Castlecraig, Frink, Albert Edward (Strathcona Traverse)

So I’ve been meaning to write this trip report for a while now. I haven’t really had time to get on it though. So, if the photos look extra “snowy” that’s why… The melt is on now in late May and this trip was done about a month ago.

Now, I know that this is probably one of the most common traverses in the history of Strathcona Park, but I wanted to write this up anyways for anyone who was considering giving it a go in late winter or anyone who was into hiking the route in the summer and just wanted some background information. BTW (*side note), Sandy Briggs and Co. used to hike this route as a daytrip in the summer for training on bigger mountains. Wow. I think that I may try this at some point this summer. :)

OK! So let’s start this trip report off right! Directions!

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The drive from Victoria will take you about 3 to 3 and a half hours depending on the time of day that you go and the traffic involved. Drive 3/4’s of the way up Mount Washington and then take the road to the cross country skiing area. Park here. If you’re going overnight, you’ll have to see them about a permit. It’s free, but needed so that your car doesn’t get towed!

We were super lucky our first 2 days with the weather. Nothing but blue skies.. This was taken about one hour into the slog. Our route took us right across Lake Helen MacKenzie, it was still frozen. :) This year, it’ll probably stay that way for a while, I’m thinking July 1st.. We met these cool folk from Coombs and they had a dog that I liked. It was a husky, suuuper cool. He made me want a dog so bad! Annnnywayyzzz, back on track here…

Here’s an overview map of where we got to. I’m sorry, still don’t have a GPS so no tracklog for ya’ll. The route is pretty straightforward though. Start at Mount Washington, park car, walk up to the col between Brooks and Elma mountains, drop down and trend a course to Circlet Lake. Once at Circlet, take a left and head on over to Moat Lake. Spend the night here, or, do as we did and get onto one of the ridges of Castlecraig. The route is pretty straightforward from here: Traverse around Castlecraig. The mountain has a faint route on it in summer. The standard way takes you clockwise around to the less intimidating ground and up to the top. From here take the obvious ridge leading to Mount Frink and then stay on the system of broad ridges and hit up Mount Albert Edward summit and then descend to where you started to ridge walk, Circlet Lake.

Here we are arriving at Moat Lake. Some of the steepest ground of the entire trip came after this section when we choose to charge perpendicular into a ridge line (far left in the photo) in order to get on top of it…

A view looking the other direction. One must go to Circlet in order to avoid this huge canyon (no beelines from the car).

Arriving at Moat Lake…

A friend of mine‘s girlfriend’s family has had these cabins in her family for over a hundred years (longer than Strathcona Park has been around). The snowpack is really really big this year, so I thought that I would take a few snapshots of the cabins to show her how they were holding up. These are actually really tall cabins but only the tops were poking out of the snowpack at this time this year.

Our first view of Castlecraig as the sun goes down. Very tired after surmounting that ridge head-on with a heavy-ass pack! Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz….. Good night.

Good morning! Say hello to a beautiful day in the snowy mountains!

We now got to approach Castlecraig a little closer. There was talk of taking that gully on the far right of the photo but we had no ice axes nor crampons and it looked a little sketchy so it was quickly kiaboshed. Sadly though, this meant an extra 2-3 hours of plodding, circumnavigating the mountain… Head around left!

Oh well… The back side of the mountain is WAY more mellow… (yes, he does have his shirt off! It was that hot out!)

Summit! There was this HUGE 30ft. cornice on the summit that we spied on our way up so we stayed well back. It felt a little anti-climatic as it looked like there was more to climb, so I took a shot of the GPS. (Yes, I know I just said I don’t own one…. It was a friend’s and I barely knew how to use it!). I forgot that it did actually make it on the trip.

The route drops off the summit of Castlecraig (not literally) and follows the ridge line in the right of this shot. No idea what it would be like in the summer, but the slot between the two mountains was narrow. Not crazy narrow but I did hold on to a tree as it was a long way down… ;)

We then entered what I will call the coolest part of the trip: the moon-like snowfield. With the sun starting to head down and the wind easing, this was truly surreal.

This is the summit of Mount Frink. The wind-swept snow was really solid at this elevation. Finally, we had a good walking platform! The views into the rest of Strathcona were amazing. These photos do not do the landscape justice.

Dropping off of Mount Frink on the long ridge to Mount Albert Edward.

We were pretty tired at this point and the wind was starting to come up so we called this spot about 100-150 meters in ele below Mount Albert Edward home for the night. This summer I’d like to go up Regan, the mountain sticking out of the landscape in the video.

I had a Snickers bar before having a little lie down… This is documenting the best Snickers bar I’ve ever tasted.

And that’s when the winds came up….. We ate dinner and made some snow. At that point I started noticing that the wind was maybe 20-30K/hr. By midnight I had woken up many times to the sound of the tent shaking in the wind. It sucked as I knew that the vis would be terrible with this new weather. In fact, it was. Here’s what it looked like when I got out of the tent to relieve myself in the morning… Needless to say, the trip had certainly changed!

There’s not a to do if you are stuck in a tent in a blizzard. Josh and I tried drinking scotch, listening to hip hop and playing cards. It was really cold so I also tried huddling in a ball and sleeping.

We waited about half the day and then when we thought there was a small break in the wind/whiteout/storm we got out of the tent and used the borrowed GPS to make our way down the ridgeline to Circlet Lake. This was very scary however as I was nervous that I was going to walk off of the ridge. Eventually though, the visibility improved a lot as we got lower (see photo) and we were able to get down to the low lands. *Note to self: If again faced with this choice – STAY in the tent. As uncomfortable as it is, it is really quite cozy when compared to an icy gravity-fed death.

The Whiskey Jacks greeted us at our lunch spot, a true sign that we were out of the dangerous areas. We made friends… Shortly after, the decision was made to walk out to the car and cut the trip a little shorter than expected.

And that’s it folks! That was the trip. It was really cool to get out in winter-like conditions. Honestly, this trip just served to spark so many other ideas that I have for more trips. I’m still getting back into climbing and the lifestyle and training that goes with it. Thus far, I’m really very pleased. It’s a part of my life that was missing for FAR too long.

I hope that someone out there finds this write up useful. When I first started hiking and venturing into the woods there was not a lot of information available on the internet and while I know that this is really not an intense nor hardcore trip report, I hope that it will help get at least one or two people out there. Strathcona is a very very special place. It also happens to be 100 years old this year! Happy B-Day Strath! I’m 30% as old as you.