Castle Mtn., Brewer Buttress

By: Bruce Bindner | Climbers: Bruce Bindner, Em Holland |Trip Dates: August 02, 1998

Photo: Gary Clark

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Castle Mountain, just north of the Trans-Canada Highway, is one of the most photographed peaks in the Canadian Rockies. Typical of many big limestone peaks, the mountain consists of seemingly impenetrable cliff bands between broad, sloping plateaus and long horizontal ledge systems. Routefinding on this rock is very counter-intuitive for the climber raised on a diet of long Yosemite crack systems. Lateral traverses are frequently a major aspect of the routes and approaches. Similarly, on the serrated ridges, the limestone crest often presents the line of least resistance: something that would, on a similar shattered granite arête, lead repeatedly to difficult gendarmes and impassable notches.

August 2, 1998: Pre-dawn, Castle Mountain Hut: It rained last night. Our approach yesterday took us up a fourth-class cliff band and along rubble-packed ledge systems in an insidious, saturating drizzle, until we staggered at nightfall onto the doorstep of this tiny hut seemingly perched on the edge of the world. We cook a quick hot breakfast coffee while munching energy bars. As the sky lightens to a grey-blue, heralding clear weather, we depart the hut, hiking across the shoulder of Goat Plateau to the narrow ledges and steep scree at the base of the route.

Brewer is a classic twelve-pitch limestone buttress that ascends directly from Goat Plateau to the summit of Castle Mountain. Frighteningly steep, unexpected route options constantly unfold. The exposure is simultaneously terrifying and invigorating. Spacious belay ledges presented themselves as we worked upward. Occasionally linking pitches, we were soon at the crux of the route, a 5.6 wide slot. I begged Em for the lead on this pitch, placed a few pieces, clipped the chicken bolt at the crux, and within moments, had her on belay.

Soon we were cleaning our last anchors, snapping summit photos, then motoring across the long summit ridge above Rockbound Lake as clouds began to congregate overhead. We passed numerous hikers clad in shorts and tee-shirts. Decked in fleece, with our summit pack of Goretex and sundries, we felt like over-prepared gumbies on their first alpine outing. "I think I'm over-dressed."

The Sean Dougherty Guide, "Selected Climbs in the Canadian Rockies" says of Brewer Buttress: "an excellent climb of moderate difficulty that leads to situations not typically associated with a climb of this grade."

We reached the top of the descent gully just as rain, sleet, and snow began swirling down from the darkening skies. Concerned about potential lightning strikes on the serrated ridge crest, we increased our pace, half-running, half-sliding down the ever-steepening loose scree until the gully narrowed and dropped into vertical steps. Rappel Anchor. A piton comes out in my hand as I give the slings a cursory tug. In the interval of a heartbeat, the storm explodes around us. Lightning rips across the narrow gash of sky; thunder crackles and a closer, more intimate crashing raises my hackles -- that of rocks clattering down the chute over our heads. Rain and hail slash down. Frantic flaking of ropes, digging for storm gear. One rope down. Em has her shell on; A rock capers past, both ropes down.

"GO! GO!"

No time for gloves Freezing fingers stumbling over the rappel setup A small rivulet of water trickles past the anchor as a flock of rocks flies past


One sleeve of my goretex parka still turned inside out…Sleet-curtained gloom…The stream turns into a brown raging torrent…Parka still unzipped. I jump-rappel down through the waterfall swinging inward as I slow under a chockstone as a herd of boulders the size of televisions chug through the air-water-mud-slush-filled-gully; Rap rope is down, us fleeing down-down the gulch ankle deep in the angry maelstrom; Dodge to the side, a fist-sized chunk of the mountain ricochets off my helmet, another slams my shoulder, Em is hit too, last rap, one rope, the other a tangled mess in my paws (a 5-year-old half-carrying half-dragging a double-armload of dirty laundry to the washroom)…jacket finally zippered, rope is threaded.


Straight down through the waterfall Em goes, me knee-deep above in the frothing river I clip, jump off, hold breath, falls pouring over my head, finally down ... And sprint from the death-trap out onto Goat Plateau, pulling one end of the rope with me as I run; we're down, we're safe…a filthy wall of boulders, rock, mud, and foam churns down the gully behind us wall-to-wall and six-feet-deep, spilling out past wide-eyed us onto the plateau, its furious energy finally spent.

We began to comprehend the meaning of Dougherty's statement.

"Uhh... OK. OK.... You OK?"

"I don't feel over-dressed anymore."

"YEEEEE- HAAAAAAA!!! Welcome to Canada, Eh?"

Before we could catch our breath from the violent descent, the rain ceased, the sun erupted from the clouds, and our drenched gear began to steam.

Editor's Note: The author is a Major Contributor to the North American Classics project.