Distance: 26 km
Elevation gain: 950 m View map Download GPS track
Even though we were snowshoeing up mountains last year at this time
, this year I’m not quite ready for winter yet, so this weekend we decided to once again stick to the front range where there is little snow. With few good options to choose from we quickly settled on Junction Lookout, an active fire lookout just to the east of Junction Mountain in the Sheep River area. With an advertised distance of 26 km and over 700 m of elevation gain (950 m by my GPS) we knew we’d have to start early and move fast to finish before the sun set, so we left the house quite early and arrived at the Indian Oils parking lot just before sunrise.
From the parking lot we made our way down to the Sheep River, crossing the river on the new bridge over Tiger Jaw Falls. Last year in the fall we forded the river without the bridge, so it was quite nice to have one in place this year. Once across the Sheep River we followed an old road east as it gently climbed 100 m, then descended the same amount, before reaching Dyson Falls, 4 km and less than an hour from the parking lot. Shortly after crossing Dyson Creek the road forked; we went right towards Junction Lookout (left heads to Green Mountain
As we continued to the lookout we started to get a bit bored with the monotony of the viewless hiking – it is over 11 km one-way in the trees – but the gentle grade of the road allowed us to make exceptionally fast progress. Unfortunately what had started out as a completely calm day became progressively windier as we ascended and by the time we were approaching treeline it was apparent that we were in for a nasty exposed hike to the summit. We’re used to it by now, however, so after bundling up in pretty much everything we had we left the shelter of the trees and continued along the road to the summit, 1.5 km distant.
What we didn’t realize was that the winds were rapidly increasing in intensity and by the time we were just below the summit it was becoming difficult to even stand. In the strongest gusts we had to stop and brace against the wind using both our hiking poles. It was quite a relief to reach the shelter of the lookout, but the noise from the wind was incredible and enjoying the view was impossible, so after a short stay we started back down. As we left the shelter of the lookout it immediately became clear that the wind was even stronger than on our ascent and was now likely well in excess of 100 km/h. Walking was extremely difficult as the wind would literally blow our legs out from underneath us as we lifted them to take a step and we were repeatedly blown off course (the ridge is wider than a runway so this wasn’t a safety issue).
It was a great relief to reach the safety of the forest again, at which time both of us noticed that our hip joints were quite sore (this is very unusual for us) and I suspect it was from having our legs blown around at odd and unexpected angles! An easy and pleasant, albeit quite long, walk then brought us back to the car, and upon arriving home a quick check of the wind speed at Nakiska showed gusts to 143 km/h when we were on the summit. It’s not the same mountain by any measure, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the winds were also that strong where we were.