Trailhead: Castleguard Mountain is located near the Columbia Icefields, 117kms south of the Jasper town site and approximately 100kms north of Lake Louise. Park at the old abandoned concrete bridge just before big bend on the Jasper Park highway. Banff National Park.
Description: Castleguard Mountain is not a hike but a mountaineering objective that requires experience in glacier travel and crevasse rescue. Castleguard Mountain is located on the south side of the Columbia Icefields which gains access from the Saskatchewan and Athabasca glaciers. The most popular approach is via the Saskatchewan Glacier side. Though it is not a technical climb, the distance involved requires good stamina along with the proper gear for an overnight stay and a possible crevasse rescue.
Total distance one way is approximately 18Km with an elevation gain of 1617m. Though some parties will make the entire trip in one day, most parties will take two or three. Allow 6-8 hours to the base of Mount Castleguard and another 3 hours to the summit.
The main obstacles are accessing the Saskatchewan Glacier which becomes harder late in the summer. The second is the lateral moraine below Castleguard Meadows. Access the Saskatchewan Glacier several meters above the outlet stream on the north side after grinding your way up and over several very annoying terminal moraines.
Hike up what feels like a never ending expanse of ice past a wooden debris field. These are the remnants of rotting shelters built by the U.S. Army’s 87th Mountain Division in the 1930’s. The US Army should come back and clean this up. Once you pass the debris field head towards Castleguard Meadows and the lateral moraine where the glacier begins to tension on the bend and becomes heavily crevassed.
This moraine is guarded by large deep mud flats squeezed between the Saskatchewan Glacier and the lateral moraine that runs the entire width of Castleguard Meadows. I’m assuming the moraine erodes more and higher every year as the Saskatchewan Glacier recedes so access may change. On our ascent, the moraine was only accessible at the far west side of Castleguard Meadows located near some awesome looking lateral crevasses.
The glacier offered us a safe snow bridge onto the moraine where it was not to steep to ascend however the moraine does require some route finding skills to avoid exposed rock slabs covered with loose scree. Once you arrive at the top of the moraine you’ll be glad it’s behind you. Catch your breath and enjoy the views of the Columbia Icefields and several kilometers of the unusual terraced landscape that lies ahead. These terraced slabs of rock were created by retreating glaciers.
Work your way up the terraces beside a light colored rock slide leading towards the base of little Castleguard. Here you’ll find several good spots to pitch a tent and lots of fresh running water. The ascent of Castleguard Mountain begins by heading straight up the 25-30 degree ice just right of the summit of little Castleguard. Walk along the top of an enormous moat melted out in the ice by heat reflected off little Castleguard.
Wow, this moat is at least a kilometer long, several meters deep and looks like a blue wave of ice. It will certainly catch your attention. From the moat, cross the short snowfield/glacier below Castleguard Mountain then work your way up to the summit. Our route was center left of the summit cliff and entailed a 50m snow climb of 45-50 degrees. On our accent the bergshrund was easily negotiated by an obvious bridge.
Once you reach the summit you can see across the entire Columbia Icefields towards Mount Columbia, Mount Bryce, Snow Dome, Mount Kitchener, Mount Andromeda, Mount Athabasca and to the east, Mount Saskatchewan.
Unfortunately on our ascent there were several forest fires in the area creating hazy sky conditions consequently ending up with poor photos. The summit registry showed 13 people in the past 5 years. From the summit of Castleguard Mountain back to our vehicle parked at big bend on the Jasper highway took us 7.5 hours which included packing up base camp. Castleguard Mountain is the place to go if you’re looking for solitude and remoteness in a beautiful alpine environment. Photo’s below were taken in late August.