Going to the Bugaboos!

Well, it started as an entry on my Fridge List and was finally crossed of Sunday night when I got home!  TheList is a piece of scrap paper where my husband and I write down all our crazy ideas of things that sounds fun to do or experience.  Oddly enough, it seems most of the trips we’ve ticked off have just fallen into place sans planning – I take it as a sign they were meant to be crossed off :)

Earlier this winter, I decided I wanted to learn trad climb this summer.  Then along came the opportunity to sign up for a women’s alpine climbing trip in the Bugaboos with Sarah Hueniken & Kirsten Knechtel.  Three of my friends (including one of my main climbing partners) were also signing up so it seemed like a no-brainer to go learn to alpine climb in one of the most scenic locations in the world!

Day 1:

We met in Brisco, BC at 9am and started driving down the ~45km logging road to the Bugs parking lot.  I was initially worried about the state of the logging road after all the rains we had the week before but turns out it was in great shape with only one big water hole.  I drove in my Forester and had no problem whatsoever with clearance.  I even saw a few cars in the parking lot that made it in. I was glad I had spent the night before in Canmore as opposed to driving from Calgary that morning since it required a fair amount of concentration to avoid potholes. (Here’s a link to a map of the park if you’re curious and trail conditions)

You round a corner on the drive in and see this! Houndstooth is in the centre. Also there are suicidal ground squirrels all over the road. There must be quite a few Darwin awards given out each summer.

As we pulled in to the parking lot interrupted a huge porcupine’s search for an afternoon automobile snack.  There is plenty of chicken wire in the parking lot and it was easy to wrap it around the car (being sure to cover the wheel wells).  I was a little worried about scratching the car since it’s pretty new but it wasn’t hard to secure the wire logs & stone.  It does help though to create a lip on the bottom on which you can place the stones.  We bended the wire to create the lip before wrapping the car.

I may have overdone the wire/log/rock barricade but it was necessary for my peace of mind!

The hike up was short (5km) but steep (700m) because all of the elevation gain happens in the last ~3km.  Some of the steeper sections have steps and chains and there is one ladder.  The ladder is … awkward.  Metal ladder + wet boots + heavy pack + broken  & sharp handrail at the top makes things interesting.

Once at the Kain Hut, we had time to unpack, sort gear, have dinner and plan for the next day.  For inquiring minds, the first level of the hut has the kitchen & eating area, the second level is bunks and the third level has bunks as well.

View from the hut.

Day 2:

Our goal for the day was to climb Eastpost Spire so we started the morning off with a quick review of gear placements, gear anchors and different belay techniques for various scenarios.  Then we headed off to Eastpost, passing the Applebee campground.  There was a TON of snow still in the Bugs.  All of the main trails were covered in ~2m of snow as was most of the campground.  Once we got to Easpost we paired off and scrambled the first half then pitched out the second half.  It probably wasn’t necessary to pitch out most of what we climbed but it was really good practice to be continually placing gear, setting anchors, belaying, swapping leads & removing anchors.  By the end I felt really confident in my gear skills and it gave me a good appreciation of how inefficiency can turn into huge amounts of time wasted over several pitches!

Easpost Spire. Our route was on the backside.  You can see a tent in the snow-covered Applebee Campground

View of Snowpatch Spire from Eastpost Spire. You can also see the Snowpatch-Bugaboo col.

The last pitch was my favourite as it was a real 5th class pitch (5.2ish?) and I got to lead it!  I guess that qualifies as my first trad lead.  And I even did it in boots :)

Me leading the last pitch – Thanks Sarah H. for the pic! And thanks OR for the awesome pink jacket :) It was perfect for 5 sunny Bugaboo days! We also got a prussik and cordelette from Sterling which were put to good use on the rap!

View from the summit of Easpost

Going down was less fun as you have to be mindful to watch each step.  Best part of coming down was when we got to glissade (aka bum slide!!) down the snow slopes to the hut.

Day 3:

Houndstooth was on the agenda for the day so we hiked up to the foot of the Bugaboo glacier and went over some rope management before heading off.  We started at 7am and all the girls took turns leading. Eventually we were at the base of Houndstooth and needed to head up a steep snow slope & cross the bergschrund.  It was a little intimidating at first looking at what we had to go up but once you got going, it didn’t seem so steep or difficult.  We wore crampons all the way up to the summit and slung rocks or place gear in a few places due to the amount of snow at the top and the exposure.  Apparently the top of the route is usually snow free!

The is the left side of Snowpatch Spire. I took this from the Bugaboo glacier.

Walking on the Bugaboo glacier

Crossing the bergschrund on Houndstooth

Going up …

Looking at Marmolata from Houndstooth

I loved this face of Snowpatch Spire. So huge!

One of the highlights of the evening was practicing self-arrest.  We found this nice steep slope right under Snowpatch Spire and practiced falling in different ways (on your front, back, etc) and stopping yourself with your axe.  Turns out the sliding was more fun than the self-arresting part so we had a huge bum slide competition to the bottom :)

Day 4:

This was our longest day and we were up at 5am, eating breakfast and 5:20am and out the door at 6am.  We hiked up Bubaboo-Snowpatch col to the base of the Kain route on Bugaboo Spire.  Turns out 5:20am breakfast was a bit early for my digestive system and it let me know!  Thankfully there is an open-air outhouse at the col, though no toilet paper so bring a day amount if you plan on using it!  We scrambled some sections of the route and pitched others that had exposure.  We knew going up that due to conditions we wouldn’t make it to the top but it still hurt a bit to pack the rock shoes and not wear them :)  The route was beautiful though and we had fantastic views of the Howsers and Snowpatch Spire.  For the fourth day in a row we had blue skies and intense sun.  It was hard to believe that some people come up to climb and get shut down for days due to bad weather.  It was so hot that we decided not to descend the col (rockfall & avalanche hazard) and instead passed behind Snowpatch & Pigeon Spire and descended onto the Bugaboo glacier to return home.

From the Kain route, you can see the footprints up the glacier and the Howsers on the right. We would follow those steps around Snowpatch & Pigeon Spire to get home after.

The right side of Snowpatch Spire from on the Kain route

The snowy Howsers

Wind sculpted snow on the Bugaboo glacier

Walking back on the glacier was akin to post-holing in an oven!  It was sunny and had to be at least 35C.  Because of the intensity of the sun and reflection on the snow there was no way I was exposing any skin so most of us resorted to stuffing snow down our clothes and putting snowballs on our heads to beat the heat.  13.75hrs later we were back at the hut enjoying a late supper and WINE!

Day 5:

By this point everyone was bordering on being overcooked from 4 straight days of sun so we spend the morning practicing crevasse rescue, t-slot anchors & rope ascension outside the hut on one of the boulders that had a deep snow moat.  After lunch we headed back down to the parking lot.

Overall this was such an amazing experience!  I got to finally check out the Bugaboos including a trying a classic route, I got to climb on granite for the first time, I did my first trad lead, I gained a lot of confidence in my alpine climbing skills & I got to do it all with a great group of friends!  I’ll try and post my packing list as well as some more pics in a few days.  Unfortunately not too many of me since I was behind the camera most of the time :)