Mount French
The ephemeral Dr. Paul Russell contacted me again recently looking to hook up for a scramble, and after much back-and-forth e-mailing, we settled on attempting Mount French in Alberta's Peter Lougheed Provincial Park on 18 August 2012.  The day started off on a somber note as we both learned of the demise of the legendary Rick Collier in a climbing accident a few days earlier.  Paul had previously climbed with Rick, and I had the privilege of meeting him on two separate occasions.  Adding to the enormity of Rick's death was the possibility that my friend, Rafal (Raff) Kazmierczak, may have also been injured in the same accident (I would find out later that Raff had been fortunate enough to escape injury).

Despite the tragic news, our mood was upbeat as we set off along the gravel road next to French Creek.  What better way is there to honour the memory of Rick Collier than to embark on a peak-bagging trip?  As mentioned in trip reports by Andrew Nugara and Vern Dewit, much of the convoluted trail up French Creek is choked with deadfall making for some rather tedious hiking and bushwhacking that conjured up unpleasant memories of Hidden Lake (en route to Aster Lake) and Haffner Creek (approach for Mount Ball).  Fortunately, chatting with Paul along the way helped to pass the time nicely, and we eventually broke out of the trees and clambered atop a lateral moraine overlooking the French Glacier.  From there, we dropped down to the edge of the glacier and hiked easily up to the French-Robertson col and the Haig Icefield.  Normally, I would feel some trepidation about walking onto a glacier unroped, but the line we took across the short bit of the French Glacier and the Haig Icefield looked and felt very safe.  Besides, I let Paul lead the way so that there would be no unpleasant surprises for me!

With the beautiful weather and the amazing vistas, it was awfully tempting to simply plop down on the Haig Icefield and call it a day.  Of course, the upcoming 500-metre climb up a steep slope of treadmill scree on Mount French's south face did not exactly inspire us to get moving either.  Before tackling the slope, I ditched a few things from my pack including my crampons, extra water, and also a can of Coke.  From reading the aforementioned trip reports, Paul expressed some concerns about a possible ice patch just below the summit, and though he eventually decided to ditch his crampons as well, we both kept our ice axes just in case.

We initially enjoyed easy scrambling on some rocky ledges, but inevitably, we found ourselves toiling up arguably the worst scree slope in the Canadian Rockies.  The rubble was aggravatingly loose, and consequently, every step forward necessitated some extra effort to keep from slipping back.  Already weary from the lengthy approach up French Creek, I found my energy waning and struggled to keep up with Paul who seemingly danced his way up the slope.  By the time I crawled onto the summit ridge, I was quite exhausted and likely suffering some mild dehydration as well.  Thinking that Paul had already reached the summit, I was a bit surprised to spot him a fair distance away still advancing along the ridge. That meant that there was still a lot of work ahead of me.  Besides being longer than expected, the summit ridge is fraught with lots of difficulties with the two most challenging sections being where the ridge narrows at a dip early in the proceedings and again later (crux) near the summit.  Technical difficulties aside, I mostly had problems trying to stay awake and to maintain concentration as I hauled my tired body along the ridge.  From where I gained the summit ridge, it took me nearly an hour to reach the summit cairn where I found Paul waiting patiently for me.

Twenty-five minutes after I joined Paul at the summit, we were both retracing our steps back down the mountain.  The crux was slightly trickier to cross on the way back because of the down-sloping ridge, but several other sections along the summit ridge were equally if not more difficult to descend.  When we reached the top of the huge scree slope, we were both expecting a fast and easy downhill run, but our descent turned out to be more troublesome than we would have liked.  The rubble, though loose, generally was poor for plunge-stepping, and numerous underlying slabs--inconsequential during ascent--forced us to choose our lines of descent carefully.  After getting off the south face, we retrieved our ditched items (that Coke tasted like heaven) before embarking on the long trek back down the French Glacier and out French Creek.  Again, Paul's pleasant company helped alleviate much of the drudgery of the return trip which was largely uneventful.  A stop at Fortress Junction for cold drinks on the drive home capped off a very tiring but enjoyable day in the mountains.  The spirit of Rick Collier lives on.
Someone needs to bring a chain-saw or a match... Deadfall such as this is quite common on the trail up French Creek.
Paul's new hiking poles are aerodynamic! Paul emerges from the trees below the east face of Piggy Plus.
The ravine on the right is a good spot to refill water bottles. Here is the first glimpse of Mount French (left).  On the right is Mount Robertson.


