We found the travel conditions for Mount King George in fantastic condition in mid-July, 2012. Our return time to and from the summit based at the bivy above the waterfalls on the southwest side of Princess Mary was less than seven hours, compared to the twelve hour return stated in Bill Corbett’s guide to the 11,000er’s. We made this time despite me suffering several injuries on a 40’ approach fall, the most costly being bruised ribs which did slow my pace down a bit. I know a few folks who would have enjoyed being with me that day to move at a more civilized pace. Thus, seven hours was not burning it up by any stretch. Corbett’s guide also suggests this trip as being a 3 day venture as did most of the other beta I surveyed. In reality, this is an easily manageable two day trip, and considerably less than another two day trip for these same partners, Mount Forbes. But the less than desirable animal-trail approach with its share of dead fall does make this trip longer than the average 11,000er objective.
Much is written about the approach to the various routes for Mount King George. Issues regarding the Palliser River crossing to folks getting lost on the, at times, indistinct trails that meander all over the place to access the glacier drainage bivy sites. Although attention to detail is still warranted, as of 2012, I would find it difficult to actually lose the well flagged trail on ascent. As for the river crossing, the Palliser river has the most civilized backcountry log crossing I have seen in the Canadian Rockies (2012). A large tree felled with wooden planks nailed along it’s trunk along with a hand line to help steady your away across or if in the mood, one could actually don their harness and attach themselves to the line via ferrata style. Falling into the Palliser River at this juncture would not be a survivable option, not in July, 2012.
Access this river crossing from Settlers Road in Kootenay National Park. This is the same, relatively well maintained, logging road used to access Mount Assiniboine’s back door approach. Corbett’s guide gives detailed directions along this road and speaks of the Joffre Creek branch of it being unmarked. As of 2012 this road is well marked as Joffre Creek. You reach it after taking the Kootenay-Palliser road junction which is 12kms down Settlers. At 40kms total you come to Joffre Creek road (high right). At approximately 60kms (approx one hour) total, park at a rise in the road on the southeast side of the Palliser River (cairn 2012). Hike down the left side along a well-marked trail to the log crossing. A tip regarding the drive in: carry a chainsaw and tow rope and be prepared to clean up any downed trees. We went in after a rain storm and had to clear away several that were too large to drive over. One drainage crossing was washed out as well, but we made it through with a high clearance vehicle.
Cross the before mentioned log/tree crossing. Hike up the hill to an established trail and turn left hiking down river for approximately 1km. Eventually the trail turns north and follows Flynn Creek upstream. Flynn was in heavy volume (rapid river) mode in mid-July. Continue to follow this trail for approximately 3-4kms until flagging starts to urge you up and through green dead fall via a heavily vegetated hill on the right. I never saw the logged clearing Corbett’s guide refers to. This section of the trail is so heavily vegetated that it might evoke Vietnam flashbacks (read jungle) if you are old enough to experience those. That being said, the flagging was well established in 2012. A better trail emerges higher up as you start to ascend a steep slope on the left side of a small lower headwall. Then the trail turns left as it continues to meander all over the place! Sometimes you are on decent trail, sometimes you see no remnants of one. Tons of animal trails emerge in the thick forest, but I advise you move slow and stick with the flagging to assist in developing a better approach trail although vegetation in this part of the Rockies will probably always win out and make it a bit of a challenge to follow. It does hit a rock rib for a short distance before finally emerging above tree line on the right side of the main Flynn Creek waterfall draining the Mount King George glacier. This is the traditional bivy site for the southeast ridge route and/or east face routes.
For the southwest face route, it is best to cross Flynn Creek right above the waterfall (below knee deep in July) to the west. Some poorly provided beta on the web shows a marked up topo of ascending the right side of the braided waterfall coming down from the west side of Princess Mary. That would involve a crossing of Flynn Creek much lower down which would more than likely be impossible any time of year. You should ascend through the forest way to the right of the main (right fork of Flynn Creek) waterfall for any of the routes on King George, same trail to the moraine basically. To access this higher bivy for the southwest face route, cross Flynn Creek to the left above the main waterfall draining the moraine field. Lose some elevation as you head due west as possible aiming for the left lower corner of a limestone wall that allows you to angle alongthose braided waterfalls at about 2/3rds of their height. There is a lightly flagged animal trail that accomplishes this in short order. Once at the top of this braided waterfall, you will find an ideal and scenic bivy with Mount Joffre and company in full view to the east. You will not be able to see Mount King George, but a short walk from camp to the northeast will give you a scouting view of the southwest face.
Route DescriptionAscend from the bivy skirting the entire west side of Mount Princess Mary. A snow field along the drainage in camp existed in mid-July that took us all the way up to below the hanging ice fall that prohibits access to the Mount King George southwest face upper glacier. Some misleading beta on the web makes mention of making the Princess Mary-King George col. Only do this if you are prepared to tackle the crux of the southeast ridge route, the chock stone gully. It is much simpler to head up the snow field below the hanging glacier and traverse right onto the loose scree ledges and continue to traverse right and up finding the easiest of accesses you can to reach a medium sized ledge that easily traverses back left to access the upper southwest face glacier just above the ice fall. There are many options to get here. My partner and I each used separate more direct gullies to access this traversing ledge on ascent, but when coming down, we used a much easier descent via extending the traverse to meet up with the southeast ridge before traversing back to that before mentioned snow field below the ice fall. (topo photo provided)
Once on the glacier above the icefall, traverse up and left to a glaciated bench, then straight up to a col between the southeast ridge and summit block. Beware of not stepping on a large cornice at this col. Then move left and up a steep snow channel at the center of the summit block. A snow summit is reached first. A few meters more along a rock ridge attains the true summit of Mount King George with Mount Assiniboine in full view to the north.
Climbing Sequence II
DescentWe used no rappels on this route nor did we place any gear. We roped up only for the upper glacier ascent but the bergschrund was well covered in July and we encountered no open crevasses en route. I have soloed much more interesting glacier terrain. We did use a broader traverse east on return than on ascent before cutting back west to the snow slope below the icefall. We could descend snow almost all the way back to our bivy. Hard snow or crust the entire descent in July on a relatively warm day. If you start reasonably early (4:15 am for us) and move fast enough on your ascent, the July shadows will allow you that kind of descent with an overnight freeze.
External Links100’s of Canmore and Banff National Park multi-pitch rock climbs, ice climbs, alpine climbs and scrambles, just scroll down to routes
Banff National Park, Parks Canada
Best Coffee/Breakfast/Lunch in Canmore: Castillos As of 2012, my favorite breakfast/lunch spot. Patio, espresso is strong, food is fresh. Someone there instituted service with a smile, typically unheard of in Canmore anymore.
Best Climbers Hangout: Summit Café, most likely place to find me in season or my brethren shooting the bull about beta. Best “large” breakfast in town, good coffee as well, serve Mennonite meats from Valbella, which is the best place to buy free range products anywhere in the world, right here in Canmore.