Climbing into History: Crown Mountain

Climbing into History: Crown Mountain

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 49.94439°N / 125.81336°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 30, 2008
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring, Summer, Fall


Crown Mountain from Peak 5412 Crown Mountain from Peak 5412

For any student of the history of climbing on Vancouver Island, a trip to Crown Mountain is pretty well obligatory at some point in his or her alpine career.

The Ellison Expedition of 1910 chose Crown as their principle objective and it was from the summit of this lovely peak that the glory of the high peaks of Strathcona Park to the south became apparent to all and sundry for the first time. The fact that Price Ellison, the expedition’s leader, was also Minister for Lands in the provincial government of the day meant that official incorporation of the Park followed not long after the group’s return to civilization. The first ascent of Crown, therefore, was pivotal in the creation of an incomparable resource that generations of visitors continue to enjoy almost a century later.

Given the foregoing, it might come as a surprise to some that Crown Mountain receives very few ascents. The latest information I could find came from our Alpine Club of Canada, local section trip report annual, “The Island Bushwhacker”, in which a July 2004 trip noted just seven entries in a summit register which dated from 1986.

The equation: history + seldom visited summit = must-do, meant that Crown had been on my and a few chums minds for a few years and when a perfect late season weather window presented itself, Peter, Tony and I were packed and off to the mountain in short order.

1910 Summit Party
On the summit of Crown Mountain in July 1910. Refer to the parent mountain page for a detailed history

September 29. Approach

Driving SF900
Bashing down the alder
Crown Mountain Start
From truck to bush
Old Slash and Second Growth
Climbing 2nd growth & slash
Upper Clearcut
Upper clearcut.

Foremost amongst Peter’s considerable knowledge of the climbing scene on Vancouver Island is a large database of pre- and post-trip eateries. The pre-trip entry for Campbell River – the closest town to Crown Mountain – is the “Ideal Café” and it was there that we started the trip with several thousand calories worth of fuel and sufficient caffeine to last the next three days. Tales that the Ideal offered a “loggers breakfast special” that consisted of 6 pancakes and a beer proved (thankfully) to be apocryphal and we were soon on our sober way to the logging roads that gave access to our objective.

The Menzies and South Fork main lines were well signed, as was our approach spur, SF 900. The nice sign, however, belied the state of the road, which was heavily choked with alder in quite a few spots. However, we ploughed it down and arrived at the abrupt road-end in an impenetrable alder thicket at about 10 am. Gear up and away we went 15 minutes later on the de-built remains of SF900.

There wasn’t much in the way of the advertised path but we soon reached the old, partly collapsed helipad that marks the point at which you leave the old road and head west up to the long north ridge of the Crown massif.

There’s no hiding the fact that the next bit was ugly. With a half-digested, high-fat breakfast still very much in evidence, a full climbing/camping pack and only half warmed up muscles, launching directly up a 45° slope choked by immature second growth nicely concealing treacherous old logging slash, now counts amongst my least effective ways to get the day off to a happy start. The fact that there’s only 15-20 minutes worth of this torture provided scant mitigation. 

Into the Old Growth
Tony climbing steep forest
Old Tree Blaze
Old tree blaze
Tarn on the N Ridge
Tarn on the lower N ridge
Open Old Growth
Open forest hiking

North Ridge Camping
Camp on the N ridge

And if we thought that reaching the old growth spelled relief, we were left in no doubt that it didn’t. Even steeper ground presented itself ahead but at least in open forest and with the prospect of being able to use animal trails to go the way we needed to. In fact the ground was so steep that the animals had even left us with contoured tracks to help lessen the angle. There was also a little flagging evident at this point to confirm that we were going the right way.

Rather surprisingly, the open terrain we were heading for turned out not to be the crest of the north ridge but rather another old clearcut. Either roads come up from the west side to reach this, or it was the site of a heli-logging operation. In any event, it was a flat, easy 50 metres travel to the south through the slash in order to get back into the old growth right under a set of bluffs that was the last obstacle to getting onto the north ridge proper. We soon found a steep but reasonable route on the left of the bluffs and were on the ridge 10 minutes later. All told, reaching this point took us just over an hour from the truck with a couple of rests along the way.

