Party: Nick and I
Leave TH: 7:56
Elkhorn Junction: 8:43
Bivy Spot: 15:08
Leave Summit: ~13:30
Car Park: 17:20
Car Acquired!: 17:56
Pursing my lips, I sent a spray of toothpaste spittle into the wind. We had just finished dinner and had watched the sun dip below the horizon as it cooked. Tika Masala rice with capsicum (aka pepper) added for some bonus crunch. Despite the meal size (adequate under normal circumstances), we were both still hungry. It had been a long day and my aching body was looking forward to lying down on the foam z-mat laid out on some sharp rocks that had a good chance of puncturing Nick’s air mattress.
We had left Horne Lake the day before – quite late as I had been showing some new friends around the area. Driving up island we enjoyed the sunset sending the skyline into some amazing shades of pink??. I drove for a little as Nick ate a small take-away burger, but we switched back before pulling into Big Den rest area. I had spent a night here on my last trip up-island, and we decided to do the same. Laying down in the back of the car we were soon asleep.
We slept in past our agreed wake-up time. Surly the extra 45mins sleep would save us 45mins on the trail!? Breakfast (banana yoghurt for me!) and we were on our way, soon pulling into the car-park (parking lot) for the Elk River Trail. Pack mass seemed bearable, but I was glad I had culled my giant jar of peanut butter and extra dinner. I had a lot of fresh food (2xbananas, 4xtomatos, 2xcapsican, 1.5xcucumber, 1xtub.of.humus, 1xblock.of.cheese, etc.), so I was looking forward to the lightening load.
We enjoyed the “engineered trail” making good time as it wound its way up the valley. We soon reached a sign proclaiming Elkhorn. The trail led down into the river, but some bushbashing downstream produced a dry crossing over a log. The river was braided and a second crossing followed before we reached the other side. Following some flagging tape through the overgrown river banks we soon picked up the trail that went steeply up the hill.
We continued up for a long time, passing toilet paper plants (Nick’s name for them), as well as a bunch of waterfalls dropping like ribbons down the far side of the valley. Soon we climbed up the waterfall that Meg must have fallen into on their trip. The waterfall was now merely a trickle and whilst Nick took the handline, I climbed up the watercourse parallel to him.
Soon we were at the saddle just below the treeline, we paused for a short break, but decided to push on and have lunch once the trees gave way to alpine and we’d have better views.
After an amazing lunch (remember – I had all that fresh veg) we continued up into the snowline, Elkhorn visible on the skyline. We headed left around the smaller peak you can see in the foreground, but the main way is probably to the right, up the face you can see.
We after some spectacular views, we ended up scrambling up a gully at the top of which we found a well-trodden path that wound over the ridge through the emerging alpine flowers.
Soon we were at the base of Elkhorn. Which way should we go? Nick had done all the research for the trip. We were debating the west face, but I found it a little daunting… the south ridge? Maybe… we decided to head around to the right and check out the West Gully and continue to the South Ridge if the gully didn’t look feasible.
As we got closer Nick grew more confident in the gully. We passed through a moat and began the climb. We had helmets and harnesses on but weren’t roped up.
The climb was supposed to reach low 5th class, but I’m not sure if it was actually that difficult, though the fact we were climbing with overnight packs definitely upped the difficulty. The main hazard was loose rock – this was something Tawny had warned me about. We staggered our climbing, one person sheltering whilst the other climbed a section and was ‘clear’ before the second person would follow. Many, many rocks and boulders where dislodged, some colliding with others and producing mini landslides. It certainly wasn’t a route that would be suitable for multiple parties.
As we neared the top, Nick began eyeing a pillar. Climbing towards it we paused at the bottom, deciding whether it was a good idea. There was a small window in the rock where we were standing and climbing the pillar was really exposed. In the end a smaller pillar was settled upon.
Nick continued up a difficult climb, as he climbed slowly and carefully upward, I decided to try a longer, less direct but easier route, and then there it was: the summit. Some easy scrambling and we were there. We chilled on the top for about an hour, taking in the panoramic views, relaxing in the sun as well as the usual photo-pfaffing (got to try out my new Gorillapod!).
Since we were trying to traverse the ridgeline, camping in the saddle between Elkhorn and Kings, we started looking for a way down the North Ridge. Scrambling down, and climbing through a vertical chimney we contoured around and reached a gully that dropped off quite steeply. In the end we decided to bail and look for another route. It was not for naught though as I got my favourite photo of the trip whilst Nick was scouting!
