Climbing fast and light is all the rage these days. Climbers routinely link up multiple routes in a day and complete long traverses on alpine routes. The first ascent of the Nose took several weeks; many people can now climb it in a day, and the speed record is less than three hours.
But the problem with climbing fast and light is that you have to be, well, fast. And if you're not fast, and you try to be light, you wind up out of food and water on pitch three, wondering whether shoe rubber is edible, debating whether your partner will notice if you eat her last energy bar, and then you freeze your ass off when you have to bivy because you weren't fast enough to finish the route in a day.
So we climbed slow and heavy instead. There is one benefit to being slow: you have plenty of time to enjoy the grandeur of the mountains and take pictures. So here are a few pictures of our recent trip to the bugaboos.
The trip began surprisingly well. Friends had warned us of the approach hike, telling us to expect a torturous, poorly maintained trail. I should have known that they must be wrong, because the bugaboos are in Canada, our friendly neighbor to the north, where all the nice, peaceful, socialist Americans fled to.
The approach trail had helpful signs where you want them, metal chains even where they were completely unnecessary, and even a ladder bolted into the rock where the trail got steep.
And once you've finished with this well-maintained trail and arrive at camp, you find that they are kind enough to provide you with toilets conveniently located at the backpackers' campground, and stock them with toilet paper and hand sanitizer – at 8000 feet, in the backcountry. What civilized people, those Canadians! I'll bet they even have universal healthcare.
After spending the night wondering if it is difficult to defect to Canada, we opted for a mellow warm-up day on Ears Between. The route goes up the middle of the peak and then tops out on the peak on the right.
Overall, it was an enjoyable first climb in the bugaboos. Too enjoyable, really – it made us completely overconfident in our abilities to finish routes in a reasonable period of time.
But don't worry, our egos were soon deflated, trampled on, and ground down to glacial dust by the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire. I suppose every climber has to epic at least once, and this was our chance.
The day began beautifully, as the sun lit up Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires.
The climbing on the actual route went fairly well, although it was a little hard to concentrate, given the stunning views all around.
But we had taken too long on the approach pitches, and then too long on the summit traverse, and found ourselves looking for the first rap station down the South ridge as it was getting dark. And so we spent our first unplanned bivy just beneath the South summit of bugaboo spire, using the rope as a thermarest and our knees as pillows. Luckily, we at least had the foresight to do the climb with a long weather window, and it was unusually warm, with clear skies and virtually no wind.
We woke to a gorgeous sunrise and began the long descent back to camp.
Having learned our lesson, we dialed down our expectations for climbing long routes. Surely, we could complete a long 5.4 in a day? But just to be sure, we woke up long before sunrise to do the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire.
While it was by far the easiest climb we did, it was also by far the best – an improbable ridge, with three summits, and a spectacular location, surrounded by granite spires rising out of the glaciers.
Having started the trip with a few long routes, we decided to do some shorter, more technical routes. We started with the classic McTech Arete. During the previous few days, when we were camped at Appleby Dome, we had seen Will Stanhope, who apparently was trying to free an aid line. As we hiked to McTech Arete, Will and his climbing partner were behind us, and, unburdened by anything resembling a rack, were gaining on us. This was the climbing equivalent of the tortoise (us) and the hare (Will and his partner), and the tortoise, weighed down by a double rack of every cam imaginable, and a pack now stocked with bivy gear, was going to lose the race.
I mentioned to my partner, Christie, that perhaps we should let them pass us and get on the route first – figuring that if someone can free climb 5.14, they can probably lead up a 5.10 in the time that it takes us to flake the rope. Christie, however, didn't realize it was Will Stanhope, and wasn't convinced that we should let some random Canadians cut in line ahead of us. It was rather like queuing up at the base of the Nose and being offended that Alex Honnold would have the audacity to ask to pass you. Of course, once I told Christie it was Will Stanhope trying to pass us, we wisely let them go ahead. As far as I can tell, Will proceeded to place exactly one piece in 2 pitches; I placed two cams in the first 20 feet. I think we made the right decision.
We followed McTech Arete with another climb on Crescent Tower– Paddle Flake. The route follows cracks on the right-hand side of the flakes visible in this photo. We both thought the route was better than McTech Arete, although McTech was fun too.
For our last climb, we wanted to get on Snowpatch Spire, so we decided on Surfs Up. While we probably did the first two pitches, we are sure that we – and the other party ahead of us – went off route for the rest of the route. Sometimes there is just no wisdom in crowds. But the summit ridge was lots of fun.