The Snowpatch Route on Spowpatch Spire in the Bugaboos is a classic if for no other reason in that it is one of the most prominent and visible routes from the Kain Hut. It runs up the left side of the eastern face of Snowpatch Spire and descends the western face. Most of Snowpatch’s viable “free” routes are on its western face. Therefore, the Snowpatch Route offers one of the more easily accessible alpine moderate routes in all of the Bugaboos. A competent team can run up the route fairly fast by simul-climbing much of the middle portion of the route which angles past the left side of Snowpatch’s namesake, a large patch of ice and snow hung on the left side of the east face. This route was part of a planned attempt by my partner and I to traverse up and over Snowpatch Spire, Pigeon Spire and the South Howser Tower stashing gear along the way.
Snowpatch Route is one of the more historical routes in Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park, established in 1940 by Jack Arnold and Raffi Bedayn. The access to this route was snow and ice free in 2009 and even though we carried our crampons to the summit, we actually never put them on the entire climb or descent, instead groveling down the Pigeon Fork-Bugaboo Glacier, moving off the ice and onto the moraine as soon as possible. We did not carry alpine axes at all. We soloed the first three short pitches of the Snowpatch Route as laid out in the guidebook, “The Bugaboos, One of the World’s Great Alpine Rockclimbing Centres.” Then follow two mid 5th class pitches that run up dihedrals, the granite vastly improving from the 4th pitch to the 5th pitch. The 6th pitch offers a fantastic mid 5th class hand rail on granite slab. The next seven pitches can be simul-climbed and offer little in the way of resistance up the granite slabs, past the “snowpatch” and up to what is referred to as the “inverted pear”. The next pitch sets up the more difficult climbing of the route which follows with three pitches offering a variety of 5.8 cruxes. The final couple of pitches can be simul-climbed or soled to the summit notch where the Kraus-McCarthy rap chains, your eventual descent down the west face, are in clear view as you top out at the summit saddle.
In 2009 there was quite the controversy as to how safe or not, the Snowpatch-Bugaboo col was in terms of accessing the west face routes on Snowpatch Spire. Considerable recession of the glacial ice revealed unstable rock and a huge rock slide did occur in August. Therefore, the Snowpatch Route was quite popular as you can just as easily descend the raps at the Snowpatch-Pigeon icefall col versus down climbing or rapping the Snowpatch-Bugaboo col (after the Kraus-McCarthy rap descent down the west face). And there is no other moderate free route worth doing on the east side of Snowpatch Spire.
From the Kain Hut, hike south up the hill between the hut and Snowpatch Spire. Descend down do the Pigeon Fork-Bugaboo glacier as you would if heading for Pigeon Spire. Instead of putting crampons on and ascending the ice, scramble up right, mostly 4th class, until you hit a faint trail that circumvents Son of Snowpatch to the southeast. Hike to the base of the col between Son of Snowpatch and Snowpatch Spire on the east side. Pitch one ascends up to the col.
Route Description19 Pitches, 5.8
1st-3rd Pitches- 90m- 5th/ We soled these three short pitches. Basically ascend to the col, seemed like 4th class at most. Move left on the west side of the col, up and over a bulge with nice hand cracks (couple of 5th class moves). Then traverse via small ledges on the east side until you are below an obvious dihedral.
4th-5th Pitches- 100m- 5.7/ I was willing to solo these pitches as well to give you an idea how laid back they are. They are real comfortable corners/cracks on good rock that run up two separate dihedrals. The first one is the easiest. Just run up the corner to the top and move left to the base of the 2nd one and set up belay. The 2nd one is much more interesting following a crack off the ground as it widens and takes you to the top of this second dihedral.
6th Pitch- 20m- 5.7/ Traverse right along a great hand crack for a short distance until you have cleared the overhang above (Weissner Overhang) and belay on a small ledge below easy angled cracks that lead up the spire.
7th -13th Pitches- 300m- 5th/ I have no idea how long this section really is, but we will call it a 1000’+/- gain. It did not take us seven pitches to reach the “inverted pear”. A combination of running the rope out a full 60m and simul-climbing found us behind the easy to identify landmark (inverted pear) in short order. Start straight up from pitch six and stay just left of the “snowpatch” and then angle back right once above it to find the inverted pear (photo). Towards the end of this section, stay more left versus too far right to find the better rock. Most of this mid section of the route is just solid mid 5th class slab climbing.
14th Pitch- 30m- 5th/ Move the belay by traversing out right from behind the “pear”. You will come to a ramped up corner.
15th Pitch- 40m- 5.8/ The crux pitches start here. Take the steeper option left versus right. It is easier to protect the corner on the left and it is the correct original part of this route although a variation goes out right. Move up to a horn that you can sling with a double length runner. Then slab climb out left (5.8) past pitons and up to a small ledge below an off-width crack to the right. There were pitons here to assist with a belay in 2009.
16th Pitch- 50m- 5.8/ You have two options on this pitch. We ran it a little long and it could be considered the crux of the day for us. Take the off width or climb the run out face out right (not the bolts or pitons the guide book reflects) to the upper roof and traverse back left to the top of the short off width crack. Then continue up a short steep corner/flakes to a hard (for the grade) finger traverse out left (pitons). By doing this, you have extended into the 17th pitch.
17th Pitch- 30m- 5.7/ Move left over a huge flake and climb back right via 5.7 cracks up a steep wall to a ramp that eases up into a corner. Avoid going too far left after you mount the large flake.
18th- 19th Pitches- 60m+/-/ 5th/ You can easily cover this mellow ground in one pitch to the summit saddle if you simul-climb or solo a bit.