Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Black Rock Mountain

Trip Date: October 2007

This trip holds special meaning to the staff and students I work with.  It is the most prominent mountain in our area and can be seen from our meadow, our lake, and from certain locations within camp itself.  It is the first mountain new students see when they arrive at camp and you can even see the old fire lookout on the summit if you look closely enough.  In fact, a while back a rumor was started that the abandoned fire lookout is actually a pie shack that's owned by a kind old lady that lives in Canmore.  All we have to do is call her up prior to our trip and order a pie so that it will be ready when we get to the summit.  Due to the fact that the rumor exists and has perpetuated over the years, invariably a staff member ends up hauling a pie or two up to the top of the mountain in order to keep the legend alive.  

Black Rock Mountain is located in the Don Getty Wildland Park, which is between the Ghost Public Land Use Zone (PLUZ) to the east, the Ghost River Wilderness Area to the west, and Banff National Park to the south.  The mountain received its name in 1958 for its black appearance, particularly when viewed from the east.  The trailhead is located at the base of the mountain and is accessed via the Ghost Valley.  There's a place to park at the end of the extremely rough TransAlta road, which is roughly a 110km drive northwest from Calgary.  From the parking area you'll have to walk north along the dry riverbed until you spot the trailhead and backcountry camping area.  The trail from the camping area is approximately 18km round-trip with an elevation gain of about 900m.  Black Rock stands 2,462m (8,078ft.) tall.  We did the trip over two days.  The first day we hiked from Base Camp to the base of Black Rock and the second day was spent hiking the mountain.  We were picked up by camp staff after completing the hike on the second day.  

There's quite a bit of history in this area and the signage at the trailhead briefly describes some of it...

Bow/Crow Forest
Ghost Ranger District

Black Rock Mountain Lookout 

Black Rock Lookout was built sometime in the late 1920’s to early 1930’s by Harry Fisher with the Federal Government’s, Department of the Interior, Canada Forest Service.  
Trails were constructed to the summit of the mountain and lumber was taken by pack horse to the summit for construction of the lookout.  Telephone lines were constructed to connect the lookout with the existing forestry lines, which serviced the Aura Ranger Station (now the present Ghost Ranger Station).  The only communication was with the phone system; a radio system was never implemented at this lookout.  
Black Rock Lookout was always a difficult summit to access; the lookout was finally abandoned after part of the summit’s trail had fallen away.  Tower servicing involved a day’s ride by horseback from the Aura Ranger Station to the base of the mountain where an overnight cabin was located.  The second day was spent taking supplies up to the lookout and the return to the base cabin.  The third, and last day of the servicing trip was the return ride to the Aura Ranger Station.  
The last few hundred yards of the summit trail to the lookout were not used by the pack horses.  Instead the horses were left at a hitching rail and the supplies were taken with backpacks to the lookout site.  
Black Rock Lookout was the second highest of the lookouts located along the eastern Rockies by the Department of the Interior.  The old Black Rock cabin along with Cameron Lookout and Baseline Lookout are the only remaining lookout sites were buildings still remain on the original sites as surveyed by Mr. Hutchison in the late 1920’s.  
The old lookouts were poorly insulated and not very wind tight.  Black Rock Lookout’s cabin was constructed on four cement blocks; therefore the floor was always cold and drafty since it did not have a complete foundation.  Cooking was done on a small, single burner, white gas stove.  The heater consisted of a small one burner gas stove.  Lookout man, Don Dawson, who manned Black Rock Lookout in 1948, remarked that he spent most of his time in a sleeping bag trying to keep warm during bad weather.   
During the era of the old lookout sites they were only manned during periods of high fire hazard.  The lookout men worked with the Rangers during the early spring and late fall.  
The winds at the summit of Black Rock Mountain were so strong at times that the only way to keep an outhouse on the site was to build it out of stone.  The outhouse facilities were located just north of the cabin site and consisted only of a small wind break and bench-like seat.  
The last service man for the lookout was Hi Baker and it is believed that the last service trip was made in June of 1950.  The lookout was closed shortly thereafter and an alternate site was sought.  The replacement lookout site was selected to be the site where the Mockingbird Lookout stands today.  
Mockingbird Lookout’s site was selected in July of 1950.  The cabin structure at the new lookout was finally completed in 1952.  The original cabin structure was in service from 1952 to 1972 when it was replaced with the present cabin and facilities.  
Black Rock Mountain as viewed from our frozen lake
The Ghost Valley looking up the dry river bed towards Black Rock, which is the mountain on the right
Phantom Cragg as viewed from the Ghost Valley
Devil's Head also viewed from the Ghost Valley
The backcountry camping spot at the base of the mountain
Remains of the old overnight cabin as mentioned above
Located near the trailhead
We were up in time for a beautiful sunrise
Phantom Cragg glowing in the morning sun
As we got higher the valley below was filling with clouds
It looked like a sea of clouds and the high points were islands
Slowly enveloping the Ghost Valley below
Looking up the trail now that we are above treeline
Devil's Head as viewed from high on the trail
The summit and the fire lookout
The abandoned fire lookout
Johnson Lakes in the valley on the northwest side of the mountain
The 1920's fire lookout
Mementos from previous visitors
Looking east from the summit towards Calgary.  The lake on the right is where Base Camp, my workplace, is located.
On the 2,462m summit
Standing with the fire lookout prior to eating some pie!
I posted a brief story, titled Forgotten Fire Lookout, about my experience hiking up Black Rock Mountain on the Calgary Guardian website.

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