British Columbia Canada
Bugaboo Spire North East Ridge
Guidebook: Bugaboo Rock Randall and Green
50 Classic Climbs of N. America Roper and Steck
We were headed up to the Bugaboos for a week and a half. Our goal was to climb the North-East ridge of Bugaboo Spire, and perhaps the West Ridge of Pigeon or the South-East Shoulder of Snowpatch. We also wanted to take a peek at the Beckey/Chouinard on South Howser tower, but didn't have serious designs on that route.
I met Jeremy at the airport in Spokane, and we bundled our gear into the rental car and headed off
for the Great White North. It was an uneventful and somewhat boring trip up to the border. When
we reached the border, the guard there questioned us at length about our ability to support
ourselves while we were in Canada, but let us go at last, finally convinced that we weren't going
to be a drain on Canada's welfare state. We drove North through the night along largely deserted
roads. We fought a constant battle with the car radio, which received fewer and fewer stations the
farther North we drove. Finally, the only station we could get was a Canadian government public
radio station. At first the programming consisted of classical music, which was o.k., but then they
entered into a three hour block of "mouth music", which consisted of semi-musical rhythmic
nonsense noises "sung" in a chanting fashion: "Humnunna humna humnunna humna thssspzz
thssspzz, Humnunna, humnunna thssspzz thssspz; Kkkqqqaach, kkkqqqaach baaa baaa thssspzz
thssspzz." Well before the three hour radio show's conclusion, we were longing for some Stone
Temple Pilots to clear our heads of the strange "mouth music," which was sounding a lot like a
collaboration between a class of kindergarteners blowing raspberries, and a cloister of demented
Gregorian monks with speech impediments. The radio show was certainly an eloquent argument
against government involvement in popular entertainment.
We found the turn off to the dirt logging road that leads to the Bugaboos, and drove along in the darkness. It was raining sporadically, and there was a large electrical storm going on overhead. All at once, in the flash of lightning, we saw spires illuminated against the black sky. I stopped, and we watched for a few minutes as jagged tendrils of lightning arced through the sky, hammering the towers. "Geeze! Glad we're not up there!" was our mutual reaction. We kept on driving, and then suddenly there was a pack of wolves in our headlights. There were about 8 or 9 of them, and they stood in the road, staring at our car, their eyes reflecting back at us. Then they took off, running into the forest. It was a thrilling sight, and the lightning lashed towers coupled with the wild wolf pack gave us a real sense that we were in for a thoroughly uncivilized experience. We drove on until we reached the trailhead, and spent the rest of the night dozing in our car.
When morning came, we packed up our stuff, and used chicken wire and large sticks (which were stored in a nearby shed) to wrap up our car to protect it from hungry animals that like to chew on rubber and plastic. We then shouldered our extremely heavy packs and headed up the trail to the Kain hut. The approach to the Kain hut was probably the steepest maintained trail I have ever hiked. We were both relieved and exhausted when we finally reached the Kain hut. The hut was large and comfortable, and we spent the rest of the day there. Our plan was to head out early the next morning and climb the 5.4 West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, as a warm up to our climb of Bugaboo's North East Ridge. It rained hard that afternoon, and snowed a little, but by the time we went to sleep, the skies had cleared. We woke up early the next morning and headed up to the Bugaboo/Snowpatch col on our way to Pigeon Spire. The approach to the col involves ascending a small stretch of glacier, which we began heading up, kicking steps and using our ice axes for balance. We were roped up, but did not feel the need to place any sort of protection. About 2/3 of the way up the glacier, I heard a shout and felt a tug on the rope. I looked back to discover that Jeremy had fallen up to his armpits in a small crevasse. I put some tension on the rope, and he was finally able to crawl out and extricate himself from the crevasse. Apparently, he had broken through a snow bridge and his feet were touching nothing, just swinging around over empty space. Spooky!
Jeremy: "Hmm, I don't like the looks of that, you can't tell where the crevasses are."
