(This lookout hike was planned to be one of many during a camping trip, but as I’ll talk about later — it turned out to be a bit of a bust due to road conditions.)
Limestone Mountain Lookout is located in the Clearwater area west of Caroline, with access from Forestry Trunk road 940. Overall, it took about 3 hours of driving and a couple of
navigational errors, but I arrived at my trail-head for the Limestone Mountain
Lookout. I say ‘my’ because the approach road was increasingly covered with more and more snow as it wasn’t in regular use.
Eventually, I had to park at the last Y junction about 2 kilometers from the actual parking lot to avoid getting the truck stuck. I didn’t mind though, as the initial road-bound snowshoe trip with
the trees lining the road was quaint and also scenic, particularly as you near the communication towers.
Once reaching the towers, the view is (and would have been) spectacular throughout. The entire trip from the trail-head to the lookout is in the open, allowing for much gazing at the mountain ranges to the west and hilly treed landscapes to the east. I couldn’t help but notice how many ‘sloping’ mountains there were in this area (Which would be good scrambles if you could reach them.) As I continued along, the snowstorm started to blow in, making travel a bit slower. The trail follows an atv road along the grassy ridge to the saddle of Limestone Mountain. From there, you continue up the slope, rounding
the top to see the final approach to the lookout. By this time, a getting a clear view was few and far between.
Reaching the lookout, the view was gone but the wind sure wasn’t. I took some photos of the
lookout, ate a snack and made my way back along the windy ridge toward the towers. Along the way, I was preceded by about 10 ptarmigans — who seemed to surprise me every now and then because they were so hard to see given the snowstorm and their great camouflage. For most of the travel, I was able to stick to the grass and rocks, which helped to make a quick return trip. It was a good snowstorm as most of my approaching tracks had been filled already. It was a fairly straight forward 10 km hike with the extra bit at the beginning.
The slow and windy trip back to the forestry trunk road was tricky, but smooth with the new snow falling. In general, the driving approach was quite long and requires a back country roads
map to navigate the mix of gas company access roads of the area. But, when
plowed, the roads are in great condition with distance markers
throughout. I wouldn’t recommend going to Limestone Lookout as your ‘sole’ destination on a trip from the city — as it is too much driving for the amount of hiking
you’ll do. Although, if you’re planning on staying in the area for more hikes (like I was), it is definitely worth it.
As for the rest of the trip, my plans were to continue north along highway 940 toward the Ram Falls area where I was going to camp. From there, I’d do a few more lookout hikes in the area and eventually head toward Nordegg on Sunday. However, about 50 kms south of Ram Falls, just before Corkscrew Mountain (which literally describes the winding road), I reached the end of the plowed road and faced 3 to 4 feet snow drifts. While I sat here contemplating the road
conditions (in my
borrowed truck), another truck came around the
corner. They told me they had gone a kilometer ahead, but due to the snow on the road and the corkscrew switchbacks, they had to turn
around. The only other way into Ram falls is from Nordegg area, which
would have required me to drive well over 150 kms, including driving
back to the main roads, only to find another way in again with uncertain road conditions. I
also remembered another one of these signs on the Nordegg end of
Highway 940 from a previous trip, so it became a futile effort to continue on with my planned trip.
I laughed to myself, remembering how I cursed the unsightly oil & gas transfer stations on the way up to Limestone, but now realized that the roads are plowed to allow access for their machines and trucks. Apparently, this area hasn’t been developed yet on that front. A bit dejected, I headed back to Caroline and eventually Airdrie. If anyone has a better way into Ram Falls, I’m all ears. Next time old man winter, next time.