Some of the best of the Kane scrambles.

L to R are Mount Engadine, The Tower, Mount Galatea, Gusty Peak, and Mount Chester.


The loss of elevation here is not as bad as it looks. Paul begins to descend from the lateral moraine as he heads directly for the French-Robertson col.
A good reminder that this glacier can still be dangerous. Some crevasses are exposed on the French Glacier.
Crampons not necessary! Paul trudges up a gentle snow slope.
Don't know if I would ever hike back up here, but I might consider skiing this... This is looking back down the French Glacier.  The pointy peak just left of centre is Mount Birdwood.
Now I definitely wanna come back and ski here! A small pond sits at the toe of Mount Robertson next to the Haig Icefield.


The hill on the right looks like it would be awesome for tobogganing!

Mount Maude (left) sits to the south of the Haig Icefield.


Serious misery ahead... Paul studies the south face of Mount French.
There was absolutely no wind when we were here. Looking impregnable from this angle are Mount Sir Douglas (left) and Mount Robertson.
If only it was this easy all the way up... Paul tackles some easy rock bands near the foot of the slope.
Reminds me of the Nazca Lines of Peru. The Canadian national cross-country ski team trains on the Haig Icefield year-round.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? The loose scree seems endless.  Paul is barely visible in the distance.
Bonus points if you can spot Paul! The summit ridge is every bit as complicated as it looks.  The true summit is the bump at right just above the highest snow patch.
If you don't like this part, you're gonna hate the crux! Getting across the first dip in the ridge appears to be somewhat complicated.
Take a deep breath here... The crux and the summit block are just ahead.
You'll do fine once you decide which side of the crux you'd rather fall off! The exposure on the west side of the crux is unforgiving.  Paul is visible on the summit.
The subsidiary summit from where this photo was taken is only 5 metres lower than the true summit. Paul sits on the summit like a spectating Buddha.
It may be feasible to climb the slabs further to the right...if you don't mind the exposure! The final obstacle before the summit is this steep and dirty gully (in shadow).
Apparently the 3rd highest peak in Kananaskis Country. Paul and Sonny stand on the 3242-metre summit of Mount French.
I feel sorry for anyone who was climbing Assiniboine on this day to have their summit views marred by the smoke! Smoke from a prescribed burn rises behind Mount Assiniboine to the northwest.
Not sure if you can see the prairies from there! The outlier just north of Mount French has an incongruous unofficial name--Prairie Lookout!
Beautiful! Most people don't get to see this side of Mount Smith-Dorrien. Mount Smith-Dorrien dominates the view to the east.
Might try Jellicoe from Lawson Lake someday... To the south is Mount Jellicoe.  Also visible are Lawson Lake and Mount Joffre (upper right).
It's odd how the subsidiary summit (right) looks higher from here. This is looking back at the convoluted summit ridge of Mount French.  On the distant horizon at centre is Mount King George.
So if you fall off this side, you'll bounce a few more times than if you fell off the other side. The exposure on the east side of the crux is only marginally more forgiving than the west side.


I wonder what Paul's wife thinks of this picture...

Paul descends the crux.


Now it's my turn. No fear. This photo gives a better perspective on the narrowness of the crux.  Paul is safely across the other side.
These little uphill sections really killed me. Paul retraces his steps along the summit ridge.
I'm just glad to be off that f**king scree slope!! Mount Jellicoe looks brilliant late in the day.
We still have well over 3 hours of hiking left from here. Mount Robertson appears ominous as Paul leaves the Haig Icefield behind.


Too bad the French Creek trail is such a thrash...

Paul hikes down the French Glacier.


Not bad for someone who climbs only once a year! After 13.5 hours on the move, Paul still looks refreshed and ready to climb some more!
Hiking French Creek feels like you're gaining elevation both ways! Total Distance:  20.0 kilometres (approximate)
Round-Trip Time:  13 hours 34 minutes
Net Elevation Gain:  1438 metres