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The NW Ridge looking head-on from the descent off ...
This is one of best long moderate rock routes anywhere. Inclusion in the Fifty Classics was well warranted, but certainly hasn't made it crowded. When we did it, we were the first in eight days according to the summit register and the weather had been great for weeks. A bear-related closure of the approach trail might have had something to do with it though.
Many people bivy just below the Sir Donald-Uto col, but the hike can be done in under three hours, so you can time it to reach the route at sunrise, and do the route car-to-car. Trying to start up the route itself before sunrise, by headlamp, probably isn't worth it.
Describing the route is pretty easy: once at the Sir Donald-Uto col, you head up the ridge, and you don't leave the ridge until you're at the summit.
If you deviate from the ridge by more than five or ten feet thinking it will be easier, you'll probably find yourself heading back to the ridge. Most of the climbing is 4th class, but there are regular sections of 5th, and depending on conditions there may be pockets of snow to avoid that could up the grade. Sticky approach shoes or even boots would be good for many people. We chose comfy rock shoes and appreciated the extra margin, but carrying approach shoes would be wise, especially if you use the rappel descent.
In the final few hundred feet the angle eases and there's more choice for deviating off the ridge, on to the west face, but you won't go wrong by still sticking with the ridge.
A common warning regarding the peak is that the rock gets unusually slick if it gets wet, so plan your ascent accordingly, be very alert to the weather, and very careful if it does get wet.
To descend, reversing the route is probably best. Most of the downclimbing is fairly straightforward. A few short rappels can help, but rappelling down a ridge is inherently difficult as you get forced down the face. About 2/3 of the way down you will see shiny bolted rappel anchors (watch for them on the way up). These mark the start of a rappel route that allows you to avoid downclimbing the first third of the route. It involves 12 or so 25m rappels. There is some ledge scrambling required between, but in the daylight it's fairly obvious; by headlamp it's quite difficult.
A variation on the descent is to head down the northeast ridge until a big ledge system allows to cross the entire west face to arrive back at the northwest ridge and continue down from there. We tried this, but didn't like the uncertainty about where to start traversing and ended up climbing back up to the summit and just going down the route. This ledge may require an ice axe, which may be difficult to determine before doing the route, so I suspect this descent doesn't get done as often as just reversing the route.
A final note, as with most big routes, search out more information than just this description. Several guidebooks have good descriptions and photos.
Sorry about not including any pictures, we had camera difficulties.
Unless you plan to solo up and then downclimb, a rope will be necessary, and even if you do plan to solo the entire thing, a skinny rope that you can rappel would be wise in case of wet weather.
If you plan to simulclimb, a small rack of nuts and a selection of cams up to hand size will be good. Pitching it out is virtually impossible unless you plan to bivy -- this is a very long route!
North Face of Mt. Sir Donald. NW Arete forms the r...
Emiko Hobbs on the NW Arete
one hour since the col
James N. nearing the summit of Mt. Sir Donald.
BETA PHOTO: WEST FACE DOWN-CLIMB
After two rappels, almost dow...
BETA PHOTO: SIR DONALD, LAST RAPPEL
Aug 16, 2012
Nana and I di...
First bolt belay.
|Comments on Northwest Ridge
|By loose overhang|
Mar 6, 2008
Be cautious of the West Face rappel route if there are other parties on it as any stonefall will travel down the bolt stations. I'd recommend down-simul-climbing the entire ridge back to the col with only a couple of rappels. It usually is faster than setting up stations and waiting for each member to go down. Especially on a ridge like this one.
I'll second the caution on wet conditions. If the weather turns on this it can be very difficult to move. We got caught on nearby Mt Tupper in a late afternoon storm and in addition to rock as slippery as seaweed it was blowing rain/ice horizontally with lightning to get our attention. We had to sit tight just below the summit until a break allowed us to escape and this was on a much shorter peak.
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Mar 6, 2008
The old guide books used to recommend going down another route that faced southwest (as I recall). We did this, scrambling past the summit and then down some gullys. Evidently we chose the correct one because it wasn't bad, down low we did one or two rappels. One problem with this descent is you end up on a glacier, and have to be prepared for glacier travel. We were anticipating this, and had brought ice axes. So it worked out fine for us, but I think we got lucky up high going the right way. Going down the ascent route would have been more difficult, as the top few hundred feet of the peak were covered by 6 inches of snow! The south-facing side at least was more melted off.
|By Kevin Craig|
Apr 26, 2008
A correction and a couple of notes... According to "Selkirks South" by David Jones, the FA of the NW ridge was by Arthur Bartleet and Val A. Fynn on August 19, 1909. Huber, Sulzer and Cooper (porter) did the FA of the *peak* in 1890 via the SW Face. The SW Face route is no longer recommended due to extreme rockfall danger.
A has been noted many places, this is a VERY long route with no escape options other than the way you came. 2,400 vertical feet at a consistent 45 degree angle (more or less) - you do the math in terms of how much climbing that is! Plan to simul or solo much of the route. Difficulty might not be much more than other 5.4's in the range but plan on very serious, very exposed 5.4 i.e. don't even think about this route if 5.4 is your limit. If you plan to bivy before the route, check in at the Rogers Pass Visitors Center - the bivy location has changed as of a couple of years ago. They also have a binder with photos of the West Face rappels. I second the caution on loose rock if you do the raps with parties below you - I almost got taken out by a stray rock; sounded like a mortar shell.
|By Peter Spindloe|
From: North Vancouver, BC
Apr 26, 2008
Thanks for the correction Kevin, I have updated the FA information for the route and moved the FA information for the peak itself to the area page. I'm glad you were able to post some pictures too, I wanted to get the route posted but felt bad not having any shots, especially since it's such a beautiful peak.
|By Kevin Craig|
Apr 27, 2008
No worries. Been looking for a good use for that photo! An amazing, classic line indeed. Thanks for adding the route and getting us started on Canada. Hopefully I'll get some more time and add Uto, a route on Austerity that I've done, and Eisenhower Tower.
From: Flagstaff, AZ
Dec 12, 2009
What an awesome route on such a beautiful peak. I am curious as to why this route gets an X rating. There seemed to be plenty of protection opportunities along the way.
From: North Vancouver, BC
Jan 23, 2010
Descending the north east ridge a short distance and then cutting back on a narrow ledge system towards the NW arete is much faster than rappelling/downclimbing the upper part of the arete.
IMO the new bolted rappel route on the lower part is a lot faster than downclimbing, but be careful on the rappels. One of them (guessing 4th one, but I can't remember - marked in green tape at one point) requires rappelling to the north to avoid an overhanging portion on the west face. There was a fatality here 2 or 3 years ago.
Be aware that the bolted rappel route does not lead back to the col, but that's ok because there is an excellent bivy site 30 minute below the col, with lockers for storage, a water supply (a filter would be handy), and plenty of room for even tents.
We went to the restaurant at the Rogers Pass for breakfast the next day, and discovered that they had an all you could eat buffet. If they still have that I highly recommend it, but I suspect we may have put them out of business.
|By Cam Robertson|
Aug 25, 2010
Note that Parks Canada has moved the suspect rappel noted in the comment above slightly North to decrease the margin of error. They've also used old webbing for streamers to make picking them out that much easier.
The Rogers Pass visitor centre has photos of most of the raps (including the one just mentioned), and has a safety register.
Plenty of ascents this year, with reports indicating that the route and descent are now completely snow-free.