NW Arete, Mt. Sir Donald
Selkirk Mountains, Canada
Route Description

Jim Frankenfield; snowman@csac.org; 1-877-604-0166

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Notice 2018 !!! - These descriptions are archived here as part of my climb report from 1995. They should not be considered current, and they should certainly not be relied upon any more. There are newer guidebooks and resources that were unavailable in 1995 and those are often updated more frequently. I believe some aspects of the route, including the descent options, changed a long time ago due to rockfalls and other factors.

From The American Alpine Club Climbers Guide - Columbia Mtns Central


This important col serves as the standard high bivouac site for climbs on the north and east sides of Sir Donald. It is also the principal passage to the glaciers on the eastern side of the Sir Donald Range. The steep west face of the col has probably never been ascended directly. The col was first reached by Benjamin S. Comstock with the porter Harry Sinclair, July 23, 1890, in the course of the first attempt on the famed Northwest Ridge of Mount Sir Donald. The first west to east passage was made by Elizabeth I. Cummins and A. Finlayson with Ernest Feuz and Gottfried Feuz, September 9, 1911 in the course of the first Circuit of the Glaciers. The first east to west passage was probably that of Paul R. McIntyre with Ernest Feuz, returning from the first attempt on the East Face in August 1923. The easiest way down onto the Uto Glacier is found on the Uto side of the col near the small U-shaped notch which separates the Southwest Ridge of Uto from the main fiat platform of the col (Class 3-4,g; difficulty dependent on the height of the snow and the state of the bergschrund).


This magnificent peak is the most prominent summit of the Central Selkirks. Seen from the Trans-Canada Highway approaching Rogers Pass from the west, Mount Sir Donald has almost the ideal shape of a mountain, appearing as a towering obelisk with the great Northwest Ridge sweeping up from the left like a sublime balustrade. The peak was named for Sir Donald A. Smith, later Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, a principal promoter of the CPR, Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, Chancellor of McGill University, and Canadian High Commissioner in London. A Scottish lad who made triumphantly good in Canada, Smith drove the last spike in the Canadian Pacific at Craigellachie on November 7, 1885, so linking western and eastern Canada and, in the process, opening the Columbias to alpine tourists from around the world. Few financiers and statesmen can boast a more magnificent monument. Mount Sir Donald offers a wide variety of excellent routes at all technical standards, though there is no really easy route to its outstanding summit. The longer routes are greatly facilitated by a high bivouac, usually placed at the Uto-Sir Donald col. The early climbing history of the peak is ably and usefully detailed in an article by Dr. Thorington (CAJ 30:63). From the summit of Mount Sir Donald on a clear day, the great peaks of the Rockies from Clemenceau to Assiniboine are seen as a splendid rampart in the east. The surrounding Columbias appear as a limitless sea of glacier-draped peaks.

3. Northwest Ridge (III,5.2, ****).

First partial ascent by Ernst Tewes with Christian Bohren and Edward Feuz, Sr., September 3, 1903; first complete ascent (following the ridge throughout) by Arthur M. Bartleet and Val A. Fynn, August 19, 1909. (The 1903 party turned off the ridgecrest above The Shoulder, traversing onto the easy upper bench of the West Face from which the summit was gained via a couloir.) This is the grand classic route of the Selkirks and, by common consent, one of the classic routes of North America; it boasts a flawless line and magnificent position. From the Uto-Sir Donald col follow the ridge directly to the summit, keeping to the crest as closely as possible. Digressions onto the faces, especially any lengthy detours, are usually false lines. The angle of the ridge gives back at The Shoulder (two thirds of the way up) and then rises steeply on the final summit pyramid (crux section). Most of the climbing is Class 4, with a few Class 3 sections and a few short, easy Class 5 bits. There are many airy situations, and the climbing is both very enjoyable and exhilaratingly exposed. It should be noted that there have been fatalities from unroped falls and that the lichen on the very firm quartzite rock makes the footing quite slippery in wet conditions. The ridge is much harder and less enjoyable when there is any extensive snow plastering. Ascent: from Uto-Sir Donald Col, 4-5 hours; from Vaux Bivouac, 5-6 hours; from Wheeler Hut, 7-8 hours. Parties who elect to belay on most or all of the ridge will considerably exceed these times; the ridge puts a premium on continuous roped movement. (GHS 1903; Zeitschrift DOAV 36(1905): 157, in German; MES:51, 411 with good photographs.)

Note on descent:

The most expeditious line of descent is by far the ridge itself. Some may wish to rappel parts of the ridge on descent and blocks festooned with slings will be noted on the ascent. In descent, the last, steepest part of the ridge may be avoided by following the South Ridge down from the summit (toward Terminal Peak) until it is possible to cut down right (west) onto a prominent bench which runs across the West Face. Follow this bend (several snow patches; ice axe needed) back to the Northwest Ridge at the top of the Shoulder, two thirds of the way up from the Uto-Sir Donald Col. This was the (ascending) route of the first ascent party; it is considerably easier than the upper ridge. It is notoriously difficult, on the other hand, for parties unfamiliar with the Southwest Face to traverse the peak and descend via the Vaux Glacier. If a descent via the Vaux Glacier is chosen, the dangerous Vaux Route (which see) should be avoided in favor of the Feuz Chimney (which see). In general, do not descend the Southwest Face directly toward the glacier, but angle left (south) toward Syndicate Col and the Feuz Chimney which pierces the cliff band falling from the north buttress of the col.

The first complete ascent and descent by the Northwest Ridge was made by Captain and Mrs. Albert H. MacCarthy, August 1919. Their times were: Glacier House to Uto-Sir Donald Col, 3 hours, 10 minutes; col to summit, 4 hours, 12 minutes; summit to cog 5 hours, 10 minutes; col to Glacier House, 2 hours, 40 minutes; total time (exclusive of halts), 15 hours, 12 minutes. These 1919 times would still be considered quite good for a round trip from Wheeler Hut today.

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