Climbing Brewer's Buttress on Castle Mountain

September 10, 2014 Outdoor Trip Reports & Ideas
Alicja
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Brewer’s Buttress Climb on Castle Mountain in Banff National Park

Brewers buttress on Castle Mountain is a great alpine climb in the Canadian Rockies, in Banff National Park. It’s a gear route, but you’ll find some pitons here and there – in places you will want them – where it is hard to place gear.   The grade is 5.6, 13 pitches, and 380 meters long. It is quite exposed for the grade, so you will likely be quite impressed at some of the positions on this route. It is quite exposed most of the way.

The route finding adds a bit of spice at times, but after the first pitch you are on the buttress proper, and stay on it the rest of the time, except for a few minor deviations.

Slightly harder and more committing than it’s neighboring Eisenhower Tower, Brewer Buttress in an amazing route and quite memorable.

Brewer’s Buttress Approach

The approach is the same as it is for the Alpine Club Hut, situated on the sixth bottom buttress (from lookers right) of the mountain. Take the Castle lookout trail, a 3.5 km trail. Park in the Castle Lookout parking lot, and begin hiking through the forest. Eventually, the trail becomes a single track. Cross a drainage, which has some downed trees, likely from a combination of flooding from the June 2013 floods and avalanches coming down the gully above.

The Castle Mountain Hut

Follow it all the way up to where it ends, which is the bottom of another scree gully. The route starts on the lookers left of this gully. Take a steep trail to the side of the gully and find easy, lower fifth class terrain. Scramble up this feature, keeping in mind that it’s not harder than 5.2 or so. Climb up this for about 20 meters or so and you will come to a rappel station.

You will use this on your way back down to get back to the ground. The rest of the trail is very easy, and stays left of the gully at all times. Once you top out on goat buttress, take the trail to your right to cross the top of the gully, which is a scree slope, and cross over to the next buttress. This leads right to the hut. The hut is perched next to a few trees and the trail leads directly to it. It’s a very cute hut that sleeps 4, has a propane stove and lights. Would be a wonderful place to spend an evening. What sunsets!

After reaching the hut, head north (to your left) and pick up a well-traveled trail towards the upper buttresses of the mountain. This trail is well beaten and easy to follow, and the route starts about 25 minutes walk from the hut.   As you are walking along, observe the cliffs for the start of the route. The route begins at a bay and is the last buttress feature before Eisenhower tower to the east. You can’t see the break between this buttress and Eisenhower, but you will see the trail takes a hard left and continues deep between the two buttresses. As the trail veers left, look to your left and walk up a short, steep scree slope to the start of the route. There is a plaque here that marks the start – with the inscription John Brewer – the route’s namesake.

Keep in mind that the route is no harder than 5.6, so if you think you see the route and it looks harder, it’s likely not it. The plaque makes it very easy once you’ve found it. There is also a set of bolts at the start, so you know you’re on the right route. There are bolted belays on this route as the route gets guided regularly.

Highlights

The highlights of this climb are definitely some of the positions which are tremendously exposed for a climb of this grade. It is easy climbing, but with the route finding, tough gear placements at times resulting in long-runout sections, exposure and length of the route, make it a serious undertaking. The route is also high up on Castle mountain reaching 2766 meters at the summit, meaning the temperature will get cooler as you go up. If you climb it early or late in the season, it may get cold fast, the weather can change very quickly.

The route can only be rappelled with two ropes. It is generally wise to have two ropes for this route, and especially if you are concerned about not being able to make the summit (for weather, or other reason), bring two ropes. Once you are on the route and only have one rope, you are committed. If you plan to link pitches note there will be lots of rope drag.

Brewer’s Buttress Route Guide:

The route description is available in Banff Rock by Chris Perry.

Pitch 1: 40 m, 5.5

Start climbing to the right of the bolt to a steep move to a giant ledge. This keeps your belayer free from rockfall, as there are lots of loose rocks on this pitch.

Pitch 2: 30 m, 5.5

The second pitch ascends a short, steep section and continues around the corner to reach the buttress.

Pitch 3 and 4: 55 m, 5.5
These pitches can be linked quite easily since the two pitches are quite short in themselves. Climb an easy rib and follow a short crack past a bolted belay behind a pinnacle.   Keep left then move right along an easy left facing corner to another bolt belay on a ledge below a short chimney.

Pitch 5: 35 m, 5.5

Climb the chimney on it’s right side, and move onto it’s arête. Climb left along a crack to a ledge then go to your right onto a large ledge that runs to the left of the buttress. This ledge is close to the edge of the buttress.

