Mount Goodsir, South Tower

August 15-16, 2018


Ice River / Yoho National Park, BC

The south tower of Mt. Goodsir is the second highest peak in southern Canadian Rockies towered only by Mt. Assiniboine. It’s also an “ultra prominent peak” with over 1900 m topographic prominence and together with its twin, the dual towers are among the most recognizable summits in Canadian Rockies. However, as significant as it is the south tower of Mt. Goodsir is better known for its legendary rock quality… Combining that with the sustained exposure this peak is generally accepted as the most dangerous of all 11,000ers although some might vote Mt. Alberta as the candidate. Take a note that South Goodsir has no snow/ice climbing nor significant portions of 5th class climbing, and the climbing season is much longer than that of Mt. Alberta. What makes South Goodsir fearsome is solely the rock quality.

It’s hard to describe how shitty this pile of garbage is. Term “loose” is relative. Had I climbed pitches with worse rocks? Of course yes, but combining the looseness with the type of terrain, sustained exposure and the length of this climb, and the fact one needs to down-climb the entire mountain I cannot think about another peak coming close to this level. Perhaps Mt. Alberta is the only other one, but on that pile of junk one only climbs half of the mountain on the sharp end of a rope, and the entire descent is by pitch-to-pitch rappelling. The ascent of South Goodsir is very different. Although largely non-technical, for about 600 vertical meters on the upper climb one cannot afford a single mistake and this quickly becomes a mentally exhausting game. Even the most capable Canadian Rockies mountaineer needs luck to be on his/her side in order to survive the Goodsirs, particularly the infamous South Tower. However I have to point out another perspective of this climb, that is from the scramblers’ point of view. The most important skill you need to have on South Goodsir is “scrambling” and the second most important is your fitness, in my opinion. I wouldn’t be surprised if a bold and single-minded Canadian Rockies scrambler (without mountaineering background) shows up, crushes the south tower and states it’s “nothing more than a glorified scramble” because I do agree with this in some way.

To me the status of South Goodsir has been mysterious. For many years I consider myself as a bold and single-minded scrambler and it was only in the past year or two that I started to play cautiously and learn some rope techniques. I’m also not like the “normal climbers” who spend days and days in the local crags and waterfall ice. I had gained pretty much all of my experience directly from scrambling and alpine climbing, and from gradual, step-by-step increase in the difficulty of my climbs. “Loose rocks” had never been my show-stopper and I also know from the past ascents that I had no issue leading up to mid 5th class on Rockies’ face climbing, no matter how shitty the rocks are. Contrary to most climbers what shuts me down is the actual rock grade because I had no experience in crack climbing and very minimal experience on slabs. The more solid the rocks are (ie. granite) the weaker I am comparing to others. Such is irrelevant on the Goodsirs… There’s no “good rock” on this mountain… This fits perfectly into my expertise and avoids all of my weaknesses so I had the feeling that South Goodsir might turns out much easier than what others made it sound. I have to say that my expectation was very correct but I’m not elaborating too much right now.

The approach to the Goodsirs isn’t easy so after making such an effort to get here it makes sense to climb all three towers in one batch, and that’s exactly the plan between Michel and myself. On the first day we did the traditional Ice River approach which felt not as bad as I was expecting. The swamp was actually pretty fun and the approach didn’t take too long neither. On the second day we started before dawn and climbed the North Tower and then Center Peak in a 14.5 hour day. The climbs went down nicely but took a lot of time and mental stress out of us, such that on the 3rd day we failed to wake up early. In the end we eventually got up after 10 am and didn’t start the South Tower until almost noon… This certainly wasn’t enough to finish the climb so we carried sleeping bags and a stove all the way with us. I had little idea how far we could go on this day but with the bivy gears it really didn’t matter.

