With the recent (and necessary) implementation of Covid-19 restrictions in Alberta, I wondered if it was still possible to go hiking with a friend, given the provincial ban on outdoor social gatherings. After carefully examining the Government’s new public health measures, I noticed that outdoor physical activities are still allowed, provided they involve less than 10 people and physical distancing is maintained throughout. Though the government strongly recommends participants come from the same household, it does not prohibit outside involvement.
Therefore, knowing we were within the rules and that physical distancing is easy to do while hiking, Brad and I decided to head out (in separate vehicles as we have done since the pandemic began) for a post-Christmas snowshoe in the Castle. Two weeks ago, we had scoped out the long, north ridge of Carbondale Hill from atop “Beaver Mines Ridge”, and Brad suggested that we try it today as a loop – starting on the far north end and ending up at the fire lookout on Carbondale Hill. This was a fantastic idea and thanks to Brad’s insane ability to blaze a trail through deep snow, 😁 we thoroughly enjoyed our trip.
Indeed, “Carbondale Ridge” as we’ve come to call it, is a great winter destination all by itself: with four distinct highpoints and sweeping views of the area. Adding in the fire lookout on Carbondale Hill – which we’ve both visited before – was a bonus; though ascending the steep, snow-covered pitch to the summit was not easy. However, both of us agreed that going up this sketchy terrain was far better than descending it, which is what we might have had to do, if we had attempted our loop in reverse. In the summer this might be easier, but snow definitely ups the stakes.
All in all, this first snowshoe of the season did not disappoint! Not only did we explore yet another fun foothill in the Castle (winter is the best time for this 😁), but we experienced great weather throughout.
To get to “Carbondale Ridge” and Carbondale Hill, drive south from the hamlet of Beaver Mines along Highway 774 for ~15.5 km until you come to the Lynx Creek (Ohagen Road) turnoff on your right (just past the Beaver Mines Lake turnoff). Turn and follow Ohagen Road for ~1.8 km until you come to a gate on the main road. The gate is closed from December 15 to May 1 and if your hike falls within this timeframe, this will be your starting point.
You can do the loop in reverse and start with Carbondale Hill, but to try our route, hike from the gate and along the road for ~6.2 km until you see a gradual slope leading from the road and towards the far north end of the ridge. In total, it is a ~1.3 km hike with a 190 m elevation gain to reach the end of the ridge (1510 m) from the road.
Once on the north end of the ridge, know that it will be a ~6.7 km trip (~300 m in elevation gains) to reach the fire lookout on Carbondale Hill. The first highpoint (1665 m) sits ~1.75 km (156 m elevation gain) from the end of the ridge and involves a pleasant hike through the trees that is capped off by a steep plod to the summit.
Reaching the second highpoint (1759 m) involves a short descent and then a ~1 km hike through light forest cover to reach the summit. Again, the slope directly beneath the summit is steep and functions as a collection point for snow, so bring someone like Brad to blaze a trail. 😁
The third highpoint (~1732 m) is shorter and sits only ~711 m to the north of the second highpoint. Though it’s tempting to bypass, it’s worth making the short trip to the summit. The fourth and tallest highpoint (1776 m) on “Carbondale Ridge” is a ~1.4 km hike from the third highpoint and offers a unique perspective of the fire lookout on Carbondale Hill. If desired, it may be possible to return from here by descending to the col with Carbondale Hill and then making your way through forested slopes back to the road.
To continue to Carbondale Hill (1810 m) – which sits ~1.73 km from the fourth highpoint – descend (~65 m elevation loss) to the base of an intervening ridge. Ascend the small ridge and make your way to a small trail that leads into the trees beneath the summit. We followed the this trail in the hopes that it would lead directly to the summit, but after a short distance, it faded into nothing, leaving us to negotiate the steep slopes to the summit.
