Brian and I had spent just under a week in Squamish, and with rain rolling in, and the forecast for the Bugaboos showing at least one day with a bright yellow sun icon, we decided it was time to pack up and give it a go. Our schedules had brought us to Canada with two vehicles (and yes, the border agent gave both of us sh#t about “isn’t that a waste of gas, eh?”), and though my diesel wagon was clearly the winner on fuel economy, the 45km of logging road leading to the trailhead cried “take Brian’s truck” to us. We ditched my car with a friend who lived in the Vancouver ‘burbs, stopped by the aforementioned hardware store, and headed to Golden.
An aside about the trip to Golden – the skier in me hated driving right by Revelstoke with no sticks in tow, and no snow anyway. The climber in me felt guilty for passing by Mt Sir Donald and not climbing, but it would have to wait.
The road to the Bugaboos trailhead, as it turns out, could definitely have been navigated by my Jetta, but just ripping through it with a truck was much more enjoyable than me pussyfooting around the ruts would have been. I also didn’t have to suck it up and cringe as chicken wire was wrapped around my car, threatening the paint on a car that’s in far too nice a condition for any self-respecting climber to own.
While driving in, our excitement truly ramped up once we finally caught a glimpse of Snowpatch Spire! We’re there! The Bugs! Sure, we felt like idiots later when we saw the real Snowpatch and realized we were just looking at the Houndstooth – but man, that glacier!
The glaciers in the Bugaboos, I might add, are definitely Planet Earth caliber. Until this trip, the only “glaciers” I had seen were those of Mt. Lyell, Shasta, and the Palisades. The gaping, cracked, blue-grayish fields enveloping the spires in the Bugs were certainly a sight to behold.
When we finally arrived at the trailhead, we realized just how good an idea saving our chicken wire receipts had been. There’s a metric ton of it sitting in corrals for your use. The beta we had seen online suggested it was worth bringing your own, just in case. We decided that if you made it to the trailhead, and there wasn’t enough chicken wire sitting around to wrap your car, your best bet would be to turn around and go home…because there must be 500 climbers up on the glacier waiting to get on your route.
It’s occurred to me at this point that perhaps I should have explained the chicken wire thing for readers not familiar with the Bugs (as I wasn’t) – the trailhead parking lot is apparently rife with porcupines with a taste for rubber. They’ll eat your tires and brake lines, if they can get at them. I sure would not want to have been the first person to make this discovery.
After a couple of hours of packing, fence building, and mosquito swatting, we were ready to go. The hike in is pretty straight forward, has good views, and goes at Class II A0 – there’s a fixed ladder on the route, along with some chains that I suppose are there for nervous day hikers. It took us just under 2 hours to get to the Kain Hut, where we stopped to eat lunch, and about another hour to hike the final 250m of gain up the to Applebee camp.
We got to camp around 6PM or so, and pitched our tent just in time for a raging Bugaboo storm to hit. It was probably the gnarliest storm I’ve ever been in, and included at least one lightning bolt that must have struck no more than 50-100yards from camp. Since we hadn’t had time to fully guy out the tent, Brian and I sat inside bracing the walls of our Trango, while in the tent next to us a certain North Face athlete was yelling like a cowboy, thoroughly enjoying the storm.
The following day, the spires were wet, and enveloped in fog. It would not be a climbing day. Being a California climber, this whole concept of waiting for a weather window was foreign to me. By the end of the day, I had realized I’d probably never be able to handle the weeks of down time required to climb in Patagonia. To say I wished I had carried a book up with me would be an understatement. The weather was at least decent enough for us to do a quick reconnaissance hike out to the Bugaboo-Crescent col – and for two climbers to put up a 5.11 route right above camp, which provided a little entertainment. I spent the rest of the time memorizing the guidebook, and drooling over the Beckey-Chouinard topo. That TR will have to wait for next summer.
Finally, it was Sunday, 4:30 AM, the day the weather forecast told us would be our day. Neither Brian nor I had much trouble jumping out of bed, and about 45 minutes later we were on our way toward the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire. I’ve only done a handful of 50 crowded routes, but I can without a doubt say this one was super deserving of its spot. The early morning views from the glacier were fantastic, the spires themselves inspiring, and rock quality as good as it gets.
As for the climbing itself, I’ll mostly just let pictures do the talking. I will however note our one big mistake – we opted to go with the tiny leader pack, big follower pack strategy. Not recommended! While all of the climbing was well within our abilities, pulling a few of the moves while wearing two axes, two sets of boots, a few liters of water, food, and extra clothing was less than fun. While I usually like this setup for longer multi-pitch routes, it breaks down when the followers pack starts getting as heavy as ours was. In the future, I’d just plan on having both climbers wear equal sized packs with their own gear. Not that it stopped us from sending :) Now for more pictures…
Pano from the base of the route (Youtube)
Overall the route went smoothly. About midway up you encounter a few pitches of low 5th chimney systems. We bypassed the start of these at around 5.8, on a nice, splitter crack. I’m pretty sure I missed the spot where most takers of this alternate crack system traverse right back to the main route, and stretched it out to a horn/block type feature where I belayed up Brian. Definitely not one of my favorite belay spots, but it worked out ok.
A small surprise was the ridge traverse between the North and South summits. The book listed this as an “exposed 3rd/4th” traverse. That it was - Brian and I both deemed it “4th +”. There was definitely some serious exposure along the way, i.e. a nice straight shot down to the glacier on your left. I also hate to admit it, but I even butt scooted a couple moves where the ridge got pretty knife edged. It mellowed out though, and eventually we found ourselves on the true South summit – i.e. the Freedom of the Hills 7th edition cover.
Summit Pano (Youtube)
Fortunately the weather was good enough that day for us to hang out and enjoy the mind-blowing views of Snowpatch, the Howser group, and the Vowells. Perhaps 6 rappels, and a lot of trodding down the 5.4/3rd class Kain route finally led us to the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col. Here I found salvation in what might be the greatest “bathroom” I’ve ever used. I’ll just let a picture speak for itself, and say that I was glad to see it.
From the col, one could make a few raps down and over the bergschrund, but having crampons and axes with us anyway, we opted to just down climb around it. It was definitely quite casual, as far as snow travel is concerned.
We returned to camp, tired and quite pleased, around 8PM. Word had it that less than stellar weather was retuning, and it certainly felt that way as we packed up our things the next day for the hike out.
Despite the fact that we only got to climb one route, visiting the Bugs was hands down one of the best experiences of a summer spent climbing. Brian and I were already discussing our eventual return as we descended down to the car, and I know I’ll be training to make sure the Beckey-Chouinard is on the list when we do. If you enjoy alpine rock climbing, and the Bugs aren’t high on your to-do list: bump them up, way up.
P.S. - A key piece of beta: Purchase Piche and Atkinson’s excellent guidebook, The Bugaboos, not the older Bugaboo Rock.
P.P.S. – In a month, you’ll probably see a longer, “better” Bugs trip report from this other Bay Area climber of Soviet (Ukranian? whatever) descent. It’ll probably have a bunch of shots of this creepy doll in it though, and he tries too hard. Plus we made it there first. :P