Summit Elevation (m): 2070
Trip Date: Monday, October 1, 2018
Elevation Gain (m): 780
Round Trip Time (hr): 3
Total Trip Distance (km): 16
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 1 – you fall, you’re stupid
Difficulty Notes: No difficulties other than riding my bike downhill in snow and mud.
Technical Rating: TL3; YDS (Hiking)
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.
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.
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.
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.