Distance: 18.5 km
Elevation gain: 1110 m View map Download GPS track
Sandra and I decided to head north to the Ya Ha Tinda region this weekend. We had a few hikes in mind, but figured we’d start our day with a short sunrise ascent of Limestone Mountain and then move onto something else for the rest of the day.
The summit of Limestone Mountain sports a fire lookout and is normally accessed via gas well roads that climb to the summit ridge and continue to within an easy 3 km walk of the summit. The network of roads in the area is a bit of a maze, but armed with the directions in “Fire Lookout Hikes in the Canadian Rockies
” and a separate map I wasn’t concerned at all about finding our way. What I did not anticipate, however, was that the navigator would confuse left and right
at a key intersection! Normally such an error would quickly become apparent, but remarkably the intersections and landmarks continued to match the directions in the book, so there was no clear indication we’d gone astray and we soon arrived at what seemed to be the lookout access road. Halfway up the road the route was even labelled as “Limestone Lookout Trail” on my map, so we really had no idea we were quite far off course.
I tried driving up this unplowed road, but I didn’t like how the truck was handling the crusted sugar snow on level terrain, and so we instead decided to snowshoe and hike the remaining 8-10 km to the summit.
Our snowshoes didn’t like the crusty snow that much either, but we were still able to keep a reasonable pace as we set out. As we travelled along the road, however, I started to feel as though something was off. Every lookout road I’ve been on has been pretty logically constructed, but this one weaved its way up and over minor hills instead of contouring around them, and the final section of “road” on my map seemed unusually straight for a mountain road. My suspicions were confirmed when the road transitioned to a power cutline 3 km from the truck.
By this point we’d lost more elevation than we’d gained on our ascent
and I sure didn’t feel like backtracking, so we decided to continue up the cutline instead of heading back to the truck to find the correct road. This went well enough and in short order we were actually gaining elevation, and before long we were able to remove our snowshoes and simply walk along the edge of the cutline where the snow had melted.
We reached the summit ridge and communications towers where the actual access road leads two hours after leaving the truck, then continued to the summit an easy 2.8 km away and about 150 m higher. Just before we arrived at the summit a cool breeze started to blow in from the west, and when this hit presumably warmer air to the east of the mountain, clouds started to rapidly form. It was quite awesome to watch, and within 15 minutes the east side of the entire ridge was completely enveloped in billowing clouds! The ridge itself, however, remained sunny, and after a short summit stay we headed back to the communication towers as this cool meteorological phenomenon swirled to the east and occasionally enveloped us.
We had lunch in a sunny spot along the cutline, then decided that instead of retracing our route back along the unplowed random road, we’d follow the cutline to the main road and then hike back to the truck along it. This worked well, and we were back at the truck shortly after 2:30.
This turned out to be a nice snowshoe and hike, but it would’ve been far nicer had we actually taken the correct road! If you ever try to find the place yourself, follow the directions in the guidebook well, or if the road is impassable, use the cutline we followed on decent. Don’t waste your time with our ascent route!