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Kings Peak
Strathcona Provincial Park
The next day (day 4 of hiking and climbing, and our last day before heading back) dawned bright and clear. Again. Apparently this is quite unusual for wet and rainy Vancouver Island, Jenn says, but I am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth!
Kings Peak
Maybe today we would get to the top of a Strathcona peak. Not wanting to take any chances with "off-trail" routes, I picked a peak that had a official (well, semi-official, anyway) route to the top: Kings Peak. Kings Peak is one of the top 10 mountains on Vancouver Island, at just under 6,800 feet. It has a good 2000+ vertical feet of above-treeline terrain, and the route from the trailhead to the top involved almost 6000 vertical feet of ascent, and over a trail distance of only about 7 km. A big mountain day by any standards! AND, it had an officially marked trailhead and most of the lower part of the ascent was blazed.
courtesy PChen
Kings Peak Trailhead
After retracing yesterday's drive (the trailhead for Kings Peak is very close to the trailhead for the Elk River Trail), we pulled off the highway and drove less than a kilometre down an wide gravel road to its end, where a small orange sign marked the start of the Kings Peak Trail. "Caution", it said. "Steep rugged terrain - Slippery cliff sections". Hmm... looked like fun! (no, really).
The trail led up very steeply through some forest, and then levelled off for about a kilometre or as it made its way to the base of Kings Peak proper. The trail crosses the open cut of a power line where one finds a very big "Kings Peak -->" sign. Above the cut, another of the orange warning signs about a tough route, and then the trail crosses a well-constructed bridge and dives into old-growth forest on the lower flanks of Kings Peak, where it immediately starts its ascent.
Final Warning
I'd characterize this Kings Peak climb first of all by dividing it into three stages: the first is the lower "maintained" section, where the trail has active maintainence, excellent trailwork, and signage. Then there is the middle "thrashy" section, which is characterized by no trail maintenance, and is often steep, awkward, and rough. And finally, the upper "alpine" section, which has beautiful open sub-alpine meadows, some steep but ultimately easy scrambling, and wide expanses of barren above-treeline walking with spectacular views.
courtesy PChen
Lower maintained section
Back to the lower section, where we now were climbing. As I mentioned above, it climbed through beautiful old-growth forest, with massive trees, moss, and a general cathedral-like feeling. The trail had many very nice built-up and constructed switchbacks, and was routed and graded to provided a relatively constant climb up the steep slope. It made negotiating this section quite pleasant.

I was hiking along near the top of this section when I heard a short yelp from Jenn, who was behind me. This was shortly followed by another more surprised and louder yelp. And then screaming and swearing! Hornets! Apparently Jenn had poked her hiking pole into an opening at the base of a tree along the trail - an opening into a hornets' nest! They obviously didn't like the intrusion, and they were attacking Jenn (they ignored me completely when I had walked by). In all, she got bitten seven or eight times, all over her hand, neck and shoulder.

Fearing a possible immune system response, we waited a bit to see if there was any sign of severe swelling. We were quite far from the trailhead at this point, and we had no epi-pen, so if there was going to be any anaphylactic shock, we wouldn't have enough time to do anything about it. Still, I was ready to turn around and head back at this point.

There was some swelling and lots of pain, according to Jenn, but she insisted on going on. We decided to stop and wait for a bit, and, after a break, she did not seem to be having any problems other than itchiness and a bit of puffy redness around the sting sites. So... on we went.

Soon after this adventure, the trail reached a major water drainage coming down the north side of Kings Peak. The trail more-or-less followed this water drainage up to the sub-alpine zone. This is what I consider the middle "brushy and rough" section of the route. There was no trailwork here any more, and the trail went straight up steep, root-filled ground. Every once in a while it would cross the rushing creek in the center of the drainage, usually below a scenic cascade or waterfall. There were cairns in strategic places, but you had to keep an eye out for them - they were not always obvious.
Mid-route blowdown
Pu crossing the stream
Steep-sided gulley
Towards the end of this brushy section is a tricky sloping traverse along the top of a high earthen bank above the rushing creek below. Care was need here, because a slip and slide into the creek would then possibly have you being carried over one of the many cascades and waterfalls downstream! Successfully negotiating this section gave us a nice reward, however: just above we reached a beautiful sub-alpine valley. This valley marked the end of the tricky middle section of the route, and the start of the fun and scenic upper section.

I was really quite taken with the wonderful setting we were now in. The little sub-alpine valley we had entered was bright and filled with sun - a marked contrast with the shady, gloomy dark ravine out of which we had just hiked. The valley had a flat bottom, with a small creek wandering through it. Steep walls of rock rose up at the south and eastern margins of the valley, giving an "outdoors room" kind of effect. Patches of mature forest were scattered here and there between the open meadow sections. And far above, still very far above, we could see the craggy summit of Kings Peak.
Beautiful Sub-Alpine Meadow
According to the guidebook, we needed to make our way to a ridge of rock that led up to the top of what is called the "Queen's Face", a huge cliff section on a lower sub-summit of Kings Peak. From our current position in the valley, I could see the lower part of this ridge. The guidebook says that a steep gully led from a higher meadow up to the top of the ridge, and I could sort of make out a dark line running straight up to intersect the ridge at a spot that seemed to match the description.

After a relaxing break in the sunny meadows, we headed off on a faint but distinct herdpath towards the upper meadows and the ascent gully. As it turns out, there are a couple of ways to get to this upper meadows section, and it is a bit steep in spots but not hard. Once in the upper meadows, we could clearly see the ascent gully - a dark groove with trees that led up very steeply to the ridgeline. The faint herdpath led straight towards the gully.