The Goodsirs via Ice River Approach

The first business was traversing onto the SW Ridge and this stretch itself wasn’t that straightforward. We had to overcome an intermittent ridge and doing so required some unpleasant side-hilling on faint goat trails. A surprising sight after traversing into the next bowl was discovering two tents pitched in the bush… One tent looked a little bit familiar to me but I couldn’t pick up the memories but anyway, we had to deal with the fact there’s another party sharing this peak with us… This was not good but at this point what else we could do… The lower 400 m or so on the SW Ridge was mostly a “hike”. My anxiety really started to kick in as it’s been several years since I’d been dreaming about South Goodsir’s legendary rocks and it hadn’t showed its teeth yet. Don’t worry, the game would soon begin. At elevation of 2800 m the terrain became steeper and we were forced out climber’s right traversing into a series of shallow gullies. The rocks did not let me down… At least the exposure hasn’t kicked in yet so we kept soldiering, traversing farther climber’s right and then we topped out on a mini ridge, looking at a snow gully leading up to a higher notch.

Traversing onto the lower SW Ridge on unpleasant terrain

Cresting the lower SW Ridge. It starts out pretty nice

Me trudging up the lower ridge. Photo by Michel B.

Transitioning onto some grassy terrain. It’s still very easy

Getting higher and higher we started to encounter scrambling steps

Traversing climber’s right into a few shallow gullies.

Is there ever a solid hold??

The typical terrain in this stage. This is just the start.

We kept traversing diagonally due climber’s right. It’s getting steeper

Looking up we aimed at the obvious notch on the skyline

Michel cresting a small ridge feature

I picked up memories from Ben’s trip report and I knew the only way was by a direct attack of this gully-of-shit but doing so required stepping onto snow. None of us brought crampons because the route looked bone dry from below, but we did come with an ice axe so let’s face it. Thankfully the snow was reasonably soft to kick steps into. After trying to squeeze through the moat I got onto the exposed snow and carefully kicked a traversing line to the climber’s right side. Meanwhile Michel went higher up on the snow gully and decided to stay entirely on the fall line. It was sketchy as fuck and at one point I got myself onto a 4th class step with three of the four “holds” breaking loose upon pressing. I froze there for at least a minute before coming up with a solution, and as soon as I scrambled out of this sketch zone I swore I definitely would not use the same route on descent, at least not by the way of down-climbing.. Michel’s route seemed better but not by much. Now at exact elevation of 3000 m we took a lengthy break regathering some mental strength before committing to the next stretch – an absolutely shitty traverse up and across a down-sloping, pebbles-covered-bowl-of-slabs. The initial 10 meters out into the bowl was the sketchiest but this entire process needs one to be flawless. How shitty this bowl is? I can safely say that even this part itself will make both Canadian Border Peak and Mt. Custer like literally a walk in the park. I’m not kidding. It’s that bad… The solution was to not think too much about the consequence and focusing on each step forward. At least the scrambling was nothing harder than “3rd class”…

Me squeezing in the moat heading into the snow gully

Michel kicking step up the snow in center of fall line. It’s very exposed

Higher up I stuck to climber’s right while Michel attacked the middle.

After a lot of struggling we made to a 3000m notch. This is looking at the south side

Michel finishing the gully-of-shit onto the 3000-m notch

Michel traversing into the long-ass bowl. Behind would be our bivy ledge this night