We checked out some other gullies, but in the end decided it would best to descend back down the gully we used to summit. Nick did a variation that required him to rap off a horn. This worked well as we weren’t in each other’s fall zone. We both rapped one of the sections, not so much because we had to, but because we had to justify the fact we had taken a rope and harnesses up!
As we reached the bottom of the main summit, the sun was getting low on the horizon, the low angle making the mountains look really cool and giving the snow a pink-orange glow.
The moon was high when we reached the bivvy spot we were planning to spend the night. To our surprise, there was another couple already occupying it! And it was even more of a coincidence that they had just come from King’s Peak via the same traverse we were planning for tomorrow. Essentially they were doing the same trip as us but in reverse. We continued along the ridge to a higher knoll and decided it would make a good spot to spend the night.
The next morning we both rose from a great night’s sleep. Nick claimed that it was the best sleep he’d had in the back country.
On the West Face I could just make out the other couple half way up the first face. By the time we had broken camp, it looked like they were taking a small break at the top.
As we reached the snow gully I put on my crampons. I went first trying to enlarge the steps already in the snow from the day before. Nick didn’t have crampons with him, but carefully picked his way down and across the slope without incident. (Once we hit the snow exposed to the sun the going was a little easier for him).
Soon we hit a band of rock and followed a weakness collecting some water on the way. It was then a fairly awkward downclimb dropping down onto a snow bridge that was a little too thin for comfort. It held and we traversed the saddle, aiming for the gully the couple had pointed out to us the afternoon before. Compared to what we had already done, it was fairly straight forward and we were soon up onto the second(?) pillar. We traversed the tops and then dropped down a different gully from where we contoured around, moving up and down with a little confusion about where should start ascending again. But it worked out pretty well and we emerged onto the trail at the saddle before the last climb up to the Kings. We left our packs and enjoyed the weight lifted from our shoulders. Before we knew it we were at the summit. Another plaque and another logbook I again refrained from signing and some sweet views. It was cool looking back at Elkhorn and the route we had just traversed. It was getting late so we didn’t linger long before heading back down to our packs where the trail continued downwards.
Dropping down the ridge, we got to glissade many times. It was a nice way to get down and I was happy that my legs/knees had a little less walking to do. As the alpine waned giving way to larger trees we lost the trail for a bit. I continued down the ridge and even found a large cairn. But Nick’s GPS had the trail dropping down to the right into the valley and crossing over the ck. He even spotted the trail; so we backtracked deciding we’d spend more time bushbashing (aka bushwhacking) if we didn’t follow the established route. The gully down was snowy, but eventually we picked up the trail and the signs of others glissading before us.
Passing through a popular camp site with several fire rings we reached another larger stream that disappeared beneath a covering of snow. It looked like the trail had eroded away here so the snow bridge played to our advantage and we followed the covered water course down, climbed up a snowy gully and picked up the trail again there.
Continuing down the stream we came across a number of neat waterfalls. This section of the creek was super pretty, the creek winding through the old growth that encroached right up to the stream bank.
Nick spotted an interesting yellow fungal growth. We hadn’t really seen it before, but funnily enough, I saw at work the following week. Apparently it is called ‘Slime Mould’ and it will actually move across the ground. You can see it noticeable move if you were to check on it a few times throughout a day.
There were also some interesting orange flowers that I later found to be called Pumpkin Lilies.
Once we passed the waterfalls, the trail had been maintained really well making walking a little easier. But considering we had made almost 2km elevation gain the first day we still had a lot of down to go, but slowly the other side of the valley came nearer and nearer.
We were happy to see the car park. Sure enough the car from the couple we had met was in there. If only we had done a key exchange… or they happened to be getting back as we arrived! We continued down the never-ending road for about a km and finally hit the main Hwy. Dumping packs I laid down and stretched out a bit. Nick would try and hitchhike back to collect the car. We were only waiting about 10mins before the other couple (we found out from the Kings Peak log book that the guy’s name was Geoff) pulled in. They had organised a lift with a friend. He was nice enough to give nick a ride after dropping the others off. Yay! We were hoping to make it to Costco but once we returned to mobile reception calculated that we would miss it anyway and stopped for some dinner instead.
We reached Horne Lake just as the Staff on Boat Night was wrapping up… it looks like it had been fun. We were back just in time for Nick to snag a couple of pieces of pizza!