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steve shea

Dec 16, 2014 - 08:06am PT
Bruce, I agree. At the time we were young and on top of our game and certainly pushed it at times. Once we realized we had stepped into it on the GCC, our experience kicked in, and like you should not be here. I can only thank my attention to the isotherme learned in France, where the freezing level can go up and down like a yo yo. Because the conditions were sinker soft, it would have been easy to go on.

Your post up thread about gutter routes capped with cornices is so true. Thinking back on it, our GCC experience did slow me down.

I did have some great times in the Rockies. Anyone wanting alpine experience, it is a great and rewarding place to climb.

Trad climber
CA Central Coast
Dec 16, 2014 - 08:13am PT

loved that Sorenson article, thanks for posting that!
steve shea

Dec 16, 2014 - 08:38am PT
The only photo is in my mind's eye. The image most etched into my head is that thousands of feet of dark, ugly black ice. The day before it looked so enticing.

The Columbia Icefields is the only place I have been where my Thommens measured high pressure and it would be snowing. What a place!

Ya, use the tale!

Trad climber
Dec 16, 2014 - 12:29pm PT
Just how much writing did Tobin do? I don't recall seeing that article before. Pretty powerfull.
Gregg Cronn

Mountain climber
Dec 16, 2014 - 03:52pm PT
"Tobin Sorenson and Jack Roberts stopped in Seattle and did a hugely attended slide show at the UW's Kane Hall on their way back from Canada. Jack Roberts was in a wheel chair, and must have been on a little pain medication because there was a little slurring and some confusing dialogue. Can't fault him though, he couldn't walk because of the pain."

Carlos (Buhler) and I did the second winter ascent in Jan. of '83. What is funny about the above quote is that I wanted to do the climb in a day and Carlos had a pretty good response: "No way I am going without my sleeping bag, I saw Robert's in a wheelchair in Seattle after his attempt in a day." There is a reason Carlos climbed so many peaks and is still around to talk about it.

Dec 17, 2014 - 04:18pm PT
The North Face of Mount Kitchener


“IT looks bad … it’s a steep mother”. “Yeah, you won’t catch this baby up there”.

Chouinard, Faint and I scratched ourselves, shook our heads knowingly, got back in the old Chevy and headed up to the Columbia Ice-fields.

“What peak is it anyway?”

“I think it’s the Snow Dome, but I’m not sure”.

In 1970, three years later, I was in Canada again. Once more we stopped at the Tangle Creek turn-out and gazed at the gruesome wall. It still looked bad, but now we knew its name: Mount Kitchener. I was definitely interested in a closer look, but had other climbing plans for that year. On my return to the States I heard that George Lowe and his cousin Jeff had been on the face but were turned back by rockfall. The face was becoming known; we had to move soon.

In 1971 Gray Thompson and I made another trip to Canada and now Kitchener stood out as our obvious first choice. Not only was it, perhaps, the last of the major unclimbed faces along the Banff-Jasper highway, it was quite possibly the finest of them all: “the greatest of the roadside crags” as we dubbed it.

During early July the rain and snow fell pitilessly, but an optimistic weather report soon had us camped on the moraine beneath Kitchener. The face was so plastered in snow that we decided to allow a day for the worst of it to slough off. In the early afternoon an avalanche swept the center of our route, which, we reasoned, now made it safe. The route appeared to have three sections — a lower-angled area to the top schrund, a long ice slope, and the fearful ice gully at the top. By going very light and without bivouac gear and by relying on front pointing, we hoped to climb the face in a day and bivouac on the descent. Due to the rockfall problem we chose the left of the two ice couloirs and set the alarm for midnight.

For me there is an almost magical atmosphere in early alpine starts. I cannot help feeling a common bond between all the other climbers who are also setting out in the cold morning with us. Perhaps in Peru, Alaska, the Tetons or the Sierra Nevada. We are all part of this strange mystique, just as surely as it is part of us.

