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[TR] Mt. Deltaform N. E. Face - Lowe/Jones aka "Super Coulior" 4/6/2009

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Trip: Mt. Deltaform N. E. Face - Lowe/Jones aka "Super Coulior"


Date: 4/6/2009


Trip Report:

I was asked a year or so ago to do some old TRs. This is the first of several early climbs in the Rockies I'll post on.


Deltaform from the summit of Temple. The same place I first saw the climb from and decided I just had to do it. Little did I know it had yet to be climbed.



photo from summit post


By the body count, two of the most deadly climbs in the Canadian Rockies are Super Couloir on Deltaform and Slipstream on Snow Dome. The British alpinist, Dick Renshaw said of Super Couloir, "in foul weather it is more dangerious than the Eiger". The first three parties in the gully all had minor epics of their own, all in marginal weather or snow conditons.


9/07 in dry conditions



photo from Ken's Picase gallery


in similar conditons as the 2nd ascent in '76



unknown photo


crossing over into the upper gully



Gregg Cronn's photo of James Blench in '80




Ken's photo in '07 a dry fall and the effects of global warming.


James at the narrows. Cornice came off on us here. I had just put a screw in and was barely protected by the rock above my head. 30 seconds and 3 steps later and I'd been blown off. Gwain, thankfully, was belaying on the lower rib just out of the gully.




Ken's more recent photo of the narrows.




Looking down the upper ice gully from just below the crux chimney/corner system in '80. Perfect hard ice conditons. At this point it started raining....hard...on us.




Ken's more current photos of the drier conditions.




and the more typical, modern traverse out to the "new" exit pitch, 5.8.




and looking down that pitch.





The second pitch of the original Super Couloir finish, which Lowe/Jones originally rated 5.9. Tim Friesen climbing in typical conditions.



Dave Cheesemond photo



July 1976


By the time we got to the chimney that forms the first pitch of the headwall it had been raining for some time and we'd been soaked most of the day. The corner was now a full blown water fall. I climbed up into the corner, got even wetter if that is possible, colder and worse yet, pretty darn scared from the continious rock fall in there and the snow mushroom coming down, nearly knocking me off. (some how I had been able to forget that small detail until now) We were loosing light quickly and it seemed like we were way out there. Even though I had just done the route on Temple the week before. This seemed really serious and BIG step up from Temple. Avalanches, rock fall (that was increasing with the rain) and now a long, wet, miserable night out. We chopped out a good bivy ledge 14 feet long and 2 feet wide at the base of the rocks, out of the water fall and rain. We are wet and miserable but it was a decent bivy which sorted a lot out. Thinking the water volume would be less in the morning, it was not, Gwain offered to lead. An aclove off to the left, high in the chimney, made a good belay spot. Pins for the anchor, 2 Leppers that should have been tied off and were not. Gwain stemed his way up the first pitch without crampons through the water fall and then scratched his way up the second with crampons on through some really bad rock, a mixed bowl, some ice and finally bottomless wet snow over and through what was left of the cornice. The second pitch scared me, no pro, tricky, lots of snow. Gwain later lost some skin on his hands to cold injuries from those leads.


We'd been wringing out our Dachsteins at every belay for two days with water running over the ice.


I don't think I have ever been so relieved emotionally to get off a climb before or since.


We had done it all before, just in more controlled circumstances, when getting off Deltaform's north glacier route the year before.


But the rap (leaving our entire rock rack and some screws pounded into rock as the ropes hung up), the 2nd bivy and the long walk (25K) out of Marble canyon, now in heavy rain, was epic for us at the time. When we hit Highway 93 by Mt. Stanley and hitched back into the park I had blood running down my thighs from my wool knickers and we hadn't eaten in 48 hrs. Looking back it was a grand adventure (almost too grand) and a small price to pay.


I had written a story BITD describing the climb, calling it "Trout Fishing in Canada". That should give you an idea of the conditions we had. Felt like we were swimming up stream the entire climb.


Jim Elzinga and Gerry Rogan had been caught in a storm the previous season, (we didn't know, nor were we counting) spent a few extra days out and been forced on a more direct (and much harder) line above the 1st gully to keep from being flushed off the route. They were eventually picked up by helicopter on the descent. Which we were told checking back in, gave us the likely undeserved, 2nd ascent of the line.


