Mount Goodsir, North Tower

August 13-14, 2018


Ice River / Yoho National Park, BC

Mt. Goodsir, or commonly known as “The Goodsirs” are a cluster of three 11,000ers dominating the skyline of south-central Canadian Rockies. They tower above all peaks in its broad vicinity except for the fabled Mt. Assiniboine and at the same time, the twin towers are so iconic that they are among the most recognizable peaks from anywhere in the southern Rockies or the Purcells. By any measure they are among the most important summits of Canadian Rockies but they are rarely attempted from a climbing perspective. This is not because of the technical difficulties, but rather the legendary rock quality. Among the 54-58 11,000ers the south tower of Mt. Goodsir has absolutely the worst rock quality and the north tower isn’t much better from a rockfall perspective. The full day of sustained exposed high-end scrambling on south tower is unprotectable making South Goodsir arguably the most dangerous 11,000er among all. For a peak that barely has any 5th class terrain to earn this reputation you can get an idea of how loose the rocks are. In terms of how bad the south tower is I’ll leave that in the other trip report. Here I’m only focusing on the north tower.

The north tower of Mt. Goodsir indeed has much more solid rocks than its twin but the term “solid” is rather a relative term. I know at least one climber attempting North/Center Goodsir without extensive experience in the 11,000ers choss climbing opted to completely give up the quest after returning home alive. And that climber hasn’t got to taste the much-worse south tower yet… In my opinion the north tower is very condition-dependent. In the condition we had (black ice/frozen dirt) the north tower is almost just as dangerous as the other one. For a while I thought I would have been killed by a boulder bowling down the shooting gallery and I sure was glad to have gone away without a scratch on this pile of junk. In terms of the technical challenge the north tower has only one short pitch of low 5th class climbing but the most dangerous is the bowling alley on the south face’s upper “V”. The lower route is much easier by comparison. There are two accepted approaches but either by the traditional Ice River or the newly-discovered Moose Creek one needs a day just getting to the basecamp, on largely unpleasant, but not unmanageable terrain…

Over the last 6 years I’ve been known as working on the 11,000ers, half hearted. The main reason of my “half hearted” attitude is that I was never certain I could finish the entire list but as I knocked off Mt. Robson and Mt. Alberta in the summer of 2017 I started to realize this dream might actually come true. There’s one more major crux down the way and that’s the Goodsirs. As a top-notch Rockies scrambler I deeply knew that the climbing on these towers would fit nicely into my expertise. In other words I had the feeling that the Goodsirs probably aren’t as bad as others made it sound, but surviving the Goodsirs needs luck no matter who you are. This had been a mentally stressful game so I told myself that once a window formed I just had to go and get them out of the way, no matter what. “Either now, or never”… The last thing I wanted was leaving the Goodsirs to the very end because even in this year I could already feel the pressure building up. I cannot imaging having to finish the list on South Goodsir because that kind of mental stress would likely affect my concentration on the climbing hence increasing the ricks of making errors.

That window indeed formed immediately after I got out of Tsar Mountain. The last two days of my Tsar’s trip was miserable due to the weather and my mood had dropped to the lowest point. I just wanted to go home and relax for a week but after seeing the weather forecast I knew I had to go for the Goodsirs. I had been talking to Michel Beauchemin aka. “Meshwell Boschmann” and making detailed plans in the last month. I had never climbed with Michel in the past but from his resume on Facebook I convinced myself that he’s the ideal partner for this mission. And by the way finding partner(s) for this trip could be as difficult as the climb itself… Other than those gong-ho for the 11,000ers I doubt anyone else wants to climb them and among the selected few I also had to figure out who’s likely has the best skills/experience for this type of climbs. The north tower has steep snow and ice and the south tower is the ultimate test for one’s scrambling skills. A bold and single-minded top-notch Rockies scrambler could probably handle South Goodsir even more confidently than myself, but the inability to ice climb means they cannot do the north tower. An ice climber can climb the snow/ice on north tower without a problem, but it’s hard to say how a “climber” will do on the south tower. Taking all of these into consideration it didn’t take me long to pull the trigger. I rested in the town of Golden for a day and paid ~150 dollars for a stay in a local motel. It’s expensive as fuck but it’s my choice going out in mid August tourism season. I really needed a night of good sleep as I hadn’t been slept well in the last several days.

The Goodsirs via Ice River Approach

In the previous evening Michel came to my motel room and we spent at least an hour sorting the gears out. There were a lot of shits to carry, unfortunately. The next morning we grouped at around 7 am and drove out of the town in my Tacoma. The drive down Beaverfoot Road was smooth sailing and the 3.5km narrow Ice River Main was also smoother than expected. The parking lot is a on wide, grassy bench and as usual we wrapped the truck by some chick wires just in case. The start of this Ice River approach can be very confusing but thankfully I had Ben’s GPS track with me. With technology on our side we did not make a single mistake linking the maze of roads and trails and getting into the main valley. Asides from having to hop over or duck under a hundred dead-falls the worst of this trail was traversing a steep river bank with some exposure. That part was sketchy especially wearing the trail runners. Nonetheless in about 3 hours we made to the Ice River warden cabin and took the first long break of this day.