From now on we would be almost exclusively in open old growth with hardly any of the usual in-your-face bush so common on the Island. There was no trail but we didn’t really need one. We just kept heading up and south checking the GPS every so often whenever a “sucker” option tempted us the wrong way.

During our lunch break we made an interesting observation. Everywhere in the forest looked pretty much like everywhere else and so we chose to drop the packs by a convenient log on a reasonably flat, open spot pretty well at random. Lunch was almost over when we noticed that we’d serendipitously chosen our spot right where a blaze had been cut in a tree directly in front of us. It was clearly very old, in that trees grow slowly up here and this one had had time to put on a lot of bark since the blaze was cut. At least on the way up, we saw no more such cuts and wondered what had induced a party from yesteryear to make such an isolated mark.

Following lunch, we simply plodded on up the ridge – with one detour for water at the only source before the alpine – before arriving at an open bluff at about 4 pm. From here we could see open, heather clad slopes above marking the beginning of the sub-alpine. Getting there involved a significant initial descent of 60-70 vertical metres to a boggy saddle before resuming upward progress once more. By 4.45 we were in open terrain with tarns everywhere and it was time to call it a day.

Considering it was so late in the season the weather was superb. A warm wind sprang up from the west just as the sun was going down making unnecessary anything heavier than a light fleece.

September 30. Summit day

North Ridge Approach
Victoria & Warden Peaks
Crown Mountain North Glacier/West Gully Route
Between 5412 & the N glacier
Climbing the N Glacier
Climbing the N glacier
Peak 5412
Peak 5412 & the approach
Wrong Gully
Wrong gully!
Class 3 Gully
Right gully

We got up at 6 the next day to a balmy and clear morning. By 7.30 we were off, following the ridgeline southwest and then due south up the alpine. The twin summits of our objective came into view no more than 15 minutes after leaving camp and we were also treated to lovely early morning views of Victoria and Warden Peaks to the northwest. The last trees fell behind as we approached the unnamed “Peak 5412”.

We hiked right up and over Peak 5412, traversed the next bump on the ridge on the left (east) and then dropped down over scree and boulders to the a point about 100 metres above the base of the north glacier of Crown.

The snow was hard and compact, as we had expected it would be, and we were happy that we hadn’t lugged axes and crampons all the way up here for nothing. It was an easy but steady climb up to the narrow col between the main and west summits.

We’d already gathered from reading descriptions of the climb, that a Class 3 gully off the col leads to the summit ridge. However, the guidebook shows a route sketch that goes up a gully a few metres below the col. There was certainly such a gully in evidence but it looked steep and loose and decidedly un-Class 3. Peter and Tony headed that way but I was having none of it and went right into the col where, lo and behold, there was the easy gully. I yelled to the others to head over to me. They didn’t need much urging, having got themselves onto some nice exposed ice that their crampon points were barely sticking to. Looking at this gully on the way down and from further back shows that it dead-ends anyway.

After regrouping on the col we were soon off up the gully. It was loose at the bottom but otherwise straightforward. Once on the ridge we strolled up to the heathery summit in 10 minutes with just one minor detour around the top of a steep gully known as “The Cleft”.

Now we could finally see what Price Ellison, his daughter Myra and the rest of the 1910 party saw. The light wasn’t the best but the high peaks of northern Strathcona were there in all their splendour to the south. The western horizon included Victoria, Warden, the Haihte Range, the Alava-Bate Sanctuary, Conuma Peak and much, much more. And, of course, to the east were Georgia Strait and the coast mountains of the mainland. We soaked it all in over a leisurely lunch and, at least on my part, with a distinct sense of privilege just being in such a place. 

Crown Mountain Summit Crown summit 2008
The Summit of Crown Mountain Crown summit 2008

Readers may note that the hydrographic tripod on the summit of Crown has one leg broken. This is because it was struck be a helicopter that was attempting to land there in 1988. The aircraft crash-landed but, happily, without injury to the pilot. The authorities certainly did a good job on the cleanup. All that I could find were a few shards of plexiglass in rock crevices just south of the summit.
1910 First Ascent Route
1910 first ascent route
Descending the West Gully
Peter descending W gully

Our visits to summits are all too brief but it was time, finally, to add our names to the new waterproof book that Peter added to the summit register and, with regret, to take our leave of this wonderful and historic place.

