Mount Sir Donald 3298 m
Glacier National Park, British Columbia
The Classic: Sir Donald's west face seen from Abbott Ridge.
Mount Sir Donald is well described in the guidebook, Fifty Classic Climbs in North America, and in any good weather of late July/August the peak sees considerable activity. The classic ascent route is rated 5.2 or 5.3 and follows the airy northwest arete (left skyline ridge above). This famous route grants bombproof holds of beautiful, warm (if you're lucky) Selkirk quartzite. The exposure on this ridge is significant, and the route is an epic in the making if not free of snow. And the views? We could see the Bugaboos, Goodsirs and possibly Robson from the top!
Kris, in camp below the west face, probably making noodles or some such delight. Uto Peak rises in the center of picture. Sir Donald's classic route starts from the col between these two. In the early 1980's, a huge rock avalanche peeled from Sir Donald's' west face and dumped tons of debris around these camping platforms. Rockfall narrowly missed Alpine Club of Canada members camped below. We camped here anyway, figuring it probably wouldn't happen again for another ten thousand years...
A promising sunrise at the Sir Donald-Uto col, where the climb begins. We moved together up much of the ridge on a full length 9mm rope, looping slings over big blocks and placing the odd chock for protection. As the fog rose from the valley below, on the ridge I witnessed a rare meteorological phenomenon called a "brocken spectre". This appears as a circular halo of rainbow-like color projected against cloud, with a silhouette of the person seeing it in the middle of the halo. For this to occur, you need cloud below you, low angle sunlight and you in between the two.
Looking southwest, you get a view of Illecillewaet Glacier which lies adjacent to Mount Sir Donald. Looking east we could see the Lake Louise peaks, Mount Balfour and Bugaboo Spire to the southeast.
On the summit of Mount Sir Donald
Fast ascent, eh? Now all we have to do is get down. The descent involves downclimbing the NW ridge, with the possibility of rappels. This took us as long as the ascent so we spent another night at our tent rather than pack up and descend 2-3 more hours to the car at Illecillewaet campground. We got rained on next morning for our efforts (or lack of!)
We took two 9mm ropes and numerous chocks & Friends for protection. Large sized chocks and many long slings would be quite useful; you can easily sling blocks of quartzite along the way. It is a long way up the ridge and you have to keep moving efficiently to get up and down in reasonable time. It's a great climb; next best thing to Mount Edith Cavell in my mind!
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© all photos copyright by the author 1999.