American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, Canadian Rockies, Deltaform Mountain, North Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1974

Deltaform Mountain, North Face. Certain mountains grab us when we first see them; they remain with us until we can work them out of our system. Such was the 4000-foot north face of Deltaform Mountain, and the sinuous ice couloir that works its way up the face. Last summer George Lowe and I were rolling north to Alaska when my car began to make noises. At first I tried to ignore the noises, but we coasted into Calgary with a busted transmission. It was Saturday afternoon—no mechanics were available until Monday. George fancied a climb. I was easy to persuade. Choosing a climb was not hard. It had to be within range of the Greyhound Bus. Moraine Lake suggested itself, and I soon found that Deltaform’s ice couloir had also been gnawing away at George. We had twenty minutes to pack our gear, then a mad dash to the bus depot for the last bus of the day. Not long before dusk we arrived at the meadows opposite Deltaform. The ice couloir looked nasty; very nasty. The face was plastered with late spring snow. Our rash optimism vanished: besides, we had forgotten the stove. In the morning at an altogether too reasonable hour we forced down a cold breakfast and went to inspect the climb. We waited under the face, listening for falling rock and ice, but the face remained quiet. The hours ticked by. Finally we set off. The initial stretches were low-angled, but by evening we were on steepening snow-covered ice. The higher we climbed, the more aware we became of the cornices above us. It was with relief that we found a snow ridge for a bivouac platform, reasoning that falling debris would be funneled to either side of us. The next morning we tackled steep ice; as my last ice climb was two years ago I was glad to have George on the front-end of the rope. The sun was already shining on the cornices that hung above our heads, and we were getting worried: our couloir was in the direct path. The morning gave way to afternoon. To our left a cornice collapsed and swept the mountain. There was no going back now. We pressed on as fast as we could: the higher we got, the fewer avalanches could be funneled onto us. A couple of small snow slides covered us; then, when just through a narrow hourglass, an avalanche swept over our tracks. There was nothing to be said. We hurried on, and eventually gained a sheltered stance below the final rock headwall. Seconds later a cornice collapsed, covering us with snow. Had we still been in the couloir, there is little doubt as to the outcome. Chastened but alive, I climbed a difficult inside corner, then belayed George up the final pitch: an unprotected verglas horror. By the time we were both on top it was already late, and we bivouacked under the summit. We had escaped unscathed, but the climb was a sobering lesson. Undoubtedly there was a short time during which we could have retreated, whereas to retreat later on would have been more dangerous than climbing to the top. The conditions we met in early July should not be taken as an indication that here is a climb to avoid. Later in the season, and after a hard freeze, the Deltaform ice couloir will surely be one of the classic ice climbs of Canada.

Chris Jones

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