The early sun reached us as we began climbing in earnest. We realized later that we had crossed the top schrund too far to the left and were having to climb steep ice instead of the lower-angled central part of the face. On the rock powder snow had to be cleared off all the holds and the protection was less than bad. Finally we reached the main ice slope and found incredibly hard black ice. Swinging the ice axe from one hand and an ice hammer from the other we clawed our way up. This was so mentally and physically exhausting that we edged towards the rock buttress splitting the two ice slopes. Our proposed ice gully gave no signs of leaning back, but rather looked worse and worse and, to add to its horrors, the most significant rockfalls came spitting and whirring out of its icy guts. In contrast we were now at the foot of the rock buttress, which would at least be safe from rockfall from above. We had noticed snow on the buttress, and so decided that it was fairly low-angled; little did we know. Route-finding by the “lesser of two evils” approach, we chose the buttress and were immediately slowed down as we struggled with a mixture of steep rock, ice, rotten rock covered by snow, snow mushrooms, general difficulty and poor protection. I believe they call it “mixed climbing”. Time dissolved and a bivouac was inevitable. All the ledges were piled with spring snow, but here Gray had a master stroke — instead of clearing a ledge we would dig a snow hole. This not only kept us busy-until 11 o’clock, it also conserved much of our meager heat supply. We shivered a large part of the night, rubbed each others feet the rest. It was pretty grim, yet without our hole it would have been a lot grimmer. A night to remember!

Ahead I kept believing the next step would see us over the worst, but it never did. The buttress consisted of vertical pillars interspersed with ledges, the whole often loose and plastered with snow and ice. Some rock pillars had no cracks, forcing us to traverse, while the ice was often too thin to take pitons. This was some of the most demanding climbing we had ever come up against. To add to our problems our original supply of rock pins had dwindled to half and now stood at three. In the mid-afternoon I led up an ice chimney, continued on steep ice and finally placed my last rock pin in shattered rock, leading thirty feet to a smooth, crackless wall. My plan was to use a snow cornice that lay against the wall and chimney up between wall and cornice. Happily the total lack of protection and shaky nature of the enterprise caused me to go back, belay, and wait for Gray and the other two pitons. Gray climbed to my high point, tried the moves, and then gave me a resigned look, “Chris, there’s no way we can make this lead — it just won‘’t go”.

We were beaten by sheer difficulty. It was impossible to go on. Well, let us say impossible for us. Now Cesar would probably have hung in there, would have gained strength with each successive bolt and piton. But not old Gray and I — we were just two likely lads with a handful of pitons, two candy bars and an ice axe. Old timers. Alpine Club types. It was home for us: if we could make it.

By now it was four o’clock and retreat to our ice cave too complex to consider. The only way down was to rappel into the right-hand ice slope and hope we had both enough pins to make it down and enough daylight to avoid a bivouac on the ice slope. Making full 150-foot rappels from rope loops, rock pins and all our ice pins it was touch and go all the way. I was ready to sacrifice Gray’s axe to the cause had we needed it, but, as in all the stories, we cleared the schrund with our final rappel. We staggered into camp about midnight.

Knowing that we had given midnight as our check-in time we left camp early the following morning. At the road-head we met an anxious Hans Fuhrer, Park Warden at the Columbia Ice-fields. Hans was dressed in climbing gear and ready with a rescue team to fly in and look for us. It was embarrassing to have caused so much trouble, yet it was really reassuring to know that Hans had been keeping a watchful eye on us.

After this effort I was about as beat up as my crampons — the front points had buckled under. Gray went back to work while I migrated to the Interior Ranges. As soon as possible we hoped to get back on Kitchener, it really appealed to us.

By good luck I now met up and climbed with Jeff Lowe, and on learning that Kitchener had been his principal objective for the summer, I suggested that he join Gray and me when conditions looked right. The Canadian summer was indecently warm, with negligible freezing at night. When we met at the Ice-fields in mid-August, the continual hot weather made us put off the climb once more; we did not want to be caught in a shooting gallery. By late August there was still no sign of a cooling trend. In desperation we decided to go and look at the wall. It was now or never for this year. We hiked in and next day sat under the face listening for stonefall. The mountain was reasonably quiet, and there was a cool wind — we were on our way for real.

