After skiing McCoubrey last month, I thought I’d head up the same drainage again and give Mt. Delphine (3406m, a Purcells 11’er) a go. After the last storm passed, my days off were looking in a convenient day of the week to take advantage of its bounty. After talking to Luke who was looking for extra beta from McCoubrey, it turned out he had the same objective in mind for the same day. Well, that was easy.
So, we met up in Farnham Creek at 5:30am and started up toward Delphine’s NW face. It is tucked out of the way, you don’t get a look at it until the very end of the 5km and 1100m of gain. Once there, it was still pretty chilly, so we tried to have a nap while it heated up into alright condition for skiing. Of course, the body won’t allow a nap to happen when it’s a good time. I gave up on commanding my body to sleep and moseyed up scree to Peter Pass while waiting and got a really nice look at Delphine. After coming back down, it was time to head up the face.
We walked the remaining few steps to the glacier tongue and changed over to boots and crampons. After up the lower part of the glacier, we regrouped to discuss what each of us was feeling like skiing. I was feeling the climbers left side of the face would be OK enough, and perhaps good enough to ski off the summit. Luke decided to ski some nicer looking snow on the right side of the face and forego the summit. Before we got moving though, Luke called out some rockfall coming down off the large exposed bit of rock on the right of the main face. Watching this, I was horrified at the speed they were building, and the heading of the asteroids. Luke started to move out of the way, but I told him to stand his ground and watch them closely then dodge, as the area they were heading toward was simply too large to vacate before they arrived. Most of them went nowhere too close to us, but a toaster oven sized chunk came whizzing by both of us. It was cooking, tumbling down 300m of steep ice before reaching us, and bouncing, not sliding. After that, we quickly got on our way, and went toward our respective lines, with only ice and snow above, something us skiers actually understand.
It was a perfect day to be in the mountains, after a recent storm and with cool and mixed cloud skies. Unfortunately, the recent storm did not drop very much in this range, most of the upper portions of the face were some description of rotten ice. I reasoned it might be skiable, and started frontpointing up the glacial roll on the left side of the face. The climbing was pretty awesome, moderate ice climbing in a t-shirt. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to put my camera away from its normal place around my neck and the snow/ice the axes kicked up got into it, so it was in and out of service the rest of the day.
After the front pointing up the steep roll, there was a nice planar chunk of ice above it before the upper face guarded by a bergshrund. I sidestepped up the planar ice to the schrund, which turned out to be more complicated than I thought. I wanted to cross the schrund at the far left side, as that way I could ski the relatively flat summit ridge off the summit, set up one rap and make it across the schrund, without exposing myself to the middle of the huge main face, which was in very scrappy condition. However, the schrund was just too big to cross where I wanted to. Further right there was a good crossing, with some exposure to the main face, but not awful.
I sunk my axes into the ice above the schrund and pulled myself over. After some more front pointing on questionable snow and ice I made it to the summit ridge. From there it was a quick and easy walk on ice and a short scramble to the summit. I was able to find a register, only 30 parties since it was placed in ’87 by the ACC, the last before me was in August 2012. I filled out the register and for some reason put down that I wanted to ski it fully without rappels. Well, too late to take that one back!
I put the skis on and went back down the summit ridge and tried to follow my tracks up, as there was a roll making it difficult to pick out my schrund hop from the top. The snow was not great, I made very careful turns, as the exposure down the main face was huge even if I couldn’t see it from the roll. I found it to be good enough to get edges in, and found my schrund crossing. There was a rare patch of fresh snow below the little huck, so it was easy to commit. The planar ice chunk was nice consistent turns, with fresh snow here and there. That came to an end though, and I made my way between crevasses to the roll.
I knew the roll would be the most difficult skiing on the whole route, it’s just so steep and the roll must be carefully navigated to stay off the parts definitely not in condition to accept edges. After it got to its steepest and stopped rolling over, I made a turn which got a little fast, but good enough, and made a second so I didn’t go too far over skiers right into the scree. On the second, I lost the edge grip in the ice, and surfed the skis into something between completing the turn and a straightline, the speed I built up sliced off and captured enough snow/ice that the bases would hook up even if the edges wouldn’t and I was back in control and finished with the roll. The entire skiers right of the lower glacier was covered in flotsam from the bowling alley coming off the middle face, so I made a quick traverse over to the far skiers left of the face. After a quick few turns on the side Luke skied, I was out of good snow. The rest was harder than the bare glacial ice I’d skied a bit of further up the face, and intermixed with rocks, so I just made it down back to the gear stash by any means and then fell over while taking my skis off. A good place for a fall!