Summit Elevation (m): 3075
Trip Date: Tuesday, August 18 2020
Elevation Gain (m): 1450
Round Trip Time (hr): 10
Total Trip Distance (km): 24.5
Quick ‘n Easy Rating: Class 3 – You fall you break something or worse.
Difficulty Notes: A pretty easy scramble for the most part until the summit ridge when things escalate a few notches on loose, exposed terrain. If you do this peak in winter you will likely only make the false summit thanks to cornices on the summit ridge. I combined this peak with Prairie Lookout, many combine it with Mount French.
Technical Rating: SC6; YDS (3rd)
Map: Google Maps
Mount Jellicoe has been on my list for a long time. Originally I wanted to ski it, but after many stories of skiers turning back on the summit ridge due to exposed cornices, I decided that it was time for a summer trip. The question was, which route? Via the Haig Glacier or the Turbine Canyon? The summer of 2020 is going along pretty good for me with ascents of some long desired peaks and explor8ions of some pretty remote and largely undocumented areas of the Rockies. This is mostly due to Covid-19, limiting any out-of-province travels such as camping trips or canoe trips that usually consume a good portion of my time off in the summer months. The weather has also been cooperating big time this year with smoke-free skies, long dry periods and warm temperatures. Earlier in the year already, I’d received an email from Grant Meyers regarding some possible trips to do together. Grant is a teacher with time off in the summer months and obvious scrambling prowess considering he is now (as of me writing this) on my “lists” page having completed all of the Kane 3rd Edition peaks! Finally on Monday August 17th we arranged a fairly big day trip for the following day involving an ascent of Mount French and Prairie Lookout for Grant and for me an ascent of Mount Jellicoe before joining Grant on Prairie Lookout. This would leave only Mount Robertson for Grant to finish the Kane list, which he did a few days later on Friday, August 21.
I was slightly apprehensive about the size of our day due to a planned multi-day trip with Phil Richards the following two days, but like I said to Phil, you have to take advantage of time off and good weather / partners / conditions. A huge part of my success in the Rockies is due to a willingness to put comfort and healing well behind discomfort and a slightly wrecked body! I guess you can say that I have high pain tolerance. (My dentist concurs after seeing what I suffered through for years with my wisdom teeth before finally getting them yanked…) We decided to meet at 06:00 at the Burstall Pass parking lot as Wednesday was forecast hot and sunny. I haven’t been up the Spray Road in a while but it was in good shape and soon we were bumping fists (Covid – remember) and finalizing our packs for the day ahead. We decided to use Daffern’s approach rather than cross French Creek and this proved to be a good route decision to start our day. I hadn’t been up French Creek since scrambling Mount French with So before it became popular – way back in 2011, almost a decade ago! I remembered we found a better trail on descent but didn’t really remember anything else. My Gaia track was NOT the correct way to go but thankfully by starting out on the correct road / bridge from the parking lot we ended up on the best approach trail. (See my GPS track or simply cut left on a wide road on the left side of French Creek from the parking lot.)
The trail was obvious and has been maintained (cut trees, ribbons) making for a very efficient approach up French Creek nowadays compared to the old days when there was bushwhacking required. The only downside to the trail is that it avoids the great position near a waterfall along the creek that is still one of my favorite photos from this area taken on my Mount French approach with So Nakagawa.
It took Grant and I only around 2 hours to reach the end of the approach valley and tree line with views to the distant French / Robertson Col and our access to the Haig Glacier beyond. Of course from here it took almost another full hour to mess around with rock hard snow patches, loose scree, concrete scree and very, very loose moraines under Mount French to finally reach the col itself. From the col the icefield stretched out to a distant looking Mount Jellicoe, despite Grant’s assurances that it was only about 20-30 minutes of hiking to reach its south ascent slopes.
I didn’t linger long under Mount French before bidding Grant “adieu” and starting over the softening glacier towards Jellicoe. Grant and I devised a somewhat convoluted plan regarding meeting up later in the day for an ascent of Prairie Lookout – at this point we had no idea who would be quicker or slower or by how much! It was with some trepidation that I made the solo crossing of the Haig Glacier in summer conditions but I figured that since the Canadian x-country ski team usually works out here (presumably unroped… ;)) it would likely be safe for me to cross with care. I probed with my trekking poles but didn’t find any crevasses and was surprised when I saw a very well-trodden path in scree to the left of the glacier as I approached Jellicoe’s south face. I realized quickly that this was obviously the route the ski team uses to access the glacier from their camp below. There were cairns with white wands in them to guide me but the trail was very obvious as it contoured up off the glacier and around to the bottom of the south face.
After the pleasant and unexpected scree trail, I was faced with a surprisingly steep scree and rocky south face with many different options for ascent. Alan Kane doesn’t clearly rate or describe the peak, only calling it “much easier than Mount French”. I decided that the further east I went along the face before ascending, the more gentle the angle was likely to be. I angled up and to my right before cutting back slightly left and aiming for a nice handrail rock fin. I stuck to climber’s left of the fin, following my nose up bits of slab and rock fins under pretty loose and unstable scree. The views improved with each step and I gained height over the glacier surprisingly quick.
Within 4 hours of leaving the parking lot I was on the south ridge leading to the infamous narrow and exposed section to the true summit. I quickly navigated through the loose and exposed sections including some fantastic views down to the Haig Glacier and even more impressively, the much less known Smith Dorrien Glacier to the north. With any snow this traverse would be full on mountaineering and hence my “moderate” rating for it. Some folks might even find it difficult – it’s very loose with some narrow and exposed sections. Of course it’s less intense than French but still requires some care at risk of a fatal or seriously dangerous fall. 4.5 hours from the parking lot I was on the summit of Mount Jellicoe taking in some pretty stellar views in every direction.
I heard yelling from Mount French as I was preparing to leave the summit of Jellicoe. Sure enough! Grant was about 100 vertical meters higher than me on French, presumably heading for the summit. I did some quick calculations and realized we might just have perfect timing to meet around noon under Mount French for our second peak of the day. I carefully retraced my steps along the summit ridge before checking out views down the Upper Kananaskis River valley from a high point at the east end of the summit ridge. From here I descended scree slopes back down the handrail wall to the trail in scree far below.
I took my first sit down break on the moraine above the trail to the Haig Glacier, enjoying the beauty and quiet all around me. This is certainly a special area of the Rockies and must be quite the place to train on a summer day for the x-country ski team! After 15 minutes or so I shrugged back into my pack and started the trudge back along the glacier to the lower access slopes of Mount French and hopefully Grant Meyers…
As I approached the Robertson / French col I heard yelling and sure enough – there was Grant, descending scree slopes high above! Talk about perfect timing. I waited 10 minutes and there he was, ready for another challenge! Well… Although he was clearly surprised by the ease of Mount French, Grant was a wee bit tired after the days’ efforts so far and we agreed to slow things down a bit for Prairie Lookout. After a short break on the glacier we started ambling back towards the col.