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Third Time's the Charm: An Ascent of Mount King Edward

Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Technical Rock)
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
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A Bit Dense On The Approach Road
Sunday, August 27, 2017

The roar of the river, the smell of the forest, a road more overgrown but still recognizable.  We were back at the start of the approach for Mount King Edward.  This would be the third trip up Mount King Edward Vern and I had done together (and the 5th trip that I had been passing through the valley beneath King Eddy and Mount Columbia).  Both of the previous trips had been in the spring and focused on getting up the peak while the bothersome loose scree was covered in snow (and skiing down the face which looked like a very nice run!).  On both trips warm temperatures and a lack of an overnight freeze lead to suspect snow conditions and required us to turn around shy of the summit. Coming back this time in the late summer, and a very warm summer at that, we were pretty confident that snow on the face would not be an issue.  The other challenge on the previous attempt was the "creek" crossing from the end of the logging road. While a fairly trivial crossing on cold days, the "creek" can rise to perilous levels when temperatures start to warm up. On the last trip, the creek was too sketchy for Vern and I and we had to backtrack up the valley a bit, cross the nearby (and oddly less fearsome) Bush River and then bushwhack on the west side of the upper Bush River complete with dead fall, devils club, and many avalanche pathways plagued with alders until the next bridge some 7 km away.

For this trip, we would be trying to go for the peak over two days.  A two day trip would put some pressure on the timeline and make an especially long second day but could be feasible. In the back of our minds was the river crossing on return, neither Vern nor I were willing to repeat our bushwhack on the west side of the Bush River (some of the devil's club barbs took weeks to come out of my hands/arms...) so we agreed that if we got back to the river on the second day and things were looking too sketchy to camp an extra night and try again in the morning.  On the drive out to the peak we encountered our first challenge.  During a quick break to stretch our legs on the Bush Road around the turnoff for the Vallenciens River I noticed that one of the tires on my car looked a little off.  After turning off the engine there was an audible hissing sound.  A flat tire when driving in was not a very good omen, it seemed King Eddy would not let this be an easy trip!  After searching around for a few bits of the tire changing equipment Ferenc, Vern, and I did our (poor) imitation of a formula 1 pit crew and swapped out the spare tire and kept of rolling.  Driving after that point was a wee bit slower than before, being up a logging road with no extra spare is a bit mentally worrying.  Thankfully though we made it to the trailhead otherwise unscathed and before too long were weaving a chicken-wire fortress around the car to keep meddlesome porcupines at bay.  Vern and I went over to scout the river crossing (given the amount of problems the crossing has caused in the past it seems like calling it a 'creek' is a bit underplaying its character) which actually seemed to be quite nice, things were looking up.  Being a 'fairly fast and somewhat light' trip I had to make a few sacrifices, leaving my skillet at home and only packing three beers, desperate times and all..  Sealing up the car we made our way across the river and set on up the trail.

The first challenge, a flat tire on the drive in!


Setting out from the chicken-wire fortified car.


Me crossing the creek/river/watercourse.  Photo by Vern.

A key difference between a spring trip up to this area and a late summer trip is the level of foliage.  What was a relatively open road and nicely spaced cutblocks on the previous trips was very bushy this time around.  On the upside, the raging torrents that had flowed across the road were dried up so at least we had dry boots.  Following the road (while battling the bush) we hit the cutblock and a faint trail leading up and a bit left (the same general line we took in the spring), this ended up putting us a bit off the actual track but with a bit of spreading out we came across two good treads showing the old ATV trail.  Not really knowing how the trail through the forest would look when dry seeing some obvious treads was a good sign, it would just be a pleasant stroll following the tracks to the alpine!

A little bit bushy in places along the cutblock.


Still a bit of bush after the cut block too!


Nice to be on an obvious track.

Once we made it to near treeline the terrain started to open up with wide meadows loaded with flowers and views of glaciers on the nearby Columbia Icefield.  The scenery around here in the summer is good, heli-hiking good!  Vern and I were both remarking how similar but different the landscape looks without snow.  It was pretty easy to pick out some of the key bumps and ridges from our spring line and we made good time towards the edge of the glacier with only a bit of extra up/down.  The regular place to bivy is near the edge of the glacier where a series of small tarns give access to water.  On a year this dry the tarns were not looking that healthy, with one of the thin ones turning into a dry dust-flat.  Ferenc took to calling this stretch of the approach the Gobi Desert.

Up on the edge of the alpine, good views ahead!


Ferenc and Vern hiking along with Mount Bryce in the background.


Excellent views along the approach with Mount King Edward on the left, and Mount Columbia on the center-right.


The terrain around here is replete with paintbrush.


Red, pink, and white variaties!


Out on the mud flats approaching the glacier.

