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[TR] Mt Sir Donald - NW Arete 8/7/2009

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Trip: Mt Sir Donald - NW Arete

 

Date: 8/7/2009

 

Trip Report:

Jesse, Jeff and I were smoked out of the Gold Range and were sitting in Revelstoke trying to come up with an alternative plan. We settled on the NW Ridge of Mount Sir Donald.

 

We got a campsite at Illecillewaet and set the alarms on alpine time. Woke up at 2 AM and left the campground at 3:20, heading for MSD with light daypacks.

 

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The trail by headlamp

 

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Alpenglow on Jupiter

 

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Nearing the base of the mounain at dawn.

 

We got to the Uto-Sir Donald col around 6:40 with three parties ahead of us, and started climbing around 7 AM. Even though it had been stinking hot for the last couple days it was cold at the col: I was wearing a fleece hoody with a down jacket over top. We were all soloing, and quickly caught up to the lowest of the three parties ahead of us, who were all simulclimbing and had bivied at the site below the col the night before. We climbed close to them for a while and then passed at an opportune time. Probably because of the way it was sunny on the north side, we did a lot of climbing out on the north face side and rather less on the crest of the arete, until the sun swung around and we got shadow on both sides.

 

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We passed the second party just above the West Face ledges and caught up to the third (guided) party on the summit around 10:30. A fast party that had left the campground at 6 AM got to the summit not long after us. It was a great day to be on the summit, with minimal smoke and views in every direction - the Bugs, Adamants, Gold Range and Columbia Icefields all easily visible.

 

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After lolling on the summit for almost an hour we set off on the descent. There is an extensive topo distributed by Parks Canada that describes, and I suppose implicitly recommends, the following descent:

 

-scramble partway down the South Ridge

-traverse the West Face Ledges back around to the NW ridge

-downclimb the NW ridge for a ways with one or two raps off webbing stations until you find the Parks bolted rappel line

- make 10-12 single rope raps down the NW ridge and then lower W face to the ground.

 

The big advantage of this descent is that it gives you solid rappel anchors (two Fixe ring bolts) much of the way. However, the disadvantages are IMHO:

 

- the west face ledges are loose choss with a dropoff underneath;

- the 4th rappel can be screwed up, by rapping over an overhang leaving you hanging in space several meters right of the next anchor. This is highlighted in the topo, but still several parties ended up with ropes in space this day. There was a fatal accident here in 2006 where a woman from the PNW rapped off the end of her rope;

-the 5th through 10th rappels are basically in a straight line down the lower west face, and there is a lot of junk on the ledges. Higher parties almost unavoidably drop rocks, some of them large, on lower parties;

-Unless you are very fast with the raps it's probably faster to just downclimb the ridge rather than rappel, assuming your downclimbing skills are up to par. This is what the Jones guidebook recommends as well.

 

Anyways we followed the Parks topo descent, as did everyone else on the mountain, but if I was going to do it again I'd either bring an axe and crampons, take the South Ridge all the way and then do the climb out over Terminal Pk and walkoff to Perley Rock, or downclimb the complete NW ridge, rather than do the W face bypass and rappel option again. We got strafed by serious rocks from parties above and it wasn't very enjoyable. It ended up taking 5 1/2 hrs to descend what had taken us 3 1/2 to climb.

 

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West face choss. Once the snow is gone, nothing holds it together. Guides reported a new significant rockfall from around here a few weeks beforehand.

 

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Traversing unpleasant scree ledges on W Face

 

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Back on the NW ridge & downclimbing below the W face ledge

 

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A short rap off slings in the midsection before the bolts start

 

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On the bolted raps down the W face of the lower NW ridge.

 

Once back at the base we retrieved some cached trekking poles and walked out back to the campground. Total time for the round trip was a leisurely 15 hrs, some of which was sloth on our part and some of which involved unavoidable interactions with other parties.

 

Overall this is a pretty good route although the descent we used made it less so in our opinion. The rock, advertised as impeccable, is pretty good by Rockies standards, reasonable for the Selkirks, but not amazing by Coastal standards. It may be quartzite but at least on the north side of the ridge there are many large loose blocks and quite a bit of dirt. Such a pretty line though! The climbing was not too hard; soloing it was reasonable, and the rope stayed in the pack all the way up.

 

I was pretty happy to finally tick this route as I had been the the base in '01 and then climbed Uto instead after a snowstorm started.

 

Walking out:

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Gear Notes:

We had a light rack (set of nuts, 3 cams) and single 60m. We never used the pro. Raps are set up for a single 50m but having the extra length provides comfort on one or two raps, notoriously the one that can leave you hanging out of reach of the anchor if you screw it up.

 

Given all the blocks and horns, a rack of 4 shoulder slings wih biners would probably be sufficient for pro...

 

Crampons and ice axe not needed when we were there but had been useful up until about 2 weeks prior & would also be useful if planning to descend South ridge.

 

Approach Notes:

Good trail from campground to base: 4km, 1200m elevation gain to col. Then 800m from col to summit on route.

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Nice work! That was pretty fast climbing. I'm totally green with envy...having gone up there last summer and gotten rained off. Great pictures and TR. Thanks for the route beta...I'm hoping for a rematch. Maybe I can join the SKT club on MSD!

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Yah, I got screwed over on that 4th rap when we did in a few years back. It was just after that rap route had been installed, but before the topo got around. We downclimbed the ridge up to that point (didn't know about the west ridge/face bypass higher, but the downclimbing was fine) and then I got casual about looking where I was going, and realized that the ropes weren't touching the slab below only after I was below the overhang. I could have prussiked up and gotten back on line, but decided to go for it and it was dicey. With a little swinging in to the slab timed with letting the last of the rope go thru my ATC let me drop down onto a shitty stance. Once my weight came off, the rope shrunk 10 ft up above me, and I just waited for the next one to come down and told them how to avoid my fuck up. We then went down those 5 raps - total choss bullshit. To add insult to injury, we had to go back to the col to get some shit we stashed there. Still, a fun day in the hills.

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Nice to see a TR for a route that I think we all would like to do. Neat that it has the history behind it...1909!

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The times I've done the route we did some rappelling near the ridge crest once, and the second we down-climbed the ridge. Overall down-climbing was better.

 

That was a while ago though, and there wasn't an official descent route.

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Well done, Dru! And thanks for the detailed report. I'll get on this one yet.

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hey dru,

we climbed it a couple days before you and i agree that the summit block bypass is not great. we bivied at the col, started climbing at 5, summit at 7 and were back at the car at 11:30. We did the bypass (which we regretted) and then downclimbed to the last rap station on the ridge. I think that downclimbing the whole route is faster as long as one is comfortable with soloing up it...

 

Great pics!

 

Jan

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Last year....

Beckey-Chouinard 1960s

Loose

 

Damn Dru, you finally got up Sir Donald and got to look down the north face.......good on ya.

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