There were 8 entries in addition to the 7 noted in 2004. Business on Crown is clearly better than it was but this is still not what you’d call a frequented mountain.

Our return journey to camp was a leisurely affair. We had decided that there was no point in packing up and walking part way out that night. We would enjoy the afternoon soaking in the views from the ridge and savouring the trip to the utmost degree. The only variation we made on the descent was to avoid going right over the top of 5412. Instead we found a bypass route to the west just below the ring of krumholtz that guards the summit.

We were back in camp by 3.45 where Tony and Pete promptly fell asleep while I spent time pottering about constantly losing and then re-finding stuff as is my wont. (If anyone finds a pair of reading glasses on the summit of Crown – they’re mine!)

The highest peaks on Vancouver Island from the summit of Crown Mountain. The inspiration for the creation of Strathcona Park in 1910.

October 01. Out

An unprecedented 3rd clear morning followed another warm and pleasant night. We were again up at 6, packed and off in record time (for me) at 7.15.

With the benefit of the outbound GPS track we were able to avoid a few “bumplets” on the ridge on the way down. The few pockets of bush we had met 2 days before were likewise easily bypassed. We did find an area of blazes on trees similar to our find on the way up but quite some distance away and only because we had wandered off our outbound route a bit.

The descent from the higher clearcut was as steep as I remembered and that through the slash even more painful but we were soon on SF900 and 10 minutes later at the truck. Just over four and a half hours to come down. It makes quite a difference when you have a known route to follow.

Less than 2 hours later we were back in Campbell River where Peter’s database produced the “Royal Coachman”. No loggers breakfast here. A lovely patio garden, fish pond etc. Quite bijou. It was a climbers lunch though. I can’t remember what we ate; only what we drank. No prizes for the guess.

The only way to end a trip
Time to rehydrate !!

At home the next day, I woke up to heavy cloud and rain. That was enough to make me feel particularly smug. As they say, the sun shines on the righteous.

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Viewing: 1-19 of 19
Elizabeth Riggin

Elizabeth Riggin - Nov 2, 2008 9:26 am - Hasn't voted

A 45 degree slope...

I liked your report and found it interesting...the photos are nice as well.
Take care,

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 2, 2008 10:19 am - Hasn't voted

Re: A 45 degree slope...

thanks for reading my report Liz. Glad you enjoyed it. Cheers. Martin


oconnellr - Nov 3, 2008 12:59 am - Hasn't voted

great TR

Great trip report - that initial steep slash section looks hideous. I need to get out and do some routes to get the real Island bush experience I think. Interesting history too. Thanks for sharing.

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 3, 2008 1:11 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: great TR

Thanks Rory. We missed you on yesterday's hike.

Yes, the Island bush experience is something you need to get into. Good for the soul! (Bad for the body).

Cheers, Martin


rpc - Nov 3, 2008 11:24 am - Voted 10/10

great read!

"history + seldom visited summit = must-do"
I second that!

So when were those 7 summit log entries from?
Great write-up Martin!

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 3, 2008 1:19 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: great read!

Thanks Radek.

The 2004 group reported the 7 (they were the 8th). The 7 entries were spread over 18 years. I think one year there were 2 and many years none at all.

In the last 4 years there have been 8 ascents including ours, so business is improving. But it's still not a lot. I think that only one person had made the trip a second time.

Interestingly, there was one entry - for 2006 I think - from a solo climber who claimed a time to summit of 4.5 hours from the end of SF900. I have no reason to doubt this. There is a cadre of "speed climbers" on the Island who set out to set these kinds of records. For instance the Golden Hinde record is now under 21 hours car to summit to car. It took this old fart the best part of 5 days. I bet I saw more along the way though.




imzadi - Nov 4, 2008 2:13 pm - Voted 10/10


Loved the bit of history included...I always wonder about the "history" of some of these climbs.

