In 2013, Sonnie Trotter sent the unrepeated Castles in the Sky, a five-pitch 5.14 on Castle Mountain in Banff National Park. The route climbs the upper two-thirds of the lower tier on Castle Mountain, which is separated by the lower one-third by a narrow ledge that cuts across and allows access. In 2015, he and Gripped editor Brandon Pullan established the lowest section of the tier in an all-bolted four-pitch route called The Moat. To approach, take the Rockbound Lake trail to the Lost Lemon crag turnoff. Continue about 250 metres and head up left through the forest to a drainage. Once at the wall, The Moat prow is obvious.
The namesake pitch is the first, as you have to make your way up weird rock best characterized as loose, layered and down-sloping muddy stone that offers little security. As Trotter described it, “The most incredibly weird and strangely amazing rock climb most people will never do.” It begins at the toe of an obvious prow on the tier beneath Castles in the Sky. The Moat is the only line that looks safe within 100 metres to the right or left of the prow. While the first 20-metre pitch does not appear intimidating from below, the 5.10 climbing on the “moat” rock will have you questioning the sanity of the route. Luckily, it gets better.
Pulling yourself onto the second pitch will leave you wondering when it gets better, but after the first two bolts, the rock type changes to a more solid dolomite that offers difficult climbing up steep ground with awkward and engaging moves. The positive features are tricky to read and the feet are far apart. The nearly 30-metre second pitch has a definite 5.11+ crux that lasts three or four bolts with few rests. Two bolts below the anchor is the first jug, which looks like it wants to snap off but is solid.
Above the second pitch is a hanging belay with a small foot rail. Even on hot days, hanging from a steep prow on Castle can expose you to a chilly wind and insulated jackets are a must. The next 30-metre 5.11+ pitch is almost entirely overhanging, but only slightly. From the belay, you climb incut holds to a traverse below a roof. At the end of the roof, reach up and around to a good crack that climbs a less-than-perfect tower. The bolts are about five metres apart here due to the lack of solid rock for more. This section is heads-up territory and a difficult but more solid line climbs slightly right of the crack. From there, move onto the arete and climb the side-pull crux up to a no-hands alcove rest. The final few bolts have hero climbing to a final 5.11+ move from a good hold to a razor-sharp tooth and slippery slopers.
The belay ledge is big with room to discuss the complexities of the previous pitch while scoping the final 20-metre 5.11+. The last pitch has the best rock on the route and for the first few bolts is 5.11-. The crux is a number of big moves that begins with one to a half-moon-shaped right-facing hold. From there, battle the crimps and underclings to position yourself on the overhanging prow. Hard moves gets you to the ledge below Castles in the Sky. Continue up and belay from the upper anchor.
From here, you can continue up Castles in the Sky, only another five pitches up to 5.14, or head back to the Eisenhower Tower trail by traversing the ledge right. The traverse is a hike on a steep slope above the lower cliff band and has bolts for the first 100 metres for those who wish to stay roped up. The second half of the traverse is on lower-angled terrain, but stay high until you can hook around to the east-facing base of the first Eisenhower tier and trail. The hike to the car takes just over an hour.
The Moat is the only fully-bolted route through the lowest one-third of the first tier on Castle. In the 1980s, Peter Arbic and Tim Auger climbed Ultra Brewers, a six-pitch 5.9 up the entire lower tier. It is one of the most recommended climbs in the area and can be linked with Brewers Buttress above to make a 19-pitch 5.9 called Super Brewers, but requires a rack of gear up to three inches. Castle Mountain is relatively untapped for hard sport routes, as there are dozens of high-quality lines that remain.