Mt. MacDonald, North Pillar Direct. Mt. MacDonald (2,883m) is an unsung gem of Canadian alpine rock, with clean quartzite walls towering above the Trans-Canada highway in Glacier National Park. On July 8, Jeff Relph and I stood below its north face, with intentions of starting up the North Pillar—mine and Bruce Kay's 2005 route (19 pitches, 5.11 A0)—freeing it, and then continuing up virgin ground for the direct finish. This prominent, direct line stands out, as it follows a steeper prow up high that glistens in the early morning or late afternoon sun. We left the car at 3 a.m., and with prior route knowledge made good time on the first 11 pitches. I freed the first crux at .11b thanks to having the knifeblades already in place for some crimpy face climbing. The next crux came on the sustained seventh pitch, which we solved on second (but not on lead) at 5.11c. As the crux came nearly 50m into the pitch, we didn’t bother to lower and try to re-send the pitch, so the original A0 grade remains.
Instead of traversing left to easier simul- climbing terrain on the upper headwall, as Bruce and I had done, Jeff and I continued straight up the pillar staying on or as close to the ridgeline as possible, climbing many more pitches of 5.10 and 5.11. Eventually, the angle relented, but there were moves of 5.9 or harder on every pitch, sometimes on wet rock. After 23–25 pitches, we hit the summit ridge with 200m of 4th-class scrambling remaining between us and the summit. It was nearly 11 p.m. and getting dark, so we used our few remaining minutes of dusk to begin the long descent. Views from Mt. Columbia to the North Howser Tower and the immediate peaks and glaciers of Glacier National Park all lay before us against the alpenglow. Then, under a clear but moonless sky, we downclimbed and rappelled the west ridge, down 50° couloirs into the Herdman Bowl, and enjoyed good boot-skiing below until, at first light, we finally found the log to cross the raging Connaught Creek. We returned to the car 26 hours after leaving it. North Pillar Direct (1,000m, 5.11c A0).
It is a wild and committing route, with a ton of good rock climbing. The options are there for future repeats: easier on the left or more sustained on the right. We brought a standard double rack with single micro cams, single #3 and #4 Camalots, and one regular set of nuts. We placed one piton, which we left fixed. Id recommend future parties bring the same, but the pitons are optional. Rappelling from high on the face would be sketchy and dangerous, as chances of getting ropes chopped or stuck and pulling stacked blocks onto you would not be in your favor.
Jon Walsh, Canada