After years of reading and dreaming about the Bugaboos, Brad and I decided to hike in and try a couple peaks. The trailhead is about 4 hours away from Calgary and at the end of a 28 mile gravel and mud road. When you reach the parking lot the first thing you notice is every car surrounded by chicken wire and rocks! Turns out that porcupines all over the place and they have been know to crawl up under the car and chew the brake lines out. So at the parking lot there are rolls and rolls of chicken wire that you stretch around your car and anchor with rocks.
After fortifying our truck we shouldered our packs and began the hike in. The tail is hell! 4 miles and 2000' of elevation gain. We climbed up ladders, cables and concrete steps poured into the rock; all with an 80lb pack full of 6 days of food, camping gear, 2 ropes and a full climbing rack! We got to our campsite in about 3 hours, set up our tents, cooked and went to sleep.
The next day we awoke at 5:30 am in horizontal sleet. We slept a little longer and a little later, when the weather cleared, we hiked all the way across the Vowell glacier to the base of Pigeon Spire only to turn around and retreat due to snow and rain.
It rained for the next two days. Rain in the Bugaboos is the norm. Apparently the locals walking up and saying: "You should have been here last week - it was totally sunny" is also the norm. We spent 2 days sitting in our tent reading, hunting ground squirrels (place peanuts in a stuff sack and they'll walk right in) and exploring the boulders around camp. In the evenings it stopped raining for a couple hours and we were able to scramble up a couple of the small rock buttresses via easy, but exposed, rock ridges.
Finally on July 20th (day 4) it stopped raining and we were able to climb the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire (II, 5.4). The route is a beautiful ridge that, when we climbed it, was coated in rime ice and snow. The route ascend up and around small gendarmes and roofs and across a couple wildly exposed granite fins that must be traversed using the "Au Cheval" method of dropping on your butt and scooting across the fin like you're riding a horse. The final section is an easy slab that puts you on a tiny summit with amazing views!. We simul climbed almost the entire route - belaying only a couple short exposed sections.
The next day we attempted the East Ridge of Bugaboo Spire / Kain Route (III, 5.6). Conrad Kain (1883- 1934) was a legendary mountain guide in the Canadian Rockies and made the first ascent of Bugaboo Spire in 1916 via the East Ridge. Kain is probably most famous for his first ascent of Mt. Robson where, on the summit, he said to his clients "Gentlemen, I can take you no further."
We left camp at 7:30 am and were at the Bugaboo / Snowpatch col at 9:30 am. The route begins with a massive chossy talus pile that scramble up until reaching easy 5th class rock and an exposed 4th class ridge. We then simul-climbed until reaching the (5.6 crux) gendarme pitch. Once at the gendarme I lead off and began traversing around it only to heard thunder rolling in the distance. I hesitated, recalling a story that we had recently heard about a party that got caught on the top of Bugaboo spire the previous week during a lightening storm.
Apparently they had reached the summit and were on their way down when a storm rolled in. There was no safe place to descend to, so they cached their gear on one side of a ledge and huddled on the other. The storm raged for a long time and they spent the night on the ledge watching tongues of blue flame leap off their gear!
This story was fresh in my mind, so I down-climbed, expressed my concern and down we went! As we rappelled the clouds gathered above and around us. However, by the time we reached the col, the storm had rolled past and the sky was a perfect blue.
By now we were tired with battling the rain so we opted to descend and head out. The Bugaboos are beautiful and the rock is high quality. However you need to either live close enough to head out in a good a weather window or a lot of patience in order to climb the routes!
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