I second...that steep sections looks horrid...and not very interesting. Downright...ugly actually. But...sometimes you have to go through the ugly to get to the beauty and glory. Awesome views from the top!

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 4, 2008 6:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: history

Many thanks for the kind words.

The full history of the mountain is written up in the parent mountain page. I should, perhaps, have referred to this in the TR. If you're interested in learning more visit

I have to say that I wouldn't describe the horrid bit as "uninteresting". Survival was very much on my mind during this phase - something I'm definitely interested in :)


camerona91 - Nov 4, 2008 3:23 pm - Voted 10/10


I got to thinking about Crown when I was on King's Peak at the start of September. You don't hear much about it, but it definitely looks like a good destination. 4WD for the approach logging road? Got to love island bush over slash...

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 4, 2008 6:16 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great!

Good view of Crown from Kings? I really must make the effort to go up there again in something other that the zero vis that has accompanied my 2 visits to date.

You might just get up SF900 with 2WD. There are no cross ditches. The problem is the undergrowth choking the road. Sitting up in a high clearance vehicle is a must in order to be able to see where the road actually goes. Having said that, if you have access to a 4WD, take it.

Glad you enjoyed the report.




camerona91 - Nov 4, 2008 8:22 pm - Voted 10/10

Re: Great!

Coulnd't see the mountain, just the general approach. I saw how high and far the logging roads go and looked at the map a bit, it is definitely on the docket for next year now! Looks like a great fall objective.

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 4, 2008 8:29 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Great!

The approach roads actually go in from the north, so you wouldn't be able to see them from Kings. They also don't go too high.

You probably did see Crown from Kings because we could certainly see the reverse. It's probably that you didn't recognise the south aspect, since all the "classic" views are from the north.

When you head that way, give me a shout and I'll send you a GPS tracklog. That'll save you some route finding chores at least.


mvs - Nov 5, 2008 1:24 am - Voted 10/10

You live in a rugged place

And are out there experiencing it to the fullest. Right on, and thanks for sharing it!

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 5, 2008 11:16 am - Hasn't voted

Re: You live in a rugged place

C'mon - you're a N Cascades man - you know what it's like here :)

Don't get too spoiled over there by all those gondolas and huts with comfy beds and meals laid on etc.

Many thanks for reading my report and your always welcome comments. And keep those great reports of your own coming.



mvs - Nov 6, 2008 5:29 am - Voted 10/10

Re: You live in a rugged place

Yeah, I just think it's neat how for Vancouver Island you often need multiple days to get in to the interesting stuff. With the exception of the Picket Range and maybe the Olympics, the Cascades are a bit easier. And okay, I'll try not to get soft, just let me finish this wonderful slab of Strüdel mit Sahne und Vanillasoße. :D


suddendescent - Nov 9, 2008 6:31 pm - Hasn't voted

Fabulous !

I found the adventure thrilling ! Furthermore I discovered a little mor eof Canada ! Imagine, I didn't even know there were such mountains on Vancouver island !

As for some unknown mountain scenery closer to where I live, one guy from Vancouver told me aboutthe Groulx hills.. Unfotunately I can't find any pictures of them. I did post a satellite image of them on my profile page...

vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 9, 2008 8:10 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Fabulous !

Many thanks - so glad you enjoyed the story.

Yes - there are indeed many such mountains on the Island. The Alpine backbone stretches almost 500 km from the Cowichan Valley in the south almost to Port Alice in the north. You'll find TR's and mountain descriptions of many of them under my profile. Just click on "vancouver islander" and browse away.




WoundedKnee - Nov 26, 2008 11:09 am - Voted 10/10

Man, I wish you would stop writing trip reports...

It makes it impossible for me to leave Vancouver Island off of my already too-crowded "climbing destination" list.


vancouver islander

vancouver islander - Nov 27, 2008 4:52 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: Man, I wish you would stop writing trip reports...

:) lol

Thanks Shannon. Sorry but I'll have to keep the pressure on. TR on the obscure Conuma Peak coming soon. A little different this time in that failed by just 30 metres to reach the top - but that, in itself, makes a good story. Should have it up by next week sometime and hope that it tempts you futher to visit our alpine paradise.



Viewing: 1-19 of 19



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