Mount Sir Donald - NW RidgeDate:
Richard and I climbed the NW ridge of Sir Donald on August 20. After a week or so of high pressure and high temps it seemed primed for another attempt. We had tried the NW ridge last year in July but were thwarted by freezing temps and rime covered rock at the elevation of the bypass/West face ledges. Since there are plenty of TR's I'll simply share some thoughts and highlights of the route.
Wait until late August to do the route after the snow has melted, so that no crampons/axe are needed and you can easily descend along the bypass ledges. You also need high temperatures in the valley to climb the route comfortably, even though it was 30 degrees Celsius in the valley it was only 7 degrees at the summit, add a strong wind and shade makes for cold hands and feet near the top.
Our times on the route seemed average based on other trip reports, just over 11hrs car to car. We drove up from Vancouver Friday evening, arrived in camp at 11:00pm, left car at 4:15am, starting climbing from the col at 7:15am, got to summit at 10:30am, finished all rappels at 1:30pm, back at car 3:30pm.
For our gear we brought a single 8.9mm rope, single rack of cams, 4 nuts, 4draws and 4 extendables. We broke out the climbing into three long simul blocks. On average we placed one or two pieces every 60meters. There are lots of terrain belays on the route. When in doubt stick to the ridge crest. It may be steep but jugs are everywhere. Remember to rappel to the North side at station #4 to avoid hanging in space, as the parks brochure and other reports mention.
As we were coming up the last summit portion we passed several parties that were rappelling down in the cold windy shade of the upper ridge. With curiosity I asked why they didn't take the summit bypass since it looked dry and in the sun, they all said they had read horror stories so decided not to. Well our experience was very different from what we heard. We simply followed what looked like the common descent trail, well trodden in the scree, but we also did not turn too early toward the North. We actually went in the opposite direction (skiers left) for a good ways during the upper portion until we basically got cliffed/slabbed out, thereafter we slowly meandered skiers right and downward enjoying a leisurely walk back to the NW ridge. The close up photo of the bypass on the park brochure felt spot on. There were a few spots of slabby down climbing but honestly it was significantly easier and mellower than either of us had expected. I think the key is to not turn too early toward the NW ridge/quartz dike but instead travel down and skiers left until you're roughly at, or slightly above, the quartz dike that you eventually traverse under. I also saw photos of what other people had descended and we did not go down those same gullies or slopes. My guess is we followed the actual bypass fairly accurately, there were also carrions toward the lower half of the bypass which to our delight led us in the right direction.
The rest of the descent went smoothly with us simul-rappelling interspersed with down climbing on the upper portions. There is a newer set of rap stations (two stations, #11 & #12 on park brochure) at the very bottom prior to the snow that prevents you from having to descend on the snow slope. Located on the slabs to skiers right. These are hard to see until you are very close to them.
Google photo of the route viewed from the road
Coming up the lower third of the ridge with another party from Virginia
Heading up just above the bypass ledges
Coming up the upper portion near the summit, it was blowing good up here
Cresting the top, boy was it nice to get back into the sun
Richard enjoying the views
View toward the descent gully for the bypass ledges/West face descent
Photo of the descent, with the quartz dike that we were headed toward, glad there was no snow on this section!
Richard descending the morraine
This is a fantastic route to say the least and an obvious classic.