Limestone Mountain (Lookout)

Summit Elevation (m): 2255
Trip Date: March 20 2021
Elevation Gain (m): 875
Round Trip Time (hr): 4
Total Trip Distance (km): 16
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2 – you fall, you tripped on your untied shoelace. Pay attention!
Difficulty Notes: Easy hiking up a cleared cutline and along a road to the summit.
Technical Rating: OT3
GPS Track: Gaia
MapGoogle Maps

The challenge with Limestone Mountain was always going to be finding someone willing to share the long drive for such a lowly objective. I was pretty much resigned to making it a solo venture. I knew about Limestone primarily thanks to a trip report from Cornelius Rott but always seemed to forget about it right after remembering again for some reason or another. The plan was always to combine Limestone with as many other front range hills, bumps and named ridges in the area as possible just to make the long drive worth it. When I stood on the windy, cool summit of Willson Peak only a few days earlier and noticed how dry the area west of Sundre and east of the Rockies was, I decided to tackle these objectives sooner than later. When Wietse realized that he wanted to get some exercise on a peak other than Prairie Mountain and that the conditions weren’t ideal for skiing he agreed to join me on some front range “whack-a-peak” adventuring. It was even his turn to drive – a real bonus for me! Thanks to Dave Salahub’s 2020 adventuring in this area, I had some good beta on a number of possibilities. The challenge was going to be access – what condition would the roads be in?

Roads and Foothills West of Sundre and Caroline. Lots of officially named “mountains” and ridges here to explore in the off seasons. Lots of access roads to get lost and / or stuck on too!!

Wietse picked me up in his SUV (we suspected we might need the AWD on some of our access roads) at around 06:00. We made the long drive through Sundre, continuing west on hwy 584 instead of turning down RR63 and heading through Coal Camp and Cartier Creek to Hwy 940 and eventually Ya Ha Tinda like we usually do from Sundre. The drive was pleasant and we were amused to note that when we exited pavement to gravel our ride actually improved rather than get rougher as you’d normally expect. We turned south on 734 / hwy 940 and drove past the access road for Old Baldy before arriving at the start of the impressively well maintained “Limestone Compression Plant Road”. The road was a mix of dry, snow covered and some fairly deep, icy puddles but for the most part was easily drivable in any higher clearance vehicle. We noted that it was snowplowed as well – so likely good to drive almost year around. There were a few small flies in the ointment however – not enough to ruin the whole, but enough to potentially ruin it! The flies were in the form of red metal gates with signs to the effect of “don’t be surprised if you drive back along this road and find this gate closed and locked”! Hmmm. We figured if it wasn’t locked at this point in the day we were fine and proceeded to pass through the first fly.

Limestone Mountain (Lookout) Route Map. We encountered a locked gate approximately 19kms up the Limestone Compressor Station access road.

The drive up the Limestone Compressor Station Road was longer than we expected and as we approached km 18 we were starting to drive on more and more snow and mud and less and less dry gravel. Then the 2nd fly appeared just ahead – and this one was firmly closed and locked! There was no debating this situation – we would be tacking on at least 1.5-2km to access the SW cutline route for Limestone Mountain. It was a beautiful day and we had time and energy so we shrugged off the inconvenience and proceeded to get ready. When Wietse pointed out a ~150m height loss along the road to the cutline we didn’t love it but we were all the way out here now so we barely registered this new inconvenience. The road hike went quickly (remember – downhill?!) and soon we were striding along a frozen snowmobile track heading up the obvious undulating cutline towards the south end of Limestone Mountain. It didn’t take long for us to decide to dump the heavy snowshoes from our packs – we figured we’d be returning on frozen snow at the pace we were going.

Thanks to copious number of Prairie Mountain workouts and some dedicated exercise routines over the winter, Wietse and I weren’t dragging our butts and within 1.5 hours of the parking spot we were approaching the south end of the summit ridge of Limestone Mountain. My Gaia base map has a parking lot up here somewhere – I’m not sure how it’s accessed but it would certainly make this hike a whole heckuva lot easier and even shorter than it was for us!

Nearing the south ridge of Limestone. Our approach route from left, the summit at center and the false summit at upper right here.
Views along the south ridge to the distant set of summits from near the false summit / upper parking lot.

From the first false summit / upper parking lot the route was very obvious – follow the road north! Some OHV had made it up here recently and had driven to the lookout and we followed their tracks. Most of the ridge was bone dry and the wind wasn’t horrible, making for a very pleasant stroll. So far this was proving to be the perfect timing for this lowly objective. I certainly wouldn’t want to hike here on a nice summer day – too many people and sexier objectives would drive me elsewhere. Any more snow or winter conditions could make the drive and the hike much less pleasant than we had it.

Wietse continued to set a fast pace and soon we were on the 2nd false summit with the true high point and the lookout just ahead. Our views west to the Tinda and Clearwater Ranges were stunning.

The lookout and true summit from the 2nd false one. Ram Mountain at distant left.

We made the short traverse to the lookout and within just over 2 hours from the start we were taking in our first (and best) summit views of the day. I won’t go into details but suffice to say that there are enough idiots around doing structural damage that I can see these lookout ridges being shut down completely to the public at some point sooner than later. It pisses me off that humans always have to be so disappointing. Why can’t you just enjoy the views without destroying things along the way?!

Summit views to the NW along the front range Rockies. Most of these summits are unnamed and untamed and include the Clearwater River at left and a distant Cutoff Creek.
Summit views SW include some of the eastern Tinda and Ghost peaks. From R to L visible peaks include Willson, Evangeline, Rum Ridge, Eagle, Maze, Wildhorse Ridge, Castle Rock, Devils Head and Ghost Peak (L).
Summit views west are impressive from this small mountain. Most of these peaks are unnamed but Wapiti, Scalp and possibly a few other named summits are visible. The Clearwater River exits the Rockies at right.

After snapping photos and naming as many summits as we could (there aren’t that many named peaks visible in this area of the Rockies) we started the quick descent back along the ridge and down the cutline to the road below.

Soon we were tramping back up the road to the locked gate in warm sunshine. Within 4 hours of leaving we were back and planning our next objective of the day. Limestone Mountain is definitely worth doing but likely not as a sole objective if you’re driving the 2.5-3 hours from Calgary to the trailhead. We were happy to do it as the primary summit – one that actually has great views – but were also glad we had other things to do in the area while we were there anyway.

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