A bit more info from memory on the Elzinga/Rogan ascent from a recent conversation:


"Rogan's and Elzinga's ascent on Deltaform is just one example of the obvious confusion with the early history of these climbs. What did they really climb? 2nd ascent, new route or rescued while rapping off the route? I read about the "rescue" in the local (Lake Louise) news paper. I distinctly remember having something to eat in Lake Louise, looking at Gwain in amazement and saying..."they didn't actually do the climb but were rescued by a helicopter!" But that was only the local (Banff/LK Louise) news paper, like any news paper, what did they REALLY know? Sounded like a new route up and right of the upper gully to me. The article said 'rescued" by the helicopter while rapping off? What side of the mtn south or north? While still on the climb coming down or after the climb while decending or picked up on the actual ridge? Mtn #48 reported their climb as the 2nd ascent. Park Warden told us after our ascent we did the 2nd, a full year after Elzinga and Rogan had been on the climb. Who do you believe? More importantly what was the real story behind that climb? I'd bet what they actually did was forced a new variation (unrepeated for obvious reasons) of the route off to the right of the upper gully and then slung off the ridge crest by the rescue effort"


Hopefully I'll be able to track that info down shortly and post the actaul details


This is part of a short story I wrote days after the climb.


Gwain and I did Deltaform '76, then Liberty Ridge '78 and went to the Eiger together in '78 among other climbs. We climbed a lot of rock together after '78 but no more alpine. Gwain was always a very gifted, solid climber and amazing athlete in any venue.


With this trip down memory lane I've been searching around for my old journals and things I'd written BITD. "Trout Fishing in Canada" was an interesting read last night, some 33 plus years later.


Never trust the comments of youth while they are basking in the simple glory of survival.


A short bit from "Trout Fishing in Canada" a short story written in the summer of 1976 about our ascent of Deltaform.


"June 1975...half way up the North Glacier route of Deltaform


Gwain, "You will never catch me on that route, it looks more like a bowling alley than an ice climb."


July 1976.. sitting on the Wenkchemna glacier directly under the Super Couloir.


"Gwian, do you remember your comment last year?"


"What am I doing here anyway"

"The upper gully looks pretty steep"

"They say it isn't over 60"


Finally, after four years of waiting, we were committed. I thought the Lowe/Jones route on Deltaform the most beautiful ice climb in Canada. (I still do)


Memories of my other attempts and the one success on this face brought back butterflies.


Both of us were procrastinating. We were scared. We both know soon we won't be able to go down as easily as we can go up. Problem is Super Couloir gets harder the higher you get.


We cross the first of the avalanche troughs. I slip! I almost fall off! Gwain doesn't notice. Climbing together. I've got to be more careful. I'm still not sure I want to be here.


We make another traverse across a fair size runnel of water. The amount of water coming down is amazing. We can not hear each other because of the amount of running water beside us. This is a strange mixture of elements. It sounds like a bubbling trout stream.


The route forces us back out to the edge of the water. It is cold! Our mittens get wrung out at every belay. It can not be this wet all the way up. Finally, we are off the first section of ice and a couple more rope lengths lead to the snow arete.


The view is incredible! The slope is 55 degrees on either side. We chop platforms, brew up and have lunch. We'll easily be up and off long before it gets dark.


The upper couloir does indeed look steep. Gwain gets the first lead. You have to be joking! The upper couloir is ice wih a couple of inches of water running down it. That makes the climbing easy but not too enjoyable. The couloir narrows at half height. I put in a two belay screws and start to bring Gwain up to me. Then it happens! With a ear shattering BOOOM, the summit cornice breaks off! I scream and count seconds as I try to tie Gwain off before the avalanche hits. In moments it is over. I am covered in snow, my are hands cramped........

Nothing to do but climb."


Funny reading this now, experiencing those same long buried emotions. Better still to have the 30 years of additional experiences and seeing all the obvious rookie mistakes :)


Super Couloir isn't hard by today's standards or even the standards of the 1st ascent party. We found it challenging in less than stellar conditions for our limited abilities. It is however, one of the classic alpine ice climbs in North America


And finally the 1st ascent account by George Lowe.


Deltaform North East Face, first ascent account


George Lowe CAJ 57, 1974


“By evening we were under the face.


The face was obviously not in condition. It was plastered with snow and avalanching continuously. Exhaustion and fear kept us from starting in the morning. By midday no big avalanches were coming down so we rationalized our way into starting at 5pm. With winter snow still covering the ice we climbed unroped until the last few pitches before the end of the lower part of the couloir. There we bivouaced, a 5 star site cut into a narrow snow arete flanked by 55 degree slopes.


Morning found us front-pointing up the upper couloir….thin ice over rock, bulges over 60.…always with a good screw or two for protection. Only small chucks of ice came down ass the sun hit the face.