Since our last attempt we were convinced that the less rock we climbed the better. We therefore chose the right of the two ice slopes, at the exit of which an ice ramp led to the top. This time we also carried a bivouac tent, sleeping bags and a stove — we wanted to cut down on the suffering if at all possible. Leaving the glacier at about two in the afternoon we soloed up the lower part of the wall, then established a supposedly protected bivouac platform in the top bergschrund.

At six in the morning we led over the schrund and onto the 2000-foot ice slope; we were back in the game. We rapidly crossed over to the side of the slope while the sun loosened all kinds of rocks from the top and tunneled them towards us. Fortunately the ice was not as hard as in July, but it was still a hammer-and-axe affair. The approach we adopted for a three-man party was to have the leader take four leads in a row, the second man to climb without removing any pins, and the third man to self-belay with a Jümar while removing both belay and protection pins. We were now climbing up where we had retreated in July but unhappily saw no sign of our $25 worth of pitons. Near the top of the ice slope the Jumar proved worthless on the icy rope, so, after some hairy slips, we substituted a prusik knot. At mid-afternoon we reached the rock and again our progress was really slowed. The day was quickly disappearing as we shouted up to Jeff “What’s it look like?”. “Looks all right, maybe a bivouac in fifty feet” came the less than convincing reply. When I joined Jeff, I could see the point — our supposed ramp was steep ice butting up to a vertical headwall, with no possibility of a ledge in sight. Night fell as Gray joined us on our sorry bivouac — thin ice over steep rock. Fifty feet above was a small rock against the headwall, so Jeff, using a headlamp, worked his way to it. We flattened the rock and placed a bunch of poor belay pitons. Gray remained below and did what he could with the ice.

I had often read about those seemingly mythical bivouacs of Hermann Buhl where he stood all night keeping himself awake for fear of putting weight on the belays. I had never imagined how bad it could be in reality. After standing for thirty minutes, I collapsed into a precarious sitting position and alternately dozed and wondered. Another night to remember!

After a chilly breakfast we led up and across a particularly steep section, having to cut some of the few steps of the climb. From the belay we could look back on the awful buttress where we had been in July and on the evil walls to either side. Vertical ice gullies and overhanging rock gave this section of Kitchener a look of total impregnability, with our ice ramp the only apparent weakness. And as a weakness it was a failure, as not only was it steep but we had to continually work at a diagonal. It never seemed to let up. By mid-afternoon we were directly under the summit icecap on precarious rock, where the belays were so bad that they came apart in my hands. Ice pitch followed rock as the top edged within reach.

At six o’clock I heaved over the cornice and joined Jeff on top. Standing in the brisk wind, drinking hot tea, joking, feeling the tension ease, I was already planning other climbs in this great range. It’s heady stuff this climbing.

Summary of Statistics:

AREA: Columbia Ice-fields, Canadian Rockies.

NEW ROUTE: Mount Kitchener, North Face. August 27-29, 1971 (Christopher Jones, Jeff Lowe, Graham Thompson). NCCSV, F7.

Thanks to Chris Jones
More Air

Trad climber
Dec 22, 2014 - 05:42pm PT
In 1979 my Salt Lake friends Jim Dockery & Dave Jenkins climbed the Grand Central Couloir in the summer.

Mountain climber
The Other Monrovia- CA
Dec 22, 2014 - 05:46pm PT
In 1979 my Salt Lake friends Jim Dockery & Dave Jenkins climbed the Grand Central Couloir in the summer.

I'm not sure I would admit to that but it is still badazz. ;-)

Social climber
Dec 22, 2014 - 06:59pm PT
Ron Kauk and I made an ascent of the ramp route in late September of 1977. It was quite cold (a good thing). Conditions were similar to the photos Jim Brennan posted earlier in this thread.