From the summit of Carbondale Hill, we descended the south ridge until we intersected the access road near the base of the mountain. We then followed the access road back to the main road, from which, it was a ~1.2 km walk back to our vehicles.
Our total roundtrip distance was 18.5 km with total elevation gains of 838 m. Our total time came in at 6 hours and 52 minutes. For reference, it took us 1 hour and 12 minutes to hike the road for the initial ~6.2 km and then 4 hours and 20 minutes to complete the ~6.7 km traverse to the fire lookout on Carbondale Hill.
Our starting point at the seasonal gate on OHagen Road. Carbondale Hill is on the left and the highest point (1776 m) on “Carbondale Ridge” is in the centre.
Making the easy hike along the road.
A good look at the entire ridge with Carbondale Hill on the far left.
Approximately ~5.2 km and 1 hour after starting, we came to another gate. We would continue for another kilometre before leaving the road.
A clear glimpse of the north end of “Carbondale Ridge” means it’s time to leave the road.
The gradual slope (left) where we left the road approximately 6.2 km and 1 hour and 12 minutes after starting.
We only made it ~200 m before we had to break out the snowshoes.
The view back shortly after leaving the road.
Brad leads the way as we head towards the north end of “Carbondale Ridge”.
There were two options from here: 1) go up the gradual slope through the trees on the right; or 2) head directly to the small cliff face and climb a snow-filled couloir. Guess which one we chose? 🤔
You guessed correctly! Heading to the cliff face… (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
The slope beneath the cliffs is steeper than it looks.
Wrestling with a tree… 😂 (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
Brad scrambles to the base of the couloir…
And up he goes!
Almost at the top. It’s too bad this was so short.
My turn to follow. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
Arriving on the north end of the ridge (1510 m). For reference, it was ~1.2 km from the road with an elevation gain of ~190 m.
Gazing to the north at Burmis Mountain (centre).
The view to the southwest is dominated by the first two highpoints on “Carbondale Ridge”.
Looking east and across the valley at Mount Backus (right).
To the north is Byron Hill (right) and in front of it, little Ginger Hill – which for some reason, I’ve yet to do. 🤔
Brad leads us on as we begin the ~1.75 km hike to the first highpoint (centre).
Maintaining physical distancing.
A herd of elk had graciously blazed a trail for us all the way to the summit.
Starting up the steep slope beneath the summit.
Even with the elk tracks, it was still a slog through deep snow.
Glancing back to the north end of the ridge as we draw closer to the top.
Brad arrives on the summit of the first highpoint (1665 m).
From the summit, our route was laid out before us, with the notable exception of the fourth highpoint.
Our route to the second highpoint would utilize the remnants of an old logging road (right) before ascending through the open patch in the trees.
Glancing back to the first highpoint.
Brad shifts into “god mode” as he breaks trail along the road.
The road eventually disappeared, but the route to the summit remained obvious.
A quick look back to the first highpoint.
We encountered increasingly deep snow as we gained elevation.
Brad tirelessly continues to forge a trail.
Thankfully, the snow became hard-packed beneath the summit.
A cool rock band and a deep drift mark the summit.
The view back includes the north end of the ridge (centre) and the first highpoint.
A closer look at the rock band.
Taking advantage of the large drift to reach the summit. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
On the summit of the second highpoint (1759 m) and gazing along the ridge to the third (foreground) and fourth highpoints. The summit of Carbondale Ridge (distance centre) is still ~3.9 km from here, while the fourth highpoint is ~2.1 km away.
Brad leads us towards the third highpoint which sits only ~711 m away. It was tempting to bypass, but I’m glad that we didn’t.
Easy travel over the wind-swept sections of the ridge.
Glancing back to the second highpoint and the neat rock spines that give it character.
Brad draws close to the top of the third highpoint.
Arriving on the summit. (Photo by Brad Wolcott)
The second highpoint looks significantly higher than the first (right) from this vantage.
Another look at the second highpoint and the west ridge leading off of it.
