Summit Elevation (m): 1758
Trip Date: Sunday, May 17, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 565
Round Trip Time (hrs): 4
Total Trip Distance (km): 10
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your thumb
Difficulty Notes: A pretty easy off trail hike with some easy scrambling to the summit. NOTE: This route crosses PRIVATE land and you must obtain permission before hiking across it.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (Hiking)
Map: Google Maps
I had a great solo day on Saturday May 16 2020 in the Crowsnest Pass area on Livingstone South Peak and Morin Peak. As it was the May long weekend and the weather was pretty much perfect, I had also made plans for the following day on Sunday. On the long drive home on Saturday evening I wasn’t sure I was still in the mood for Sunday’s outing, but since it was booked both in terms of my family and a private land owner I decided to make a go of it. Chimney Rock is a low front range summit like Black Mountain, located in the Whaleback area, sitting between Chaffen Ridge to the west and the Porcupine Hills to the east. I have friends who have accessed Chimney Rock directly from the east from hwy 22 but this is not a legal route unless you get permission. I couldn’t reach that landowner, so I tried the same route and owner that Matthew Clay used in 2018. Sheila got back to me almost immediately and granted permission to cross her land on Sunday, May 17th so the date was set! Hanneke and Kaycie wanted to join so I wouldn’t be solo for this little adventure.
After a VERY familiar and if I’m honest, a bit too familiar, drive south on hwy 22 I turned off on the Chimney Rock Road heading west towards the Livingstone Range in the distance. I pointed out Coffin and Saddle Peak as we drove to the end of the excellent road near the Chimney Rock Ranch Wellness Retreat. Sheila had requested me to park down the road from the end of her lane which was fair, so we walked a few hundred meters up the road to the gate. From here the best option is to walk a bit further down the road (assuming that you have permission to be here of course!) until you find the old road running up the ridge through light forest on your right.
We started with a light bushwhack up the end of a ridge until we intersected an old road. From here the route was very pleasant through Aspen forests and rolling foothills towards a distant and often visible Chimney Rock. The key word in that last sentence is “rolling”. Matt had the total elevation gain at 780 meters which seemed like a bit much to me (and it was on hindsight) but still, it’s much more than it “should” be thanks to 3 intervening hills that must be crossed along the approach.
The approach road ended at the largest height loss along the approach – a wonderful open meadow with a not-so-wonderful swamp at the bottom. 😉 We hopped over logs and worked our way up to the 2nd hilltop. Bushwhacking was never over a 1 or 2 out of 10 on the nasty scale so this wasn’t an issue. From the top of the 2nd hill we descended a bit before rising and dropping off the 3rd hill towards an obvious meadow finally leading more or less directly towards Chimney Rock.
The curving line of open meadow from the 3rd hill was the best hiking of the day. This was due to wildflowers and views of White Ridge off to our right (west) with Chimney Rock now looming directly over us. Hanneke was a bit nervous about the summit terrain as we hiked an open ridge with some blowdown towards the western slopes beneath the rocky outcrop. These west slopes were bloody steep! Hikers that aren’t used to being off trail or easy scrambles will not like this terrain.
As we approached the summit block the route curved around to the south before ascending loose dirt between two rocky summits. Hanneke didn’t love this terrain but kept going on my advise that “it won’t be that bad”. She’s apparently heard that before… 😉 I choose the left hand summit and this was the highest one. A short section of easy scrambling brought us onto the spacious summit area where we enjoyed some pretty decent front range views in a cool wind.
After snapping photos we decided to get out of the wind and began our descent. Again – purist hikers may not love the easy scrambling just under the summit but Hanneke managed it much easier than she thought she would (as I expected she would) and soon we were back on warm approach meadows where we took a nice break under clearing skies.
The return to the truck was easy with 3 decent height gains to keep our heart rates up. My total height gain was more in line with what I expected at around 565 meters. This did not feel like an 800 meter day to me. Our return time of 4 hours should be considered average – we weren’t running but we didn’t lollygag forever either.
I recommend this hike for people looking for a front range hike with a bit of scrambling and some nice foothill views. Just make sure you ask for permission before setting foot on someone else’s land so that we can all keep enjoying little gems like this.