My interest in the Rockies began after reading about the FAs of North Twin and Alberta's north faces by George Lowe and his partners. Many of us young Stone Masters were interested in alpine climbing having grown up reading such classics as The White Spider and Annapurna. Referring to the Rockies as the "Poor man's Alps" is quite apt as most of us were so broke a trip to the Alps was a fantasy. The Rockies were attainable however if you knew someone with a serviceable car and could scrounge up some gas money.

My first trip there was in August of 1975 with Luke Freeman and Jim Orey. Our initial objective was the North Face of Assiniboine--the Matterhorn of the Rockies. It was a successful venture as we all summited after a ropeless ascent. It was really quite low angle and much easier than we anticipated. I remember being impressed by the East face. From here we traveled to the Ice Fields where I got my first look at Kitchener's north face. Wow! It is a breathtaking sight from the highway. I was hooked.

At the Ice Field campground I was surprised to run into Jeff Lowe and Mike Weiss. They had just finished their ascent of the GCC. I had met them both just seven months ago in Yosemite on the road beneath the Widow's Tear in Yosemite. They had hoped to follow up their ascent a year earlier of Bridalviel Fall by bagging the FA ascent of the Tear. Conditions didn't favor them however and that honor would fall to Kevin Worrall and myself.
Such a small world. Our 1975 trip ended with a dud as bad weather drove us away. A follow up trip in 1976 with Luke was also depressingly unsuccessful as again bad weather prevailed.

In the summer of 1977 I broke my wrist on the approach to the West Face of Mount Conness in the Yosemite high country. This shut me down for two months until I finally had the cast removed in September. It was too painful still to do even a pull up so I busied myself with hiking and running. Two months with out climbing was driving me nuts. I was still haunted by Kitchener and perhaps it wasn't too late for this year. My previous two years experience with miserable summer weather in the Rockies had me thinking that the fall was the time to be there. I told Ron about how amazing Kitchener was and he was game. Soon we were off to Canada.

We settled in at the Ice Field camp ground and had it all to ourselves. The weather though refused to cooperate. One day while we were eyeing the route from a pull out on the highway a ranger type fellow pulled up. He inquired about our plans and seemed somewhat dismissive after we told him. His reply was,"You would really have to have a hair up your a*# to want to climb that". We paid him no mind. The days frittered by. We were getting financially desperate. If the weather didn't break soon we would have to leave. Finally, we decided to do the approach and bivy at the base. If we awoke to good weather we would go, if not so be it--another wasted trip to the Rockies. Tossing and turning in our tiny Salewa bivy tent I went out in the middle of the night to pee. To my shock I was greeted by a crystal clear night of blazing stars and ice cold temperatures. Excited, I awoke Ron. We brewed up some hot chocolate with protein powder, melted a quart of water and set off. We were going light. We took sleeping bags but no stove or ensolite pads. We were woefully short on gear but managed to "borrow" a Stubai ice hammer from a climbing shop on the drive up giving us four ice tools. Ron had the only set of wool gloves between us. I had only a pair of fingerless Miller Mitts. Absurd really.

