There's not much to "report" on the easy and quick Ironstone Lookout / Willoughby Peak bike 'n hike other than to say you should probably combine it with another lowly ridge hike in the Crowsnest Pass area if you're going to bother driving all the way down from Calgary or even further. This is a very quick objective, especially if you use a bike for the approach, or optimally the entire trip.
I was feeling let down by the dismal September weather and with one last day off before going back to work for the winter, I decided to risk the crappy forecast and drive down to the Crowsnest Pass to try my luck with a few last summits on Monday, October 1 2018. My original plan was to scramble Deadman's Peak and then if I had energy remaining, do the bike 'n hike of Willoughby Peak. As I drove closer to the pass, I noticed copious amounts of fresh snow since my visit only 5 days earlier when I scrambled Mount Coulthard and McLaren. I scrapped plans for the slabby Deadman's Peak and switched over to a much less aggressive Willoughby Peak / Ironstone Lookout bike 'n hike. I noticed right away on the York Creek Road (see my Coulthard report for details on the trailhead) that this day would be quite a bit different than my previous one only days earlier. Fresh snow had turned the road to a sticky, mucky mess. By the time I parked at the bridge over North York Creek, I was wondering if it was worth the bike ride but set off up the road on my bike in fresh snow anyway. The first kilometer or so was pretty easy biking in only a few inches of snow on dirt and gravel. The fact that I was following very fresh bear tracks didn't fill me with delight, but I kept my bear spray handy just in case and kept going.
[Compared with a week earlier, this is looking quite wintry.]
[I didn't notice the small sign at right last week. Apparently this is part of the Great Divide Trail.]
[It's small but clear.]
[Looking back at my tire tracks alongside the bear tracks. We went the same direction for quite a while before the bear turned off the road.]
On my approach to Mount Coulthard I'd biked 2 extra km's up the approach road by accident, so I knew exactly where to go for Willoughby. As a matter of fact, I didn't even have to bike as far up the OHV track as I did in error, and turned up a steeper side track as the snow deepened and the track got rougher. I briefly considered leaving my bike here and continuing on foot, but the snow was still only a few inches deep and I figured despite some slick rocks there was no harm in pushing my trusty two-wheeled steed a "bit" higher. I was getting used to using a bike for quick exits after using it on both Coulthard and my Rainy Lakes traverse with Phil only days earlier. Biking the approach is like skiing it - a bit more work up front but huge payoff on descent.
[Still sharing the road with the bear as I look back.]
[This is where the bear tracks continued up the road and I went left up the steeper, smaller road. A week earlier I'd blissfully biked even further than this spot, missing my turnoff for Coulthard by 2km! I hate it when that happens. ]
[The snow slowly gets deeper and deeper the higher I go.]
I managed to huff and puff my way quite a ways up the side road in ever deepening snow before I finally gave up and leaned the bike against a tree along the trail. I'd be walking from here. At this point I was happy with my decision to forego Deadman's Peak as the snow was over ankle deep even on at my low elevation and the sky was looking pretty grumpy. The rest of the hike was nothing more than plodding uphill in snow up to knee deep and fairly strong wind gusts as I neared the lookout. The set of tracks I was following only visited the south (lower) summit for some reason, so I broke trail in deep snow to the Ironstone Lookout which was obviously empty and boarded up. The scenery surrounding the lookout was very interesting with the Lost Creek fire from 2003 still impacting the views considerably. The stormy skies over the area enhanced my photos a bit - which is a good thing because this isn't a highlight hike in any conditions.
[Still pushing upwards, looking back.]
[I've left the bike at this point but am still following a fairly fresh set of boot prints.]
[Moody atmosphere above the burn area.]
[Now it's really starting to feel like winter! I guess the hiking and scrambling season is officially over for the year.]
[Interesting that this the sign they have to post near the summit! NO SHOOTING implies that people were regularly shooting here before? Hmmm. Good ol' southern Alberta.]
[Decent views looking east towards Turtle Mountain with the road continuing up the ridge to the lookout at right.]
[The storm clouds are building in this nice view towards the front ranges - Turtle Mountain at right and Bluff Mountain at left. ++]
[More interesting views of the matchstick forest as I continue up the road to the Ironstone Lookout. Mount McLaren visible right of center in the distance.]
[The height gain on this little hike sneaks up on you, especially with fresh snow!]
[Dramatic views south off the ridge.]
[Nice dramatic lighting over the pass.]
[Panorama looking north (L) and east (R) over the Crowsnest Area includes (R to L), Turtle, Livingstone South, Bluff and Saskatoon. ++]
[The mining activity on Grassy Mountain is clearly visible to the north.]
[Looking towards the Bluff Mountain / Turtle Mountain gap towards Greenhill Ridge, South Livingstone and "The Dog".]
[The Ironstone Lookout at left with views west towards the Flathead Range including Coulthard and McLaren which were both mostly snow-free only days ago when I scrambled them in summer-like conditions. ++]
[Crowsnest Ridge has avoided all the snow somehow - despite being closer to the Divide!]
[Views east (L), south (C) and west (R) from just under the lookout include Turtle and Hillcrest at left and the Flathead Range at right. ++]
[The lookout is a pretty sweet setup with access to power lines I'm sure the occupant has some nice homey comforts.]
My descent was quite quick and easy in the fresh snow. The bike ride was good while the snow remained a few inches deep, but once I got back onto the more traveled and lower elevation roads they became a soupy mess of muck, ice and puddles which resulted in me covered from head to toe in various bits of the trail! Being covered in muck and wet from the ride down, I gave up on any further plans of doing more easy ridges / peaks in the area and headed home instead.
[Starting back down, looking north to the north summit which I didn't bother with this particular day.]
[Good views on descent.]
[Looking towards the prairies between Turtle Mountain (L) and Hillcrest Mountain (R).]
[Telephoto through the same gap as above, note the clouds and windmills just peeking above?]
[A rain (snow?) bow in front of Mount McLaren as I continue my descent.]