December 21st marks the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year and the official start of winter in the northern hemisphere, how should I cerebrate this day? I set out on another early morning adventure, this time with Phil Jackson and Jaime Curcil. Our destination, Limestone Mountain, located between the east side of the Alberni Inlet and the west edge of the Nitinat Watershed. Our hearts were light, the sky had many patches of blue, it appeared as though we might get some sunshine and good weather!
Total Horizontal Distanct : 8.3 k
Starting Elevation: 1038 m
Max Elevation: 1512 m
Elevation Gain: 587 m
Total Time: 5 h 15 min
To access Limestone Mountain we drove through Port Alberni, heading southwest on the Bamfield Road (AKA Franklin River Road). Around the 15 kilometer mark, turned left(east) following the Thistle Mine Road (marked TMR) up the Franklin River Valley . This toad may be familiar to those readers who have visited Father and Son Lake, it's the same road, however at the final turnoff to the lake the route turns right (west).
For full disclosure, I took my 2001 Subaru Outback. The Thistle Mine Road is in good condition but once we turned right at the Father and Son Lake turnoff, starting our ascent up the mountain side, the road deteriorates and there are many water-bars that must be crossed. We climbed to 1038 m before I was forced to stop at a much larger water-bar. Regardless, this put us in great position to start the days hike!
Low cloud greeted us as we looked higher into the mountain
We departed the car at 8:45 under overcast sky. The earlier blue skies of the morning had blown past, leaving us in a shroud of light mist. We found ourselves hiking up into denser clouds, visibility promised to be poor. We left the car parked on the old logging road, continuing along it another 1200 m before we started up into the trees. Within 15 minutes of leaving the car we were starting walk on light snow.
Phil was leading us, he and another friend made the ascent of Limestone a few years past. He is steadfast in his knowledge of the area and after only a short time in the trees, we emerged onto another old logging spur, here we found a heavily flagged route that eventually brought us to our destination.
A small piece of flagging marks our route
The summit of Limestone Mountain is on the east end of a long narrow ridge. The flagged route mostly travels along the southwest face of the mountain. In general the route is easy to follow but good route finding skill is an asset. The hiking is simple with only a couple of sections that require the use of hands, there is limited exposure at one small section of the hike. It may be possible to follow a different route and have no exposure and no scrambling but we didn't explore any further.
Jamie, walks the narrow edge of the ridge's most exposed section
Our route was made more challenging by the snow on the ground. As we ascended it became deeper and deeper. Around 1300 m the snow was finally deep enough for us to put on snowshoes. Though, the route meandering in and out of the trees causing the depth of the snow and the usefulness of the shoes varied. Progress was much slower than a route devoid of snow or conversely, on burred deep in snow.
As we climbed higher the snow became deeper and the weather turned on us. We donned rain-shells as fat drops of slushy rain fell. We plodded along and eventually the rain gave way to snow but our view would not open. We arrived at our destination around 11:30 am . The depth of the snow kept the register from us. We ate a few snacks and had some hot drinks before following our route back to the car
Phil, deep in a tree well at the summit register (pictured left)
The return trip was much faster and we arrived back at the car at 1:45 pm. As we approached the car, we joked about the weather. Looking back at the summit, we could see the visibility significantly improved, though no benefit to us.
Our trip to the summit was enjoyable, I would love to do this trip again, in a different season and perhaps on a day with better visibility. From the summit of Limestone mountain, many familiar peaks should be visible, including: Mt Mcquillan, Sadie Peak, Butler Peak, Green Mountain and many many more.