About 12 leads and seven hours later, we were under the top rock band….100 yards below an enormous section of cornice cracked off and disappeared down the couloir where we had been an hour earlier. Another lead and we were under and overhanging chimney seated on a hummock of ice. Off came the summit cornice, crashing out over our heads. Five minutes later down came a large rock fall. Our thoughts could be read in our eyes. Thank God we hadn’t procrastinated another half hour in getting started!


Chris stemmed up loose flakes in the chimney getting bits of manky protection here and there. We had no haul line, so he cut the pitch off at 25 meters. Then I took my turn. The pitch started with some very difficult but good over hanging rock. Then came a groove, not very steep, 65, but with only bits and pieces of protection. Meters of chopping holds, balancing carefully….so carefully….between them. Hours passed in tense concentration until the rope ran out, just as I heaved over the cornice on the ridge. It was the most horrible pitch of my life.


Chris followed on prussik as I anchored the rope with my body, shivering in the wind, wondering if I could hold out until he made it. Then I had to go back down after my pack.


Finally we were (both) on top (of the ridge) at 6:30PM. It had required eight hours to climb two pitches.

By dark we were on the summit.


The next day we raced to get off the mountain before the helicopter came looking for us. We spotted it in the afternoon as we were starting the last rappel off Neptuak. “our bodies are OK” we waved. It is our minds that are bruised. IV (?) F8 or F9. Chris Jones and George Lowe July 8/9 1973


as a reference for those interested in such things:


G. Lowe and J. Glidden did Alberta in 1972

G. Lowe and C. Jones did Deltaform in 1973

G. Lowe and C. Jones did North Twin in 1974






Gear Notes:

Gear for steep alpine ice and some moderate rock in boots (5.8 or 5.9) depending on how you decide to finish the gully. A lttle sketchy for pro via the original rock finish. If you have made it that far it shouldn't be missed IMO. Why bother with second best? Good, cold conditions and weather!


Climb is easily done now in a day...getting off and back to the car may be a good bit longer.


Approach Notes:

A few km up the trail from Moraine lake parking lot.


Descent is complicated and depending on which way you go it can be a really long hike out.

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Keep 'em commin' Dane!!! I'm tired of re-reading my library of climbing books and mags and need new material. Great stuff!!

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"Rogan's and Elzinga's ascent on Deltaform is just one example of the obvious confusion with the early history of these climbs. What did they really climb? 2nd ascent, new route or rescued while rapping off the route?"


Had a great conversation with Jim Elzinga today. I'll post more later when I get all the details sorted out. But funny enough Elzinga and Rogan did do a significant variation of the Super Couloir by climbing straight up from the traverse between the upper and lower couloir in 1975. Rating? Typical Rockies 5.9 A2 all done in a 2 day storm over 3 days of climbing. They were pulled of the ridge by the Tim Auger and the Park's helicopter. This climb really started Elzinga's serious alpine career although he had done a bunch of "serious" things in most climber's minds back though '71/'72. Gerry Rogan had enough after Deltaform and while he continued to climb, Deltaform was the end of the serious stuff.



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Wow Dane, thanks, These are great reports! The dates are a little confusing, but it brought back some sweet memories of my own from up there. Glad to hear you survived yours too.

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It is fun to see others get involved in this thread. Be great to hear your experience Wayne.


Got this comment from Gregg Cronn last night. Those are some of Gregg's pictures earlier in the thread of his and James Blench's ascent of Super Coulior in 1980. For those that don't know Gregg and James. Both were the "token" American's working in Canada back in the late '70s and early '80s guiding and climbing. Gregg and Barry Blanchard did the 3rd ascent of the north face of Alberta in 1983. Barry, " a big deal for me at 24". An early ascent of Polar Circus and later the 2nd winter ascent of the north face Kitchener's GCC with Carlos Buhler. Just four of the many routes in the Rockies for Gregg and then a number of nasty, hard, expeditions to Nepal. James Blench is considered along with Barry Blanchard and Dwayne Congdon one of the few legends in Canadian alpine guiding that is still climbing. Not much James hasn't climbed on ice and hard alpine in the Rockies.


Gregg's comments and story:


"Someone told me about the thread. Great read. I wanted to add my 2 cents but I am not a member of Cascade Climbers. I gave a nervous chuckle when you mentioned it being one of the most dangerous climbs in the Rockies. I had one of the most hair raising epics of my life on that climb. Here is the story...