After hitting glacier it was time to break out the crampons and gain a bit of height up to our bivy plateau (the GR we had rambled up on the first attempt with Vern, Josh, and Mike).  The lower glacier was quite dry (in terms of bare ice, the meltwater channels were flowing very significantly) and progress to the bivy was quick and steady.  There were plenty of flat spots to set up our tents and soon after choosing a pair near each other it was time for dinner and soaking up the views.  It is hard to beat the surroundings a high bivy here provides!  Whichever direction you look there are impressive peaks, glaciers, and interesting lighting.  Looking South towards Mount Bryce and Cockscomb Mountain was particularly striking.  Being able to see King Eddy quite clearly lead to some discussion of our route, and before long we had hammered out an approach plan and were off to bed.

Ferenc on the edge of the glacier, water at last!


An interesting balance of colors with Mount King Edward in the background.


Not far from the bivy now, with only a few holes to contend with.


There are certainly worse places to camp in The Rockies.


Zoomed in towards Mount King Edward, much less snowy than last time!


Wide reaching views to the south, west, and east from the bivy site.


Mount Bryce is a lovely peak from any angle.


Looking over towards the Columbia bypass on the Great Divide Traverse route.


Large deposits of calcite near the bivy around sunset.


Sunset colors cast over the icefield.


The last rays of light drift over the icefield.


The boys snapping some pictures with Mount Bryce in the background.


Waking up the next morning a couple hours before sunrise the sky looked quite clear and surprisingly free of smoke, we might actually have some decent views as well!  After a quick breakfast and a double-ration of coffee it was time to toss on the rope and get going towards the peak!  While a fairly short straightline distance (about 2.25 km) from the bivy to the base of the peak, weaving through crevasses and sticking on the most mellow terrain ramped up the distance to a more respectable 3.2 km.  Ferenc and I did not really like the look of the cliffs right on the bottom climber's right of the peak and instead set a course for the more middle of the face where it looked like a more straightforward way to move from glacier to face was possible.  Thankfully things actually worked out quite well and with mostly moderate scrambling with one 5'th class move was all we needed to get up onto the broad rubbly face of the peak and start working out way upwards (and climber's rightwards).  While the face of Mount King Edward is quite uniform there is cliffband half way up which necessitates either a fair bit of tricky climbing, or simply traversing to the climber's right and heading up a short low 5'th class weakness.  If anything the rock on the cliffband was a welcome break from the loose, rubbly, scree on the lower face!  Above the cliffband progress quicker thanks to more stable scree, and we worked our way just climber's left of the ridgecrest making a beeline for the steep summit block.

Innumerable stars above the next morning.


Some valley clouds to the south, and clear skies nearby!


A fair bit of glacier to travel to reach the base of the peak.


Looking west towards the Chess Group peaks.


Looking back at the boys having reached the edge of the peak, no more crevasse hazard for a while.


Vern working on the one 5'th class move on the lower mountain.


Even just part way up the face views start to open up to the south.


Looking up at the rubbly scree of the face below the middle cliffband.


Approaching the summit block, smoke drifting in to the south from the Bush River valley.


Vern leading the way up to the summit block.


While reaching the summit block things became a bit confused.  We had access to information which did not seem to jive with each other on where to start heading up.  Some folks had talked about starting up the block too early and encountering a couple pitches of mid-low 5'th (~5.7).  We knew that Steven had ascended the first big gully in the winter and found a rap station at the top.  Raff had said to "keep traversing until the end and then start going up".  Between all of these things with the guidebook description and routeline which showed traversing over and then up to reach a chimney with a difficulty of around 5.2.  I quite liked the look of the first steep gully, the rock was a bit harder but it looked like there would be decent pro placements and it would be quite direct.  In the end we kept traversing across the slope which required moving over a slope that resembled an ice/snow/ice oreo (moving left to right).  Placing a couple screws as working across I had to ramble a fair distance on the other side before finding a reasonable place to build an anchor to belay over the boys.  At this point, Ferenc and I were getting a bit ancy, the terrain above looked decent and it seemed like further traversing would just get us off route. In the end we kept traversing until Vern spotted a scrambly line which stuck to mostly 4th class moves trading looser rock for less technical difficulty.  At the top of the scrambly section it was a simple hike to the summit!

Me near the top of the bypass.  Photo by Vern.

After having tried the previous two trips to reach the top of the peak, it was quite rewarding to get up to the top, especially on a day with clear views!  The summit of Mount King Edward has to be one of the best viewpoints in the Rockies.  Regardless of which direction you look there are inspiring views and impressive peaks.  Many maps list the more northerly summit of Mount King Edward as being the true summit, but elevation checks by Bill Corbett, and Rick Collier (among others) have confirmed that the closer one is higher (very nice as it does not look like a cakewalk to connect the two).  Vern scoured the summit for a register but could only come across a small film canister that was water-logged and only had the names of Raff's group in it.  The summit is also a great viewpoint for looking back towards some of the terrain on the Central Great Divide Traverse line, many good memories fluttered back to mind while looking west.