Two down and two more to go.
Brad on the summit of the third highpoint (1732 m).
A closer look to the southwest at Mount McCarty.
The fourth and final highpoint on “Carbondale Ridge” is still ~1.4 km away.
More great views from the ridge. In the background are Table Mountain (right), “Table Top” (centre), and Whistler Mountain (right). The unassuming and diminutive ridge in the foreground is “Beaver Mines Ridge” where we were two weeks ago.
While it makes sense to ttry this loop in reverse and start at Carbondale Hill, today’s route allowed us to have a quick trip back to our vehicles at the end of the day while also giving us the option to complete the ridge as a stand alone destination.
Looking back at the second and third (right) highpoints
Approaching a short section of trees on the fourth highpoint.
Brad switches back into “god mode” as we encounter the deepest snow of the day.
While Brad slavishly breaks trail, I pause for another look back along the ridge.
Go Brad go! 😁
I’m sure he burned 10x the calories that I did on this trip. Yet then again, the younger person should always break trail… 😉
Almost at the top.
Finally on the top and looking towards the fire lookout on Carbondale Hill.
The long summit (1776 m) is the highest point on “Carbondale Ridge”.
This is perhaps the only angle from which Mount Backus looks like a mountain. 😂
Looking north at the second and third highpoints.
A closer look at Syncline Mountain.
And yet another look at Mount McCarty.
Somewhere out there is Mount Darrah…
Brad leads the way toward Carbondale Hill.
To get to the fire lookout (left), we had to lose ~65 m in elevation to reach the col before regaining the ridge through the trees on the right. It may be possible to descend to the road from the col if you want to avoid Carbondale Hill.
Once again, Brad leads the way…
And breaks trail!
Nearing the top of the ridge.
Our route would go up the steep, open slope in the centre.
Following an old trail along the ridge.
The trail eventually began to head across the north slope of Carbondale Hill and we were hopeful that it would take us all the way to the summit.
Unfortunately, the road soon disappeared and we were left to find another way up.
Traversing across the steep slope.
The point where we gave up traversing and began to ascend the rock bands directly beneath the summit.
After a steep climb, we emerged onto the summit of Carbondale Hill (1810 m).
Looking back at our route along “Carbondale Ridge”.
A bright wide angle to the south.
Another wide angle, this time to the southwest and towards North Kootenay Pass (right).
Looking west at a beclouded Flathead Range.
A large swath of forest sits between Carbondale Hill and Mount McCarty.
Another look at the fire lookout. I think that I have trouble sleeping when it’s windy in Lethbridge, I can’t imagine what it would be like to try and sleep here.
The trail-breaking wonder himself!
Leaving the summit. Another party had recently visited the lookout and we would end up taking advantage of their trail on the way back.
Instead of following the road, we opted to descend the scenic south ridge. This is the route that I took when I was here in December 2013.
A good look at the surprisingly fun “Beaver Mines Ridge” (foreground).
There were some pretty cool cornices near the summit.
Looking forward to the quick descent.
The last act of trail-breaking for the day.
The south ridge is straightforward and saves time on both ascent and descent.
Still can’t get enough of those views!
You know you’re in windy southwestern Alberta when every tree grows at an angle.
We followed the ridge until it intersected with the access road near the base of the mountain.
Arriving back at the main road. Curiously, there were ‘closed’ signs near the gate. I never noticed these on the way in, but it seems weird that Alberta Parks would put these up.
Making the easy ~1.2 km walk back.
Arriving back at our vehicles 6 hours and 52 minutes after starting out. Once again, Brad’s suggestion for a winter loop made for a terrific day. Not only that, but his trail-breaking skills were much appreciated by Old Man McMurray. 😁 These small foothills in the Castle are perfect destinations for winter hiking and snowshoeing, and depending on the amount of snow, may actually take more effort to reach than a larger mountain would in the summer – unless of course, you bring someone like Brad with you. 😂