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View from Mount Haig

Gravenstafel Ridge and Mount Haig
Castle Wilderness, Alberta
June 21, 2008

After learning of Vern Dewit's and Wietse Bylsma's successful early season ascents of Mount Haig and Gravenstafel Ridge the previous week, Dinah and I decided on the same trip. Like them – and unlike the book route – we would do the trip in reverse.

After parking at the Castle Mountain Ski Resort we learned that a grizzly sow with two cubs had been seen recently on the open slopes on Gravenstafel Ridge. We decided to avoid those slopes and instead ascend the treed slopes on the right. We hiked up the road a short distance before leaving it for a cleared corridor through the trees.

The plod to the summit of Gravenstafel was slow and uneventful. The previous night we watched a TV show about the formation of the Rockies and learned that they are eroding at the rate of 6/100 mm a year. I was wishing this mountain would erode faster!

After taking photos from the top of Gravenstafel Ridge we headed down to Gravenstafel-Haig col, scrambling over or around short cliff bands. From the col it's mostly a scramble with only mild exposure, unless one attempts to ascend the right side of the ridge! After the scrambling we hurriedly hiked to the summit without stopping to remove our helmets. Clouds were moving in and a thunderstorm seemed imminent.

Since Mount Haig is the highest peak around, there were great views all around. Two huge summit cairns attest to the popularity of this mountain ascent. Soon after we started our descent we heard thunder.

Thus far the counterclockwise route worked well for us. But as we came down the backside of the mountain we encountered a series of cliff bands. These would be easily negotiated going up since weaknesses would be spotted quickly, but coming down is a different matter. We followed the tops of cliffs, peering over edges, looking for and finding places to descend.

Finally there were no more cliff bands and we hiked to the valley below. From here, the recommended route climbs 375 m to the top of the northeast ridge. Having done the northeast ridge in winter we had little incentive to revisit it. Besides, we were in the midst of a mild thunderstorm so it was safer to stay low. After ascending part way up the northeast ridge, we contoured north to hit the crest. This shortcut saved us 200 m of elevation and some distance than if we had gone to the top of the ridge. Once on the ridge, we made our way to the chair lift and followed it back to the parking lot.

I suspect either route – clockwise or counterclockwise – has its advantages and disadvantages, but however it's done, this is an enjoyable scramble!

KML Track

MOVIE (posted on YouTube)


We started at the chair lift but soon headed right to reach the road


Coming up through a break in the trees


The ascent is mostly a steep hike to the summit of Gravenstafel Ridge


We mostly avoided the road which snakes up the mountain


Our first good view of the summit


If it weren't for the snow we'd be hiking on vegetation and debris.
Southfork Mountain in the background.


The prominent peak in the background (mouse over) is Mount Darrah


Almost at the false summit


Syncline Mountain (right) in the background


We followed the ridge to the summit of Gravenstafel


St. Eloi Mountain


Panorama from the top of Gravenstafel Ridge. Mount Haig in the centre.


I hung back on the summit while Dinah headed to the col and took this picture looking back


We made our way to Mount Haig. At its base is a beautiful tarn (mouse over).


Mostly short cliff bands on the ridge


Some like this one are interesting


But the best scenery lies ahead


We'll soon tackle the steep climb after the col


Starting up from the col


The left side of the ridge offered easier and less exposed terrain


Dinah makes her way through a pair of rock pillars


Colorful rocks after the pillars


The rock pillars can still be seen


Mild exposure in some places


Dinah looks for a way up


After scrambling up from the col the grade eases considerably


As we climbed we encountered a few gentle grades like this one


In the middle is the ridge we scrambled up


An enjoyable ridgewalk before it steepens


The summit is still some distance away


Unnamed peak to the southwest


Looking back: Mount Gravenstafel and the col we traversed


The northeast ridge of Mount Haig with Barnaby Ridge in the background


The ridge from the col intersects another ridge that leads back to St. Eloi Mountain (centre)


As we climbed the views to the southwest appear


Almost at the summit


On the summit. Castle Peak on the left.


Starting down the east ridge


Looking back at the summit of Haig


Coming down from one of the cliff bands


Dinah squeezes down a short cliff band marked with a cairn


Looking back


We traversed snow back to dry rock


Same cliff band seen farther back


A few of the cliff bands in view


We dropped down to the valley on our left


Looking back at Mount Haig


Stopping to remove my helmet in the lush valley


Ascending from the valley, the tarn below Mount Haig is visible


Sidesloping to gain the ridge


Traversing this slope in dry conditions may not be so easy!


We reached the northeast ridge and minutes later it began to rain


It began to clear as we headed back to the parking lot


82 G/8 Beaver Mines

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