On Saturday September 13, 2008, Blair Piggot, Jason Wilcox and I (Kevin Barton), climbed Mt. King George by the exciting and interesting East Face. We climbed the Congdon/McNab couloir route which splits the East Face, south of the big hanging glacier. The first ascent of this route was in 1980 by Dwayne Congdon and Dave McNab.
Congdon / McNab Couloir
Mount King George is an attractive and remote peak located in the southern Canadian Rockies. The peak is located west of the continental divide, entirely within the province of British Columbia. The high elevation of Mount King George makes it very prominent from many surrounding lower summits. For many climbers from the Calgary/Canmore area who frequent summits in the Kananaskis region, the spectacular glaciated East Face of Mount King George is a familiar sight; sort of like an old friend. See Mt. King George page for more details.
East Face of Mt. King George
The parking area for Mount King George is relatively easy to access by vehicle, but the approach on foot can be complicated and difficult. A local author and climber, Bill Corbett, has an excellent guidebook, “The 11,000’ers of the Canadian Rockies” which details excellent driving directions and approach details, also see Mt. King George page for more information.
Simple driving directions would be: from Highway 93 in southern Kootenay National Park take Settlers Road to the Palliser River logging road. Approximately one hour and 60 kilometres from Settlers Road turnoff park near the confluence of Fynn Creek and Palliser River. Approximate road parking spot at NTS map grid reference location 82J/11 (185992).
King George area topo map
Cross the Palliser River on a superb primitive bridge, in 2005 and 2008 this bridge was in excellent condition. A web of meandering trails can make access to the King George Glacier confusing and getting lost in lower Fynn Creek is common. Best chance of not getting lost is to follow the circuitous surveyor flagging tape marked trail. The trail was well marked with tape in September 2008, but a fair amount of dead fall, and several trail variations exist. The first section of the trail is easy to follow along the Palliser River, but heading north up Fynn Creek, things get dicey. Good luck, again I recommend Corbett’s book for more detail.
Above tree line head towards the south side of Mt. Princess Mary and into the east head of Fynn Creek with a camp near the toe of the King George Glacier. Great campsites around NTS grid 82J/11 (150035).
On our trip we reached the bivy location in 5 hours. We did have the odd section where we lost the trail due to dead fall diversions, but overall we had easy travel. Friday night we had rain and snow, but the forecast held true and the sky cleared and we had a beautiful cold and clear starry morning.
From the bivy site head north, over moraines, to the toe of the King George Glacier. Approximately 1.5 kilometres up the glacier, turn left up the first major couloir. Should be obvious, with a clear sight line up for several hundred metres of snow/ice.
View up couloir
Route DescriptionEast Face (Congdon/McNab) Couloir, Alpine III
First Ascent: October 1, 1980. Dwayne Congdon and Dave McNab. Couloir very obvious from summits to the east; long, steep, direct route from King George Glacier to a prominent notch in the South East Ridge. Usually the route is all snow and ice, but couloir has short step (5 to 8 metres) near the top that could melt out.
Quote from Canadian Alpine Journal article, Volume 64, 1981.
“On October 1, 1980 Dave McNab and I climbed Mt. King George's east face via its central couloir. This 1200 ft route splits the face in half. Technically the route is moderate. The overall angle of ice is 45 to 60 degrees with two short 70 degree sections. Only one pitch was belayed.” Dwayne Congdon
Our party of three did a running belay for the majority of the route, getting protection from both pitons and ice screws. Good rock quality in lower section of couloir. One pitch was belayed climbing near top of route, near end of ice section (approximate elevation 3150m) where the ice steepens to near 70 degrees and ends in a near vertical section of about 8 metres.
The base of the couloir is obvious from King George Glacier (approximate NTS grid 132 061 ; elevation 2850m). The bergschrund is overhanging beneath the route with a deep debris notch carved into the centre of the slope. Gain access to the bottom of the couloir by climbing either the right or left slope to avoid the overhang and debris notch. We climbed the right hand side of slope, getting solid pitons along the rock wall.
Once past the schrund, the angle is about 40 degrees for about 250 metres, depending on time of year, could be snow or ice. Once in the couloir proper we simul-climbed the ice slope for several hundred metres with protection from occasional pitons and ice screws.
Lower section of couloir
The slope was ice with patches of thin snow that give some relief from calf burn. Where the couloir turns the angle it steepens to about 55 degrees for about 70 metres.
Middle section of couloir
Upper section of couloir
The crux pitch, lead nicely by Blair, was steep ice (60 to 70 degrees) for a full 60 metre pitch. The final section of this pitch was a short 8 metre rock wall. For us, the centre of the rock wall had a short pillar of poor quality water ice. This ice section may not exist throughout the season.
Blair on ice crux
Once above the pinch point, Blair set a belay on ice. We followed this section to the belay, then both climbed above, for about 60 metres, on easy mixed climbing to reach the South East Ridge at about 3250 metres.
Looking down couloir
We had about 400 metres of fun and exciting climbing and spent about 5 hours in the couloir.
Then we traversed North West to the summit slopes, where easy snow/scree slopes and gullies lead to the summit ridge, easy ridge climb to summit.
Fabulous summit views, but we didn’t stay long.
Jason and Kevin on top
Kevin on summit of King George
We descended the South West Face and South Glacier with soft and a little dicey snow conditions.
Upper south glacier
South side glacier
We exited into the upper North West Fynn Creek drainage and contoured around the south side of Mt. Princess Mary to return to the bivy site.
We were about 14 hours from camp to camp, not a quick trip, but the climbing was fairly demanding throughout.
Bright moon lit dinner and then to bed. Sunday we were about 4 hours out to the car, even though we lost the trail several times.
We all used two axes, one technical pick with hammer and short alpine axe. We wore crampons for the entire climb and descent. About 10 ice screws, snow pickets (if snowy, we didn’t bring any snow pro), a selection of pitons (mostly used knifeblades) and perhaps wires (we didn’t use our wires) and a 60m rope. Draws or sling for running and direct belays, about 10 runners.
Standard glacier rescue gear and high altitude camping gear; rain/snow storm shell, down jacket, climbing boots, crampons, helmet (a must!), harness, slings.
We did not have to rap any sections and did not leave any gear or slings on the route or descent.