American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Mt. McDonald, North Pillar

North America, Canada, Selkirk Mountains

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Author: Jon Walsh, Canada
  • Climb Year: 2010
  • Publication Year: 2006

At 7 a.m. on August 19, after a heinous two-hour approach, Bruce Kay (Squamish, B.C.) and I racked up at the toe of the steep pillar on the right side of Mt. MacDonald’s l,000m-high north face, for our first adventure together. We were surprised to see a bolt at the first belay, although we knew the pillar had been attempted a few times before. On the second pitch (5.7), two unnecessary and appalling protection bolts appeared, both within a few feet of bomber Camalot placements. The nut on the first one was tight, but Bruce managed to get the second one loose, remove the hanger, and unleash the fury of his hammer on the stud. It was the first time he had chopped a bolt in some 30 years of climbing. The pillar now steepened, and Bruce led a nice pitch of 5.10-. One final bolt appeared at the belay above the third pitch. The fourth pitch and the technical crux of the route involved moving right onto the arête. I welded two knifeblades for protection, before pumping out and having to hang on a short section of 5.11 face climbing. At the top of the sixth pitch we passed the last signs of other attempts. Pitch after pitch of sustained 5.10 climbing followed, with one more section of 5.11 on the eighth pitch. Finally, after 11 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. We moved left into the gully, the line of least resistance, and simul-climbed for three long pitches to the final headwall. A more direct buttress line had been our original goal, but time was of the essence. In the fading light Bruce led a pitch of 5.10, to a small ledge below a dripping squeeze chimney. By headlamp I found a way to avoid spending the night there, by climbing a knifeblade-protected 5.10 face to the right, followed by a desperate 5.10+ bulge above a ledge. Climbing by headlamp seemed better than shivering away the seven hours of darkness. More pitches of 5.10, 5.9, and 5.8 followed. Finally, at 1:30 a.m., we hit the ridge just below the summit, after 18 hours of continuous climbing. The full moon lit the Southwest Ridge descent route, allowing us to descend without headlamps. Near the base of the ridge we made five rappels: two to the col and three down a chossy couloir into a bowl. The bowl descends to the highway, where talus, creeks, and bear tunnels led us through the jungle and back to the car, 30 hours after leaving it. Summary. 1,000m, 19 pitches, 5.11- A0 (for a couple of hangs—would go free at about 5.11b). Nice corners, cracks, and featured face climbing up excellent quartzite, with excellent protection the entire way. Rack: a double set of cams (one #4 Camalot), one set of nuts, and a couple of KBs and LAs. We placed about six or seven pitons and left three fixed.

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