The bowl traverse just started. Easy peasy so far…

Soon enough it’s getting interesting. You gotta love this otherwise turn around

It’s no harder than 3rd class but you gotta find a way to enjoy this…

A fall means death on this entire bowl traverse. You need to be flawless

Do South Goodsir and tell me how much you love loose rocks…

This lengthy traverse across the bowl gradually dumped us onto a left (west) branch of SW Ridge and for a short while the exposure had eased a bit, but only for a short while. A steep buttress in front forced us to traverse diagonally climber’s left hoping to find a line working around. On the descent we found an easier way but on ascent we took a roundabout line zig-zagging back and forth, but we did manage to keep the ascent in the realm of “3rd-4th class” up until this point, but soon the first crux would arrive… Just as we topped out on the higher branch of SW Ridge proper a series of jagged towers erected in front with no obvious way to bypass. A large cairn indicated we were indeed on route and that’s also confirmed by Ben’s GPS track. I felt it’s hard to believe we actually had to climb up and over those towers as both sides’ exposure was unreal. The rocks were still beyond legendary and the width was no more than two feet. The scrambling was 4th class sustained with a few low-5th steps. Needless to say we both gave 120% concentration and meanwhile, moved at a snail’s pace. Although mentally taxing we cleared this part without a problem. The next stretch was still ultra exposed but at least the scrambling difficulty had slightly downgraded.

After the bowl traverse this is a look at what this peak gradually offers us…

A brief “break” along this western branch of SW Ridge. Still loose as hell though

Finding a way around and up a buttress. This is shit as you can see

A wider view with North Tower behind. Michel is fighting his way up

Around a corner now we were back onto the SW Ridge proper

Looking ahead. It’s only getting harder and harder…

A fall down the south side means straight to death

Me heading for the jagged towers crux. Photo by Michel B.

Me starting the towers crux with death exposure on both sides. Photo by Michel B.

Looking back at Michel negotiating an ultra exposed step-across, jagged towers crux

We continued along the crest of this ridge working towards the “horizontal ridge” on the skyline. For a while we didn’t encounter any cruxy step but the higher we went the steeper the terrain became, to the point that we were again forced out climber’s right to bypass some vertical sections. This time we had to traverse an exposed ledge-of-clay into a broad gully, and much of this gully was near-vertical dirt… I fought hard to maintain a upwards motion and crawled out of it, but by detouring even farther out to the right. Michel took a different line in this section and again our efficiency was about the same. The route I took was by working on ledges entirely on climber’s right side of the face while staying on the lowest angled terrain, but Michel went to search for a steeper, but more solid route. The next thing we topped out on the orange-coloured “summit ridge” and it’s here that we crossed path with the other team-of-three, which turned out to be Blair, Jim and Raff… I almost couldn’t believe it. I’ve known Blair and Jim for years but the only two times I met them – first time on Mt. Alberta’s upper bivy and second time on South Goodsir’s summit ridge… I believe they were running late at this point so we didn’t chat too much before resuming each’s own way.

Higher up the ridge levels out a bit, but still “difficult scrambling”

Aiming for the skyline ridge. No mistake anywhere on this mountain

Michel somewhere in the middle of that vertical dirt gully.

Looking down at the lower, worst part of that dirt gully. We were used to this by now

Sentry Peak looks impressive though, but we had to focus on the climb not the views

Me heading for the summit ridge after bypassing a good chuck on NE side of the face

Jim E. shortroping Rafal K. au-chevalling across the orange crux

While working across this orange ridge Michel and I had been watching Blair, Jim and Raff’s progress and the way they struggled across surely didn’t boost our confidence. This is the upper crux – a knife edge orange choss with width of a feet, but exposure of over a thousand meters down each side into death… The orange rocks were so bad that after trying to tip-toe balance I gave it up, kneed down and applied that technique of au-cheval. There’s no handhold to grab whatsoever and this part certainly makes the crux traverse on Mt. French like a wheelchair accessible walk… The technique of au-cheval worked perfectly for the couple narrowest spots. We were doing good… The South Tower of Mt. Goodsir was almost in the bag, but we had one last barrier ahead – the summit block… Blair said the summit block was actually easier then the rest of this mountain and I agreed. The route-finding was mostly on the shaded NE Face’s down-sloping ledges but the rock quality had improved. The climb was again, 3rd to 4th class but with “solid” rocks we topped out on the uppermost summit ridge in no time. There’s more knife-edges on choss but comparing to the earlier cruxes this was “nothing”. The next thing, we were standing on my 51st 11,000er chocking in the smoke.

