Saturday afternoon, once we moved bivy sites from the South Glacier to the east one, Steven came over and expressed some concern at the obvious giant, open 'schrund splitting the whole south face of the upper glacier on Prince Albert. Initially I dismissed his concerns thinking of how easily we avoided similar issues on King George's South Glacier. (You can spot these giant holes on the Google image of Prince Albert.)
Saturday night was warmer than Friday night had been, and we woke up wondering what conditions would be like on the glacier. There was only one way to find out - go put boots on it. So, we groggily got out of our sleeping bags again at 04:10 and prepped for the day. The plan was to ascend Prince Albert, traverse to the Prince Albert / George col and ascend Prince George before heading back to the bivy site and exiting to the truck. A long day for sure, but we'd just ascended King George and Princess Mary with enough spare time to head back out (could have climbed both in 1.5 days including the trip from and back to Calgary) so we felt confident we could accomplish this goal too. We were lacking a bit of motivation due to our success the day before and the heat.
We ascended the waterfall headwall above our bivy in the dark on climber's right. This avoids the bushes that thrive directly under the waterfalls. After this we slowly curved back left before getting onto the main King George Glacier. This glacier is very heavily crevassed, especially on the right (west) edge and soon we found ourselves weaving in and around very large holes. There was snow to our left but we didn't trust the bridges in the warm temps so we dealt with the visible holes instead. All the playing around on the glacier was good fun but it dramatically slowed us down compared to the day before.
Eventually we had no choice but to take to the snow covered glacier and we decided to rope up. This slowed us down even more and it was almost comical how groggily we dragged ourselves up the glacier towards Prince Albert. I was keeping track of time and it became obvious that we weren't getting another 2 summits and hiking all the way back to the truck on this particular day. When Ben suggested that the snow was already getting a bit soft to be playing around the huge 'schrund and obvious holes on the south glacier on Prince Albert, I agreed and we decided it was time to vote. Either attempt Prince Albert - keeping in mind that nobody felt like taking huge risks after successfully climbing our main objective already the day before, or go up Prince George which was pretty much a guaranteed success and involved very little risk.
[Hiking up the lower glacier towards Prince Albert.]
[Lots of holes to avoid on this glacier, looking back at a nice sunrise.]
[It got more and more difficult to avoid the holes as we worked our way up the main bulge on the glacier.]
[Now we're on snow and roped up for safety.]
[We took an obvious snow ramp up to the upper part of the glacier, just past the Congdon/McNab couloir. This was a bit of a mistake because it put us near some serac exposure and in some huge holes. Next time we'll go all the way to the end of the lower glacier before heading up to Prince Albert.]
[Looking over the King George glacier towards Prince George. Our approach is on the right. ++]
The decision was made easier when we realized we were 'only' getting 3 peaks this trip and nobody was returning for a small peak like Prince George! We somewhat reluctantly changed course from Prince Albert to Prince George on our right.
Descending the glacier between Prince Albert and Prince George was easy enough at the far north end, around the south end of Prince Albert. We again dropped a bunch of gear before cramponing up easy snow slopes. The last 150 vertical meters was on loose, blocky terrain but was easy. The views from the summit were surprisingly good! The Palliser Valley induced vertigo - it was so far below us to the north. The Royal Group was all visible including Princess Mary, King George, Prince Albert, Prince Henry, Prince John and Queen Marry (L to R). I couldn't believe JW, Kevin and Blair's route up the Congdon / McNab Couloir up the east face of King George! Crazy!
[Eric and Ben beneath Prince Albert.]
[Some choosy terrain traversing to Prince George.]
[Hiking off the main glacier.]
[It's a hot day already. Looking back at Eric under a towering Prince Albert.]
[Heading up easy snow to the summit block on Prince George.]
[Ben climbs above the snow with the impressive summits of Prince Henry, Prince John and Queen Mary in the background]
[Impressive pano from the summit looking over Mount Craddock and the Palliser River Valley. ++]
[Impressive west faces of the Royal Group.]
[Steven on the summit of Prince George.]
[The register was almost empty but soaked.]
[The Royal Group from L to R, Princess Mary, King George, Prince Albert, Prince Henry, Queen Mary and Prince John. The 5.3 crack used to access King George via the 'normal' route from this side is visible between Princess Mary and King George at far left under Princess Mary. ++]
[Impressive north face of King George with the Congdon/McNab couloir running up the center. See this trip report for more details.]
[More impressive angles of the Royal Group rising dramatically over the Palliser River Valley.]
[Mount Princess Mary, which we also ascended the day before. The exit of the "dark crack" mentioned in the 11,000er's book, that can be used to access the glacier is at lower right.]
[Mount Sir Douglas with Monro, LeRoy and Maude to it's right and Queen Elizabeth and King Albert to it's left.]
[Mount Assiniboine, Lockwood, Tipperary and Cradock from L to R. ++]
The last register entry was dated two years previous, but it was soaked. I don't think many people bother with this minor summit, but the views made it totally worth the effort. Prince Albert looked incredible from Prince George, and I'll be back for it some day for sure.
We took our time on the way back to camp and enjoyed the mixed glacier / rock terrain along the east edge of the King George Glacier. We got lucky and managed to find a reasonable route down - only narrowly avoiding getting trapped by an icefall at one point. Camp was toasty already at noon and we knew we'd be sweating buckets on the hike out.
[A wonderful hike back to the bivy.]
[Checking out crevasses on the King George Glacier.]
[Prince Albert and the glacier.]
[Nearing the end of the glacier - a nice lake which we went around on the right hand side.]
[Playing around on glacial ice.]
[Near the final headwall down to the bivy you can go either left or right.]
[Looking down the headwall towards the bivy - along the creek about half way to the distant trees.]
[There is some trickier terrain at the headwall above the bivy that can make navigating in the dark challenging.]
Sure enough, the hike back to the truck was hot and somewhat confusing. We managed to get off track at least 3 times, even with GPS and ribbons everywhere! Oh well. We eventually made it out and back across the Palliser River. The truck was still functional and another car was parked behind it. We hadn't seen any evidence of others, but obviously they were there somewhere! (After returning and reporting on our trip, it turns out that a solo climber who'd just ascended Assiniboine and Lunette was sleeping in the bush nearby and followed our route up KG the next day!)
[Back in the bush! We lost the trail 3 times before even exiting the upper part! If you're not following ribbons or an obvious trail you're lost. Back track and try again...]
[Back in the suck.]
[Ribbons are there to encourage you over and under dead fall!]
[A last look back at the approach head wall]
[Fun in the afternoon heat along Fynn Creek]
[Back across the log]
[Steven crosses the log while I head back to the truck. Hope he doesn't fall in... :)]
The whole King George trip lived up to my expectations and more. Even with a rough approach and not reaching the summit of Prince Albert - I really enjoyed it. The remote country, wild terrain and very different climbing experiences have me thinking that I'll go back some day to stand on Prince Albert's summit. But not this year. :)