MT. MCDONALD, NORTH PILLAR

Posted on: March 1, 2006


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.

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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



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