Mount McDougall attempt December 27, 2004

Mountain height:   2,726 m (8,941 ft)
Elevation gain:      approx. 1,200 m (we came up about 150 vertical metres short)
Roundtrip time:    

Scrambling and snowshoeing with Mark.

‘Tis the season when the word “attempt” appears in our trip titles far too frequently. Nevertheless, failure to reach the summit is part and parcel of winter scrambling/hiking and when you get scenery and weather like we did on this day, who cares about the summit?!

The last time we were on Mount McDougall was actually an attempt of Old Baldy three years ago on December 8. On that day, we made it to a subsidiary peak of McDougall , we like to call “ Volcano Peak ”, because of its suggestive shape. The day’s goal was to achieve the summit of Mount McDougall via the ridge connecting it and Volcano Peak .

Like our first attempt, making it up to the initial ridge leading to Volcano Peak, was long, tedious, and far more time-consuming and energy-draining than we expected. The endless rubble, covered by a light layer of snow, was terrible to ascend, and the bushwhacking to get to those rubble slopes, though relatively short, was annoying at best. Once out on open slopes, however, the terrific views of Mount Kidd , and The Fortress group, were more than enough to make up for the drudgery of the ascent. Finally, above the treeline, it was only a short hike before Volcano Peak and more great scenery on its south side, came into view.

As is commonly the case for winter trips on clear days, the view from the summit was amazing and although, the wind made for bitterly cold temperatures, we had to stay awhile to enjoy the magnificent snow-covered scenery. Fisher Peak, the craggy northeast profile of Mount Tombstone peaks of the Opal Range were fantastic as well as the overwhelming sea of peaks to the west – Lawson, Inflexible, James Walker, The Wedge, The Fortress, Gusty Peak, Galatea, The Tower, Kidd, Bogart, Sparrowhawk, Lougheed, Allan, Wind, and Collembola.

The connecting ridge to McDougall’s true summit looked especially interesting. Unfortunately, by this time, that summit was already a long shot – we would assuredly run out of daylight and descending the rubble slopes by headlamp was a less than appealing proposition. Of course, we had to give it a shot and so off we went. After descending to a beautifully peaceful and scenic col (no wind!), we started up the more narrow section of the ridge. Right away, it became evident that crampons would be a good idea to negotiate the snow–covered terrain. A fall down the steep north side would have been very bad (that’s code for death!), and although the south side of the ridge was not terribly steep, a slip might send one on a very unpleasant involuntary glissade. Crampons on foot, ice axes in hand we once again started the traverse. Unfortunately, about five minutes along, the strap on one of Mark’s crampons broke. The damage was irreparable and although we did continue on for a short while, the risk of traveling with only one crampon wasn’t worth it. Even with both crampons, we still wouldn’t have made the summit anyway because of the lateness of the day.

Before turning around, Mark asked me to ascend a little highpoint on the ridge to take a photo. I did, but was suddenly completely blasted in the face by blowing snow. It lasted about a minute and my face felt a frozen York Peppermint Patty afterwards – at least Mark had a good laugh about it.

The nice thing about turning around early was that we now had the time to explore a little and look for an easier descent route. The exploring was great, revealing more wonderful scenery on the south side of the ridge, however, finding an alternate route proved to be fruitless. No matter where we went, there was no avoiding the annoying rubble and the bushwhacking on the west descent slope was horrific – a small price to pay, however, for the breath-taking scenery and gorgeous weather throughout the trip. 

Left to right: The Fortress, Gusty Peak and Mount Galatea


The two peaks of Mount Kidd; The Tower is at the far left


On the ascent slopes, with Old Baldy Mountain (left) and the west ridge of Mount McDougall behind 


Gaining the ridge after the long and tedious slog up; The Wedge is at the far left  


Volcano Peak in sight


Same as above


A very similar photo taken on December 8, 2001 (the weather was much better 3 years later!)


At the summit of Volcano Peak; the true summit of McDougall is to my left


The ridgewalk route to the summit, as seen from Volcano Peak


Descending from Volcano Peak; the peaks to the right are Sparrowhawk, Lougheed, Wind Mountain, and Mount Allan


Checking to find where the cornice starts 


The beginning of the ridge


Another view of the route to the summit


A little detour to a scenic highpoint, with a little blowing snow; Old Baldy Mountain at the left


The same as above, with a lot of blowing snow; yes.... the dark form in the middle of the picture is me; I was very quick to retreat at this point


Mark, heading back along the ridge; Volcano Peak at the far right


More great scenery on descent


Another little detour on descent; Volcano Peak is just right of centre


Mounts Lougheed, Allan, Collembola, and the Nakiska ski hill

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