Our crew up on the summit of Mount King Edward.  Photo by Vern.


Excellent views towards the Columbia Icefield from the summit.


A very good vantage point for a large part of the Central Great Divide Traverse line.


A very wide panorama, hard to beat this area!


Zoomed in towards Mount Alberta and Mount Woolley.


All of us agreed that downclimbing the scrambly ascent path we took on the summit block was not in the cards.  There was a rap station somewhere just a matter of finding it.  Cutting down near the cliffface of the summit block on the 'too far skiers right' side just to be sure we didn't miss anything we traversed to the skiers left assuming to find some sling or cord marking the (or at least "a") way down.  Ferenc found the first station looped around a boulder and things looked reasonable, but long.  With only having a 60 m rope it seemed like it would be quite a rope-stretcher!  I rapped down first and sure enough found that we would have needed about an extra 5-7 m of rap length to touch down on scree.  Ascending back up the rope to the next ledge there was a big boulder that would seem to work for an intermediate station.  Some awkward moves later (the lower part of the rope ended up getting stuck somewhere near its end making movement back up the rope very odd) the boys followed down from the first rap and set up at the intermediate boulder.  We would certainly have enough rope for the next rap and a while longer were back on scree and starting to slide down towards the next cliff half way down the face.  Having already seen a decent station through the cliff band on the way up, it was pretty easy to locate and soon enough we were back down on the lower mountain.  From here there was a choice to make.  We could either return the way we came, around the middle of the face and then backtrack along our footsteps on the glacier, or we could head straight down the face following the guidebook ascent line (assuming that there should be a rap station somewhere as that is the 'regular' line).  Worst case ontario we could just traverse back skiers right and get to our ascent line which we knew would work.  Thankfully as we started to get lower Vern could spy a cairn right down on the bottom ledge that we were aiming for!  A pin/boulder anchor let us rap down over the steepest cliffs and then a bit of downclimbing took us to the edge of the glacier, back on snow!  Given the heat of the sun, the snow had softened considerably which made for more careful navigation and probing as we worked our way back.

Working our way back down the peak, a quick photo stop looking at the broken glacier below the east face.


Looking back up at the face from the start of the last rap.


Back down on glacier, not far to the bivy site.


Looking back at the boys with the peak in the distance.


Our bivy is in quite the nice perch!

With the sun starting to sink further towards the horizon it seemed that a three day trip for the peak may have been a wee bit more reasonable. Getting back to camp we hastily packed things up, I gulped down a victory beer (left chilling while we were gone in a nearby melt water pool), and we boiled up some coffee. While still a ways to go down to the creek/river, it was at least almost all downhill.  Evening light cast a nice glow on the surrounding peaks and meadows. There were plenty of picture breaks during the stroll downwards.

Working our way down as evening swiftly approaches.


A last look at the 'chessboard' feature in the meadow.  Very cool!

The sun eventually sank below the horizon and darkness set in just before reaching the cut block. If anything, navigating the cutblock by headlamp was easier than daylight; it became very obvious very quickly if you were off route!  The last trudge down from the cutblock to the river seemed to stretch for ages.  The thick encroachment of alders and willows required careful twig bending to not mangle the person behind!  Eventually we reached the river crossing, around four hours from camp (a fairly respectable time).  The main thoughts in our minds all through the descent were focused on the river crossing. Given the warm weather, and late time in the day it would be 'interesting' to see how high the river had risen. Reaching the shore and looking out by headlamp we could see that a big log on the way in was now hidden by whitewater. Vern and I quickly agreeded that it looked like a death trap so doubled back and set up camp within sight of the car, but functionally a long way away from it.
The next morning we woke up hopeful that the river would have become a mere bubbling brook. Sadly there was still whitewater in the morning. Vern and I agreed that we were not doing the same thing as last time, the bush would have been nightmarish... Ferenc had a few schemes of how to cross but eventually we just went for it. The water was lapping up to low chest deep when facing into the current and profoundly cold. A few harrowing minutes later, with much careful footwork, we made it across to the far shore. We all agreed that was the highest and fastest water we would want to cross, any more and it was tree felling time or breaking out the rescue beacons.  The wrapping around my car held up to whatever sort of beasties may have come slinking around. All that was left was driving back to Alberta, dropping off the boys and heading home.

At the riverside camp the next morning, the river was thanfully a bit lower.


Looking over at the river, still quite high, and quite fast.  Photo by Vern.


After the frosty crossing, time to wring out the socks and then get driving.

It is quite nice to have topped out on King Eddy. As far as viewpoints go it is certainly hard to beat!  That being said, it would be nice to ski the face at some point, maybe next spring head back and give it a go!

Part of the road was a little bit bushy.


A very direct line overall!

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