|JULY-2004 Gain- 5000'+/- Summit- 11,172' 2 Days+/- West Ridge-Alpine III-Solo
Lat/Lon: 50.71°N, 115.33°W
Mount Sir Douglas is one of the most aesthetic mountains in the heart of the
southern Canadian Rockies. It is located on the continental divide, split evenly
between British Columbia (BC) and Alberta. Its summit actually straddles three
parks, Banff National Park, Peter Lougheed Provincial Park and Height of the
Rockies Provincial Park. Belonging to the 11,000’+ group, it ranks high on technical
objective lists along with Assiniboine and Joffre in the southern Canadian Rockies.
However, Sir Douglas is not as popular due to significant rock fall hazard on the
Mount Sir Douglas was officially named in 1916 after an infamous British WWI field
commander (Sir Douglas Haig). Most mountains in the Spray Mountain Range on
the border of Banff National Park were named after WWI battleships and
commanders. Sir Douglas was first ascended in 1919 by Hickson and Feuz, no
doubt a feat for the time. It is draped by glaciers from all sides, including the
massive (relatively speaking) Haig Glacier on its eastern flank. The mass and
consistency of this glacier particularly impressed me from the summit.
Sir Douglas is a hard mountain to get a good gook at. The best view I have found is
from the final summit ridge of Big Sister (photo above). The routes don’t come into
view until you practically reach the ascent bivy site.
From the Canmore Nordic Center (Canmore, Alberta), drive 42 km south on the
Spray Lakes Road (gravel). Turn right into the trailhead at signs for the Burstall Pass
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park is part of the Kananaskis Alberta Provincial Park
System. You are not required to obtain a climbing permit or parking pass and I did
not obtain a camping permit to bivy at the foot of the northwest glacier. Park
headquarters is located on Highway 40 which is an exit off of the Trans-Canada
between Calgary and Canmore.
Here is a map of the park.
This is active grizzly country, therefore, you should always have bear spray on your
person. We just had a grizzly fatality in Canmore, June, 2005 as well as a recent
mountain lion attack.
When To Climb
The West Ridge is best contemplated in the summer months, but most of the Alpine
Routes on Sir Douglas are accomplished in winter due to above normal rock fall
from above. The Smith-Dorrien Highway (Spray Lakes Road) is open year-around,
making winter climbs possible.
Climbers should bivy on the west side of Sir Douglas. There are spots already laid
out with a good water source close by just above the foot of the right most northwest
glacier. The closest official campsite is in Banff National Park, Burstall US 18, and it
is not close or relative to this objective.
Peter Lougheed Provincial Park has weather, wildlife reports, trail closures, etc.
Outside of the parks web site, Canadian Avalanche Association is also useful,
particularly for winter travel.
West Ridge, Alpine III, 5.5
Straight forward route up the small northwest glacier below some objective hazard
(ice fall), intersecting and taking the west ridge. Loose rock and patchy snow
dominate the route.
North-West Face, Alpine III
Good route and if the Direct is out of shape (rockfall ,etc.) it provides an excellent
alternative up the face.
North-West Face Direct Alpine IV
This route, when icy presents a sustained climb. Falling rock can be a problem.
East Ridge III 5.6
A great line. The positions on the ridge look magnificent. But they say the rock is
pretty rank as goes for the other routes as well.
South-East Face IV 5.6-7
Route takes the prominent couloir and ramp system on the south side of the peak.
Although it has been attempted many times, it is still awaiting a winter ascent!
Rockfall can be a problem in the lower couloir so cold conditions are an asset.
The hike in to Burstall Pass is an uneventful 7.5 km trail. I wish I had taken a bike,
as there is a locking bike rack before crossing the gravel flats. Of course on the way
out, I was really cursing for not thinking of this. Burstall Pass comes relatively quick
and easy. At the gravel flats, which were heavily flooded in 2004 and have to be
again in 2005 (you will probably have to take your boots off), you will have great
views of Sir Douglas's east face and glacier as well as Robertson's appearance as
a spire (although this is a distortion from the angle from which you are viewing).