Kai: "Yes, looks pretty dangerous. I guess we might be able to try crossing it, as long as we were roped up, but I don't know."
Jeremy: "Do you have any experience with glacier travel or crevasse rescue?"
Kai: "No, not really, but I did read a book on the subject once, what about you?"
Jeremy: "Nope, no experience."
Jeremy: "It wasn't fun falling in that crevasse on the way up here, and that one was tiny."
Kai: "Yup, maybe we should just bag it."
Jeremy: "Yes, maybe we should."
With that, we settled down for a leisurely bout of eating, drinking and picture taking. It was a bit disappointing to abandon our goal, but we were relieved that we wouldn't be practicing our non-existent glacier crossing skills on the blank expanse below us. We eventually headed back to the Kain Hut, and packed up our gear for the trek up to Appleby dome, where we planned on setting up our permanent camp. We found a good spot for our tent at Appleby dome and spent the next few days waiting out bad weather, a mixture of rain, snow, and sleet. There wasn't much to do during this time except cook, eat and occasionally climb on the boulders scattered around near our camp site.
The climbing was fun for the most part. The first few pitches were the hardest, climbing up cracks and flakes, but the climbing wasn't all that difficult. We finally got established on the ridge proper, and moved a little faster. At one point, we were delayed a bit by a crack that was choked with snow and ice and melting water, but Jeremy gallantly led that pitch, and we were off and climbing again. We were approaching the summit on relatively easy ground, when we heard the sound of distant thunder. We saw some dark clouds in the distance, which began to give us a rising level of anxiety, particularly as we had witnessed a number of electrical storms over the last few days. It didn't take a genius to know that Bugaboo Spire was not the place to be in the middle of a big lightning storm. We tried to move more quickly, and climbed faster, one eye on the threatening clouds. We finally reached the blocky summit of the Spire. We hadn't heard thunder in a while, but we didn't linger long, as it was already late afternoon. Just a couple of pictures, then we headed down.
The next morning, we carefully inspected our ropes, then proceeded with our descent of the Kain route. It was a beautiful day, and soon the sun was shining down on us. We were out of water, however, and by the time we reached the Bugaboo/Snowpatch col, we were very thirsty. We descended the glacier, and walked back down to Appleby dome and our campsite. When we arrived at our camp, we drank and ate in large amounts, and then collapsed in our tent and slept all the rest of that day and through the night.
When we finally woke up, we decided to take the day off, and spent the day washing, bathing, eating, and bouldering. We had our eye on the South East Shoulder of Snowpatch Spire now, and determined that we would give it a try the next morning. Heavy weather moved in again, however, and we woke up to rain and sleet. We spent the next day doing nothing, with the weather worsening. Big snow slides were rumbling off of Snowpatch, and we began to lose our enthusiasm for the route. When the next day dawned with no improvement in the weather, we finally decided that what we truly needed was a deep dish pizza, and so we packed up our gear, broke camp, and headed back down the steep trail to the car. After what seemed like a truly unending hike, we finally reached our car, and drove back to civilization. In Radium Hot Springs, we found a truly excellent pizza restaurant. We ate the pizza with gusto, and tipped the waitress heavily for serving us politely, in spite of our stench, the result of too much sweat, grime, and mosquito repellent.
On the drive back to Spokane, we listened to strange avant guard drama on the Canadian public
radio station. We weren't sure what the plot of the radio show was about, but it involved lots of
guttural yelling and animal noises. The highlight of the trip back was our stay at a cheap hotel,
where we got a hot shower. Jeremy and I parted at the airport. I was sad to be going back to my
life as an over-worked lawyer, but was happy to be headed back to my family again. Anyway, I
was sure I would be coming back to the Bugaboos again. Jeremy and I had promised each other
that we would be back to climb Snowpatch, and maybe even the Beckey/Chouinard on South
Howser Tower. Having been to the Bugaboos and seen it and experienced it, I realized that one
visit would not be enough.
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