Inside the Ice Tunnel
- Distance: From parking lot to Kings Peak is about 7.5 km, with about 1800m of elevation gain.
- Difficulty: From parking lot to the north bowl camping area is moderate. From the bowl to the summit is difficult.
- Hiking Time: About 4-5 hours one-way from parking lot to the north bowl. About 2.5-3.5 hours one-way from the bowl to the summit.
- Camping Fees: None
- How to get there: Take the island highway to Campbell River and turn onto Highway 28 (to Gold River). As you enter Strathcona Park and get to Buttle Lake, turn right towards Gold River. Shortly after the Lady Falls trailhead and the Elk River Viewing area, you will drive under some power lines. Turn left shortly after the power lines down a dirt road marked Kings Peak Trailhead. Follow the road for about 1km to the trailhead. Alternatively, you can drive up an old 4x4 road found immediately on your left after the power lines. This road is fairly rough and somewhat overgrown, but will cut 20-30 minutes of hiking off your trip compared to the trailhead at the highway.
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- This trail is best between July and September. Be aware of snow levels early in the season. If there is still snow crampons and ice axes would be needed.
- We did the hike in 2 days, although I think 3 days would be much better to have more time to enjoy the area. Some people do it as a day hike, but it would be an incredibly long and exhausting day for most people.
- The weather can deteriorate quickly at higher elevations. Always dress appropriately and watch the weather carefully.
- There are no camping facilities available. Backcountry camping is best in the north bowl at about 1200m elevation. There are many nice, flat spots and sources of water in this nice meadow. Be sure to leave no trace and disturb as little of the area as possible. You could also camp up higher on the ridge but there are no water sources up there asides from melting snow.
- There are sections of this trail that are pretty exposed. These sections can be very dangerous, especially in snow/icy conditions.
- Route-finding skills are required once on the ridge above the big gulley. There are some rock cairns and flagging but make sure you are comfortable navigating in the alpine without a trail to follow.
- There are no fires permitted in this area of Strathcona Park at any time of year.
- There are lots of rivers along the trail until the steep gully. We filtered all our water from the streams.
The route to the summit of Kings Peak is a very challenging but hugely rewarding hike. The well-built trail climbs steeply through an old-growth forest to a beautiful alpine bowl, a hanging valley, and a long, exposed ridge to the 2065m summit. The views from the top are breathtaking, looking directly at the north face of Elkhorn and Colonel Foster.
Three of my buddies and I did this hike in early August 2013. We had all wanted to climb Kings Peak for a number of years, and were extremely excited to get a weekend together with clear skies and hot temperatures. We drove to the trailhead and started hiking by about 11am, being in no rush as we only needed to make it to the campsite. We chose to drive in the 4x4 road that follows the power lines, and Iíve never seen so many huckleberries in my life. The trail begins at the end of this road and is marked by a nicely carved wooden sign. The climb starts very quickly, climbing through some absolutely massive old growth forest up a series of switchbacks.
About an hour in you will reach the first waterfall, at which point the switchbacks become less frequent and the trail gets steeper. In another half hour or so, there is a stream crossing below another waterfall, which could be difficult if the water levels are high. The trail climbs up to the left of the waterfall and follows the river into a nice valley looking up towards the north bowl. As the valley becomes a bit steeper you will have to cross the stream again a couple times near a nice waterfall. After this waterfall, the trail gets more challenging as it follows the steep side of the canyon, which has been washed away by either landslides or avalanches. This slope is very loose dirt and it is possible to lose your footing and slide down to the stream below.
As you reach the top of the valley, you cross the stream again and the valley opens up to the beautiful north bowl. This is the best area for camping, with meadows and creeks running through it. There are places to camp out in the open meadows as well as in a stand of trees for some shade. This area has no facilities and is a very sensitive sub-alpine area, so try to minimize your impact as much as possible and leave no trace. We set up camp in the open meadow and went for a swim in the ice-cold stream to cool off on such a hot day.
After dinner we met some of the other hikers staying in the meadow, and they told us about a big ice tunnel that had formed a little ways up the trail and we went to check it out. A small valley that had been completely filled with snow through the winter now had consolidated into a mass of ice with a river flowing underneath it, forming a large ice tunnel. The ice was thin at the top, which caused it to glow bright blue inside from the evening light shining through. It was an amazing sight, and we spend the evening up there until the sun had gone down and we returned to our camp to get some rest for the big day ahead of us.
We got up at 6am and had a big breakfast before starting our hike at about 7. We followed the trail from the bowl past the ice tunnel and up to a hanging valley directly north of the Queens Ridge. Cross the valley to its southwest corner to an obvious gulley that leads to the top of the ridge. The gulley is long and steep, and when you reach the top you are rewarded with a great view looking down to the bowl and the Elk River Valley far below that. From here, the route heads south over the top of the Ramparts towards Queens Ridge. Some route-finding skills may be needed here as the trail is not always obvious and there are multiple routes, but there are many rock cairns to keep an eye out for along the way. One route climbs up and over the Queens Ridge while another traverses along its southwest face, staying below the peak and avoiding the elevation gain/loss involved in going over top. As you traverse along the southwest side of the Queens Ridge, there are several spots with a lot of exposure. Although these sections are easy trail, the giant cliffs could be intimidating to those not used to exposure and would be dangerous in snowy or icy conditions.
Both routes will arrive at the sadde between the Queens Ridge and Kings Peak, at the top of the North Glacier. From here the route is easy to follow right up to the top of Kings Peak. The summit is one of the most amazing Iíve ever seen, a huge slab of rock with a well-built rock cairn. The views are endless in all directions, with the most impressive being the rugged north face of Elkhorn and Colonel Foster looming over Landslide Lake below in the valley. In the distance you can see other giants like the Golden Hinde, Mt. McBride, and Victoria Peak. We had brought up a new Summit Register for the Alpine Club of Canada, and got to be the first to sign our names in it and put it in its new home. We spent a good hour and a half at the top taking photos and enjoying the views before beginning our long journey back down to the bottom of the Elk River Valley, 1800m below.
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