After a great week of bagging longer alpine routes in the Bugaboos (Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park), it would be remiss not to visit one of the classic 5.10 granite crack climbs on Crescent Spire. Having done McTech Arete on an earlier trip and actually getting a good look at the adjacent Paddle Flake route, I knew where we were heading.
Paddle Flake was put in by Joe Benson and Randall Green in 1988, a full ten years after McTech Arete was established. Paddle Flake is definitely the more sustained of the two popular routes and has two variations, the original line and the direct version established a year later by Chris Atkinson. We decided to climb the original route first and save the direct alternative for a return trip.
The first pitch of Paddle Flake is a classic 5.9 corner pitch with tons of pro opportunity and a small roof to overcome at the end. The 2nd pitch is kind of a shorter junk pitch (if there is such a thing in the Bugs) and goes at 5.7. The rest of the pitches are 5.10 and there is no need to divide them into four pitches as Chris and Mark’s guide book (The Bugaboos, One of the World’s Great Alpine Rockclimbing Centres) would suggest. They go easily in three pitches. The first 5.10 pitch climbs to the top of what looks like....you guessed it, a “paddle flake”. But it is the next pitch, the fourth pitch, that is a beauty. It is a backwards leaning beautiful corner up a narrow ramp with a huge mantle to finish. The last two pitches are not nearly as aesthetic or of the same rock quality, but are fairly sustained and can be run to the summit as one pitch.
From the Kain Hut, ascend the Applebee Dome trail above the waterfall until near the campground and then follow a fainter trail up left onto moraine. Follow trails to the outlet of a small tarn and cross this outlet and remain low as you traverse around the lake and eventually ascend a small mass of moraine to the outlet of another tarn right below the Crescent Glacier. Move right to cross this water flow at its narrowest section. Traverse left staying low until you gain the fringes of the glacier and ascend the edge of the glacier towards Crescent Spire which is left of the Crescent Towers and right of the Crescent-Bugaboo col.
McTech Arête is an arête located between the two main corner systems on the south face of Crescent Spire. Paddle Flake is the dihedral (corner) directly to the left of McTech Arete.
Route Description6 Pitches, 5.10
1st Pitch- 45m- 5.9/ Take the obvious corner up and through a small roof to a fixed belay (2009). The first 15m are below the grade, but then the crack becomes finger sized and the foot positions more spread out. This is a classic 5.9 pitch that protects with a lot of wires if you want practice placing them. As you near the roof, use longer slings and protect with a larger cam towards the outside edge of the roof while making a bold move out right into an easy crack system or make a physical mantle via the roof’s crack.
2nd Pitch- 30m- 5.7/ Continue up the easy corner and move out right into large steep cracks on the right wall. Set up a gear belay into horizontal cracks. The only reason you don’t stay to the corner and set up belay there is that it is quite dirty to protect.
3rd Pitch- 30m- 5.10/ Cross back left over the corner and climb some loose ground up to a face/short corner. Climb this feature to the base of what looks like a huge paddle, thus the route name “paddle flake”. Climb the right crack on this feature pulling through a bulge near the top and belay on top of it.
4th Pitch- 40m- 5.10/ This is the money pitch on this route for sure. An incredible pitch, one of the best 5.10 trad pitches anywhere. Follow the narrow ramp/corner, placing gear at will in the hand crack as it continually leans out. At the end, make a physical mantle up and out of the corner/around a roof. Continue to the wall above for the belay.
5th-6th Pitches- 50m+- 5.10/ We combined these two pitches. The rock deteriorates a bit here. Start up right, then move left, following the hand cracks and occasional off width to the left shoulder of Crescent Spire. Bugaboo Spire’s entire NE ridge is in clear view.