Grand Central Couloir of Mount Kitchener Canadian Rockies

The Northeast Face of Mount Kitchener is one of the great roadside crags of the Canadian Rockies. Kitchener is really just a rolling high point on the eastern edge of the Columbia Icefields, sloping gently to the west. On the north and east, however, it is as if half of the mountain has been shoveled away by the bite of a giant spade, leaving a mile-wide concavity of ice-festooned, rotten limestone. The Grand Central Couloir allows passage through this shattered rock almost completely on ice with one or two very difficult mixed pitches. The awesome prominence of the climb, when seen from the highway below Sunwapta Pass, is hard for a climber to ignore, and it engenders a reluctant desire to experience the mysteries of that incredible gash.

Although not the first or the last route to be done on the face, the Grand Central Couloir is, by far, the most obvious and classic line. Mike Weis and I made

Grand Central Couloir, Mount the first ascent in August 9974, the summer after we had climbed Bridalveil Falls in Kftdiener (Photo: Jeff Lowe) Telluride, Colorado. We climbed at night to avoid the rockfall that accompanies warm summer days, but later ascents have found better conditions in late summer or autumn.

The Grand Centra! Couloir was done about the same time as the Super Couloir on Mont Blanc du Tacul and the Maclntyre/Colton Route on the Walker Spur of the Grand jorasses in the Alps. Together these climbs represented a highmountain extension of skills gained on steep waterfall ice using curved picks that had, by then, been in use for five or six years.

Location: Three miles west of the icefields Highway and a few miles north of Athabasca Pass, Mount Kitchener is one of the peaks that border the Columbia Icefields. The Northeast Face can be seen perfectly from a turnout in the road about a third of the way down from the top of the Steep grade descending from the pass.

First Ascent: Mike Weis and Jeff Lowe, August 1974 Elevation Gain: 4,000 feet (approximately) Difficulty; Grade V, Al4, M6 VS Time: 8 to 16 hours on the climb

207 T Grand Central Couloir of Mount Kitchener, Canadian Rockies

Grand Central Couloir of Mont Kitchener V, AI4, M6 VS

Grand Central Couloir Photos
lopo: Richard Roisitet

Equipment: Six or eight ice screws, six or eight pitons (including several knife-blades), a half set each of Stoppers and Friends, bivouac gear (optional)

Season: August to November

Comments: This is a big, objectively hazardous alpine climb that can be safely done by waiting until the cornice has fallen and for cold weather (or by climbing at night) to avoid rockfall. The upper gully contains some very difficult and serious climbing. Bivouac sites are extremely scarce.

Approach; Sign out for your climb at the information center at Athabasca Pass, then drive 3 miles north to a point at the end of a long, flat stretch of highway. Park at the point where the road ascends a short distance before commencing the final long, steep descent from the pass. Hike down to the Athabasca River west of the road and cross it via a log that spans the narrow gorge into which the water funnels at the end of the flat stretch. After crossing the river, follow the south edge of the trees and ascend west up and over the ridge in front of you (this ridge hides the face of Kitchener from view until you have topped it). Contour along barren scree slopes into the basin below the face. To get to the head of the basin, traverse the dying glacier at its base. It should take about 3 hours to reach the face from the highway.

Route: Climb easy snow (some ice at times) up slopes to the right of the hanging glacier in the bottom of the wall and cross over left onto the glacier. At this point you have two alternatives: (1) go directly up the center to the upper bergschrund, then cross it on the left by way of a very steep pitch,- or (2) if the huge crevasse is impassable, cross over to the left side of the glacier, negotiate the bergschrund there, and diagonal up and right to the point where the two variations meet at the base of the couloir proper. From this point, about 1,500 feet of 50° ice, steepening to 60°, will bring you to the narrow upper couloir (AI3). The final section begins with a hard, probably mixed, pitch in the back of the couloir, which, at this point, is almost a dihedral. This pitch is the crux of the climb and is poorly protected (M5). The belay is semi-hanging from pitons in the left wall. One-half of the next lead is also mixed, and then steep, 65° ice leads to a rather broad section of ice below the upper rock section of the couloir. Two pitches up and right on ice of slightly lesser angle lead to a narrow, chimneylike gully that, in turn, is followed for a pitch up and right to a notch in the rib that borders the main couloir. Short rock steps (the first, 5.9) interspersed with snow and ice slopes lead up the crest of the couloir for two pitches to a belay at the base of the summit ice cap. One easy ice pitch and one very difficult pitch through the cornice bring you to Kitchener's broad summit.

Descent: Walk southeast about one-third to one-half mile to where the East Ridge meets the summit ice cap. Immediately you are faced with a deep gash. One 60-foot rappel deposits you into the gash, and a short but loose bit of 4th-classing brings you out the other side. From here, follow a long, relatively

209 Y Gimme Shelter, Mount Quadro, Canadian Rockies gentle snow or ice slope down the ridge crest to the saddle between Kitchener and the small peak known as K2. Contour down and left on snow and scree, heading toward a glacial tarn below the North Face of K2. A moderately steep slope through a cliff band must be negotiated just above the lake. Wander down to the ridge top you crossed on your approach to the face, and continue down the way you came, Sign out at the information center,

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