August 30, 2014
Bull River (East Kootenay), BC
Mount Harrison is the southernmost 11,000er in the Canadian Rockies and has been on my radar for quite a while already. For climbers seeking technical challenges this peak is more famous for its north couloir but if your main focus is simply reaching the summit, then the easiest line, SW Face, is merely a loose class 2/3 scramble in dry condition. For that reason it wouldn’t be our primary plan if condition is in for bigger and harder objectives. However, in this past weekend, with the forecast in favour of southern Rockies but still with possibility of rain, Eric, Ben, Vern and I decided to finally give Harrison a shot. Having 3 days we’d also attempt the nearby Mt. Folk and Smith Peak using Rick Collier’s route description.
The crux for Mt. Harrison? No doubt would be the drive… We knew quite a few groups attempting Harrison last year and earlier in this year and the most important message was the damaged bridge on the standard approach road (White River FSR). We had to use the alternate approach, Bull River FSR starting from near Fort Steele which involved a far longer drive. We had to drive down south to Crowsnest Pass, westwards along Highway 3 almost to Fort Steele and finally up about 100 km one way on logging road with the last 12 km being the roughest I’d ever been on. Time wise it’s about 10 hours one way from Edmonton and definitely one of the most remote places I’ve ever been to. Eric, Ben and I drove down to Okotoks on Friday evening and met Vern the following morning. Vern volunteered to drive and did a fantastic job getting us to the trail-head. We were very pleased to have his truck (high clearance 4×4 was a must to overcome obstacles including a fallen log, a creek crossing and numerous wash-outs).
The next crux was not losing the trail. Thank to the avalanche debris this had become impossible. We initially followed some flags up climber’s right side of the creek and soon entered a field of dead falls. Negotiating the avalanche path was miserable to say the least hoping over hundreds of logs and bashing through alders. The correct trail which we discovered on the way down was on the opposite side but still, involved a section of very nasty bushwhacking. After this pile of mess we picked up an intermittent trail on the right side of Harrison Creek steeply up a bank, then joined the main trail on the left side. Not far up on the main trail we could see Harrison/Folk col ahead which didn’t look to be very far. We also noticed there’s no water source at the col at all. Given the unsettled weather we all agreed to set up camp lower down when there’s plenty of water and no wind. There were numerous prime bivy spots. In retrospect we could have gone a bit further up and camp by the big cliffs but speaking the big picture it’s the same. About 2 hours from truck to camp it’s definitely one of the shortest approaches I’d done speaking overnight trips.
After setting up camp we decided to give Mt. Folk a go, but we also brought up snow gears just in case we wanted to bag Mt. Harrison on this day. The slog to Harrison/Folk col was long and foreshortened and seemed to drag on forever especially the last part which seemed to be flatter but was a lot longer than appeared. Once we made to the col we noticed there was no weather moving in. Judging my our experience we figured it’s better to do Harrison right now even though we were all very tired. In unsettled weather period you just cannot trust “the next day”…
Up we went, we followed a path for a while before starting the long side-hill bashing across 3 bowls. The first bowl was the easiest as we could stay on a reasonable path and soon we arrived at the second bowl. This one was the longest and most tedious since we lost the path and had to bash our own way across. We had So Nakagawa’s GPS track armed with but still aimed a bit lower than his path. To access the 3rd bowl there’s a short moderately exposed scramble section involved. We then went straight up for a long section before aiming climber’s right to the ascending gully. The route didn’t seem to be obvious but once getting higher it became pretty clear – basically aim for the easiest looking gully. Terrain in this gully reminded us Catacombs and Fortress Mountain which we did last year – not difficult but horribly loose. We had to stay very close to each other or climb parallel to each other to minimize rock fall danger. Knocking down rocks was unavoidable. Despite the recent rain fall and the cold weather this gully was bone dry so we should have left the snow gears in the truck…
This gully also dragged on for a long time before we topped out on the summit plateau. There’s still a bit of height gain to the summit but all on easy terrain. Though cloudy, the view from this lofty summit was incredible towards each direction. Many of the peaks nearby were totally new to me but I did manage to correctly identify some including the nearby Mt. Mike and the distant Mt. King George which was our previous 11,000er. The afternoon lighting was in favour of looking eastwards and we could see the whole stretch of High Rock Range on the Continental Divide with Tornado Mountain being the highest.
Due to the coldness and the lateness in the day we didn’t linger any longer after signing the register. Descending the gully was fast thank to the looseness but again, we had to stick very close to each other. Bashing across the bowls was not nearly as fun as scree running though, but still went by quickly. In general the terrain on Harrison was not very bad for descending but oh man, that was quite a pile of scree on the way up… By the time we got back to Harrison/Folk col it had become obvious we wouldn’t have the time to grab Mt. Folk on this day, so we leisurely went back to camp, hundreds of meters down. Darkness was falling at a rapid pace and we made back to camp just before head-lamp time.
It was very satisfactory to have Mt. Harrison bagged on our first day – a day we didn’t expect to summit the major objective. Now the pressure was off and we managed to enjoy a evening with lots of chatting around a camp fire. We still wanted to do Mt. Folk so that would be our objective for the following day.