Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trip Report: The Bugaboos 2017

For years I have wanted to get up to the Bugaboos. They hold a number of "classic" climbs on great rock, they are remote, and the approaches are real mountaineering challenges, not the gentle trails of California and Colorado that lead to the base of many climbs. However, they are notorious for bad weather and "epics" which is to say people having a much longer day than expected due to any number of reasons.

Like any big trip the preparation started months ago. Fortunately, work gave us July 3rd and 4th off, so taking just three days of vacation meant nine consecutive days off! First I had to attend my cousin's wedding in Wisconsin, which was great! My grandparents from the other side of the family even drove over form Minnesota to have a couple meals with us too! Sunday afternoon I flew out of Madison and arrived late in Calgary, although at 10 pm there is still plenty of sun in the sky at that hour early in July.

Funny story about climbing partners... I almost always have trouble getting people to actually come on a trip. Trips are expensive, they take vacation time, they are dangerous and there is a very real possibility that weather will shut the whole thing down so you go home without completing the route.  I started by inviting the eight most experienced climbing partners I regularly climb with, and three were interested, however, as the date approached, no one was ready to commit but me. So I went ahead and bought my plane tickets. I've spent plenty of time soloing in the past and I'm sure I will in the future too. If you are going to climb a lot, you are going to solo sometimes. What that means is that I travel very fast on non technical terrain, but rope soloing is a pretty slow process, so I end up being pretty conservative about the difficulty of routes that I do. Anyway nearing a month remaining until the trip none of my main climbing partners had bought a plane ticket so I offered the trip to one of my new and less experienced climbing partners... and he actually said yes. If he had not said yes I was going to open it up to all my Facebook friends, because frankly, even a very basic climbing would allow us to do more than me by myself.

Monday we woke up and went for a little 5k run then started the drive through the Canadian Rockies, Canmore, Banff, and the 45 km dirt road to get to the trailhead. As we left the plains of Calgary and entered the mountains around Canmore and Banff I stared at the wall wondering, 'what is so special about the Bugaboos that I've never even heard of any of these mountains that are far more accessible and still huge looking?' It's a good question, until about two minutes before the Bugaboo parking lot when the modest Hound's Tooth comes into view.
Photo from the hike between the parking lot and Conrad Kain Hut with Hound's Tooth in the background.
The parking lot is at 4700 feet, and most of "the Bugs" are in the 10,000 to 11,000 foot range. The Conrad Kain hut is at 7320 and so there is a big of a hike, just under 3 miles to get there, which takes about two hours.

Tuesday we tried the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire. Unfortunately, I led us off too far to the left and we ended up on the west face and I was standing on top of a giant attached flake with no noticeable cracks, bolts or pitons for 30 feet of challenging climbing. About this time two guys that did the northeast ridge route came down the rappel route, which overlaps the Kain route at that point, about 25 feet to our right. It was getting into the afternoon so we rappelled the last three rappels and then scrambled down simul-climbing with a rope because there is some exposure in places.
View from our highest belay ledge with Snowpatch Spire below us.
Wednesday we planned to go up on Ears Between on Donkey Ears, part of the ridge on Crescent Spire, which isn't much of a spire but a long ridge. We went too far to the right, did a different route, decided to rappel the back side when we got to the top. Then we got the rope stuck while rappelling off a rock horn, and it took a long time to get it down, but we didn't leave anything behind! We trekked out and what we hoped would be an 8 hour sort of day was more like 10 hours of mini epic in great weather.
Getting ready to mini-epic off of Donkey Ears ridge with Snowpatch and Howser Towers in the background. 
Thursday was probably the highlight because we actually summited Pigeon Spire. A 5 AM wake up, 6:05 AM start from the hut and then a long day hiking to the base and climbing the whole thing. I should mention, we roped up and had gear in the whole way up and down. Most groups seemed to solo, or be tied together without gear in, which frankly is a bit dangerous because a fall off the ridge would most likely be fatal. However, a group from Montana climbed in the same style as us and I think gave Jake a little confidence that they had some fear too. Here is the summit video I took as I belayed with one hand and operated the camera with the other...
Here is a video we took on the way down from the upper Vowell Glacier showing all of the main spires in the Bugaboos.
Friday we slept in again, after a little bit of celebrating on Thursday night, and hiked up to the base of Lion's Way, but we were exhausted by that point of three long double digit hour days in the mountains and decided to head back down to the hut to read and play games. Oh I napped so well Friday afternoon!

Friday night we had a small celebration of sorts in the hut with our new friends. What a great little place! And for those that aren't familiar I typically do not mention people by name unless it is a pretty public person, or I asked the person in advance, so I won't publish specifics about my awesome new friends.
View looking out the front widows of the Conrad Kain Hut at Sunset.
Saturday we woke up, had breakfast and hiked out. We headed to Golden where we ran into IFMGA mountain guide Jonny Sims who then took us paddle boarding near the head of the Columbia river for a couple hours than over to a friend's house for some grilling and jam band music making. I would totally recommend you check him out for a trip if you are into this sort of thing. A bit surreal really. Are all Canadians so nice? Nice or not we were invited to move north by several different people, which doesn't happen in every country on every vacation.

A few more notes on the week, we had amazing weather! Look at this forecast at the hut, it's what really happened:
I was stunned how many women were at the hut or on the mountains! Seriously, usually in the mountains it's 80%+ men, and this time I think it was close to 65%+ women. I was stunned. It's great! It's nice to see more ladies out in the mountains.

It's light all the time up here this time of year! Seriously the sun starts coming up at 4:30 AM and finishes going down around 11:30 PM, and oh yeah, we had a full moon this week too. However, the mosquitos are pretty bad, even as high as the hut.
Panorama from high on Bugaboo Spire showing Conrad Kain Hut, Snowpatch Spire, Pigeon Spire, and the Howser Towers
And yes, I would go back again!


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  2. Actually, I'm a sea-person, not a mountain one and I don't really like hiking, but your photos are great. They even make me want to go there too)) Of course, I wouldn't go that high, but at least to the middle. Moreover, I've wrote a paper about Bugaboos for HitTheGrade not long ago and I'm really interested to see it on my own.

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