Pitch 6: 30 m, 5.5

From pitch 5, you will need to move the belay to the other side of the buttress. Walk along easy ground (large ledge) to the next belay station, and climb from here, angling back to your right, to a large, left facing corner, beneath a huge roof. You can see the hut from here for the rest of the climb!

Pitch 7: 25 m, 5.6

From here, try not to climb to far below the roof. Expect to exit the corner several meters below on the right with a piton. It can be difficult to locate the piton, and the traverse is definitely the crux. Bolt belay on a small ledge, ignoring a piton on the left of the corner.

Pitch 8: 20 m, 5.6

A corner system to your right will take you to a large ledge with a bolt belay.

Pitch 9: 40m (or so) 5.6/5.7

Climb easily up a short, wide crack undercut on it’s right side, with a piton.  Climb this crack with some difficulty and find a bolt on it’s right side, to easier ground.  A steep crack system will take you to a bolted belay on the crest of the buttress.

This is one of the most difficult pitches on the route, with a short move that borders on 5.7.  Head up then left once you reach a large horn to a belay on 4th class ground.

Pitch 10: 20 m, 4th class (scrambling)

This is the easiest pitch on the route and is practically scrambling ground. Belay is to your left on the buttress. Can be combined with pitch 11, but note this is a full stretch.

Pitch 11: 35 m, 5.6

This is one of the best pitches. It looks harder than it actually is. It’s exposed, but the holds are great. Climb beneath an overhang to gain a wide crack.

Pitch 12: 35 m, 5.5

Move right and climb a right facing corner that is fairly long, ending on a ledge to the left.

Pitch 12-13: 40 m, 5.6+

These pitches can be combined, or broken down into two short pitches. To climb the longer pitch, head straight up right to a right facing corner and then move to the right face itself. Climb on steep ground over a series of ground to the top. There is no station here, so you will have to set up a sitting belay from some large boulders. There are lots of loose rocks here, so be careful. If you opt to do it in two pitches, find the final station at the top of the right facing corner on a ledge. There are only 15 m to the top from here. Clip a piton here and climb a crack on steep ground (good holds) to the top.

Pitch 13 alternate: 35 m, 5.6

When you are partway up the long corner on pitch 12, move right and go straight up to the top of the cliff. One of the neatest pitches on the route!

I climbed this variation seven years ago, but this time we finished with the left hand variation, and the short, exposed 15 m pitch to the top.

Descent from Brewer’s Buttress

This could easily be the most challenging part of your day so be careful to find the proper descent trail. The descent will take you into a gully between two buttresses and at the bottom will deposit you just to the right of the main gully that leads off the mountain, the same gully you came up.

After taking in the amazing view at the top, make your way left along a scree trail to the descent gully. The one you are looking for is the third major gully, and a scree trail marked with cairns.  Follow the trail inspecting each gully as you pass it. The first two are quite extreme so you know they are not the proper ones.   It will take you around 20 minutes to reach the proper gully, and it’s marked by a cairn. The rockbound lake scramble trail will veer to the right, and the descent trail to the left here, where you will follow a trail in steep scree to a rappel station. Make a short rappel to a lower ledge and block with slings.  If you have two ropes you can make a 40 meter rappel, or rappel and down climb (easy ground) to the left to locate a bolted station on your right. Rappel to a lower ledge then walk down to the right to locate the final rappel gully. This is marked by a huge chockstone that fills the lower gully.

You will make 3 rappels to reach the bottom of the gully.  You will end up at the bottom of a steep scree slope. Pick up the trail that heads down and turn left (cairns). Find the trail that you came up on your right. A few sections of easy downclimbing and one rappel (which you should have seen on your way up) will follow.

We started just before 7 am and were back at our vehicle at 8 pm.   The actual climbing part took us approximately 30 minutes per pitch, so six hours. We climbed it in early September so the days were already shorter and morning quite cool. When we started it was only 1 degree Celsius and never got much warmer than 18 degrees. Once high on the buttress, the wind was cold and a soft shell and wind jacket were needed. It rained on us on the descent.

Tips for the climb

Because of the high elevation of the mountain and it’s position between two major valleys, the mountain gets hammered with some pretty volatile weather. Hence, it’s best to carry two ropes in case you need to get off the mountain. Retreat is not possible with one rope as many of the rappels are 40 meters or more.

The grade is accurate so you can get away climbing it with boots. There is quite a bit of fixed protection (pitons) and bomber belay stations no doubt due to the fact the route gets guided frequently. A set of nuts and a few cams up to size #3 are useful.

Photo Gallery from this climb

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