Deluc Mountain (The Three Brothers)

Trip Date: Tuesday, September 03 2019
Elevation Gain from Bivy (m): 970
Trip Time from Bivy (hr): 4.5
Trip Distance from Bivy (km): 10
Reference Trip: Explor8ion in the Heart of Banff National Park
Quick ‘n Dirty Rating: Class 2- you fall, you sprain something.
Difficulty Notes: An easy scramble from the bivy lakes that includes some easy MN6 glacier travel to the SW ascent slopes that is difficult to completely avoid. Accessing this remote peak is going to be your biggest challenge by far.
Technical Rating: SC5, MN6; RE5
GPS Track: Download
Map: Google Maps

After hiking a pretty strenuous 6 hours to our bivy site the afternoon and evening before, we were up and ready to tackle Deluc Mountain at 05:45 on Tuesday morning. Given that the weather forecast had already begun to collapse the day before – something we’re used to in 2019 – I was really keen on tagging both Deluc and Dip Slope Mountain in a single day rather than flirt with possible crappy weather later in the week. But one mountain at a time… We took our time getting ready, eating a good breakfast and drinking a sublime cup of Starbucks instant coffee before setting out towards our distant peak.

Deluc Mountain Route Map including our half day approach via the Mosquito Creek trail and two high cols the afternoon before.

It felt really good to hike with daypacks after the previous days efforts and soon we were threading our way through an old rockfall including large boulders and alpine meadow in between. There’s a different feeling to wandering remote places as opposed to well traveled areas. There’s no sign of humans anywhere. Not a footprint, not a cairn, no garbage. The local wildlife is truly wild, there’s no ground squirrels or birds begging for food – they warily watch from a distance and yell at you if you get too close. You don’t see many bears either, despite what some people worry about. Wild bears spot you coming a mile away and avoid you rather than ignore you.

Crossing a boulder field on route to Deluc Mountain. This is looking back at sunrise on an outlier of Devon Mountain above our bivy.
Mike and Cornelius follow me past the boulder field as I glance back to the rising sun and the col (L) that we descended the evening before. Willingdon, Crown and South Tower just visible at distant right.

It’s amazing to me that in 2019 we can drive a few hours and hike half a day and get to places that less than a few dozen humans (at most) have been in modern times. All it takes is a bit of planning and a lot of mental and physical exertion. These places are not for the timid – you’re going to get wet, tired, sore and bitten by bugs. You’re going to tear your $900 Arc’teryx jacket on a stubborn tree branch and you’re going to regret leaving your house at least twice an hour. But the rewards are equally huge if only you carry on, and that’s the real secret. Push past the difficulties and you are going to reap the rewards.

Sidebar : Information about Deluc Mountain

Deluc Mountain is named after the Jean-Andre Deluc who first used the term geology back in 1778. Causing some level of confusion, there are three peaks in the massif that were collectively called The Three Brothers in September 1937 by Katie Gardiner who may have been balancing the books on The Three Sisters near Canmore. In any case, Deluc is the “Big Brother” and is the highest in the group and the only one we ascended. “Middle Brother” is the second highest in the group just to the NE of Big Brother and “Little Brother” is the peak to the south.

After navigating the boulder fields under Deluc’s NW outlier (hereon called “Deluc NW2” for brevity), we started a steeper grind up a mix of dirt, scree and grippy limestone slab towards the glacier. The views back over our approach were only improving as we approached the edge of the low-angle ancient ice and decided to simply keep going straight on up it. There was no point in making things more complicated by trying to avoid the glacier on the left – and I’m not even sure it’s possible to completely avoid it. The snow was deeper there and any crevasses would be hidden. 

We stuck to the main sheet of ice which was completely melted off and devoid of anything big enough to swallow a human sized object such as ourselves. Even on approach shoes Mike and I had no issues ascending the grippy ice and before long we were gazing up at the easy SW slopes to the summit high above.

Nearing the Deluc Glacier which looks tame and bare. We easily ascended and descended it without crampons – Mike and I in approach shoes.
Views back down the gentle Three Brothers Glacier.

Deluc’s SW slope was another delight to ascend, especially with the benefit of hindsight on the other peaks we scrambled this trip! There were enough slabs and solid scree to make things easy, pleasant and quick. Within 50 minutes of reaching the bottom of the SW face we were already taking in views from the lofty summit ridge.

Approaching Deluc’s lower SW ridge which leads pretty much directly up to the summit.
An incredible panorama of peaks starts to appear as we ascend the SW slopes of Deluc. Note Mike at lower left? Little Brother at left here with Minnow peak across the Pipestone valley to its right and Hector to the right of that. Our bivy at right near the shadow of our peak.

It was amazing for me to finally be standing on a peak I’d had on my various lists for so many years! I drank in the sights of some of Banff’s most remote mountains and landmarks including Three Brothers Lake, Cataract, McConnell, Bleat, Snort, Mamen, Malloch, Icefall, Dip Slope and Harris.

Summit panorama from Cataract (L) to Pipestone, Little Brother, Minnow, Molar, Hector, Balfour, Devon, Clearwater, Willingdon, Crown and South Tower (R).
Our bivy lakes at mid left with Devon, Clearwater, Willingdon, Harris, Icefall, Mamen, Malloch, Dip Slope, Smoky (Growl) and many other remote Banff / Tinda peaks visible.
A wonderful view east includes Dip Slope at left and Cataract at right. Middle Brother at center left. Three Brothers Lake at right under Little Cataract Peak.
Close up panorama of Clearwater (L), Willingdon, Crown, South Tower, Augusta, Recondite and Mount Harris (R).

It was only around 09:30 when we left the gorgeous summit and started our descent back down to the glacier below. Using softer scree slopes in the middle of the SW face we avoided most of our ascent slabs and got the best of both worlds – a fast ascent and easy descent. It doesn’t get better than this! The glacier was a pleasure to ramble down and we enjoyed the walk immensely – basking in the beautiful summer morning.

Gorgeous alpine terrain on a warm September morning. Deluc rising at center.
The lower bivy lake with our access col at upper center. We will pack up camp and head down the valley to the right of where Cornelius is standing to access our next peak – Dip Slope Mountain.

Within 4.5 hours of leaving our bivy we were back, packing up for the remainder of our day. Deluc turned out to be the highlight mountain I thought it would. The biggest challenge (by far) is reaching the Shangri-La that protects the easiest ascent route and finding the time and energy to invest towards it.

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