We could see a lot of Kings Peak's upper alpine terrain now, including the Queen's face and the North Glacier. From this angle the Queen's face looked like a pretty big peak in its own right, and I wondered if our route required us to scale to the top of it and then lose a whole bunch of elevation to the col between it and Kings Peak. I was a bit concerned about how much extra elevation gain we were going to need to do - as it was, this was probably going to be one of the largest, if not the largest, elevation gain for a single peak I'd ever done. Also, having been burned by our failures on the Nose route on Arrowsmith and the failure to find a route up to Puzzle mountain, I was wary about finding some routefinding or technical obstacle that would thwart our summit attempt. We had clearly left the maintained section of the Kings Peak trail, and I wanted our day to work out as planned.
Nearing top of gully
The steep ascent gully was indeed a very narrow steep cleft - in places you had to pull yourself up with branches and and such. It was a partly open gully, with lots of loose rocks, and it would be easy for someone above to bean someone below, so care was required.

At the top, the gully popped us out right on the wide flat of the ridge, and we were suddenly in the open alpine again. From here, the route would take us essentially along the crest of the ridge to the summit. I was still not able to see how we were going to get around the top of the Queen's face, or weather we'd have to go over it. I still didn't have a solid feeling that we were going to make the top before having to turn around.
Lunch Break on the ridge
The weather continued to be awesome - it was a pleasant temperature, not windy, and the sky was clear and not hazy. We could see far to the north, to wild but less rugged peaks than the mountains just south of us. Still, very beautiful.

After a short snack break, we headed off up the ridge. It was wide in spots and flat, and steep and scrambly in others. The route was mostly marked with cairns, but you needed to keep your eyes open to make sure you didn't wander off. In a few spots the trail skirts some airy dropoffs, but if you are good with heights it is just plain old excellent alpine hiking and very easy scrambling.
courtesy PChen
King and Queen
A tough life
Scenic footpath
Soon we emerged onto a high gentle slope on the backside of the Queen's Face. Spectacular views to the south started opening up, included an awesome view of the north face of the Elkhorn, the second highest peak on Vancouver Island. What an aesthetic classic pointy horn of a peak! Other major peaks visible included Mt. Colonel Foster and Puzzle Mountain.
Jenn and the wilderness
The Queen's gentle side
Even more barren
The terrain was almost completely barren alpine terrain, and we followed sporadic cairns and in general followed what seemed like the most reasonable path over the terrain. I was curious to see if there indeed was a big deep col separating the Queen's face from Kings Peak, since if that was the case and it was too difficult, then we'd probably have to turn back.
King Peaks' summit
As we rounded the a rocky shoulder, though, we finally clearly saw all of the remaining terrain between us and the summit - and, surprise, there was essentially no col at all. The land that separated the top of the Queen's face and the summit was only a very shallow depression of only a few tens of feet. This meant that we didn't have to lose any altitude at all, and as a result, we'd make the summit no problem. Funny how this gap looked so foreboding and difficult when viewed from down below! (and if you are a regular reader of mine, you know that I've always said... "what looks difficult often ends up easy, and what looks easy often ends up hard").
Spectacular Southern View
North Glacier
Jenn climbs above the Glacier
Buoyed by not having to worry about whether we'd reach the summit or not, we took off up the last bit of easy hiking to the summit, which we reached in short order. The east aspect of Kings Peak has a massive cliff going straight down almost from the very summit, giving it a very airy and alpine-y feel. The panoramic view, especially to the south, was of endless jagged peaks, including the highest peak on all of Vancouver Island -The Golden Hinde. And, we had it all to ourselves! Amazing.
Rugged Panorama
courtesy PChen
Airy summit block
Pu on the summit
Jenn and Andrew on top
I fired off a good forty or fifty photos right at the summit - the view was that good. Jenn and Pu examined the log book and added our own entries. In all, we spent a good 30 minutes at the summit just soaking it all in. I highly recommend this hike to anyone in good shape and who is ok with a bit of heights and has reasonably good routefinding skills. It is very worthwhile. If only the Adirondacks had a core of mountains like these!
Elkhorn Closeup
The summit register
Elkhorn Glacier closeup
Pu and Jenn on summit
The Golden Hinde
Safe on their stomachs
Tiny humans
Pu and central Strathcona
Hiking away from grandeur
The hike down in the alpine zone was easy and delightful. I was dreading the middle part of our descent through the brushy and rough section - that was not going to be nearly as pleasant - which in fact turned out to be the case, and I was glad when that part was over. As we neared the lower maintained section of trail, Jenn slipped and badly wrenched her shoulder - to the point where she couldn't use it to hold onto things as she descended (poor girl - she really took a beating on this hike!). This slowed our descent a bit, but we were already basically down into the maintained trail section, which was easily walkable without needing your arms, so no big deal.
Our descent path
Descending earthy gullies
Good lower trailwork
Down below at the power line cut, we encountered a large group of teenagers (the first people we'd seen all day). Some of them had set up a huge communal tarp right across the trail! I guess they didn't expect too much hiking traffic. They asked us a few questions about the peak, as they were planning on staying overnight and climbing up the next day. I was glad we'd managed to do the mountain by ourselves today.

Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at the trailhead, not long after 7pm. It took us almost 11 hours to climb up the 6000 feet from here to the summit and back, and it was worth every minute. (not sure if it was worth every sting and wrench for Jenn, though!).
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