Snowpatch Spire is the centerpiece of the Bugaboo Group. If, like most people, you enter "The Bugs” via the trail to Conrad Kain Hut, you won't have to ask anyone for directions to Snowpatch. It's right in front of you when you reach the hut, the distinctive snowfield that gives the mountain its name front and center. If you camp at Boulder Camp it's right above you; if you're at Applebee Dome, it's straight across the Crescent Glacier, beckoning. If you head out to climb almost any of the Bugaboos, you'll probably skirt under or around Snowpatch.
Snowpatch is not just a decoration and a landmark; it's a terrific climb. Several, in fact. Green and Benson's Bugaboo Rock lists 37 routes on the peak. The easiest goes at Grade IV, 5.6. On one of the two ascents I've made of it, we shared it with one other party. The other 36 routes are less crowded. But don't throw your gear in the car and head off after mastering 5.6 at the local climbing gym. Besides 17 pitches of delightful granite, it involves walking around three quarters of the mountain on 3 glaciers in weather that may range from blazing sunshine to thunderstorms (or snowstorms) on the same day.
The Bugaboo Group is a subrange of the Purcells in eastern British Columbia. Look on the map for BC Highway 95 running along the upper Columbia Valley between Golden and Radium Hot Springs, at the foot of the Rockies. Turn west at a cluster of houses called Brisco. The hike takes a few hours on good, officially-maintained trail.
If you're flying, the nearest major airports are Calgary, Alberta and Cranbrook, BC. See the entry for Bugaboo Spire for more details, including important notes about protection from porcupines.
The approach to just about every route on the peak will involve some glacier travel. While much of the Crescent Glacier, under the E face, is flat and almost devoid of crevasses, the area nearest the peak is more broken, especially near the glacier's foot. Many parties swing wide of Snowpatch on the Crescent to reach Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col without roping, though the bergschrund just below the col is often hazardous. A climber was killed in 1985 when she was swept by an avalanche into the bergschrund and crushed. Sidestepping the schrund gets you onto steep, gravelly, unprotected rock. Beyond the col, the Vowell Glacier close under Snowpatch's W face is remarkably safe, as glaciers go. You'll probably return that way after climbing the standard (SE Shoulder) route. The Bugaboo Glacier passes under Snowpatch's S face; you'll skirt between them approaching the SE Ridge route. I've stepped onto the glacier for easier travel in spots, but at least one climber has suffered major injury requiring helicopter evacuation after a crevasse caught him there.
No fee or permit is required to drive to the trailhead, park there, hike in, or climb the mountain. You'll pay $20 to stay in Kain Hut or $5 to camp at either of two sanctioned areas, though. Details in the Camping section of the Bugaboo Spire page, and below, under Camping. Other than the hut, the Bugaboos offer no services. No stores to buy food, climbing gear, clothing, nothing. Cell phones don't work there. Bring everything you'll need and pack out your garbage.
When To Climb
Hardier souls than I have done winter ascents in the Bugaboos, but the most popular time to climb coincides with calendar Summer. The Kain Hut used to be available for skiers and other winter visitors until the 1980's, when an avalanche damaged a corner of the hut and destroyed the outhouse completely. Now the hut's season is June1 – Sept. 30. Most of my 5 trips there were in June to take advantage of more snow in and around the bergschrund below Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, but friends who went there in July had better weather. Early morning starts are essential for the long routes to allow for other parties sharing the route and the possibility of afternoon thunderstorms.
The Conrad Kain Hut is much more than a hut: three stories, sleeps 50, full-size stoves and kitchen sinks with cold and cold running water. Bring your own sleeping bag, pad, food, and $20 per night. Or camp a couple hundred feet below and west of the hut at Boulder camp, or 500 feet (150m) above the hut atop Applebee Dome. Either runs $5/night, payable at the hut. More details on the Bugaboo Spire page.
As mentioned above, it's a mountain environment. You don't grow glaciers without dropping a few snowflakes now and then. Some routes can be climbed without roping for glaciers or wearing crampons (in early summer), but you'll definitely need an ice axe. Bring crampons and crevasse rescue stuff, and you'll be ready to explore the whole group. The upper Vowell Glacier drops to the Bugaboo Glacier in an icefall between Snowpatch and Pigeon Spires.