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; RE3/4
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 Napay 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 Napay 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.