Fire lookouts are always attractive destinations for hikers. They typically offer relatively easy trails leading to the top, usually old horse trails, and the views are always superlative. And in the case of the abandoned lookout on Blackrock Mountain, which still stands, there is a bit of history exploring to do.
This trip is a real adventure, as before evening starting the hike you must negotiate 15kms of a difficult and every deteriorating road. It’s rough and rutted and a real bone shaker. We’ve done it a regular car, twice actually a few years back, but I would not recommend trying that now. A recent visit to the area shows that the road has further worsened and even in a 4×4 truck it was a challenge. It took 45 minutes to travel that distance our last trip in. A truck or SUV is for the best anyway allowing you to negotiate the steep hill below the parking spot and you can even ford the first river crossing, eliminating some distance and that horrible end of the day trudge up your vehicle. That’s a nice advantage.
Due to heat that day (always our arch nemesis), we only made it to the plateau below the lookout. While the summit was not terribly far away we could just not go on. The plateau itself is a wonderful spot anyway, with great views and lots of interesting and rare-for-the-area plants and many cracks and crevices to look at.
The trail itself is an old horse trail as I mentioned, although calling it a mountain goat trail in places might be more fitting. None the less it is rarely difficult, save for some loose scree on the steepest parts.
The start of the trail is along the Ghost River, which you have to ford. If it’s running that is and on some visits it was completely dry. Following the trail it initially stays in the trees as it switchbacks its way up. At the time of our visit, someone or group was constructing mountain bike ramps and jumps along the route. I guess it would be wise to keep an eye open for riders now.
Near the tree line there are two options to take. You can tackle the hill above you directly on, or you can take the original trail as it skirts more gently around to the left. Shortly after the two trail rejoin you break out of the trees completely. And it’s here you can see the crazy trail you’re about to take. Up to here the path was easy and rather mundane, but now it changes personality and becomes more of a challenge. Like I said though, it’s never that hard.
Skirting below a cliff, we turn left and scramble up a weakness in the band. This is the most airy section of the trail and I think it would take a special horse to negotiate. A confident sure-footed one. There are lots of cracks and mini-caves here, which is typical of these limestone mountains – the entire front ranges of Alberta are almost exclusively limestone.
One more push and we’re on the plateau. It’s flat and extends for some distance in every direction and is home to lots of flowers making it a beautiful place. There are lots of deep cracks here and some sinkholes. Peering over the edge, it’s straight down.
Still some distance away on the flat plateau is the final bump to ascend. The lookout can be easily seen from here and it’s a wonder that it still stands after being abandoned for some sixty years. I believe it’s held in place by cables anchored into the ground. I know it can get super windy up here but it was calm and so hot the day of our trip.
And because of that heat (the car said 33c) we decided it was time to turn around. We were just too fatigued. We looked forward to fording the cool and refreshing Ghost River at the bottom of the trail.
There are lots of peaks to be seen from Blackrock Mountain – all to the south and west – and this includes the Devil’s Head, which is stands out more than any other. Its unique profile reminds you of the similarly named Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. To the north a wall of mountains can be seen as far as the horizon. To the east there are rolling hills and later the plains and you can see Calgary on a good day. Below and to the south are the gravel flats of the Ghost River and beside it a diversion canal that feeds Lake Minnewanka in Banff National Park.
Blackrock Mountain is unique in that it stands alone and separated from other mountains, This accounts for the excellent views and what made it a good candidate for a lookout. The Mockingbird Lookout replaced this one and it’s located a little north of us.
Near the base of the mountain is an old cabin to explore and I assume it was housing for the person manning the lookout. The lookout itself was built in the late 1920s and abandoned in the 1950s and I am told still in reasonable shape.
In 2012 we made another trip to the area and to see that report, click the link below…
Devils, Phantoms and Ghosts.
If you wish more information on this trail, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: June 2008.
Location: Kananaskis, Ghost area.
Distance: 20km return if you start from top-of-the-hill parking spot. Less if you can get down the rough and steep road to the camping area. Even less again if you can park at the second river ford further on.
Height gain from start: 920m if you summit. 775m to the plateau we made it to.
Height gain cumulative: Add 150m more if you have to park at the top of the hill above the river.
Technical bits: Loose scree. River levels can vary a great deal possibly making the two crossings a challenge. The roads in the area are very rough.
Notes: This is in the Ghost/Waiparous OHV zone, meaning you many come across quads and motorcycles in your rambles. However, we’ve never saw any the times we were there.
Reference: Kananaskis Trail Guide by Gillean Daffern.