Great time in the Bugaboos (Photo TR)


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Trad climber
Menlo Park, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Sep 11, 2006 - 07:16pm PT
As a frequent reader but infrequent poster here on ST, I thought that it was time for me to contribute a trip report. I posted a question about the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower in the Bugaboos and got a number of helpful responses ( ), and promised a TR on my Bugaboo adventures afterwards.

In early August I had a week to spend climbing in the Bugaboos. My tick list was long, but the main objective was the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower. A week before I went, a friend of mine was caught in a storm on the route at 1pm just 3 pitches from the summit, leading to a long, cold, whiteout rappelling session and a night of shivering in a kind stranger's tent. I knew that the weather in the Bugs was unpredictable, but that report hammered it home: weather in Canada can be nasty!

I spent the drive up from Montana to the Bugs sleeping—-until the poorly-marked turnoff in Brisco dumped us onto a logging road for the last 40km of the drive. A bone-jarring hour and a half later, we made it to the parking lot. A short walk to the CMH Lodge provided us with our first view of the beautiful Bugaboo granite.

We shouldered our heavy packs and trudged up the steep trail to the Conrad Kain Hut. It is plush, and after a long day of climbing, it feels much nicer to stay there than at the Applebea or Boulder campgrounds, that’s for sure. Definitely a worthwhile investment.

The first night, we tried to hydrate as much as possible and pick a good route for the following day. We decided to give Sunshine Crack on Snowpatch Spire a try. This choice was made for a few reasons: its approach was one of the shortest, descent was rappelling the route (making the commitment level low, and enabling us to avoid hauling crampons and axes up the route), and it was the hardest route we had in our sights. At 11 pitches, six rated 5.10 and one 5.11-, the climb was very near (if not exceeding) my limits. However, I’d heard that the Bugaboos’ grades were not as difficult as Yosemite’s, due to the extremely frictional nature of the rock.

I went to bed with a nervous excitement, thinking about the second pitch, a notorious offwidth. We had a single #4 cam, and a couple of parties had said to bring at least one #5 and #6 for the pitch. I did not sleep very well.

In the morning, we caught the sunrise as we headed out to the route. The route is just on the north side of Snowpatch Spire, here is a profile shot of it (taken later in the day):

The topo shot (green spots are our belay stations):

And a view from the other side (taken a couple days later):

I was determined to lead the first four pitches, which included the offwidth section on the second pitch. When the first pitch ended, I thought about giving up the sharp end, but knew it would eat at me for the rest of the trip if I did not at least give the next pitch a shot. I am not a wide crack aficionado, and the #4 was definitely too small, so I just thought to myself “don’t let go, and keep moving,” and grunted my way through 20 feet of hell. I was gripped and exhausted at the end of the lead. Somehow, my right knee was bleeding a bit. "I don't remember when that happened--guess I must have been concentrating!" When I regained my breath, I managed to snap a picture of George following the pitch:

After that there was an extremely pleasant hand traverse and then a lieback and straight-up handcrack to the end of my block. George took over for the next series of roofs. We had a belay directly under the 5.11- roof, from which we got our first glimpse of the Upper Vowell glacier and the Howser Towers:

And also could see Crescent Towers and the tarns above Applebea campground.

The rest of the climbing was superb and clean. A shot of the 8th pitch:

From the topout spot, we could see all the way down to the Kain Hut, though the air was hazy from a fire near Revelstoke (a nearby town).

The route was excellent. I can’t really do it justice with my writing. It was long, clean, varied, and sustained at a reasonable difficulty. I’d say that if it were in Yosemite, it would be one of the most heavily trafficked routes in the valley. As it were, we were the first of only two parties on the route that day.

We felt very good about our climb, and felt more confident in our chances of climbing the Beckey-Chouinard. Sunshine had seemed significantly easier than Yosemite 5.10.

