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Mount Sir Douglas

Mountaineering (Glacier Travel, Ice Climbing, Technical Rock)
Elevation [m]: 
Round Trip Distance [km]: 
Net Elevation Gain [m]: 
Total Elevation Gain [m]: 
YDS Difficulty: 
Ascent Time: 
4:00 Car to Bivy, 5:00 Bivy to Summit.
Sunday, July 19, 2015

While most of the mountains in the Rockies are known for being loose piles of choss, some stand out as being known as exceptionally loose: Mount Sir Douglas is one of these.  Steven, Vern, and I have had Sir Douglas in our sights for some time and after reading a whole range of experiences on the peak (from an enjoyable 'near-scramble' to full on technical alpine ice and 5.5 rock) we were not entirely sure what to expect but came prepared for the worst (hauling enough rope, rock gear, screws, and other related accessories to get through a wide arrange of possible hazards).

Leaving the Burstall Pass trailhead at the ripe hour of 3pm we made good time to the unofficial trail junction branching off in the meadows just after the trail starts to flatten beneath the ridge of Burstall Pass Peak.  From this point we followed a reccomemnded approach by Dow Williams with an 'up, over and back down' method of circumventing the large rocky bump between Burstall Pass and the base of Mount Sir Douglas (which the rocky bump is pretty much at the same height as Snow Peak to give some sense to how much elevation has to be gained).

The swampy section on the Burstall Pass Trail.


Steven on one of the many improvised log crossings.


Lovely flowers around here this time of year.


The boys happy to be off the trail and heading towards the peak.


Sir Douglas standing tall in the distance.


To me Sir Douglas looks like the top of it was chopped off.


Meadows encountered on the approach.

While a bit imposing from far away the rock bump has a clear path upwards on either scree or moderate scrambly rock depending on your preference.  Once atop the bump we had to traverse (a little further than we hoped) further east (gaining even more 'bonus' elevation) before the scree gully revealed itself.  Thankfully this gully has lovely scree for descending (a fact that made for much grumbling and sloggery on the way back!) and quickly enough we were flying down towards a veritable oasis of glacial streams and wee lakes fed by nearby glaciers.  After setting up our bivy and cooking up some grub it was time to get some sleep and arise the next morning at 3 to get a good start on the peak (which we had known had taken some folks a full day to get from camp to camp, let alone descend back to the car).

At the top of the scree access ramp used to get to the peak.


The terrain around here feels remote even though it is only a few hours from a very popular trail.


Looking towards Assiniboine (in the distant centre).


Tons of water flowing off of this glacier on at least 5 waterfalls.

In the morning clouds started building up (as they often tend to do, warding off ye climbers of little alpine faith).  Thankfully our resolve was strong and even with a large patch of gnarly rock embedded ice we managed to work our way up to the upper glacier.  If the lower glacier were to be snow covered you would have a much easier time accessing the ridge (though I suppose then the ridge would most likely be snowier, so it is a hard mountain to time properly).  On the upper glacier we were very pleased to be back on snow for a while and traversed over to a break in the cliffs where it looked like we could cross the srund safely and kick up some ice to begin our transition to rock-mode.  This went exactly as planned but take note, the fist rock you will encounter after leaving the ice is probably the loosest more gnarly junk you will find on the mountain, stay very close together to avoid rockfall issues.

While clear overnight, clouds started to roll in with the sun.


On the upper glacier, back on snow, oh delightful snow!


Interesting (and somewhat menacing) lighting as we ascend the upper glacier.


More rock on ice...

Once on the ridge proper, we stashed a bunch of our now superfluous extra gear and began the journey upwards.  Being aware that the forecast warned of rain in the afternoon we were quite hasty but still manged to weave our way up without encountering anything beyond a few very low 5'th moves.  Higher up we briefly cut onto the NW face which required a few sequential moves (5.2?) to regain the ridge.  Overall we were actually quite impressed by the quality of the rock.  The very large bouldery rocks on the mountain were quite loose but there is a plethora of small crimps and ledges that felt very solid (admitably this may be as we have been on some exceptionally loose peaks in recent times which may have screwed with our definition of 'loose rock'..).

On the ridge, which was surprsingly solid.


Looking back down the valley, tons of peaks I have little experience with seeing.


Higher up the climbing gets more technical.


Steven and Vern ascending part of the ridge.


The upper mountain as more clouds roll in.


Thankfully even when a bit wet the rock is still fairly grippy.

Before long we were up at the false summit, and firmly whited-out in the clouds.  Traversing between the false and true summit requires a few interesting moves that have significant exposure and probably weren't helped with the wet condition of the rock but we managed to scramble across in short time.  Views from the summit were minimal, but the clouds did give the peak a mysterious feel which I guess is good every so often for a change from blue skies.  Given the forecast we were not in a mood to stick around and after a few congratulatory nods scrambled back to the false summit (the crux is much easier going up) and were carrying on down the ridge.

Steven and Vern traversing from the false to true summits.


Steven on the crux exposed downclimb.


Summit 'views' from Mount Sir Douglas.


A little bit lower down the views were much better.

On descent we took a slightly different line sticking to snow gullies when possible the first of which overshot slightly plunging us onto the S face requiring a bit of traversing to get back on route.  The second gully was quite soft but did allow for a direct way to bypass a large amount of elevation on rock.  If you do go for a snow-line be sure to keep an eye on where you will end up to avoid having to climb back up.

Vern and I descending part of the ridge.  Photo by Steven Song.


Thankfully we found a direct line in the form of a snow gully to speed the descent.


Getting out of another snow gully.  Photo by Steven Song.

Back down at our ditched gear we carefully descended the horribly loose rock before getting back onto ice and starting our way back to camp.  Given conditions we had a difficult choice.  Either descend the middle of the glacier, with good ice but susceptible to lots of rockfall of basketball sized boulders plunging downwards on top of us or stick to skiers right on the rock covered icy junk we came up (which was sheltered from rockfall but gnarly).  After some deliberation we took the more sheltered route and began a tedious and tiring bash downwards which was the longest sustained bit of downclimbing on front points any of us had done to date.

Almost back down on the upper glacier, this part was very very loose.


Vern and I descending rock covered ice.  Photo by Steven Song.

After getting down the ice we took a water/food brake at camp to restore our stamina slightly before starting the trudge back to the car.  Not too much to say about the way back, we took a slightly different line to get down 'the bump' and over the meadows to reach the official trail.  There are plenty of options for routefinding around here all of which have nice views.  Once back on the trail it was one foot in front of the other until eventually reaching the car around 9 or so.  Throughout the whole deproach we were all amazed on how nice the weather turned out, we maybe had 10 drops of rain in total fall on us and by the time we were back in the meadows clear (very warm) sun was shining down everywhere.  Quite a tiring day!


Back down on scree, lovely lovely scree.


Sure is slab-city around here.


Pretty much all downhill from here, no water till the swamp on the trail though...


Looking towards Burstall Pass.


On the way back we came across some (new?) cairns and followed some tracks.


A last glipse of Sir Douglas peaking over the 'bump'.


We were all getting a little weary at this point, almost back on the official trail.


Me crossing one of the last logs to get past the swamp.  Photo by Steven Song.


All in all pretty great trip, still a dangerous and big objective but a little less of both than I expected.

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