MOUNT MACDONALD NW INTEGRAL D+ 5.8
Personal Rating: *****
Rock Quality: 8/10
Length: 14-18 pitches
Timeline (Bivy -> Bivy): 12 hours
Gear: Full double rack (0.3-3) + ½ nuts
Climbed: July 6, 2020
I yelled down to Tristan, “ROCK!”, and saw the focused look in his eye as he registered what I was saying before I had finished saying it. We both turned to look at the boulder rolling towards us. Now, in climbing rhetoric there are a few classic descriptors for loose rocks reigning down above you, or you knocking loose. Most sizing is in the class of household appliances (microwave-size, fridge-size), however, what was barreling down towards us making leaps of 50-60 feet at a time was the size of no appliance I could afford. Nay, this rock was the size of a small car, a Volkswagen Beetle to be exact. After I registered it by sight, it’s audible rumble started to fill my soul with dread, with each bounce it shook the earth and the low rumble cascaded off the nearby limestone peaks. We’d quickly bounded to the side and watched as it flew right past us, and shot over a small waterfall, and SMASH… completely obliterating the flat spot beneath that waterfall, where perhaps 4-minutes earlier we’d lazily filled out bottles and joked about how heavy the packs were.
Phew, what a way to start. I had thought the two grizzly cubs 1-hour before would be the only pulse-raising experience I’d have before getting on route! 4 minutes… maybe we got lost on the trail a little longer than we did, maybe we zigged a bit more that we zagged, maybe I decided to not pass a tractor trailer on highway 1 we were stuck behind. At the end of the day, there’s just some inherent hazards that come along with alpine climbing, and since our approach to the NW Integral was up a couloir, rockfall was certainly a hazard.
Tristan and I began our approach from the pullout just west of the Tractor Snow Shed. We decided to take off after work, leaving Revy around 6pm. From our vehicle to bivy spot took us about 4-hours since we’d gotten a little confused and spent a good chunk of time searching around for something suitable. In the end, around 10:30pm we just decided to use our axe’s to dig in a small flat spot on the scree slope near the beginning of the climbing.
Despite our cramped quarters, I enjoyed the cozy nature of being tucked under the stars, a warm sleeping bag around me and the crisp air on my face. I was in and out of sleep but felt refreshed and energized when my watch read 3:30am. I slipped out of bed and fired up the Jetboil in preparation for some oatmeal packets and an brew. Tristan had made some PB&J Bagels and left them beside his bed, however, in the night they were snatched up by a clever marmot (we assume). Luckily I’d brought an extra Himalayan Lentils & Rice dehydrated meal, so he would be having a true Nepalese start to his alpine excursion.
By 4:00am we had our bags packed, water filled, and were scrambling up a loose buttress to the start of the route proper. We noticed some headlamps coming up the Herdman Couloir and knew we were well ahead of the next party – always a nice feeling.
We had decided that we would Simul-climb the route in its entirety with a 60m single rope, a full double rack from 0.3-3, and 2x micro-traxion to protect the leader. This is the first I’ve used the micro-traxions to protect the leader in this system and I was thoroughly impressed at the efficiency and general safety this provided.
We ebbed and flowed easily along mostly 5.4-5.6 terrain, with the off 5.8ish move here and there confident on the blocky quartzite that provided easy protection and secure climbing. The route is absolutely beautiful – constantly engaging, secure rock, easy route finding, and great exposure. I’ve only done a handful of routes in Rogers Pass including Sir Donald and Mt. Tupper and this was easily my favourite amongst them.
We reaching Promenade Ledge at 8:30am and stopped for a quick bite, some water (my hydra pack wasn’t working so I had to constantly pour it into a Nalgene, and unnerving affair in a place devoid of a take!). From this point there is a possible bail-out option by traversing the promenade ledge and doing a 60m rap back down to the scree field (I’m told 2x 30m rappels is also possible). However, as it was early and the sprits were high we decided to continue on to the last of the 5th class terrain and the final summit block. We kept the ropes on as we finished up the last of the steep terrain, and then packed the ropes up for the blocky mostly 3/4th class summit block.
By 10:30am we were standing on the summit of Macdonald. With the usual mix of emotions that combines a feeling of deep satisfaction and accomplishment, coupled with the subtle dread of a descent.
We found the 4th class Southwest Ridge descent to be easily manageable utilizing a few of the rappels along the way. As is was a heavy snow season the previous winter and still holding in early July we decided to take an early exit down the Banana Couloir, the first skinny S-Bending couloir climbers left of the Herdman. With crampons on (Strap, on approach shoes) and a single ice axe we were able to easily downclimb the couloir and reach the scree field without too much trouble (Tristan did forget his gloves, which led to a solid case of the screaming barfies).
Back down at our Bivy site for 3:45pm we packed our larger rucksacks and planned to bushwack through the dense alder on the way down (thus avoiding the obvious rockfall hazard). However, once we realized how much slower it was vs. a sporting boot ski… we opted to take the boot ski down the Herdman. Some slips, trips, and a few butt slides later we again crossed the Illicilewaet river and were back to the van for 4:00pm – Roughly a 14-hour day from the Bivouac at the base of the route -> true summit -> Car. High-fives were abound and the thought of a large pizza from the Village Idiot in Revelstoke had us high-tailing out of the pullout spot and ripping the 70km west to Revy.
Overall, I found the rock quality to be superb, aside from very few sections (<10%), the climbing to be fairly sustained in the 5.4 – 5.6 range with a few 5.8 moves mixed in, and route-finding to be fairly straight forward. This route in my opinion is the best I’ve climbed in Rogers Pass and will certainly be one I come back to.
Approach From Pullout -> Bivy = 3 hours
Bivy -> Promenade Ledge = 5.5 hours
Promenade Ledge -> Summit = 2 hours
Summit Descent -> Bivy = 5.5 hours
Bivy -> Pullout Car = 2 hours
Gear (Can defintely go with less, but allows for nice and long simul-leads)