Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mount Sir Donald Northwest Ridge

Update July 2017:
Google killed the Picasaweb photo service so the photos in this post no longer click through to larger versions. Suck it Google. Here's an album containing the photos: https://photos.app.goo.gl/NssTA3vKczyUGcm43

Ross and I have been hoping to climb Sir Donald for years. Schedules, weather, and motivation have all played a part in preventing us from ever setting foot on the mountain. This weekend the stars finally aligned and we climbed the northwest ridge on Saturday.

The NW Ridge of Sir Donald is one of those climbs that you hear a lot about, often for all the wrong reasons. Tales abound of unplanned overnights and epic descents. In fact we witnessed examples of both unfold on this very same weekend last year during one of our previous pseudo-attempts. The climb is listed in Steck and Roper's "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America" and attracts people from all over the world.

To make a long story short we reached the top in 5.5 hours. It was mainly 4th class exposed climbing with short pitches of 5th class. We simulclimbed with about 15m of rope between us and placed the odd piece of gear. You don't really need a rope for most of the climb but it seemed easier to just leave the rope on rather than switching back-and-forth when it was needed for a short section. There was a surprising amount of micro-route finding on the way up. This sounds a funny thing to say about a ridge climb (just follow the freakin' ridge!) but the features are so big that were constantly peaking around corners and checking out ledges to find the path of least resistance.

We topped out at around 11:00am and sat down for a minute to have a snack. Clouds were boiling up in the Beaver Valley on the east side of Sir Donald while the west side was completely clear. We headed south over the summit to find the west face bypass. This would lead us all the way back across the west face to a point on the NW ridge about 1/3 of the way below summit. The ridge is festooned (a great word!) with slings and back-off anchors all over the place and we used them liberally to make short rappels in between sections of frightening down climbing. We each had a few "yeash!" moments at the down climbing bits but eventually we found our way to the first of 12 bolted rap stations and from here we knew we had it made.

It was a loooong 6.5 hours down from the summit. At last we made the final rappel and hit terra firma. Still in good spirits we decided to spend another night at the picturesque bivy site rather than packing up and heading out right away. It's not like we needed an excuse though; look at this place, it's amazing.

In fact staying another night was doubly entertaining for me. It meant that Ross, who had somehow lost all of his cutlery on the hike in, had to eat another meal of soup and pasta using nothing but a pointy stick.

That's the great thing about climbing with Ross; it's usually not the climb itself that you remember the most afterwards.