Deltaform Traverse, III, 5.5

Page Type Page Type: Route
Location Lat/Lon: 51.30411°N / 116.24548°W
Additional Information Route Type: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Summer
Additional Information Time Required: A few days
Additional Information Rock Difficulty: 5.5 (YDS)
Additional Information Grade: III
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Mount Deltaform

The traverse of Mount Deltaform is a combination of its existing Northwest Ridge route (II, 5.5) (Greenwood Boles-1961) which runs over the summit of Mount Neptuak on its way to Mount Deltaform’s summit; with a descent of its eastern ridge down to the glaciated col between Mount Deltaform and Mount Tuzo. An unpublished and to our knowledge, unrecorded descent from that col down to Kaufmann Lake make for a solid two day trip over Deltaform’s triangular massive. You enter the trip at Moraine Lake in Banff National Park, Alberta, and exit it at Marble Canyon, in Kootenay National Park, British Columbia.
Deltaform Traverse, III, 5.5
Deltaform Traverse, III, 5.5

Walter Wilcox named Mount Deltaform after the Greek letter “Delta” because he thought its north face resembled same. The Kaufmann brothers, guiding Herschel Parker, made the first ascent of Mount Deltaform in 1903. “Although we had been successful in conquering what is doubtless one of the most difficult mountains on the American continent, no word of mutual congratulation was spoken. Our position was far too serious to permit any feeling of exultation.” Parker wrote. Our party of four celebrated the summit about as much, realizing we were going to end up bivying somewhere high on the gendarme laden eastern ridge. The northwestern ridge up and over Mount Neptuak (the ridge we took on ascent and most common today) was not actually climbed until 1961 by Greenwood and Boles.

Park at the Moraine Lake Lodge (at the end of Moraine Lake Road from Lake Louise Village below Valley of the Ten Peaks). Follow the Larch Valley Trail which heads up to Sentinel Pass. At a marked trail junction, turn left following the Wenkchemna Pass trail to the pass itself. Turn left to start the climb of Mount Neptuak and Mount Deltaform via their northwest ridges.

Route Description

This is a 6000’+/- accumulated elevation trip.
The broad amount of 4th and 5th class choss up the northwest ridge of Mount Neptuak and then Mount Deltaform varies in difficulty and exposure. My preferable method to climb such a loose ridge would have been solo. In fact the first climbers to climb this ridge in 1961 (Greenwood and Boles) did exactly that until the final summit headwall. Unfortunately one in our group did in fact require a rope for much of the travel and if pitching the cruxes on this ridge out (i.e. guiding the route), it will make for a slow ascent I can assure you.

Circumvent Neptuak’s headwall at the col to the west and follow broken ledges up and around until you are forced to climb up and back left to avoid a deep gully/void. Move back left just a few meters below the steep wall above and you will find an alcove that leads to one pitch of mid fifth class broken quartzite. I soloed this wall from left to right, making one exposed move at the end mantling up to just below the ridge proper.

Follow the ridge up Mount Neptuak, via mostly just scrambling, to its summit. We took two separate raps down to two different large flat plateaus at the col separating Mount Neptuak from Mount Deltaform. Many parties choose to bivy at the second such plateau, particularly if just climbing the northwest ridge and return.

At the base of Mount Deltaform’s main northwest ridge, walk along the west side to a short pitch of 4th class (maybe a small amount of 5th) climbing up another quartzite rich section of the wall to gain the main ridge. Scramble up the ridge to the final summit headwall. Either climb this headwall (160m) or circumvent it to the right and into a gully via a rightward traverse. I recommend you climb the headwall, but since we had a slow 2nd with us, we chose to seek other options and ended up climbing out of the gully to the right of the summit headwall.

This description involves the rightward option, circumventing the summit block headwall. After the traverse below the headwall, move up and cross the ice choked gully to the right. Climb easy 5th class rock here to just below a short steep section. We built a station with blades and then proceeded with a short mixed lead up and over the shattered rock on the right side of the gully and onto a short amount of ice above. This pitch took us to the top of another ridge where an existing pin did exist. This is a very loose and potentially dangerous pitch.

Scramble up the ridge, but stop just short of the final technical section. Set up a gear belay here. Traverse the snow out left until you can climb up a decent 5th class chimney to a slung block just above the infamous notch before the summit.

Rap down to the base of the notch. The most exciting bit of climbing of the whole traverse was climbing the opposing wall. This short pitch consisted of old school 5.5 complete with ice rime, no gear, face climbing, left to right out of the notch. A leader fall here would be quite serious and is impossible to protect. You can go up the much steeper corner to the left, but the shattered rock does little in terms of giving you much confidence about pro. Either option is quite exposed. Once up the 15m or so of steep climbing, the angle eases up to the summit proper. Belay directly from the summit of Mount Deltaform by slinging a block.

