Summit Elevation (m): 2740
Trip Date: August 17 2022
Elevation Gain (m): 740 (from “Afternoon Creek”)
Round Trip Time (hr): 3 (from “Afternoon Creek”)
Reference Trip: Wandering the White Goat Wilderness
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2+ – you fall, you sprain something.
Difficulty Notes: This isn’t the easiest route up the mountain but still goes at only around SC5+.
Technical Rating: SC5+; RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps
Sara McLean and I spent a lovely Wednesday morning wandering down the Afternoon plateau and exiting the high meadows under Afternoon Peak before finally hiking down “Afternoon Creek” and arriving at our planned ascent line to Mount Frances. I’d only seen a report from 2011 by Rick Collier when planning the trip but it didn’t sound difficult. A July 2022 trip report from Ephraim Roberts via the north ridge confirmed it was easy from there – but we’d be ascending south slopes. By the time we found ourselves under this diminutive peak it was no longer looking so small and the forecast heat was clearly on – big time. Good thing we were planning to ascend a south facing gully on this one! 😉 Before I go any further into our ascent details I have to say that I’m confused about two things in regards to Francis. Firstly, how exactly should it be spelled? With an “i” or an “e”? Francis or Frances? I have several sources of information with several different explanations of the name itself.
- “Place Names” by Boles et al says there’s a Mount Frances (3038m) in the Cline area bearing the name of Mrs. Lucius Quincy Coleman whose husband made the ascent from a camp at the head of Coral Creek in 1902. Lucius was a brother of A.P. Coleman.
- Bivouac.com states that Francis was James Outram’s brother and that Francis Peak (2740m) is Outram’s first Rockies summit.
- Peakfinder.com says that there’s only one Francis Peak in Alberta (2450m) and that it’s named after private Francis May who was killed in action in WW1 and located nowhere near McDonald Creek.
- David P. Jones states agrees with Boles on the first ascent and naming details but states a height of 2737m.
- Various online and printed maps either print it with an “e” or an “i” and call it either a “Peak” or a “Mount”. No help there.
I’ll go with Boles and Jones with “Mount Frances” so that’s what I’ll do here with a nod to the other spellings. The height is very clearly correct at closer to 2740m as per bivouac and Jones. Now let’s get into our ascent of this silly peak.
After a short but fierce willow-whack to pine forest on Frances’ lower south facing slopes we ascended easily into a rocky drainage on its south face that I’d spotted while planning an ascent route on Google satellite images before the trip. The gully worked fantastically and despite being fairly loose it felt positively solid after the debacle on Afternoon Peak the previous evening. Anything will feel solid for the next few years after that pile of looseness!
We stuck in the center of the gully on slabs, rubble and short moderate sections of scrambling that were avoidable but we were having fun so why bother? The sun was stiflingly hot by the time we were struggling up hardpack scree on the upper SE ridge to the summit. The ascent only took us 1.5 hours from the stream below.
Views from the diminutive summit were understandably great – this is often the case on smaller mountains surrounded by larger terrain. Looking down the unfamiliar McDonald Creek to strange sounding peaks reminded me that despite wandering the Rockies for over 2 decades I still have much new terrain to explore. This is why I continue to focus on my own backyard instead of international or even cross border ranges. There’s so much left to do here! After signing the register in Ephraim’s familiar bright pink ammo container we started our descent. We were the 3rd to sign the register since Collier and Jones placed it in 2011.
We mostly followed our ascent line on descent, avoiding some parts of the loose gully to make things more efficient. Lower down we ended up slightly off our ascent line to the creek and followed Afternoon Creek back to our overnight packs, grateful to dunk our heads into the cool water and replenish our water stores.
Despite the heat we still had a lot of work ahead of us this particular day. Frances was a nice distraction from the work of exiting the Afternoon plateau and valley and I was happy we tagged it via the fun south gully on our way past rather than waiting for a north ridge ascent. Just so you know however, Ephraim raved about the north ridge, calling it a very fun route – so if you’re in the area you have choices.