Carbondale Hill (Lookout)

Summit Elevation (m): 1802
Trip Date: Sunday, May 24, 2020
Elevation Gain – (m): 600
Round Trip Time (hrs): 3.5
Total Trip Distance (km): 9.5
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you sprain your thumb
Difficulty Notes: This is a less traveled route from the north side of the lookout – the road is a much easier albeit a less scenic and less interesting route. 
Technical Rating: OT3
GPS Track: Gaia
Map: Google Maps

As I drove from Cherry Hill back towards the north end of Carbondale I wondered if I had the will to do yet another peak. I had the physical energy but mentally I was wearing a bit thin after also doing Ginger and Maverick Hills. To make matters more interesting, as I drove the extension of Tapay Road towards a bridge over the Carbondale River at the north end of Carbondale Hill, I noticed a gate blocking further progress! Dang it. Apparently my driving shortcut was blocked and now I was faced with a long drive all the way back out of the area and then back to the SE end of the hill. I didn’t know much about the Ohagen Road off the Carbondale River Road so I was thinking I had to exit via Tapay Road and then drive all the way back into the Castle area on hwy 507 and 774 – a long way around. That made me even more tired just thinking about it. I turned back up the road before slowing down and thinking on things a bit.

Carbondale Hill Route Map. Note the “Cool Outlier”. Also note the cutline that goes straight from just north of the lookout to the NNW just left of my ascent line. I’m 99% sure that this is a MUCH better approach than the one I took, and could even be a trail. All I had to do was traverse SW another 3 or 400 meters and I might have found it. Typical.

I decided that I was either going to bash my way up the north ridge without a (known) trail, or I was going home. Since “home” sounded like giving up, I choose the “bash my own route” option and drove back to the gate, parking out of way just in front of it. As I crossed a raging Carbondale River on the bridge I wondered if I’d made the best choice. I was started now – might as well check it out! I started up my chosen ridge before coming across an obvious trail running SW along the north end of my ascent line. I was sorely tempted to keep following this track and on hindsight I very likely should have. If I was using the Canada topo map as my base I would have noticed a cutline running directly from valley bottom to the north side of Carbondale Hill above! Oops. Instead I got impatient with the “wrong” direction of the track and plunged into a thin matchstick forest – thankfully this one was still standing upright.

The closed Bridge over the Carbondale River. A perfectly good road on either side but it runs through a Shell gas plant just up ahead.
A matchstick forest on ascent. I’m 99% sure that there’s a perfectly good cutline trail up this side about 500m to my right here (UPDATE: Apparently this cutline is not a great route – see the comments below this posting).

I mostly enjoyed the light bushwhack to the north summit and ridge of Carbondale Hill. I say “mostly” because I was tired at this point and the ridges and hills in the area were a bit confusing as far as on-sighting a route was concerned. I definitely recommend at least checking out the cutline option if you ever try a north approach on this hill. Eventually I broke out of the forest and started up towards the north summit bump. My views were killer in every direction as I traversed its east side in order to save some extra height gain. I did notice a striking north outlier to my left as I hiked and resolved to check it out on return.

Aspens and Willows.
Great views back west towards the Flathead Range include Darrah, Pengelly, McGladrey, Ptolemy and Coulthard (R).
The north summit is finally in view. And yes, you have to either go over or around it.

Seeing the lookout from the north summit was a wee bit depressing. It was further than expected and of course had snow and even a cliffband! Thankfully the bit of deep snow I had to traverse was supportive and even better, I found an obvious trail through the cliffband. Along the way I also crossed an obvious track heading down a NNW ridge towards the cutline that I wasn’t aware of at the time.

Traversing the east side of the north summit towards Carbondale Hill and Lookout. Mount Backus at left fg with the Clark Range in the distance.
A great little trail breaks through the cliffs from the north. Another hint that there’s likely an easier route from the north than the one I bashed in.