Taco parked at Ice River Main

The start of this trip was walking on several logging roads

Believe or not we were on Ice River trail. The brushes were very wet

Crossing this steep bank was quite sketchy…

This photo summarizes the dead falls along this trail. It was painful

Finally arrived at the warden cabin. Of course there’s nobody around

The next stretch was the infamous 2-km post-holing through a swamp. I brought a pair of river shoes for this part but probably because of laziness I didn’t bother to don them. I just thrashed through on my trail runners and didn’t even bother to take the pants off. There were two or three river crossings that’s more than knee deep. As dirty as this swamp is I actually found it to be quite enjoyable – wide and open valley with views of many Ottertail giants. The general bearing was constantly corrected by the GPS track and following it we correctly located a log crossing to get back onto the south side. We ascended an avalanche path for about 50 vertical meters before bailing into the forest. A short stretch of bushwhacking got us back onto the main trail and then we followed this trail up and left contouring in the forest, aiming at the distant Zinc Creek. Crossing this creek was an easy fair and then we thrashed through some slide alders before merging into the north fork of Zinc Creek. By this point we were officially out of the forest and all we needed was ascending out of this drainage and all the way up onto the 2300-m bench. Finding a perfect camping spot was not easy and after wondering back and forth we decided on a not-so-flat spot with running water a 2-minute walk away. We had to spend half an hour moving the rocks to build a tent platform. Not the best case scenario but would do.

The valley opens up. Time for the marsh…

Me walking along the main flow of Ice River. Photo by Michel B.

Arriving at the wetlands. We detoured into the marsh here

Michel thrashing through the wetness

Crossing one of the deep channels.

Me making my way across. Photo by Michel B.

We correctly picked up the trail. This is critical

Merged into the north fork Zinc Creek. Photo by Michel B.

Michel happy to be gaining elevation

Fast forward. Now at 2300 m bench and the tent’s erected

After a couple hours of napping we woke up. Time for dinner.

Little critter at around our camp

This is looking across the bench towards Zinc Mountain

Because we started fairly early on the approach day we earned ourselves a long night at camp. We all caught up some much-needed hours of sleep. The following morning we started dark-and-early. The first decision was a choice between rock vs. scree on the lower slopes. We aimed for the rock ledges but two separate events of natural rockfall chased us off that line. One of the bullets shot very close and we moved climber’s left for as fast as possible after that moment. The Goodsirs just started to show their teeth… Much of the valley leading up towards North/Center col involves treadmill scree or snow. The scree was terrible so we moved onto snow. At this point the sky’s bright enough to not use headlamps. The snow had undergone a full depth freeze so the crampons came out. The Petzl Irvis Hybrids performed very well on this trip and we made our way up that 35-degree “highway” in no time. There’s some annoying transitions between snow and rock but generally speaking the ascent of the lower slopes of North/Center towers was quite easy. I had a bit of concern of the ledge leading into the lower leg of “V” but upon closer examination it was not a problem.

About an hour into the slog we merged onto snow.

Michel ascending the “highway”

Lots of morning colours on the horizon. This is Zinc Mountain

The snow transitions into choss. More snow higher up.

We found this key ledge system to traverse into the “V”

The ledge was a mix of scree, snow and ice and was well marked by cairns, although we kinda screwed up the route-finding. I took a roundabout line and managed to avoid that patch of ice but the trade off was choss, while Michel went directly across the ice. On the return we discovered a much easier way to cross this gully, but anyway now we were on the lower leg of “V” traversing high on the south face of North Tower. The both legs of “V” are much wider than appeared and mostly just a walk on scree. Just as we thought the North Tower would go much faster than expected we got a sight of the upper couloir aka. the bowling alley leading towards a high notch. The gully wasn’t dry, but wasn’t snow neither. Instead it appeared to have chocked with black ice and frozen dirt… Fantastic…

Michel front-pointing across the exposed patch of ice

Almost traversed into the “V” now. South Tower behind

Me getting onto the “V”. Note how wide it is. Photo by Michel B.

Michel leading across the lower leg of “V”

Just another photo in the lower leg of the “V”

The “V” makes a turn here. Into the upper leg

The upper leg of “V” is narrower but still very easy

Now at the base of the couloir. It’s ugly…

The crampons and both of the ice tools came out and in no time we were swinging the tools into the hardpack while front-pointing on the frozen dirt. Finding occasional patches of (black) ice was quite a refreshment but to be honest the “ice climbing” on dirt actually worked pretty well. The natural rockfall wasn’t too bad at this point and we did manage to gain elevation on a decent pace. Higher up we moved to climber’s right of the fall line and it’s there that we encountered a few stiff 4th class steps, which felt like mixed climbing. The good thing – there were two existing rappelling anchors on those blocks so the descent would be easier. And then the next thing we had topped out on the high notch looking straight down the NE Face into Goodsir Creek with one vertical mile of air in between. Meanwhile we took the ropes out and geared up for the technical pitch out of the notch.