We soloed up the left side of the bergschrund in the glow of our headlamps. Gradually the solo climbing gave way to simul climbing with gear between us. We were in the left of the two lower ice slopes. As dawn arrived we could look up at the GCC. It was in perfect conditions. Far better than when Jeff and Mike climbed it. It was tempting to go for the second ascent. Under the circumstances that was just too nuts. It was crazy enough to be up here at all as my first climb back from a broken wrist. We crossed through the notch to the right hand gully and eventually started using conventional belays. At the top of the ice gully Ron led a hard pitch on rock that brought us to a small sloping ice covered ledge. We hacked at the ice for a good while until we had a place to sit and settled in for the night. Our water was frozen solid as were our meager rations of two small green apples, a piece of cheese and two peanut butter honey sandwiches. I can't remember a whole lot about our second day. I do remember one rock pitch climbed with crampons and ice axes. Dry tooling they call it now. The holds were all covered with powder snow. The pro was typically poor. I wasn't sure if I was going the right way. My efforts uncovered a few fixed pins at the steepest point. I found this trace of previous climbers comforting on such a vast face. We eventually found ourselves below the summit ice cap. It was immense, vertical to overhanging and un-climbable. What were we going to do now? We started traversing right on ice looking for a weakness. After several pitches of this I set up a belay on a snow blob at the base of a possible weakness. Either way this had to be it. There was no where else to climb to and daylight was fading. Still, how were we going to climb the vertical cornice? We came up with plan. Ron would use our three axes. By driving their shafts into the cornice ice he could use them for aid. He would pull the bottom one out and leap frog it. By leap frogging in such a method he could self belay himself. If any thing went wrong the 16 inch shaft of the ice hammer stuck in the snow blob (our only anchor) wasn't worth sh#t. I remember looking down from this precarious perch as the light faded, Ron laboring above, at our bivy tent barely visible below. Home and comfort seemed far far away. When Ron reached the top the stars were bright and the northern lights were doing their thing. The next problem was how was I going to get up this pitch? I had Ron tie loops into our 9 mil trail line and lower it down to me. I managed to yard myself up the vertical pitch on these. We spent the night shivering on the summit ice cap. Dawn found us with one last obstacle. A rather ugly looking notch we had to rappel into and climb out of. I got this one last chore as Ron had led the cornice. With this behind us we gradually made our way off the mountain leaving the snow and ice behind. Reaching the rocks below we found frozen puddles of water which we hacked through to reach the liquid within. Once back to our car Ron set out for the base to retrieve our tent and stove. My toes were numb and would remain so for a week. The tips of the two middle fingers of my right hand were black and blue and had no skin as it was torn off by freezing to the cold steel of our pitons. Now its just scar tissue. While Ron was gone I sorted our gear and packed the car. Our ranger buddy dropped by for a visit. He now seemed like our best friend. Apparently he was watching our ascent. I remembering thinking every body loves a winner. Ron returned a few hours later and we headed back to sunny California as a snow storm moved in. We had timed it just perfectly.


Trad climber
Mountain View, CA/Boulder, CO
Dec 22, 2014 - 07:29pm PT
Mark, great story! Keep 'em coming!
Clint Cummins

Trad climber
SF Bay area, CA
Dec 22, 2014 - 07:38pm PT
Epic, Mark. Thanks for sharing the story.

Dec 22, 2014 - 08:14pm PT
Outstanding account, Mark. Just the sought of narration this kind of thread thrives on.

Social climber
Dec 23, 2014 - 07:30am PT
The Stubai I "borrowed" had the same pick and head as the one you pictured but the shaft, rather than being blunt and rubber coated, was pointy and very sharp. I punctured myself in a place most guys really don't want to mess with during the borrowing process. I may still have this tool buried under my house in Yosemite. I will look for it in the next few weeks and see. I should really return it to its rightful owners.

Social climber
Dec 23, 2014 - 09:42am PT
My little Kitchener souvenir.
More Air

Trad climber
Dec 27, 2014 - 10:28am PT
"In 1979 my Salt Lake friends Jim Dockery & Dave Jenkins climbed the Grand Central Couloir in the summer.

I'm not sure I would admit to that but it is still badazz. ;-) "

According to Jim, they had good conditions elsewhere in the Rockies. From below, the Grand Central Couloir looked good. When they arrived at the first steep crux section, Dave got a questionable screw in down low. Higher, the ice was hollow and unprotectable. The climbing was difficult and when he arrived at the 2 wart hog hanging belay, he had no protection in but that first screw.

At the second crux higher up, Jim had similar problems with protection. At a roof he paused for a long time, not being able to get in any protection. He couldn't down climb, so he just went for it risking a long ground fall into the gully. Higher, after sunset they aided over the summit cornice (similar to what Chappy described) to the top. Hallucinating on the descent, they decided it safer to suffer a cold bivy than to risk descending the steep terrain in the dark.

Dec 31, 2014 - 05:38am PT

Thanks to Dana Ruddy
Bad Climber

Dec 31, 2014 - 06:52am PT
Hey, Avery, thanks for getting these Rockies threads started. I've climbed in the range a bunch when I was younger and am totally fascinated by these climbs, which were always too much for me--although I had dreams. I did get up a number of the classic moderates. What a great range! Those photos of the group of four on the route--wow!