There is a fantastic winter glacier ski route between these two objectives. Shortly
before you get to the actual pass and before the sign marking Banff National Park,
you will exit the trail and proceed due south aiming for Sir Douglas' northwest face
and twin glaciers which dominate the southern skyline. Continue on to South
Burstall Pass. There is no identified trail along the way and few cairns. Just head for
the mountain. When you get to the southern pass, you will have two options.
In the Selected Alpine Book there is the option of descending into the Palliser
drainage and contouring around the west edge of a spur that shoots out of Sir
Douglas' north east ridge. However, I challenged the route and ascended straight
up and over the spur and was rewarded with a birds eye view of my objective
looming in front of me. I found these snow and rock slopes easy to maneuver. Once
on top of the spur, I proceeded east and found a great scree ramp right before you
run into the north east ridge. I utilized the contour route on my return, but much prefer
the option I just subscribed, coming and going.
It took me 4 hours total (fast pace) to get to a bivy site on the moraine edge below
the right hand glacier (glacier melt close by and a soft spot good for at least one
bivy). I awoke at 4:AM to unfortunately warm temperatures. I heard rock and ice fall
all night and realized I would have to do the West Ridge versus the Northwest Face.
Due to extreme hanging ice, you will be forced to stay glacier left for the 1500'+
climb to the col on the west ridge. Some steep snow and ice take you right onto
the ridge. I wore crampons on this ascent. Once on the ridge, you have another
2000'+ of 4th and 5th class climbing. Since we had late conditions this year, I had to
apply my crampons more than once to cross over several ice steps and cornices. I
also took two axes and needed them. I wish I had a rope, because the final 1000'
presents some exposed and difficult free climbing. When I crossed the first fixed
rappel station, I started to consider the wonderful down climbing experience that
awaited my descent.
It took me 3:40 to reach the summit and 2:20 to descend, but that is swiftly moving. I
was the first to sign the register in 2004 and that comes as no surprise. Sir
Douglas' reputation for bad rock is well earned. At 9:AM, this was one of the quietest
and scenic summits I have ever achieved. Joffre to the South, Assiniboine to the
North and a massive blanket of a glacier on the backside named the Haig, more
than likely the largest single Rocky Mountain glacier south of the Icefield.
There are about four rappel stations I noticed on descent, I would have used them
all if I had brought a rope. Conditions are tedious at best on this ridge, snow, ice
and rock that comes to pieces in your hands.
One has to be an expert route finder on this ridge. As usual, speed can be an
advantage. Within an hour of being off the glacier, I heard a huge boom and
looked over my left shoulder as thundering amounts of ice wiped out my bottom
Helmet, Ice Tool, Alpine Ax, Crampons, Rope (if not solo, pro for a running belay if
needed), Gaiters, Rock Boots, Bivy Gear, Water Pump or Tablets (good source
On July 14th I got a last minute wild hair to climb Sir Douglas. I knew this mountain
had a reputation for staying out of condition most of the year. However, Joffre was
still freezing 4 days earlier so I gave it a go. This mountain is 2nd only to Assiniboine
in terms of being able to quickly identify it when peak bagging in the Kananaskis
region of the Canadian Rockies. THIS IS NOT A SCRAMBLE! You have some
serious ice fall on this west ridge route as you ascend and descend a glacier to the
ridge. I do find this a good solo however, because of minimal crevasse danger, but
it is still a gamble as it always is. I posted a trip report on this page for more detailed
I was the first to sign the register in 2004 and that comes as no surprise. Sir
Douglas' reputation for bad rock is well earned. At 9:AM, this was one of the quietest
and scenic summits I have ever achieved.
CLICK TO ENLARGE PHOTOS
1. View of the North and West Routes- N Burstall Pass
2. View from W Ridge back to Burstall Pass
3. Mt Assiniboine, Gloria and Eon
4. -7. Small Northwest Twin Glacier Route
8. Haig Glacier
9. Sir Douglas and Robertson from Gravel Flats
10.-11. Joffre from Summit, Sir Douglas from Big Sister
12-13. Summit Photo and Bivy Site