The next day (Monday) was beautifully sunny, but we slept in. The plan was to go over to the East Creek Basin in the afternoon and bivy there, and climb the Beckey-Chouinard and then return to the hut the following day. The forecast was solid through Tuesday, but storms were forecast for Wednesday. Around 2pm, we finally got out of the hut and began our trek:

After ascending the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col, we got our first view of Pigeon Spire:

And also saw the Howser Towers.

From our angle, we could only see the descent route, 6 rappels down the face of South Howser. As we got to the Pigeon-Howser col, we still could not see our route.

But after descending the col to our campsite, our objective finally came into a perspective view. Wow. The Great White Headwall is 5 pitches long!

Another photo (not mine, courtesy of grover) of the west side of the Howsers:

We set up our bivy sacks and got ready for the morning. There were six or eight other tents set up in the East Creek Basin (camping at the Pigeon-Howser col is no longer allowed), but thankfully, no one else was planning on climbing the Beckey-Chouinard the following day. A few parties were looking for first ascents, others were focused on the Minaret, and others were just planning a rest day. We had the route to ourselves!

The alarm went off at an ungodly hour. We struggled to get out of our sleeping bags and get moving, but were on the trail by 5am. We had decided to do the approach in our rock shoes, to avoid hauling our boots up the entire climb. We were slightly skeptical of this idea, as our experience in June of not bringing approach shoes for the RNWF of Half Dome ended in a long, painful hike out, but decided the weight savings was worth it.

The approach is longer than it appears from the bivy site, and involves lots of clambering over and through large boulders on the ridge. It was exactly 6am when we began the roped climbing. The weather seemed okay, but the sky was extremely hazy. It was difficult to tell whether the haze came from clouds or whether the forest fire had kicked up dramatically.

We focused on moving quickly, simuling the first three pitches and then continuing to climb fast. I don’t have many pictures, but here is the one of George just past the P4 crux:

And then beginning the Great White Headwall (P11):

We simuled the last 200m of easy terrain, and were on top of the climb just before 1pm. The sun was shining and we had accomplished our goal, without encountering any major difficulties. It felt a little odd to have gotten up the route so easily! I had been somewhat on edge the whole day, worrying about weather and the squeeze chimney on the Great White Headwall, and was still wondering whether rappelling over the bergschrund would be an issue. Luckily, it wasn’t, and we were back at our bivy site by 3:30, with plenty of time to hike back to the hut in daylight.

On the way back, I had to stop at the Pigeon-Howser port-o-john (the Bugaboos restrooms have some of the best views of any restrooms I’ve ever used!) which is actually located at the base of the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire route. We decided to third-class it up to the first summit, from which I got some cool shots of Marmolata and the Bugaboo Glacier.

Finally, we headed back to the hut. At the base of Snowpatch we took a “happy to be back” shot. We found out later that we had climbed the route on the 45th anniversary of Beckey and Chouinard’s first ascent, which made our climb seem even more special.

The weather forecast for the rest of the week was bad (90% rain, 80% rain, 60% rain) so we took another rest day. The forecast was wrong, though, and Wednesday was beautifully sunny. We still lounged around the hut all day, nursing sore muscles and feeling good about ourselves. :)

Inspired by our guidebook’s mention of Peter Croft’s amazing enchainment feats, we decided to go for an enchainment of our own on Thursday: McTech Arete on Crescent Spire, NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, and the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. We were out of the hut by 4am and were near the start of McTech Arete when the rain started to fall. We spent the next hour and a half huddled under a boulder with a German couple as rain poured and lightning flashed around us. Rockfall rumbled occasionally from nearby Bugaboo Spire, and when there was finally a break in the weather we decided to retreat to the hut. I took a couple of shots of the misty mountains as we retreated.

Bugaboo Spire (Kain route on the left, NE Ridge on the right):

My companions retreating:

Snowpatch in the clouds:

We spent the afternoon toproping the bolted boulder near the hut in between rain showers. The next day we left in a drizzle, headed back to civilization again.
handsome B

Gym climber
Sep 11, 2006 - 07:35pm PT
Incredible. Great work on the B.C., it's on my life-goals list.