Jim Dockery

Trad climber
Jan 5, 2015 - 02:53pm PT
Brian told me about this thread, then Avery wrote asking for my input, so I joined ST to put my 2C in.

In the 70s I became obsessed with this route after seeing it from the road on previous trips. In the end it was one of my hardest climbs that pushed me past my limits and made me question the sanity of hard alpinism.

I'm pretty sure Dave & I didn't do the 3rd ascent since I know that the late Alex Lowe got up it the summer before. He and I had talked about teaming up, but our timing didn't match, so he did it another partner in Sept. I think (after I had to be back at work teaching). I never investigated any other history of the route, so don't know if there were other prior ascents

As far as summer being crazy, that was the only time I could reasonably get off, and back then we often found reasonable north face conditions in summer. Like More Air says it looked good (filled in) from the Hwy - in fact we thought it would be a romp. As most climbers know though looks can be deceiving . . .

On a quick warm up romp up Athabasca we found perfect ice so Dave and I headed up to Kitchener.

We shouldn't have even started our first attempt due to warm temps, but we were too hyped up and hoped it would cool as we climbed. We got around the shrund then ran up the first ice field to just below a rock wall when rock and ice fall commenced and sent us scurrying back down. To avoid exposure we made our descent hugging the wall, often down climbing in the moat.

When we got down we figured conditions looked good if it cooled in the next couple days, so a game of rock paper scissors sent Dave back to the car for more food while I hung out and observed the face.

On our final climb we third classed the first half of the face until entering the couloir proper.

Like More Air said we still thought the crux pitch might be reasonable, but what looked like ice turned out to be a thin shell over sugar snow. By the time Dave realized how bad it was he didn't think he could down climb, couldn't find any reliable pro, and so struggled up the hardest pitch either of us had ever done. He was physically and mentally wasted after that so I led the rest of the climb.

The next section in the upper gully went fast, but the exit was another crux. The steep rock was coated with snice that provided no purchase for my tools which ended up dangling from my wrists for the most part (long before dry tooling was a thing) as I pulled up on plates of wet shale praying for protection that never materialized. I finally found myself scrunched under an overhang of ruble and almost cried at the prospect of pulling over on the loose holds I wasn't sure of. With no other options I finally figured I might as well go out fighting and went for it, a bit surprised to make it.

When we finally reached the cornice it was close to midnight (our alarm had gone off 24 hr. earlier) and we couldn't see a way other than straight up 30 ft. of overhanging snow. Dave jammed himself into a moat/slot as a live man anchor and I headed up with all the tools. I was much too wasted to free climb up the overhang so I ended up pounding in the shafts of the tools, then aiding up on them until I could finally pull over onto the flat summit. The first time I tried to do so though my pick slid through the soft snow and the axe jerked back and hit me in the mouth splitting my lip, which bled like hell for a few minutes. I don't really remember how Dave got up, but I'm assuming he prusiked.

We wandered around in the dark looking for the rap anchor to descend into the little notch, but I was hallucinating so much I demanded we sit it out since there were only a few hours until light. We sat on our packs and shivered continuously, teeth chattering, as we watched the northern lights glow on the horizon.

In the end this climb drew a line in the snow for me that I didn't want to cross again. We both felt like we were gambling with our lives on those crux pitches and we made it up with as much luck as pluck. I was in the best shape of my life and was climbing well, so I felt like I'd finally found my limit, and didn't want to go that close to the edge again. After that I was content to back off a bit and do hard, but not extreme, routes where I could work as much on my photography as pure climbing.

Jan 5, 2015 - 04:21pm PT

you sure that's not one of them less-hair sasquatches?

thanks for sharing your story and photos...

mighty fine... mighty fine.

Jan 5, 2015 - 04:25pm PT
Many thanks Jim. This is wonderful stuff. One of the real joys of supertopo is coming across a post like this.

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