On July 1st, two friends and I made a successful, though gruelling, summit of Crown Mountain inside Strathcona Park. The story of this day-trip is part of a much longer saga that starts with a failed summit attempt on Mount Colonel Foster.
Though there’s probably a much longer version of this story to be told, the gist of it is that we planned a three-day adventure that would see our group overnight at the North Col, before making an attempt on the summit of Colonel Foster; instead, it turned into a warmup hike to Landslide Lake and back. When we arrived at the shore of the lake, we discovered a dense cloud just 100 metres above the lake — much worse than forecasted. As we stood contemplating an attempt on the summit, a fellow mountaineer appeared from the ether and influenced our decision to turn back.
By every measure, we made the right choice – but by the time we arrived back at the car, the sun was shining and there was plenty of blue in the sky. The 27-kilometre return route with heavy backpacks took its toll on our legs. By the time we reached Campbell River, my legs were stiff, and would be fatigued the next day. In Campbell River, we discussed options for a new objective, eventually deciding on a day-trip to Crown Mountain, with a campout on the shore of Jessie Lake just a five-minute drive to the start of our route.
Canada Day — Crown Mountain
My trip to Crown Mountain was one of the most memorable of the summer, though not for the regular reasons. A few poor choices and some bad luck combined to make it the longest day-trip I’ve ever done. It began with a late start to our day (8:00 am) on an alder-infested stretch of deactivated logging road on the SF900 spur. This was a choice aided by a misreading of trip beta and poor estimation of the route description. We estimated the route to be around 22 kilometres return, but the real walking distance would be much more.
Total Distance 34 km
Total Elevation Gain 2400 metres
Total Time 16:50
While the route description suggested we could drive a good portion of the logging road, this was not possible. Trust me. We parked the vehicle at the start of the overgrown and deactivated SF900 spur (400m) and proceeded on foot. The dense sections of alder didn’t do much to slow us on the way up; we covered the 200-metre gain and three kilometres quickly. At the road’s end (~600m), we continued into a section of even older road, along a game trail, before picking a route up the east-facing slopes over crumbling rock and dirt. We each used a slightly different line in the worst sections, because it was nearly impossible to avoid dropping detritus on those below.
This section beyond the road and up to a cut block on the plateau (900m) was the most challenging of the regular route, and even more so on the way down. More than a little route-finding was essential to get up the scree slopes, negotiate around short bluffs, and make it up the steep forested terrain before we gained the ridge. The scarce flagging we found was of little help, as there were multiple types coming from different directions. Regardless, we found our way up within ninety minutes.
The cut block edges the park, and beyond the boundary, the route-finding was much easier. We mostly stuck to the height of the forested north ridge. After our time spent thrashing through the bush on the road, the knee- to waist-high blueberry was an easy stroll. Around noon, we rested at a narrow viewpoint, our first of the day. While we took our lunch, we talked about setting a turnaround time; we decided a descent in the dark would be better than a day spent almost summiting.
After lunch, we set a faster pace. We cruised through the bush, following the drops into notches and along the ridge as we climbed higher and higher. By 2:30 pm we stood at the last highpoint on the ridge (1628m). We could see the summit of Crown Mountain, but had some trouble deciding which route description would take us to the main summit. From our position, the summit is divided into two masses with a deep notch and gully dividing the two sides.
After considerable debate and reviewing our mapped routes and written descriptions, we decided to head for the east (left) bump. We dropped off the ridge into the snow-filled north bowl below the twin features. The snow was in good condition, and we easily crossed the east ridge of Crown Mountain and around to the east face.
The snow remained in great shape and allowed us to ascend via a series of switchbacks to an upper snowfield around 1770 metres. To our left, the east ridge formed the skyline that runs to the summit block, and we scrambled up with little effort. Once on the ridge, we followed it toward the summit; near the summit, I got off-route and found some type-two fun.
Now that I’ve been to the summit, I can see how easy the route is, but at the time I somehow missed a scrambly ramp. Instead, I got sucked into what looked like a semi-booted route that traverses below the summit on the north side to the notch we had seen earlier in the day. Probably the route we followed was one created by people who ascended from here, but as I looked down into it, it looked like some exposed low fourth-class terrain. There was no way I was descending into the gully, and instead I looked up: I could see a series of ledges and good-sized rocks and decided to give it a scramble.
I left my poles below with Phil and started up. About halfway up, I called down that I wouldn’t be coming down the same way. After a few more moves, I began doubting I would be able to safely make it to the top; there were plenty of large, loose boulders that wiggled when touched. After I stalled for a good two minutes, I tested again and found a better foothold and a place to jam my fist in to reach a ledge above me. I pulled myself up to discover Clarke walking up a route nearby (just follow the east ridge right to the top via an easy scramble). Phil followed behind him moments later, having rerouted back to the ridge.
On the summit, we found the register inside the cairn and added our three names to the very sparse list. It was already 5:30 pm when we finished our snack and left the summit. We kept a quick pace to get down, but the going got slow along the forested ridge. The poor sightlines made it difficult to landmark, so instead of travelling straight we wandered the ridge a bit, wasting precious time.
By the time we reached the bluffs, the last of the light had faded and a light mist fell. Headlamps were enough to help with the light, but the mist made everything slippery and drenched us as we moved through the trees. Making things more fun, we used a new route down to avoid the loose rock we discovered on the ascent. Clarke and Phil worked some mountaineering magic to guide us through the bush and bluffs back to the road. Mostly the route was good, and in the light of day perhaps it would have been easy, but in the cover of night, pushing between dead trees, along narrow ledges, and down short steps, there was a need for some deep, calming breaths.
Even back on the road, the fun wasn’t over. There was still the alder-covered road to contend with, and in the midst of the dark, wet thickets, it was nearly impossible to see where the road ended and the forest began. It was sometimes impossible to walk in a straight line. At one point, Phil and I watched Clarke charge into the bush, thrash around, and then charge straight back out, heading past us in the direction we had come from! He only stopped because we called out to him. So, yeah–thick. And while I thought I was wet before we got back to the road, I discovered a whole new level once we hit the alder: the water poured down my legs into my boots.
It was 1:30 am when we arrived back at the Jeep. The descent in the dark took almost double the time of our ascent. I was shivering as I stripped off my soaked gear and changed into my dry clothes. It was a long drive, but by 5:30 am I was hopping into the shower at home.
Planning your own Crown Mountain adventure
If you’re considering your own trip to Crown Mountain and thinking of doing it in a day, I have a few recommendations to ensure that your trip is easier than mine:
- Don’t lose a set of glasses.
- Start at first light; not at 8:00 am like we did (that one is probably obvious).
- Don’t start your trip with a 27-kilometre trip to Landslide Lake with a 45-pound mountaineering pack.
As the last piece of humorous information, the next day at home I weighed my water-soaked boots. The left one was 3 pounds 6 ounces, and the right was 3 pounds 9 ounces. I reckon that’s the most water either of them has ever had, even when I consider the times I’ve washed them!
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