Mount King George
August 8-10, 2014
Height of the Rockies Provincial Park, BC
Those who have visited the classic Northover Ridge in the core area of Peter Lougheed Provincial Park must have been impressed by a group of isolated peaks somewhere 10 km to the west. That’s the Royal Group, with Mount King George being the highest. It’s massive East face is visible from many scrambles in Kananaskis. If not because of the complicated approach including lengthy drive on logging roads, this beautiful and prominent 11,000er must have seen a greater amount of traffic.
With sunshine in the forecast for this past weekend, Vern, Eric, Ben and I were game for something big. Since not everyone could take 3 full days we picked Mt. King George. Regarding the ascent route we’d use neither of the described ones in Bill Corbett’s 11,000ers book. Instead, we’d use the same route as what’s currently accepted by the guides. It still goes up the southwest face, but has two major variations which significantly simplify this objective to merely a steep 40-degree snow ascent under ideal condition. Instead of gaining King George/Princess Mary col from the east side via a steep couloir (usually has a waterfall running in it), we’d hike up the upper left branch of Fynn Creek, around the south and west sides of Princess Mary before slogging up scree to the col, and instead of gaining the lower heavily crevassed glacier on the southwest face, we’d slog up a long pile of scree before traversing a not-so-obvious ledge system to access the south glacier way up high.
Our plan was to approach to the bivy site at upper left branch of Fynn Creek on Friday evening and this would give us two windows to attempt King George – the mornings of Saturday and Sunday before heading out and driving back home. If we managed to get King George on the first try then we’d use the rest of this trip to bag other smaller peaks in this area. In order to do so we had to leave Calgary by 1:30 pm the latest. The driving direction is well documented in the 11,000ers book and it follows Settlers Road, Kootenay-Palliser FSR and then Palliser River FSR for a total of 59.7 km to a small pull out by Fynn Creek. Vern did a great job driving and we arrived at the parking area at a reasonable time.
Thank to the flood in 2013 the bridge across Palliser River no longer exists. We briefly discussed about wading this raging torrent but doing so would be troublesome without doing lengthy detours. We weren’t even know what to expect further upstream or downstream. There’s a fallen log which didn’t look too bad so that’s the way to go. It was quite sketchy as we had to shuffle across with heavy backpack and fallen into the river was not an option… It was a time consuming process but we all managed to shuffle across safely. The trail up Fynn Creek was also hard to follow, again, thank to the flood. The creek looked like a mess and the first few kilometers of this trail was largely destroyed by washouts. We had to do quite some bushwhacking dealing with endless deadfalls. And thank to the thunderstorms in recent hours the bushes were wet and our pants got soaked in no time… Pretty miserable but on the other hand the wetness and the clouds kept us cool especially once starting the headwall steeply up climber’s right. I can’t imaging doing so under 30 degree sun… Above the headwall the trail got quite confusing but by following flags we managed to stay on trail for most of the time to the first bivy site (bivy site for East Face of KG or Prince Albert/Prince George). For our route choice on King George we had to push further for another hour. Darkness was falling in no time and after jumping across a creek we had to start using head lamps, and at the meantime we lost the trail. The last hour of this lengthy approach involved a lot of miserable bushwhacking with some elevation loss and regain around an imposing rock band, navigated mainly by GPS. We eventually made to our destination by about 11 pm and after quickly setting up camp we went to bed.
The next morning we woke up by about 4:30 am under clear sky and started shortly after. Navigating the long hanging valley by head lamps was a little bit interesting on some micro terrain but we generally followed the GPS track or stayed close to it. We had the options to stay on moraine crest or below but it didn’t really matter as higher up we’d merge to the lower south glacier (more like a permanent snow/ice patch). We stayed on the right side of this glacier and just below King George/Princess Mary col we picked a scree line steeply up. Vern and Eric took a line further left while Ben and I went straight up. We did so to minimize rock fall danger as the scree was horribly loose.
The next step was grinding up a huge pile of scree for at least an hour. This part was probably the least favourite for the entire trip other than the hike-out and I didn’t want to describe much apart from being extremely patient. To access the key ledge systems we had to slog all the way up this scree cone to its end. The ledge was not as exposed as we thought and surprisingly easy to follow. There’s even paths and cairns leading the way. It’s a pretty short traverse and soon we were on the edge of the south glacier.
The glacier was steeper than expected and due to the good overnight freeze we had to front point while facing inwards for a long section. The steepest part was right at the start as we must traverse across a 45 degree section. Slipping here would send us down to huge seracs, rock bands and waterfalls and self arresting on such a steep slope was impossible. We were all glad to have brought up the ice tool. Higher up the angle eased a bit, but still pretty steep. It’s also pretty foreshortened and seemed to drag on forever. There’s a short flat bench just below the final 40 degree couloir. The snow in this couloir looked discontinuous and I even briefly thought about ascending the rock on the left side. But we eventually decided to just go up the couloir which proved to be the right choice. There wasn’t much of ice nor rock sections and the snow climb was pretty fun. A short traverse towards climber’s left after exiting this couloir brought us to the summit, my 14th 11,000er. The view was great despite the forest fire smoke and we could see oceans of peaks with big ones like Assiniboine, Sir Douglas and Joffre poking through.
To optimize the snow condition we didn’t stay long on the top as the sun already started to shine on the south facing slopes. Down-climbing the couloir was fun and fast. Snow had already softened a bit so we even managed to walk facing outwards down most of the glacier. Towards the end we still had to traverse facing inwards though for 20 m or so. Traversing back across the ledges went without incidence and descending the big pile of scree was fast fun and we were back at King George/Princess Mary col in short time.
It was still very early in the day and it made no sense to just go back to camp, sit around and doing nothing. The nearby Mt. Princess Mary didn’t look very scrambler friendly but we knew Rick Collier scramble’d it so there must be a way. So we decided to try it out, and the day continued with an successful ascent of Mt. Princess Mary.
(Make sure to take a look at Vern’s excellent short video).