Plumbob Mountain

On 18 February 2023, Zosia Zgolak and I skied up Plumbob Mountain located about sixteen kilometres southwest of Jaffray, British Columbia.  An active fire lookout sits atop Plumbob Mountain and is easily accessed via a road as described in Mike Potter's Fire Lookout Hikes in the Canadian Rockies.  Before this trip, I was most concerned about whether I could even drive to the base of the mountain along the maze of backroads in the area especially in winter.  At the same time, I wondered if there would be sufficient snow coverage for skiing since there had been so little fresh snowfall in recent weeks.  Zosia and I actually did a scouting drive the previous evening and found that the relevant backroads were all conveniently plowed albeit icy.  However, we did not drive all the way to the start of the lookout access road and would have to wait until we returned the next morning to find out if it would be skiable.

From the intersection with Highway 3 in the town of Jaffray, drive south along Jaffray-Baynes Lake Road for 16.0 kilometres to the intersection with Kikomun Road (this intersection can also be reached via the Kikomun Road turnoff from Highway 3 about 3.3 kilometres west of Elko).  Turn west onto Kikomun Road and drive across the bridge over Kootenay River.  Kikomun Road ultimately becomes Teepee Creek Forest Service Road (FSR) where the pavement ends at a T-intersection with Waldo-Gold Creek FSR about 1.6 kilometres past the river crossing.  Continue straight at this intersection and drive 11.5 kilometres to another T-intersection with Plumbob Creek FSR.  Turn left (south) and drive 7.0 kilometres to the signed start of the lookout access road.  We parked in a plowed pullout a little further south, but in summer, it may be possible to drive much of the way up the lookout access road.

Before setting off, Zosia and I briefly inspected the start of the lookout access road, and although the snow was old and crusty, the coverage was surprisingly good.  We subsequently strapped climbing skins to our light touring skis and began the long but uncomplicated trudge up the road.  The crusty snow at the beginning was supportive enough to ski on, and a little later, we came across snowmobile tracks which joined in from a branching road.  These tracks ran all the way to the top which saved us the trouble of breaking trail and route-finding.  The entire ascent went without a hitch, and we stopped for a short lunch break after taking our requisite summit photographs.

In contrast to the problem-free ascent, the descent proved to be challenging for Zosia and me.  After removing our climbing skins, we zigzagged a bit of an open slope just below the summit before regaining the snowmobile tracks we had come up.  The tracks were always just a bit too narrow to do a proper snow plow, and the packed snow proved to be terrifyingly slick especially for our skinny skis.  In general, it was very difficult to control our speed especially on some of the steeper inclines (I even walked one short but steep section), and partway down, we decided to put our climbing skins back on.  Sure, this killed our glide on flatter sections, but overall, we descended the road more efficiently by not having to continually put on the brakes.  With our skins attached for the remainder of the trip, we made it back to our starting point without further drama.
The snow is pretty shitty here! Zosia begins skiing up the lookout access road.
Very few sharks!

Despite the poor quality of the snow, coverage on the lookout access road is excellent.

Better than looking at tree trunks the whole way up! The forest begins to open up as Zosia climbs higher up the road.
Looks innocuous enough going uphill...

Zosia climbs up a long rising switchback in the road.

Looks like some potentially good ski touring on some of those hills... A clearing near the south end of the summit ridge grants some far-reaching views to the west of mostly unnamed hills.
Still a little more uphill grinding left! Zosia resumes skiing up the road along the summit ridge.

An outhouse with a view even!

Zosia approaches the top of Plumbob Mountain which is also the site of Casey fire lookout.  Note the outhouse at far right.


I wonder where the lookout custodian sleeps around here. According to Mike Potter, this is the third lookout structure to be built on Plumbob Mountain.
The easy part was climbing up... Zosia and Sonny reach the summit of Plumbob Mountain (1670 metres).
Looks like it's sunny on top of Mount Baker! Visible to the northwest about 28 kilometres away is Mount Baker (right of centre).
More like long zigzags! Sonny makes a few "turns" just below the summit.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Yep, I just walked down this part! Zosia tries to use the untracked snow beside the snowmobile tracks to help control her descent of the summit ridge.
Would be tough even with AT skis, I think! Sonny finds snow plowing a bit awkward on the narrow snowmobile tracks.

Photo courtesy of Zosia Zgolak

Time to put the climbing skins back on! Parts of Lake Koocanusa can be seen in the distance as Zosia carefully negotiates a bend in the road.
Wait for either a fresh dump of snow or summer to do this one! Total Distance:  12.6 kilometres
Round-Trip Time:  4 hours 39 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  617 metres

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