ApproachThe 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.
Route DescriptionIt 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 tracks.