North Twin- North Face G.Lowe & C.Jones Ascent 75-76


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Trad climber
Lee, NH
Jun 28, 2009 - 01:09pm PT
Thanks to Steve for bringing back another gem from the vaults. That was surely the most intimidating Ascent cover ever, with an epic story to match.

There's a fine and well-illustrated story about North Twin written by Steve House in Alpinist 8, as well.
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 28, 2009 - 02:05pm PT
The Cheesmond photo of the routes under discussion from Sean Dougherty's Selected Alpine Climbs, 1991.

The North Pillar route is all the more impressive for its predominantly free FA at 5.10d! Nothing but proud efforts here!

How many repeats on the original North Face route?!?

Trad climber
Jun 28, 2009 - 03:47pm PT
Neither of the pictured routes have been repeated, although I think the Lowe/Jones has seen several attempts. The House route goes up the ice to the right and then traverses in to the '74 route. NFNT is still on my wish list, along with another, more reasonable, Lowe route--NF Alberta.
Mighty Hiker

Social climber
Vancouver, B.C.
Jun 28, 2009 - 05:14pm PT
Formidable climbs, by formidable climbers.

The 1974 route doesn't seem to have been reported in the 1975 Canadian Alpine Journal, except perhaps as a note that escaped the indexer. (North Twin is indexed as "Twin, North".)

There' a report in the CAJ for 1983 (page 92) of a partial repeat of the Lowe-Jones. (Jones-Lowe? Should it be alphabetical?) "In the first week of July 1982, Urs Kallen, Tim Friesen and David Cheesmond repeated the first two-thirds of the Jones/Lowe route. Except for two aid points we free climbed both the first two rock bands (5.10) and the intermediate ice slopes. The top rock band was streaming with water from the ice plastered on top and we were forced to by-pass this by traversing to the ridge on the left. Thus a new variation was climbed - Traverse of the Chickens."

There doesn't seem to be an account of the 1985 Cheesmond-Blanchard route on North Twin in the CAJ. It takes an entirely separate line from the Jones-Lowe.

The summers of 1974 and 1985 were notable for exceptionally long dry warm spells, especially 1985.

The CAJ for 2005 (page 8) contains a long account by Marco Prezelj of his and Steve House's ascent, and other adventures, such as the approach and descent. Also, House dropped the outer shell of one of his boots on the third day (of five). Their route joins the Jones-Lowe at about 2/3 height. I believe the climb was done in spring of 2004 or 2005 - March or April. It appears that spring is becoming a common season for major routes in the Rubblies, given reasonably decent and not too cold weather, longer days, and reasonably stable snow to hold the 'rock' in place.

Trad climber
Jun 28, 2009 - 08:26pm PT
There is an account of the Cheese/Bubba climb in Climbing #94.
east side underground

Trad climber
Hilton crk,ca
Jun 28, 2009 - 11:10pm PT
after reading that account,I realize that I'm really a wanker, Lowe and jones are real climbers. Bad ASS

Big Wall climber
Jun 29, 2009 - 12:27am PT
Ian Welsted and Chris Brazeau did an attempt on the North Face of North Twin in 2005, reaching a point directly below the upper ice fields but had to retreat and rappel the entire route when falling rock shattered Welsted's elbow. He wrote about the experience titled 'Dead' in the 2005 Canadian Alpine Journal. If I'm not mistaken they were going for a variation on one of the existing routes.

Social climber
No Ut
Jun 29, 2009 - 12:42am PT
Always thought it would be cool to eliminate the small amount of aid on the Cheesemond/Blanchard route. An exciting marriage of free climbing and alpinism. Also, I think it's probably the safest route on the wall.


Trad climber
Mountain View, CA
Jun 29, 2009 - 03:35am PT
Bump! These guys hung it way, way, way out there providing themselves and us, who read the accounts, a huge adventure in the true spirit of climbing.


Trad climber
Jun 29, 2009 - 04:25am PT
What an amazing thing...

Trad climber
Golden, CO
Jun 29, 2009 - 10:36am PT
I recently saw a video of Tommy Caldwell climbing on El Cap and thought to myself, in terms of ability, I'm probably closer to the late John Candy than Tommy. With exploits such as George and Chris's on the North Face of North Twin, it's quite different. George always keeps himself in impeccable shape, but he's not at the far reaches of the climbing ability normal distribution curve. It's the mental toughness and balls factor that got 'em through this one. One of the great adventure exploits of all time.

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jun 29, 2009 - 11:28am PT
It's no wonder they didn't take much gear.

They had to make allowance for the giant ballsacks they would be dragging along......

Social climber
Jun 29, 2009 - 07:15pm PT
How does this compare for Balls to the East ridge of Deborah-Crux 100 feet of overhanging snow. i think only one ascent
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Topic Author's Reply - Jun 29, 2009 - 08:58pm PT
Both are real mountains done by real alpinists.

From Ascent 73, Canadian Faces in Winter- Jim Stuart photos.

Social climber
the local crag
Jun 30, 2009 - 05:15am PT
climbs like this set the standard. even 30 years later with modern gear that level of climbing is only for the truly brave. good to know that there are places where adventure will never be completely lost.
Hurtin Albertan

Mountain climber
Canmore, Alberta
Jun 30, 2009 - 09:05am PT
For me the North Face of North Twin all revolves around George. I first saw the face in September of 1982 when Albi Sole and I made the pilgrimage to Wooley Shoulder for an attempt on George and Jock Glidden's route on the North Face of Mt Alberta, which at the time had become the grail for me largely because there was post card sized picture of it in the old, old guidebook (a picture is worth a 1000 ...). There was no picture of North Twin and that is appropriate as a picture can't capture it. It is breath taking to see, dark, brooding, convex. I think that it was Henry Abrons who said it acts like a drug on the mind. It is like the Eiger in that respect, but without the cows with bells and chalets with flowers below it, you get grizzly bears and glaciers instead.

