Summit Elevations (m): 2375 (Proctor), 2508 (Planner)
Trip Date: Saturday, May 30, 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1550
Round Trip Time (hrs): 7
Total Trip Distance (km): 18
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 3 – you fall, you break something.
Difficulty Notes: There is a trail for most of this easy scramble but with snow things become slightly more challenging and possibly dangerous. I recommend waiting until July to keep this one safe for scramblers and hikers.
Technical Rating: SC5; YDS (3rd class)
Trip Album: verndewit.com
While browsing Instagram earlier in the last week of May I was surprised to see a post from Ephraim Roberts highlighting a very pleasant scramble up Mount Proctor near Fernie, BC. I Googled the mountain and was instantly intrigued and very interested after reading Sonny’s trip report. I messaged Ephraim and asked him how the route was and whether or not we’d need snowshoes. He responded that thanks to rainfall and a very consolidated snow pack we would not need ‘shoes and that much of the route was bone dry. This was a surprise to Wietse and I as the Fernie area gets a TON of snow and just came out of a huge snow year. We decided it was worth a shot to get into a new area (for us) and also into some real scrambling for once. In Wietse’s words, he “just didn’t have the mental energy for another bunch of hills”. I completely understood this sentiment! So far in 2020 I’ve been on around 48 new “summits” but other than South Livingstone and Morin Peak they’ve all been front range hills and ridges with very little scrambling. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve enjoyed all the hiking and getting into new areas, but it was high time to start some adrenaline flow again.
One reason I haven’t done any peakbagging or explor8ion in the Fernie area yet is simple. The drive. Yes, places like Yoho, DTC and Jasper are also 3+ hours of driving but those places are remote and have glaciers and huge peaks with the requisite stunning views. Fernie is a gorgeous mountain town with stellar views too, but it just hasn’t hit my radar yet. Well, it has now. 😉 Interestingly, there aren’t a dearth of trip reports from the Fernie area. Most of the online trip reports that I could find were from either Sonny or Bob – both Calgarians. It didn’t matter for Mount Proctor because it happens to be one of the most popular hikes / scrambles in the Fernie area, partly due to its direct access from the town information center. It took almost exactly 3 hours to drive to the trailhead where we stepped out of the car and immediately felt like we’d been transported into a summer wonderland. It was warm and humid as we started up the well marked “Fairy Creek Falls / Mount Proctor” trail, winding its way through a maze of mountain biking trails with names like “Swine Flu”. I’m sure “Covid-19” is a name that’ll be used sooner than later here.
I’d pre-routed a track in Gaia before leaving and we briefly lost the main trail for Proctor by following a series of smaller trails up the power lines and then up “Swine Flu”. Eventually we worked our way left and ended up on the main south trail and ridge of Proctor. The trail was bone dry and the air was HOT and humid. It felt amazing to be hiking and working out in summer conditions after way too many months of cold weather back in Alberta. As we ascended the steep trail our views back over the town of Fernie to Fernie Ridge and Morrissey Ridge were pretty good as well as the Border Ranges. We passed a couple of mountain bikers who wished us “good luck” in a way that made me wonder if the locals knew something about Mount Proctor that maybe we didn’t. We kept going but as we started running into more and bigger patches of snow we both commented that we likely should have brought our axes and crampons. It might feel like summer out here but it was obviously still pretty snowy above 2000 meters. I trusted Ephraim’s beta but of course this was a much warmer day, 3 days later and conditions change quickly in spring.
After about 1.5 hours of steady hiking (Wietse was flying along, as usual), we started to come across enough snow on the south ridge that we had to step on it. We were at around 1800 meters at this point with at least 5-600 meters of height gain remaining. I started wondering if we’d underestimated the amount and impact of snow on this route. I also noticed that there was a lack of fresh prints in the snow. There certainly weren’t hordes of locals going up Mount Proctor – the only tracks we could see were Ephraim’s from three days previous. What did the locals know that we didn’t? Once again we wondered what we were in for but kept going on faith. 😉 We scrambled up some slightly steeper sections, avoiding snow where possible before the trail (more accurately Ephraim’s footprints and my GPS track) guided us left across the SW side of an outlier of Proctor on copious amounts of firm snow. If you do this route with snow please know that we crossed some pretty massive slide zones here and on a south aspect no less. You need to be absolutely sure that snow conditions are stable on these slopes before committing to them!
As we traversed around the west slopes of the “2224” outlier of Proctor to the col with the main summit we noted with great relief that the slopes / ridge to the summit looked pretty much snow free. We exited the snow onto rock and started up the last outlier before the summit on dry rock. Our views were excellent in every direction but we continued to wonder about the amount of snow clearly visible on our exit valley to the west. With temperatures soaring to at least 20-25 degrees we were getting worried about the snow pack collapsing but there wasn’t much to do but keep going at this point, so that’s what we did.
