Uto Peak Southwest to Northwest Traverse and Mount Sir Donald Northwest Ridge (almost)

Arriving at Roger’s Pass on the afternoon of the 11th, it was apparent that snow on Sir Donald could be a problem. We decided to camp at the Illecillewaet Campground the first night and hike up to camp the following morning followed by a warm up on the SW ridge of Uto Peak.

In the morning we hiked the c.6KM to the camp at c.7100‘ below the Uto-Sir Donald col. The hike to camp took a little over 2 hours and by 11:00 we were on our way to the col (c.8300’) which takes about an hour to reach for camp. We roped up at the col and Sergio took the lead. The route is mostly on solid class 3 and 4 with a few low fifth class moves here and there. I couldn’t help but notice the one, no two, make that three parties descending from the clouds on the NW Ridge of Sir Donald. About half way up the ridge I took over on lead and we reached the summit a little after 3:00 in the afternoon. The route had taken longer than I had expected.

Uto Peak from the Uto-Sir Donald camp

The SW Ridge of Uto just above the col

High on the SW Ridge of Uto

After relaxing on the summit for a while we started down the NW ridge which is supposed to be class 3 but there is a steep and very exposed step not far below the summit that we opted to rappel. I would say that this step is at least 4th class. The remainder of the descent is class 3 or less and offered excellent views of Sir Donald. However, Uto was just the appetizer...

Mount Sir Donald from the NW Ridge of Uto

We reached camp about a half hour before the first party returned from Sir Donald. The party, from England, told us that snow had been an issue and they continued up only because it was a more attractive option than descending what they had already climbed. They were the only party that would reach the summit that day... and the next. They were also the last party to start on the route and the first party to return which suggested something about their abilities.

The 2nd party arrived with about an hour of daylight left and confirmed the conditions high on the route as well as the abilities of the British team. Meanwhile, a party of 4 arrived at camp planning to climb Sir Donald the next day. They appeared to be led by a rather arrogant French Canadian who we would refer to as "Frenchie." One of the other members of his party had a shiny white helmet with nerf horns... it was obvious that his helmet had never been on a bushwhack. They inquired as to what time we would be getting up in the morning and we told them 5:00AM, but we had already decided to get up at 4:30AM. The 3rd party descending from Sir Donald was forced to bivouac on the slabs as darkness surrounded them.

We awoke on schedule which seems to be happening less often these days and Frenchie's party was up too. On route by 5:30 we reached the col and roped up. Frenchie and company arrived as we started up the route. They chose to climb unrope while we doubled our 50 meter rope and used a running belay. The ridge is an excellent climb, always exposed but the rock is solid and the climbing not terribly difficult (5.4 but always looks like it will be harder). Most of the ridge is 4th class but there is enough 5th class and exposure to warrant the use of a rope. To try to describe the route in detail would be nearly impossible given the length and number of ways to handle the climbing problem.

Like all of my photo from the NW Ridge of Sir Donald

Frenchie's party was just behind us for about 1500 feet of the ridge, in hindsight it seems like they were merely letting us figure it out for them, but at the time I was somewhat surprised that they did not ask to get around us sooner than they did. I thought we were moving fairly efficiently, stopping for only 2 belays, largely because I was nearly out of gear and there was a difficult looking problem ahead. As Frenchie caught up to me we were approaching a steep section of the ridge. Trying to be friendly I asked, "So do I go left or do I try to follow the ridge crest?"

Frenchie responded saying, "Let our party of four pass and I will show you the way." We let them pass and Frenchie was adamant that the upcoming step needed to be belayed. He had told me that he had been on the route before so I assumed he was right but they quickly ran into a dead end and a tangled mess of four climbers and one rope while Sergio and I continued our running belay and made our way up the step without any special difficulty... Frenchie had his chance. In general it is best to stay on the crest, deviating to the left or right only briefly if the crest itself is impassible (i.e. more difficult than mid fifth).

We reached the sloping ledge c.500’ below the summit that is frequently used on the descent and conditions rapidly changed. I was doing my best Scooby Doo impression on a regular basis as we ascended low angled terrain covered with frost, ice or snow. We reluctantly decided that this was as high as we were going to go and stopped for our first break of the day. It was about 10:00AM. As we began descending Frenchie and company were reaching the sloping ledge.

The descent of Sir Donald is a lengthy affair but much improved in recent years with the addition of 12 bolted rappel stations. The lower portion of the ridge is avoided by rappelling and downclimbing an enormous slab on the west side of the ridge. If you are planning on climbing Sir Donald be sure to get a copy of the descent manual from the range station and expect the descent to take nearly, if not longer, as the ascent. We reached camp at about 3:00PM, plenty of daylight was left to pack up camp, descend to the campground, secure the very last site available and still make it to the Best Western for the all-you-can-eat buffet by 6:30.

Looking down the descent route from the NW Ridge of Sir Donald

Selkirks South; David P. Jones; Pages 74-77, 94-95, 97, 98, 102-104 & 106-107