Halfway between Lake Louise and Banff stand the uniquely sculpted Castle Mountain. Given its name due to its castle like stature, Castle Mountain was once the location of a fire lookout. Now all that remains are the cement ground foundations.
Castle Mountain was first named in 1858 by James Hector who made the first recorded ascent up the mountainside although it is believed that he was not able to reach the true summit. James Hector first came through the area in 1858 on the Palliser Expedition; a 2 year expedition that James Hector was tasked with the responsibility to survey and map out the predominant major mountain ranges and peaks as well as major rivers. He also had a side mission to discover where the headwaters of the Bow River were. The Palliser Expedition itself was led by John Palliser and its main purpose was to explore possible routes for the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) and discover and record new plant species.
Due to the careful preservation of the Palliser Expedition records, there is an official account of James Hector's first ascent up Castle Mountain:
“At 1,000 feet above the valley, before we had got quite out of the woods, we came to a cliff, about 80 feet high, composed of quartzite and indurated sandstone of a pinkish hue; the beds were nearly horizontal, and as they seem to continue so all the way to the top of the mountain, which is at least 3,000 feet higher, these quartzites must be the lowest beds I saw. ... Above the point is a grassy slope, having an inclination of 33º, and so slippery that it was only with great trouble that we got over it; it would seem to indicate the occurrence of some soft beds that have weathered into the slope. After this we reached the first of the cliff ranges that are so conspicuous from the valley below; it was composed of quartzite, passing into a conglomerate of pebbles of milk quartz and other rocks. When 2,000 feet above the valley we passed round to the North side of the mountain, and found that a deep valley separated it from a lower spur composed of splintery shale of a dull red colour. The mass of the mountain, which yet rose more than 2,000 feet above us, seemed to be composed of thick bedded limestones, and these breaking away as the soft shales below them have been destroyed has given rise to the castellated appearance.”
In James Hector's notes a comment regarding the appearance of Castle Mountain was found. James Hector commented that the mountain “looks exactly like a gigantic castle” hence his reasoning of naming the mountain “Castle Mountain”.
It wasn't until 1884 that the first climber ascended Castle Mountain. The climber was Arthur P. Coleman, a professor at the University of Toronto. Later, when one of the peaks was named Eisenhower Tower, both Lawrence Grassi and P. Cerutti from Canmore were both the first to climb the tower.
Silver City was once situated near Castle Mountain. The settlement came with the rush of promised silver found in the area. As history has it, in 1881, Joe Healy settled at Castle Mountain a year after he received some ore in trade with First Nations people. The ore he received had a high amount of silver content and the word quickly spread and soon after, the settlement grew into Silver City with a population of 3000 in its height. In 1884, the town was prospering when the CPR railway was built through the area. A year later, however, the settlement was almost entirely abandoned due to the failure and lack of silver in the mines to drive a significant profit.
That was not the last dwelling at Castle Mountain. During the First World War, Castle Mountain Internment Camp was built to confine and hold Ukrainian immigrants as well as 'enemy aliens' and 'suspected enemy sympathizers'. It was the ideal place for confinement with its location so isolated and far from any roads. During the winter months, the internees were held at the Cave & Basin location because of its warmer habitat. In the camps, life was described as 'grim'. The confined men were forced into labour and it was with their help that much of Banff National Park was built. The highway connecting Calgary and British Columbia was not completed until 1920's. Construction at Castle Junction began in 1910 and would final allow easier accessibility to Castle Mountain for avid hikers, scramblers and climbers.
Castle Mountain had it's name changed in 1946 which upset some in Canadian citizens. Upon the end of World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower was a guest speaker at a meeting of the Ottawa. Canadian Club in January of 1946. The Prime Minister of Canada at the time, Mackenzie King, renamed Castle Mountain to Eisenhower in his honour. The reason being was the General receiving an actual castle from Scotland as a gift to his service in the war. Prime Minister King responded with the name changing of Castle Mountain with the comment of,
“We haven't any ancient castles, but we have something more enduring, we have ancient mountains ... we have a mountain named Castle and we have thought that to change the name to Mount Eisenhower we would pay a tribute in the form of permanency expressing our admiration years after the castle in Scotland has completely disappeared.”
Prime Minister Mackenzie King
As could be expected, the residents of Banff were in an uproar although some did approve of the honour. Prime Minister King did receive a letter from the “members of the ski clubs and climbing clubs of the Rocky Mountains” who were protesting the “inappropriate name of Eisenhower Peak”.
30 years later, there was still an increasing displeasure of the name of the mountain. Several petitions were submitted to the Alberta Heritage Sites Board by residents of Banff to change the mountain's name back to Castle Mountain. In 1976, it was planned to have the mountain name changed back from “Eisenhower Peak” to “Castle Mountain” however this of course was delayed. The American bicentennial commemorations were taking place in 1976 and the Canadian government did not want to offend the Americans.
The United States Bicentennial commemorations were a series of celebrations in the mid 1970's. The celebrations were meant to pay tribute to the historical events that led to the United States of America becoming an independent republic. It was on Sunday, July 4, 1976 that the bicentennial celebrated the 200 year anniversary of nation adopting the Declaration of Independence. Castle Mountain was finally renamed back to “Castle” in November of 1979 with the southeastern end being designated as Eisenhower Tower.
There is a change of geology that can be noticed at Castle Mountain. Castle Mountain is the most eastern peak of the Main Ranges that are found in the Bow Valley. The Castle Mountain thrust fault passes through the mountain. The thrust fault separates Castle Mountain from Sawback Range and other nearby peaks of the Main Ranges and the most western mountains of the Front Ranges.
In geological terms, the upper section of Castle Mountain is made of Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian age sedimentary rocks that were once deposited in an ancient shallow sea. These include shale and limestone with metamorphic quartzite. The deposits now found on the upper section of Castle Mountain were later thrust upon the younger layers of late Paleozoic and Mesozoic age which make up the gentle sloping forested base of Castle Mountain.
Castle Mountain is the prime example of a castellated mountain, which is what James Hector noted in his journal records. Erosion has created a series of gently sloping terraces that are composed of softer shale. The sharp cliffs are also include in this castellated design with alternating layers of shale and quartzite, limestone and dolomite which are harder deposits and rock.
Castle Mountain Lookout Trip Log
The trail starts at the north end of the parking lot. The first part of the trail is wide and steadily climbs through a dense forest. About 1.5 km in you come across an abandoned miner's cabin on your left hand side.
Further past the cabin the trail turns into a single track path and views of the Bow Valley begin to peak through the openings of the forest. The path leads you up switch backs the last 100m leading you to the remnants of old Mount Eisenhower fire lookout.
The site of the former fire lookout resembles a large show stage, looking out at a sea of on lookers. The southern exposure allows for a nice sunny break as you take in the sights of the Bow Valley.
As a reminder, due to the southern exposure of Castle Lookout; It has a very high tick population even very early in the season. Always check yourself and your friends over very carefully for these little buggers. Lesson learned after taking a nice break lying in the tall grass with the sun beating down.
What were your experiences hiking Castle Mountain Lookout?
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