Party time along the summit ridge of South Goodsir, but let’s resume each’s way

The summit block – attack on climber’s right in the shaded face

Looking back at Michel negotiating the orange crux…

Michel finishing the knife edge

Onto the NE Face of the summit block. More “difficult scrambling” with exposure

Me negotiating the uppermost summit ridge. Photo by Michel B.

Michel on the summit of Mt. Goodsir – South Tower with the North Tower behind

Another photo of Michel posing on the summit. Note the interesting lighting

The North Tower of Mt. Goodsir

One last photo of Michel on the summit

Me on the summit of Mt. Goodsir – South Tower. #51/58

It was past 6:30 pm, at least two hours earlier than our expectation. We earned ourselves time. Despite the sustained choss and exposure neither Michel nor myself had issues on this type of terrain. We had cruised to the summit in just over 6 hours since leaving camp and I have to say we were absolutely crushing it. The other team started 6 hours earlier than us and now was only one hour ahead. Michel and I signed the register and immediately started the descent. Despite the requirement of 120% concentration I knew I was able to get down most of this peak without a problem except for that snow gully (which I needed a different line). I knew that much of this descent would be a test on one’s crab-walking and side-stepping skills, and having hauled a trekking pole all the way to summit surely would help. Down-climbing loose 3rd-4th class is my absolute expertise so if others could make it down then I could too… It sure turned out pretty easy. In no time we were off the summit block and then back across the upper orange crux… Down into that gully-of-vertical-dirt was not very pleasant but “side-stepping with a pole” for the win.

Down-climbing a tricky step along the uppermost summit ridge. Exposed as fuck..

Now, traversing back across the orange crux

If you fall you are one vertical mile down. I took this while riding the ridge

Michel said he didn’t look down on this part…

Relieved to have that ridge behind, but more to come…

Entering the gully of vertical dirt… It’s very bad.

Michel in the middle of this gully-of-vertical-dirt enjoying life.

We then easily reversed the upper portion of the next ridge section, all the way to the start of the 1st crux – the jagged towers. There’s a decision to be made – down-soloing or short-roping. The decision was to take the rope out for a bit of added safety. I led in front, but I’m someone with very minimal experience in this “short roping” thing so Michel educated me from behind. After some very intense down-climbing we were off this towers crux and then descended down-climber’s right onto the next ridge section. This time we opted to explore farther down this ridge in order to avoid the worst of that bowl traverse. The idea was creative but the reality was a different thing. I bet this part of the ridge had never seen traffics and we soon got ourselves into exposed 4th class terrain with nothing to grab onto. Michel was leading in front and everything he touched would crush down in a fraction of a second. Michel stated it’s impossible so we turned around and went back up to find a feasible line getting back into the bowl, steadily but slowly. In another 20 minutes the headlamps were turned on and then we again, slowly but steadily reversed that bowl traverse. Much of this stage was done by side-stepping and crab-walking and we also had to pull the GPS out several times to make sure we were on route. We could hear the other group not too far below but it seemed they were doing a different line. Michel and I traversed all the way back to that 3000-m notch before calling a day. There’s a flat spot and we spent half an hour moving the rocks to make a bivy corral. We could talk to the other team and apparently Blair had gone down to camp alone while Jim and Raff also opted to spend a night at this level. The difference was, Michel and I had sleeping bags and stoves while Jim and Raff did not. Using the emptied backpacks and ropes as the pad the night was actually quite pleasant. The freezing level was forecasted to be over 4000 m so it wasn’t cold at all.

Descending the upper SW Ridge now

Similar as above, the upper SW Ridge which is the easier part

Looking sideways across over Sentry Peak. It’s getting late now

This is the typical terrain of the easier sections.