Michel starting the couloir. Note the fresh snow…

Up and up and up.. This is the typical terrain

Michel crossing the fall line

Same as above…

Me pulling up a step. Photo by Michel B.

Higher up we had to pull up a couple vertical steps.

Toppin’ out at the notch. The other side suddenly opened up

This is looking down the shear NE Face into Goodsir Creek

I was in line to lead the pitch. Having good beta of how to attach this pitch helped nicely. Naturally one wants to climb straight out of the notch but I knew that would lead to unprotectable 5.9 terrain and the correct way is by traversing 10 m horizontally out to climber’s left. That way although exposed, only two or three 5th class moves were encountered. We both felt that step more like “4th class” than real climbing. There were pitons on both sides of the crux moves and I used the farther one to belay Michel up. From there the rest of the ascent to the summit of North Tower was mostly a 3rd class scramble on scree ledges but the rock quality deteriorated very rapidly. The uppermost of this tower was longer than expected, very loose and required some care in route-finding. The view was far-reaching from my 49th 11,000er although we could see a thick layer of smoke blowing in from the west.

Me leading the supposed 5.4 crux. Photo by Michel B.

Michel climbing up the crux

Above the crux onto the choss ledges

This is the uppermost of the north tower. It’s still complicated

Partial Summit Panorama from Goodsir North Tower. Click to view large size.

Partial Summit Panorama from Goodsir North Tower. Click to view large size.

Michel arriving at the summit of Mt. Goodsir – North Tower

This is a northern view. Martin’s Peak in foreground. Mt. Owen looks tiny behind

The glaciated massif of Mt. Vaux is a “difficult scramble”

Chancellor Peak is one of the hardest scrambles in the 3rd edition of Kane’s book

This is looking back down the Ice River valley

The line of 11,000ers in Lake Louise – O’Hara Group

Me on the summit of Mt. Goodsir – North Tower

Another photo of the Lake Louise’s 11,000ers

Another photo of me on the summit of Mt. Goodsir – North Tower

At this point we still had a hope to traverse all three towers in the same day so we couldn’t afford killing too much time on the summit despite the views. Descending the uppermost tower was pretty tricky because of the route-finding, loose rocks and the exposure. This part resembles the whole mountain of South Tower that despite the 3rd class terrain we had to pay 120% attention on each individual move. Making a sloppy mistake was not an option. Near the bottom we moved down-climber’s left and found the 4-pin anchor that Ben talked about in this trip report. Our single 30 m rope was just long enough to complete this rappel so it wasn’t a terrible decision to leave the other rope at the notch. Inside the bowling alley we did two rappels but the rockfall was getting worse and worse. Pulling ropes while front-pointing in dirt in the middle of fall line surely needed some balls. Thankfully no boulder came down in this process and more down-climbing later we both cleared this alley. We were safe and sound but we lost a lot of time.

Time to leave the summit behind.

A random photo looking down the north face into Goodsir Creek

Another photo looking down the NE Face

South Tower looks evil from this angle

Me starting down the scree ledges. Photo by Michel B.

No mistake allowed. Photo by Michel B.

Michel carefully working his way down the upper face

Rappelling off the crux pitch

Another photo of the rappel

Down-frontpointing into dirt into the bowling alley

First rappel in the bowling alley

Second rappel in the bowling alley. This one is very dangerous

Me rappelling in the bowling alley. Photo by Michel B.

Back onto the legs of “V” we easily reversed the traverses and then I said we should find an easier way around that patch of ice in the very first ledge section. There’s a moat feature about 10 m up slope and I had a feeling that the moat would go. Indeed, the inside of that moat was just a walk. This way we didn’t have to touch any more ice. We then ascended a stretch of steep snow to get onto a small glacier immediately below North/Center col.

As you can see a thick layer of smoke rolled in. No more view

Finished the bowling alley descent. Looking back… Never again…

Lower down we used this moat to bypass that ice patch

Traversing steep snow to gain the small glacier below North/Center col

The day then continues with an ascent of Center Peak before slogging all the way back to camp in a 14.5 hour day. The next day we slept in and went for the South Tower. Speaking the North Tower I would say you want to climb it in a snowier condition than we had, but you don’t want to have too much snow on some of the traverses. In the recent years it might make the most sense to try in “late July” time frame but doing so you risk the South Tower isn’t completely dry yet. It’s a trade off, so make your choice… Another thing to take note is the hazard on North Tower comes mostly from natural and induced rockfall which is something you cannot control (versus on South Tower that you more likely screw yourself up by pulling a loose hold and falling off the entire mountain).