We ascended the final few meters to the massive summit cairn sporting a classic “Ephraim register” (brilliant pink) containing a nice surprise. It was nice to see a perfectly placed picnic table just under the summit block where we could eat lunch. It was at this point that we noted two things. The first was that we were only just over 3 hours into our day and this was going to mean a shorter hike than the total driving time of 6 hours unless we somehow slowed down on descent. The second thing we noted was that there was a higher summit to the north of Mount Proctor that clearly had a large cairn on it. What was this peak that nobody seems to mention? We couldn’t find a reason not to do the traverse from Proctor – or at least attempt it – so we decided to eat lunch before heading over. One constraint was our ongoing concern about the warm temperature and the copious amounts of snow we clearly had to exit on. We decided that if we weren’t on the next summit within 45 minutes, we’d abandon the attempt and head down.
Note: On returning home from our hike I did some poking around re: the extra peak we did. Bivouac was the only reference that named the peak somewhat esoterically as “Planner Peak”. Bivouac also names the two outlying Sisters as “Fairy” and “Sog” respectively. It should be pointed out that Bivouac also doesn’t seem to know exactly where the Three Sisters are so all of this naming stuff needs to be taken with a very large grain of salt. 😉 We were going to call the peak either “2508” or “Baby Sister” so with a reference to “Planner Peak” somewhere else, I figured we might as well just keep that name for now.
The traverse started out easy enough on a goat trail of sorts. We traversed around some steep sections on climber’s left as needed but there were no route finding challenges involved. Within about 40 minutes of leaving the picnic table on Mount Proctor we were standing about 130 meters higher on Planner Peak with even better views, especially to the north which now included wonderful head-on visuals to southern Rockies giants such as Mount Mike, Mount Harrison and Mount Washburn. Three Sisters Mountain and Mount Bisaro also featured very prominently from our new vantage. I don’t know if this is truly a separate peak or not but it’s 100% worth the walk over to it if you have the time and energy. The traverse isn’t any more difficult than anything on ascent of the south ridge of Mount Proctor, at most it might be a bit looser since it doesn’t get nearly the traffic. There was no register that we could find but there was a large cairn.
After snapping a plethora of photos from the summit of Planner Peak it was time to stop screwing around and get down the very snowy bowl between Mount Proctor and Three Sisters before it turned isothermal – assuming it hadn’t already. Worst case scenario we’d be forced to return the way we came, but that wasn’t without risk either. We’d traversed some pretty big south facing snow slopes on ascent and I wasn’t thrilled with returning over them at 1 pm in 25 degree heat! There were no slides coming down anywhere around us but there were enough wet sloughs to make us aware that the risks weren’t “zero”. I led quickly down steep south scree slopes of Planner into the bowl where I was hugely relieved to discover a very firm snow pack. It was almost as if the snow were a glacier – probably the result of rain and warm temps the few weeks previous. I didn’t linger long on the snow and within 30 minutes of the summit we were approaching the regular descent route into Fairy Creek and Ephraim’s old descent tracks.
We continued several hundred vertical meters down the steep gully leading out to Fairy Creek, boot skiing and plunge stepping on firm avalanche debris / snow the entire way. My knees were loving this unexpected break! Our gamble to do this peak in late May paid off immensely but I sure wouldn’t want to be in this gully during any sort of elevated avalanche risk or with an unconsolidated snow pack without skis or snowshoes. We saw evidence of huge slides all the way down to the creek, including many mature trees that were snapped off like toothpicks – obviously the area got more snow than usual this past winter. Finally we plunged down the last few hundred meters of snow and exited onto the trail below in hot, humid summer-like weather.
I was ready to slow down our pace a bit after exiting the snow. Wietse was still cruising so he went ahead a bit while I started taking photos of the different landscapes that one sees in BC compared to AB. The weather was very hot and muggy. Near the bottom of the steep gully where the trail turns left and parallels Fairy Creek we ran into a whole family of hikers who thought they might reach the summit of Proctor in shorts and runners. We wished them “good luck” and kept going, at least they let us know that there were no hungry bears waiting below for us. We’d heard from a local that there can be problematic bears in the Fairy Creek Valley. I really enjoyed the summer-like conditions out along Fairy Creek. We ran into another large group of teenagers complete with blasting music but other than that it was only us on the route until we got closer to the bike trails.
We were getting hot on the trail at one point and decided to take a short detour along a faint path to dunk our heads in Fairy Creek. Just as I set down my pack beside the creek I saw a small black bear charging away from us! Just goes to show yet again that there are more animals along the trail than you realize. I drank deeply from the sediment-filled creek while Wietse looked on dubiously. Sometimes he thinks I’m too quick to drink directly from water sources. Well, I’m still OK a few days later so I guess the water was clean enough… 😉 It sure tasted good, I can tell you that!
We exited back to the visitor center 7 hours after leaving. It felt great to be back on a normal scramble again, a much different feeling than all the front range hills and ridges I’ve been wandering up and down so far this spring. With wide ranging views and different angles on familiar peaks such as the Flathead Range and Mount Harrison, I was happy to finally get a scramble in the Fernie area. Obviously now that we’ve wet our appetites, we’ll be back for many more. I highly recommend Mount Proctor as a fairly straightforward outing with great views near Fernie, it’s a short day if you only do the one peak and a moderate day if you tag on Planner Peak.