Mount Sir Donald - Northwest Ridge, August 2006
View of Sir Donald, with Northwest Ridge facing camera, as seen from the descent of Uto's Northwest Ridge.

Continued from the previous Uto Peak report - click here.

Eric and I first attempted Sir Donald's Northwest Ridge in August of 2004 (report here). This time around we found the ridge to be a real hoot to climb - incredibly exposed, but totally solid and moderate simul-climbing up until we hit snow and slippery rock below the summit (near where the ledge bypass starts). Most of the interesting climbing was already behind us and all that remained was a short scramble and final bit of steeper ridge climbing to reach the summit. An English couple we met at camp the previous evening (we watched them rappel the slabs and stumble back to camp around 6pm) indicated that there was over a foot of fresh snow and some verglass shortly above our turn-around point. We briefly considered taking the south-facing bypass to the summit, but with verglass coating the rocks and otherwise loose down-sloping scree ledges between us and whatever leads up to the summit, we decided to play it safe and turned back. As of this writing, I understand the upper-mountain completely dried-out again and a number of parties have successfully climbed the ridge in its entirety...cest la vie!

On that note, we shared the route with a party of four from Quebec. They did an admirable job of soloing what I consider the most intimidating portion of the ridge. Then catching us at the top of the rappel slabs, François informed us “if you let our party of four pass we’ll show you the way.” We let them pass; quietly chuckling to ourselves, but then passed them ourselves only moments later as they went off route and got stymied by difficult climbing. So much for showing us the way! (Photos: EH, SV)

To skip to the Mount Athabasca report - click here.

Click thumbnails below to enlarge...
Eric climbing low on NW Ridge
Eric approaches steeper rock low on the Northwest Ridge.

Following up past the start of the slab rappels
Approaching the next steep ridge step with the start of the slab rappels off to the left.
Steep pitch above the slabs
A steep pitch just right (north) of the crest leads to easier terrain.
Eric leads a rock step
Eric leads up a rock step shortly before the broad ledge on the South Face.
High on NW Ridge
Climbing high on the NW Ridge with the sun casting a shadow of the summit in the basin below.
Selkirk views
A view south of the Selkirk Mountains from our turn-around spot on the ledge. The reddish haze is apparently from forest fires south of the border (Tripod Complex fire?). We could smell the smoke while descending the ridge later that afternoon.
Slab Rappels
Eric rappels the slabs.

My worries about the descent proved unwarranted. We only down-climbed a short bit (while staring that wild exposure in the face) before locating rap stations then later the bolted rap anchors (3 or 4 along the ridge crest and 8 down the slabs). This makes the descent MUCH easier than reversing the entire ridge back to the col.

The bolted rap anchors have streamers of tat harvested from defunct rappel stations elsewhere on the ridge – they make the anchors easier to see. Note that the bolts for the 6th rappel down the slabs are hidden under a small roof at right (looking down). There’s also a short bit of exposed scrambling between the 6th and remaining two rap stations. All rappels are well suited for a single 50m rope. When in doubt, ask the wardens at the Roger’s Pass visitor center for a copy of the “Sir Donald Descent Manual”…ok, it’s not really called that, but it’ll save you some head scratching! Oh, and remember – the yellow tat marks the start of the slab rappels.
Rogers Pass pano
Panorama of Rogers Pass.

Hungry for another prime rib buffet at the Rogers Pass Best Western that evening, we again encountered the usual suspects Crispin Prahl (Seattle) and Minot Maser (Missoula). We had met that first evening at the Sir Don Camp. They were the second party after the English couple to safely complete the slab rappels and return to camp shortly before dark (a third party ran out of daylight and apparently spent the night somewhere on the slabs). All but the English turned back that day citing sketchy climbing conditions courtesy of the new snow. Anyhow, Crispin and Minot had plans for a route on Avalanche Peak the following day and so we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and bid each other farewell.

Continue to the Mount Athabasca report - click here.
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