I popped over the cliffs and ascended a bit of scree to the summit platform of the lookout. The person at the lookout was very surprised to see me! Apparently she’s actively discouraging folks from visiting the lookout and was surprised that I didn’t see her sign until I mentioned my route. Even more surprisingly, I was the 2nd party to approach her haven from the north that day! She was clearly surprised and a little perturbed at the amount of people visiting her lookout. She had spent 8 years at the Junction Mountain Lookout and was expecting the Carbondale one to be less busy – obviously not the case! I told her it would get less busy as the snow melted further west but she didn’t seem convinced. I should point out that she was very nice and accommodating to me and allowed me to stand on the platform and snap some photos – I appreciated that!

Great views east from the Carbondale Lookout. Normally they don’t let you stand here so don’t expect it. My outlier peak at left and Mount Backus at center. Prairie Bluff at distant right.
The southern Flathead Range includes Centre (L), Darrah S2, Darrah (R).
Views north from the summit over Maverick and Hastings Ridge towards the Crowsnest Pass at center.
Views south (L), west and north (R) from the summit. At left are Table, Southfork and Barnaby with Haig, Syncline, St. Eloi and McCarty at center. Hollebeke, Centre, Darrah, Pengelly, McGladrey, Ptolemy, Coulthard and even Livingstone South trending to distant right.

I was feeling a bit tired as I descended back to the north summit. On return I went over it, just in case someone names it some day. I almost followed the suspected “cutline track” back but really wanted to tag the interesting north outlier for some reason. It looked so cool from the road and I wondered if it was higher than Carbondale Hill (it’s not). There was only one way to find out so I headed off towards it. The traverse was easy and pleasant with great views over the green valleys far below with long shadows creeping over them. Soon I was huffing and puffing my way to the fifth or sixth summit of the day and enjoying some of the nicest conditions of the day.

Traversing back over the north summit (R). Note the old roadbed running off ahead of me here? I’m 99% sure that if you follow it along this ridge trending slightly left it follows a cutline visible on Google Earth. I didn’t know this at the time of course, and I wanted to visit the north outlier so I didn’t take the risk. (UPDATE: Apparently this cutline is not a great route – see the comments below this posting.)
Maybe I can call it “lean on me” peak?
A wonderful highline traverse to the north outlier.
Great late day lighting back on Carbondale Lookout. Table Mountain at distant left.

Originally I was planning to roughly follow my ascent track on descent, but as I descended the north outlier west to another bump I looked north (right) and realized I could probably descend a gully straight down to another gas plant and the road below. I could then walk back to the truck over the Carbondale River along the road. So that’s what I did. It worked out OK but was a bit of a thrash so be warned if you follow my route. Soon enough I was walking back to the truck.

The Carbondale River merges into the Castle River to the east before running out of the foothills.
Incredible views west from the north outlier include McCarty (L), Hollebeke, Centre, Darrah S2, Darrah, Pengelly, McGladrey, Ptolemy and Coulthard (R). The junction of Tapay Road, Adanac Road and the Carbondale River Road visible at lower right.
Another bump just west of the north outlier. I was going to go over it but then spotted a route down to the right (north) directly to the gas plant and road below.
On Tapay Road driving home with Carbondale Hill at left – the summit not visible here but my descent route down the obvious gully that starts in shadow. The gas plant visible at left is where I ended up.

Would I recommend my route on Carbondale Hill? Yes and no. If you want to try a north approach I recommend trying the cutline route. Start where I did and follow the track I did a bit further to see if there’s a trail up the cutline. If there is, this could be a wonderful option (UPDATE: Apparently this cutline is not a great route – see the comments below this posting). Otherwise you’re likely better off ascending with the hoards up the regular SE road to the summit – just don’t be surprised if you can’t quite stand right on top of the lookout.

5 thoughts on Carbondale Hill (Lookout)

  1. Looks like a really interesting place with some unique views. I have never really done any hiking south of the Highwood Pass area. Looks like a nice place to be certain of some solitude.

  2. The cutline may logically “look” easier – but it is not! It is brutal. Finding your way up/down through the forest is the best way.

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