Ice climber
Ashland, Or
Sep 11, 2006 - 07:36pm PT
wow, nice job! that is my dream trip.

unfortunately it is going to rain next week so we are headed to Yos instead.

Social climber
Sep 11, 2006 - 08:05pm PT
And I thought we had nice granite here in the sierras...those pics are sick!

Sep 11, 2006 - 08:11pm PT
Holy Crap! Serious pucker factor on that rock. Now jonesing for the Bugs.

Great TR and pics. Thanks mucho.

PS Met Fred Becky last year. He's a crusty old fart.

Trad climber
Sep 11, 2006 - 09:53pm PT
Nice TR, looks very fun.
goatboy smellz

poudre canyon, co
Sep 11, 2006 - 09:58pm PT
Beautiful photos, something magical and otherworldly about it. WOW!

Ice climber
hartford, ct
Sep 11, 2006 - 10:31pm PT
We Just got back from the Bugs.... We had 6 days of solid clear skies and sun...

So what would you grade those two bolted TR's on the hut boulder anyway?

The grades did indeed seem pretty soft compared to the Gunks or Yosemite....

Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Sep 11, 2006 - 11:29pm PT
thanks for the trip report. I love the Bugs, they are enchanting and magical.
Great send on those routes too.

Gym climber
Otto, NC
Sep 11, 2006 - 11:42pm PT
Great TR, thanks!

Trad climber
Sep 11, 2006 - 11:59pm PT
really enjoyed the tr.

i was up there in early not so good. it was snowing,raining, sleeting you name it.

next year!!

Trad climber
the blighted lands of hatu
Sep 12, 2006 - 12:13am PT
nice !
many thanks for sharing ;)
Steve Grossman

Trad climber
Seattle, WA
Sep 12, 2006 - 12:59am PT
Nice pictures on your post. It looks like you lucked out on the weather! I have been there only once. We were the first party up Bugaboo Spire and did a new route on Snowpatch just right of the Tom Egan Memorial in a perfect week of blue sky days.

Trad climber
Menlo Park, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Sep 12, 2006 - 02:34pm PT
Fear, it was a little hard to judge how hard the boulder routes were since the rock never completely dried out before the next shower would come in, but I thought that the left side route (with the small overhang) was in the 5.11a/b range. I can't say about the right side route since I was unable to complete it, but it's definitely quite a bit harder. I tried to work the last 7-8 feet until my tips were burning, but it was too thin up there for me. What did you think?

The hut custodian, Serge, said that he's talked to a number of climbers who have done the boulder and the consensus was that the left side route was in the 5.11a/b range. I forgot to ask him what the right side was rated. Apparently the next version of the guidebook is going to include bouldering, and Serge is trying to gather information from people climbing in the area, so if you find good problems you can get them put into the guidebook.

Social climber
Sep 12, 2006 - 03:32pm PT
Sweeeet TR.........!

7 hours?!??!?!
Good on ya!


Social climber
The West
Sep 12, 2006 - 04:54pm PT
Thanks a lot for that, I envy you guys. I have to get back there.

Are there topos online? my guide is back at the ranch.
Russ Walling

Social climber
Out on the sand, Man.....
Sep 12, 2006 - 05:39pm PT
good job and good report!

Trad climber
san francisco
Sep 12, 2006 - 06:09pm PT
isn't the point that it's not a "job"?

Ice climber
hartford, ct
Sep 13, 2006 - 01:08am PT
I'd call the left side 11a.... If I managed to get it clean it couldn't be harder...

The right was 10d up until the last 8 feet or so... Never did get it. Never saw anyone else get it either....


Oakland: what's not to love?
Apr 6, 2010 - 03:19pm PT

Never saw this one on the first go past the front page. This place looks phenomenal - some of the best pics I've seen in all the TR's I've come across.

Not enough description of the offwidth, no pro lead! If the op is still out there: What's the difficulty on that pitch? Not the grade - the difficulty?

10/10 TR
Messages 1 - 20 of total 34 in this topic << First  |  < Previous  |  Show All  |  Next >  |  Last >>
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