had been up here in 2020 and in the register, he mentioned taking the NW ridge. After some time spent looking at a few different maps, we concluded that going NW could potentially save us a few kilometers over Brandon’s route. We knew from Cornelius’ report that the trail along Font Creek was in good shape, and there was another old road traversing the NW shoulder that could also be useful. Actually, this upper road had a suspiciously willowy colour on the satellite map, but still, worth a look. If it was terrible, we could cut straight down through the forest to the Font Creek trail.
With a new plan and plenty of time (it was only noon), we set off down the NW ridge. We reached treeline with no issues, then continued along the shoulder towards the upper road. There were some willowy bushwhacking sections, but in many places the forest floor was actually quite open. Heading up along this route would likely be more frustrating, though, as the willows would put up more of a fight. We hit the upper road and as expected, it was way too alder-choked to be worth following. No worries, the forested slope to the east down to Font Creek was willow-free and the trees were reasonably far apart, resulting in a fast and pain-free descent straight down to the trail below!
The Font Creek trail was in good shape and we made quick progress down to the Castle River and South Castle trail. Our route had halved the distance we were expecting to hike on the South Castle trail, so only an hour later we were back at our bikes. I was expecting/hoping for a fast ride down, but there were a lot more uphills than I remembered! The return to the truck ended up taking only 10 minutes less than the approach had, so don’t expect this final section to come for free!
This trip was a slice of fall heaven. Sure, the peaks aren’t that lofty and the larches weren’t fully turned, but it still smelled and felt like fall. No bugs, long shadows, a decent excuse to sleep in a bit longer… What more could you ask for?