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Home » Climbing Notes » MT. MCDONALD, NORTH PILLAR


At 7 a.m. on August 19, Bruce Kay
and I racked up for our first adventure together: the steep pillar on
the right side of Mt. McDonald’s 1000-meter north face. Though we knew
the pillar had been attempted before, we were surprised to see a bolt at
the first belay. On the second pitch (5.7) two unnecessary and appalling
protection bolts appeared, both within a couple of feet of bomber
green-Camalot placements. The nut on the first one was tight, but Bruce
managed to get the second one loose: he removed the hanger and proceeded
to unleash the fury of his hammer on the protruding stud. It was the
first time he had chopped a bolt in thirty years of climbing.

The pillar now steepened and Bruce led a nice pitch of 5.10-. One final
bolt (which we left in place) appeared at the belay above the third
pitch. The fourth pitch–the technical crux–moved right onto the
arete. From crimps I managed to weld two knifeblades for
protection before pumping out and having to hang. Tighter shoes would
have been helpful on this short 5.11 face. At the top of Pitch 6, we
passed the last signs of other attempts. Pitch after pitch of sustained
5.10 followed with one more section of 5.11- on Pitch 8. Finally, after
eleven pitches, eight of which were sustained 5.10 and 5.11, we topped
out on the pillar. Ahead, the angle eased a little as the wall split
into a series of gullies and buttresses. It was 4 p.m. and we knew it
was going to be a long night. I smiled as Bruce signaled to continue.

We moved left into the gully, the line of least resistance, and
simulclimbed for three long pitches to the final headwall. Our goal was
a more direct buttress line, but we were running out of time. Bruce led
a pitch of 5.10 in the fading light to a small ledge below a dripping
squeeze chimney. He assumed we would spend the night here, but climbing
by headlamp seemed a better option than shivering through seven hours of
darkness. I found a way to avoid the chimney with some
knifeblade-protected 5.10- face climbing to the right, then a desperate
5.10+ bulge above a ledge.

More pitches of 5.10, 5.9 and 5.8 ensued. At 1:30 a.m., after eighteen
hours of continuous climbing, we hit the ridge just below the summit.
The full moon lit up our Southwest Ridge descent route, and allowed us
to down climb without using headlamps. As the moon set and some clouds
made route finding more difficult, we tried to sit it out until dawn,
but after thirty minutes, the cold forced us to keep moving. Near the
base of the ridge, we made five rappels–two to the col, where it
finally got light, and three down a chossy couloir into the bowl that
descends to the highway, where talus, creeks and perfect bear tunnels
led us through the jungle-like vegetation and back to the car, thirty
hours after leaving it. We graded our 1000-meter route V+ 5.11- A0.

Jon Walsh, Golden, British Columbia, Canada