The first winter snows came and Albi and I never left the glacier, but I'd been beneath the North Face of Mt Alberta! The next summer (a far more appropriate time to be there than Sept, but that was before the latest push into winter climbing) Gregg Cronn and I went in and made the 3rd ascent of the NF of Alberta and on the way out, a day late and nearly a rescue short, I saw the NF of North Twin during the one hour of early morning light when the sun illuminates the North Pillar like a brandished sword. I felt like Gregory Peck in MacKinna's Gold, the sun had shown me the treasure. As Marko Prezlj said, "The pillar, that's the route". I was obsessed, along with a dozen other alpinists who had seen it, one of whom was, of course, George, and another was David Cheesmond who had climbed with George on the East Face of Mt Everest in 1983 (the Lowe Buttress).

It all revolves around George. I got to climb with him and Carl Tobin in the winter of 1984 (the crux of the East Ridge of Mt Deborah was led by Carl who climbed a lot with George). We made an attempt on the East Face of Mt Chephren and when I swayed the vote of our team the morning of day two in the snowcave, sitting out a storm, so I could be at an Everest meeting for our 1986 siege expedition because I naively thought that that was important, George wanted to stay and lie out the storm and continue. And he set me straight, although I couldn't hear it at the time, when he said, "this is were its at". And herein lies one of the tenants of George's climbing, and I'd love to know where he got it from, I assume that it was Cassin and Bonatti: George knows that adventure lies in approaching an unclimbed steep mountain wall that is draped in glaciation, brazed with ice, and buttressed with soaring rock walls; and, and this is THE most important part: a rack, a rope, and the pack on your back ... no bolts.

Dave Cheesmond and I planned and schemed and got it together to try the North Pillar in late July 1985, and George tried to scoop us! He came up the week before, and he bought Alex Lowe! (contrary to popular assumption, not related) a mercurial magician on a mountain wall. Thank the lord it rained. Great quote when Dave protested over the phone to George, "George, I've been looking at the Pillar for ten years", "well ya Cheese, I've been looking at it for twenty".

Alex and I went on to become good friends and we got to climb together. We had a discussion about George's commitment at one point trying to understand where George drew the line. It was much farther out there than either Alex and I did, but it is there. George wouldn't be here if it wasn't. For Cassin it seems like Alpinism was the theatre for proving life itself and storms were just part of that, you climbed up through them. It seems like he had to take casualties before he would retreat. Alex and I were good at retreating. George is to the Cassin side somewhere, not all the way there but further than Alex and I. We concluded that George is just tougher and that spending time in that place has allowed him to glean more from the mountain. He knows more than Alex or I knew and this is incredible because, as a professional mountain guide, I undoubtably have more days in the mountains than George ... something to be said for commitment.

Dave and I climbed the North Pillar and it, like George and Chris's route, has yet to see a second ascent. There are some good reasons for that. We had the best chance of success given good rock climbing conditions. To get good rock climbing conditions you need good weather and heat, that combination brings the wall to life. A waterfall forms from the summit rim and it falls free into space, the rockfall on the lower catchment ledges is breathtaking, and it can take your life away. Dave and I felt like we were making a WW II beach landing and we sprinted up sliding plates of shale to get to the next rock band and plaster ourselves against it for protection. No small feat given heavy packs.

Half of the rock on North Twin is good, some of it is even splitter. When you get to the steep rock the rockfall that bombards the lower face screams by a hundred feet out in the air, and it calms down when the sun leaves the face an hour after rising, and an hour before setting. Some of the bad stone is about as bad as it gets for frost shattered rock. Anchoring is often a challenge, some anchors may take 45 minutes for an experienced Rockies trad dad to build, but the security is there. I broke a hold on day two, sprained a tendon in my ring finger, and took a twenty footer onto good gear. Part of Dave's anchor failed on day four while I jumared up his A2 pitch, to quote Dave, "thank god the back up nuts held" (note that we had a number of pieces still in between us). Given my injured finger, Dave took the lion's share and he climbed brilliantly, masterfully, he came up with 'grace under pressure', we got fully committed.

Both Dave and I had been mentored by George. I like to think that I've had some influence on Steve House during all our climbing together and isn't that an interesting connection? The North Face of North Twin revolves around George.

Marko and Steve's ascent was in early April and is a winter ascent despite the rule book on the season. It commonly gets down to -25 celcius on the Columbia Icefield at night in early April. What blew my mind was looking at the pictures of Steve and Marko drytooling 3000 feet up the snow plastered rock of North Twin ... modern alpinism. I'd never seen pictures like that anywhere before. And consider this, no rockfall.

All three routes will be repeated in time. As Steve pointed out you have to go. Even if you never step foot on the face to see that cirque is worth the walk. It is one of the great mountainscapes of North America.

As George knows, you have to commit.

Happy trails,
Barry Blanchard
rick d

tucson, az
Jun 30, 2009 - 09:51am PT
welcome Barry!

you sir, are as bad ass as the best of them.

A long way from where I started
Jun 30, 2009 - 10:15am PT
Hey Barry

You in NZ yet? Thought I heard you were packing up and leaving AB for good?

Anyway, good to hear from you, if only via this stupid forum.

David Harris

Trad climber
Lee, NH
Jun 30, 2009 - 10:21am PT
A new generation of forum spambots working hard ^^^

Big Wall climber
A Token of My Extreme
Jun 30, 2009 - 10:39am PT
Wow Barry,

That is quite a post. Very beautiful and powerful.
Thanks so much for adding to the thread, and for having the sack to get up there!
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