You have to move very fast on this type of terrain otherwise don’t bother

The jagged towers crux. What you cannot see is the death exposure

This is Michel down-climbing a low 5th class step with very loose holds

Sunset over Chancellor Peak with the North Tower dominating the skyline

Farther down the ridge and ready to reverse the bowl traverse by head-lamps

The improvised bivy site worked pretty well and both Michel and I got some decent hours of sleep. The morning was pleasant in the sleeping bags that none of us wanted to get out. Eventually we had to force ourselves out of the warmth and in order to get going I cooked a cup of hot coffee for us. Meanwhile the other group was struggling to find a way down bypassing the snow gully. Later we learnt that Jim didn’t even have an ice axe so that made sense, but the route they were trying looked terribly hard from our vantage point. In about 2 hours they didn’t make much of a progress but Michel and I had our own concern too. After a clear night we had worry that the snow might froze and neither of us had crampons. We didn’t have much of a choice other than hoping it’s not frozen so down the gully we went. Towards the transition onto dirty ice and snow I insisted to leave a quadruple cord behind for a rappel. The 30-m rappel got us onto the snow and I was relieved that the snow hadn’t gone a freeze. We did a belayed pitch using natural anchors down squeezing inside the moat and cleared this section with no mishap. Meanwhile Jim and Raff were still on their process to find a reasonable way down. I had some concerns but we trusted their experience so headed off the lower mountain on our own. Blair was waiting patiently at camp and we spent over an hour there catching up.

The next morning, rappelling in the middle of gully-of-shit

As you can see this gully of snow is very exposed.

Michel finishing the moat squeezing

The lower ridge still requires great care. This peak doesn’t want to let you down…

Finally down to the easier ground now. South Goodsir in the bag

The traverse back to our own camp sucked again but that’s child’s play comparing what we just did. We took our time packing gears and in about an hour we saw Jim and Raff descending the lower ridge and then started the long plod back out the Ice River approach. The descent from 2300-m bench down into the north fork of Zinc Creek drainage sucked balls but let’s face it. We found a better way near the converging triangle of Zinc Creeks and then picked up the trail. Hiking down this climber’s trail was the most pleasant part and then we were in the swamp. I took my time donning running shoes this time to save my trail-runners for the return hike. The few stream crossings were now almost hip deep. Michel enjoyed the rivers more than I did but either way we made back to the warden’s cabin taking another lengthy break drying off the clothing. I swapped the footwear back to trail-runners and then Michel led us out of Ice River trail on a blistering pace. The hundred deadfalls did not seem as bad as on the way in, at least they were dry by now, but still sucked. As pretty as this valley is I’m 100% sure Ice River will never see me again.

Heading back towards our camp underneath the North Tower

Heading down from the 2300m bivy bench

This approach is not very pleasant…

Heading down the north fork of Zinc Creek

Picking up the raspberries is the highlight of this trip…

Believe it or not we were on that climber’s trail…

Back into the marsh now…

This is one of the several channels we had to cross

Back onto Ice River trail…

This stretch still sucks, big time…

There were at least 100 dead falls and maybe more…

Back to civilization. Goodsirs are down…

In about half an hour we were out of Beaverfoot FSR and back to civilization by late afternoon. It’s obvious that I wouldn’t be able to push far back on the drive today and Michel kindly offered me a stay at his home in Golden. Michel also showed me one of the better restaurants in town and that was awesome. I got some much-deserved hours of sleep and the following day I drove all the way back to Vancouver with Tsar, Ellis, Somervell and three towers of Goodsirs all in the bag. It’s been 16 days since I left home and this sure had been a very successful trip. Many thanks to Michel for accompanying one of the harder missions of my 11,000ers project and I’m looking forward to do more with him. In terms of how hard the Goodsirs I would put it behind Alberta and Robson and possibly also behind Deltaform and Helmet, but that’s because I’m very experienced in loose rocks. But no matter what The Goodsirs deserve respect. If you pulled them off unscratched then you’ve used some of your luck, no matter who you are. That’s the end…