Tombstone Mountain (not to be confused with a mountain of the same name in British Columbia) sits in behind the Opal Range and specifically Mount Elpoca located in the Highwood Pass region of Kananaskis Provincial Park which encompasses over 4,000 square kilometers of foothills and mountains bordering Banff National Park in the central Canadian Rockies. Six officially named mountains share this small range. Dr. Dawson officially named Mount Tombstone in 1884 as he perceived the slabs near the summit resembled tombstones.
Tombstone Mountain has a double summit and the only published route is a moderate scramble that ascends the southern (true) summit, unofficially named Tombstone South. The approach into this climb via the Big Elbow Trail is one of the most scenic sub-alpine areas I have traveled through in the Canadian Rockies. You are afforded good views of the Mount Rae Glacier from this approach as well. This scramble can be a full if not long day. The summit view includes close ups of Mts. Assiniboine, Sarrail and the Royal Group as well as tarns in the lush valley behind Tombstone.
Take the Kananaskis Trail (Highway 40) exit off of the Trans-Canada Highway between Calgary and Canmore. Drive 12 km+ south of the Kananaskis Trail-Kananaskis Lakes junction (gate) to the Elbow Pass parking area on your left. Kananaskis Trail is closed from December 1 through June 15, and I do mean with a gate. The closure is at Kings Creek (Canyon), meaning no access to any of the Highwood area mountains prior to June 15th, except by ski or bike.
There are no permit requirements to enter, climb and/or park in Kananaskis Provincial Park. This is active grizzly country however. Take bear spray. As of July, 2005, we have current trail closures in this area of Kananaskis due to a mountain lion (protecting its kill) and grizzly with cubs (bluff charge). Therefore it is prudent to check recent notices posted on the bulletin board outside of park headquarters which you drive by on Highway 40 (Kananaskis Trail). If they are open, check in with the ranger staff, they have tons of beta and are always friendly. Horses are allowed and common on the trails used for this approach.
When To Climb
As with most climbs in the Canadian Rockies, the driest time is from June through September. I climbed Mount Tombstone in August and it was in dry condition. There are no published backcountry ski routes up Mount Tombstone nor would I suspect this to be a mountain worth trying to put up a ski route due to the narrow ridge.
The closest camping is a backcountry site on approach at Elbow Lake, 1.3 km from the parking area on Big Elbow Trail. There is another campground 6.8 km from the parking area on Big Elbow Lake Trail called the Tombstone campsite. There are tons of camping options further north at Kananaskis Lakes. You cannot camp outside of the marked specific camping areas in Kananaskis. Refer to the Kananaskis Provincial Park website for more information regarding camping and/or lodging.
The Kananaskis Provincial Park website is a very thorough park website, including trail conditions or closures, wildlife notices, weather conditions, avalanche conditions, camping permits, whitewater conditions, etc. It is an excellent source if you are going to spend any time here and comparable to any National Park website I have used. Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful, particularly for winter travel.
""You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.""