The summer of 1980 was extremely wet. I wet and cold Spring led to a similar June which led to an extremely wet July. I was working for Yamnuska Mountain School at the time and we had 18 days of rain out of a 21 day trip. Not only did it rain, the high peaks got blasted with snow. It didn't stop snowing and raining until the second week of August. Even then there was no long spell of clear weather that summer. I heard somewhere that St. Helen's blowing its' top contributed to the unusual weather that year. After teaching all summer James Blench and I had some time in early September to do a climb together. The two 'merrycans' working for Yam decided on the Super Coulior of Deltaform. After a four day late August storm, and the summer weather, the mountains were just pasted with ice and snow. That may partially account for the fat appearance of the ice in the photos from 1980.


We started up the lower gully at midnight and soloed all the way to the traverse to the upper gully-which we reached in a glorious sun rise. All the mountains were bathed in pink--a blue haired Mary Kay Saleslady's wet dream. The climbing was the best alpine ice I have ever experienced. We both had Axes and north wall tools (Chouinard zero for me) which penetrated solid styrofom ice to the hilt with an easy swing. We swung six wonderful leads of ice climbing up to the head wall which we reached at noon. James belayed me to a stubby Chouinard screw and I launched on to the mixed pitch, excited at the prospect of reaching the sun and tagging the summit after the two short pitches remaining. This was also going to be my first big Rockies test piece and I was psyched to have it nearly in the bag. Twelve hours later I rolled over the ridge cornice, in the dark, so tired, hungry and dehydrated that I was hallucinating wildly and talking to my ice hammer ("please Ms. Mjillnar stay in that ice for me"), completely numb to anything but an overpowering urge to sleep.


The fun started when I fell, 70 feet out right at the crux. I don't remember what caused the fall because my mind immediately went blank. Faced with my soon to be demise at the young age of 20, my brain core decided it was best if my conscious part of my being wasn't witness to what was going to happen when I splatted like an overfilled waterballon on the 60 degree ice below the overhanging crux. Poor James had to watch, like a catcher following a foul ball heading to the stands behind him, as I ripped all the protection and sailed over and behind the belay. I came back to life at the end of 140 feet of rope without a scratch on me and all my ripped protection tingling together in front of me. Dwayne Congdon's borrowed friend, lovingly placed in a bomber crack below the crux, is bent and the cams on one side destroyed.. God truly does love the foolhardy.


You build up quite a lot of speed when you travel through the air for 100 plus feet and my brand new Edelrid showes it. The kern sports a 15 foot long melted metal on plastic burn that Jame's dynamic body belay allowed to run through the screw carabiner as I slowed down. Having checked out for the air show I am in surprisingly good spirits. I have lost my glasses in the fall, so I can now add 20/200 vision to my issues but I am confident that we can still get up the thing. James, however, is totally freaked. He wants to start rapping the route. I convince him to give it, the pitch that I just logged some considerable air time off of and for some reason beyond both of our capacities to understand at the time survived, a shot. Now James is a fantastic climber, one of the best I have ever seen move in the mountains, but after fifty feet he wants no part of the iced up, down sloping, hard to protect Rockies shit show that awaits him over the next 30 feet of overhanging hell. He lowers off. Now what?


Not aware of Carlos's easier variant (the willy bastard took one look at the crux on a cold Feb. morning and immediately headed left), climbed during his winter ascent a few years ago, I am pissed and want off the climb so I set off up pitch again with Jame's top rope speeding my climb to the crux. It took me nearly three hours to climb the crux. It was iced up and hard to protect and, not surprisingly, I didn't want to fall. When I get to the belay, 15 feet below the ridge, I place 7 pieces of protection to build a decent belay. Dwayne's friend gets pounded into a crack like a cheap french pin. Jame's climbs carefully and slowly up, not liking the the sound of my "don't fall" and lets me lead over the cornice when he reaches me. I hacked away for an hour before I could flop my sorry ass over the other side at midnight.


The next morning we start down quickly and slurp water at some drips and head down into the valley on the south of Deltaform, easily reached in a fewhours. It takes us all day to walk the 12 miles to the road. My calf's are two balls of cramps from standing on my front points so I have to comically walk backwards up any up hills. When we reach the highway, James stands in the middle of the road with his bandanna flying in an outstretched arm and forces the first car by to stop. I didn't wrap my hands around a rope for nine months. I think it is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.


Shows you how bad it gets when it is going so well. If the crux on Deltaform is 5.9 then the crux on Grand Central Coulior is 5.6. Easily the most terrifying piece of ground I ever had to climb in the Rockies!!!






These I stole from Gregg's face book account. Nice, small "snap shot", and a tiny bit of Gregg's Rockies climbing resume.


Barry Blanchard following through the yellow band on Alberta




Gregg in the crux corner of GCC on the 2nd winter ascent.




Carlos Buhler high in the upper gully on the 2nd winter ascent of Kitchener's GCC.




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