Descend the eastern ridge via many rappels. I rapped off of a few rusted single pitons from time to time and we replaced quite a bit of tat along the way. We also slung quite a few blocks. The descent is exhausting to say the least, climbing up and over several major gendarmes staying close to ridge proper. The gullies leading down and south were full of objective hazard. We carried two 60m ropes and made several double rope raps, but a single would make the descent as well.

It would be quite preferable to make it to the Mount Tuzo col to bivy. However, we did not. Lucky for us however, we did indentify in the dark one of the finer bivy ledges in the Canadian Rockies. Our headlamps flashed what appeared to be a huge overhanging cornice. Upon closer inspection however I noticed a large flat ledge holding this cornice in position. We dropped down one human length off the edge of the ridge onto this airy snowy platform where we were almost completely protected from the wind at just under 11,000’ with 4000’ relief off of the ledge! Four of us were capable of bivying comfortably on this ledge.

For the entire descent, stay with the east ridge as much as possible. When in doubt, work the ridgeline. Once down to the glaciated col between Mount Tuzo and Mount Deltaform, put on your crampons, turn south and descend the glacier down to the rock gully below. Beware of rock fall on the entire descent from the col. A huge rock platform broke threatening two in our party while just below the glacier. Once beyond the ice, move skiers right and belay off of a block into the large snow gully below the steep wall to the west. Continue down this gully which turns into large scree. Towards the end of the gully, where it turns into a waterfall, turn right and locate a pin we hammered in on the wall up and right. Rappel down into the next gully west, staying below the steep walls. This last rappel is fraught with loose rock and scree. Move over to the steep wall for cover. From this point, we descended very loose but hard ground down to the snow slopes below.

Follow the snow down to a small tarn. Then follow the drainage down to Kaufmann Lake. Circumvent the lake on either side, we chose the left, and bushwhack a bit to the outlet. Gain the west side of the outlet and head down to the floor of Prospectors Valley and Tokumm Creek. The trail leading out from Kaufmann Lake and then out to Marble Canyon has been decommissioned as of 2010. The section from Kaufmann Lake down to Tokumm Creek is basically non-existent (reclaimed by nature). The Tokumm Creek trail itself is in much better shape once you reach the junction for the old Fay Hut. But since the hut has burned down yet again, this trail (Tokumm Creek) was no longer maintained either (2010). It is 14.5km from the outlet of Kaufmann Lake to Marble Canyon.

If you are lucky and run into a couple of sweet ladies like I did, at 8:PM on a Wednesday at Marble Canyon, you can hitch a ride back to Banff or Canmore. Thumbing it back to Lake Louise and more particularly Moraine Lake will be much more difficult and there is no official camping at Marble Canyon although if you set up a tent in the parking area, a warden might give you a ride after he/she fines you.

Traverse Sequence

Traverse Sequence II

Traverse Sequence III

Essential Gear

60m rope, alpine axe with hammer end, crampons, a few ice screws, selection of pitons, a few cams, a few wires, quite a bit of cordelette for slinging blocks and replacing weathered tat, two sets of gloves, rain gear, down jacket, bivy sack and at least a zero degree bag, climbing boots with edges, helmet, harness, slings.

External Links

100’s of Canadian Rockies multi-pitch rock climbs, ice climbs, alpine climbs and scrambles, just scroll down to routes

Banff National Park, Parks Canada

Best Eats in Canmore: Iron Goat, tons of organic/free range fare, my favorite is the game meat loaf. As good as prices as anywhere really and the staff is made up of a few aspiring climbers. The main man works his heart out making everything run smooth, not a given in Canmore. Best dining views (and sunny outdoor seating) in town bar none, from Mount Lougheed to Mount Rundle traverses, two of my trademark beta contributions near the town of Canmore. True best of the best mountain local dining experience.

Best Eats in Banff: The Bison, all organic/free range fare, with a detailed description of their suppliers. Recently expanded (2010), I recommend sticking with the downstairs. Better menu, prices and social ambience. Maybe retire to the bar upstairs for sunset or late night. Bison chili is amazing!

Best Coffee in Canmore: Beamers, the locals favorite, super wholesome lunch stuff, local guys, no attitude on service

Best Climbers Hangout: Summit Café, most likely place to find me or my brethren shooting the bull about beta. Best breakfast place in town, good coffee as well, serve Mennonite meats from Valbella, which is the best place to buy free range products anywhere in the world, right here in Canmore.

Climbing Gear: All way too expensive in the Bow Valley, but if you must, Mountain Magic in Banff is far superior to service and actual knowledge about climbing than the two in Canmore.



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