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Three summits in 5 days – another successful trip to the Bugaboos! Click on the images or links below to go directly to a climb, or just scroll down the page to read more.
The Bugaboos of British Columbia are an amazing group of huge granite spires towering above a sea of glaciers. Soon after my FIRST TRIP TO THE BUGABOOS IN 2006 WHEN WE CLIMBED THE NE RIDGE OF BUGABOO SPIRE AND THE WEST RIDGE OF PIGEON SPIRE, I began to make plans to return to this amazing climbing meca. Top on my list was the Beckey Chouinard route on South Howser Tower (a Fifty Classic). I also wanted to climb Snowpatch Spire (the spire which towers above Applebee Dome Camp), and decided that the SE Corner (Snowpatch Route) seemed like a long fun route up this spire.
So, a year later, in August 2007, I returned to the Bugaboos with my friend Clint Cummins. Our trip to the Bugaboos was a grand success: 3 stellar summits in 5 days. Below are photos and commentary from (1) the Beckey Chouinard route on South Howser Tower, (2) Hound’s Tooth and a traverse below Pigeon Feathers, and (3) the SE Corner (Snowpatch Route) on Snowpatch Spire.
An illustrated pitch-by-pitch description of our adventure on the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower is given below. The pitch numbering is from the topo in the Atkinson-Piche guide.
We left Applebee Dome Camp at 4am. We climbed over the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, traversed across the Upper Vowell Glacier to the Pigeon-Howser Col, and dropped down into the East Creek Basin to access the beginning of the climb. It took 3.5 hours to get to the start of the ridge on South Howser Tower, and another hour to begin the roped climbing.
1. Applebee Camp and Snowpatch Spire in early morning. Alpine starts are key in the Bugaboos where the routes are long and afternoon storms are common.
2. Looking down the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col.
3. Sunrise on the Upper Vowell Glacier.
4. Exchanging boots for approach shoes at the Pigeon-Howser Col .
5. The west side of Pigeon-Howser Col.
6. The East Creek Boulder Camp below the start of the Beckey Chouinard route.
7. The Beckey Chouinard route.
8. 1000ft of scrambling up the ridge to get to the roped climbing.
Pitches 1-3 are mid-5th climbing on the ridge. Pitch 1: From a belay in small boulders step down right to gain an exposed slab on the right and climb cracks and flakes to a block belay on the ridge crest (5.5). Pitch 2: Climb up the ridge crest (5.5). Pitch 3: Where the crest steepens follow cracks and grooves left of the crest to a ledge belay behind a large block (5.7).
The first photo shows Clint climbing Pitch 3. The second photo shows the view of the Minaret from Pitches 1-3.
Follow steep cracks just right of the crest to the left edge of a small overhanging bulge (fixed cam). Make an insecure move over the bulge and follow cracks past a horn to a step, small ledge belay (5.10-, 50m).
The photo shows Steph just above the 5.10 bulge.
Climb cracks on the left side of the arête, stepping to the right side part way up and follow cracks to easy ground. Scramble over easy ground to gain a flake and a short chimney to the left, which leads to a slab belay, or belay on the crest (5.8, 60m).
The photo shows Clint at the top of Pitch 5. Pitch 6 goes off to the right from here.
Handrail right over the arête and cross cracks to gain a big left-facing corner or climb directly up from the crest belay. Climb the corner to an alcove belay behind a jutting block (5.8, 60m).
The photo shows Clint starting off Pitch 6.
We climbed Pitch 7 (as defined by the topo) in two pitches. Continue up the stellar corner to a crack and belay at the start of some scree-covered ledges (5.8, 60m).
The photo shows Steph climbing up the upper part of Pitch 7, a strenuous and fun wide crack. I ended up wearing my approach shoes the entire route, mostly because I cringed at the thought of taking off my wool socks and sticking my feet in the cold rubber of my climbing shoes! But the approach shoes worked out great!
Scramble over scree and belay at the upper bivy site.
The photo shows Steph at the belay at the bottom of Pitch 8.
Climb up a chimney and cracks over blocks to a block belay where the wall steepens (5.6).
The photo shows Steph climbing up Pitch 9.
Step left to climb a short strenuous crack to a ledge. Go right past a flake to reach two opposing corners and climb the right-hand to the bivy ledges below the Great White Headwall.
The photo shows Steph at the belay between Pitches 9 and 10. These shady belays were cold!
Pitch 11 starts up the Great White Headwall. Walk left to the furthest bivy site and climb up to a wide crack in the right facing corner at the far left side of the headwall. Climb the wide crack to the top of the small tower and continue up a corner crack system. Climb the corner until able to break out left and up a short, steep wall to a small ledge belay (5.10-, 55m).
The first and second photos show the Great White Headwall. There are lots of cracks on the headwall that have yet to become routes. The third photo shows Clint climbing up Pitch 11, a wide crack. I found my approach shoes worked great for these wider cracks (I actually kept my approach shoes on the entire route, since they were working fine and are much warmer).
We climbed Pitch 12 (as defined by the topo) in two pitches. Step up above the belay and make a hard balance move right back into the corner. Follow the corner past the guillotine blocks and a tough squeeze. Move to a belay at the start of a steep gully (5.9, 60m). (Cracks on the left wall can be climbed at 5.10 to avoid the corner, but we climbed the corner.)
The first photo shows Steph climbing up the first half of Pitch 12. The second photo was taken looking up the second half of Pitch 12, where we hauled packs to be able to climb through the awkward squeeze.
Climb up the gully over chock stones to where it steepens into a capped corner. Climb the second crack on the left wall to a belay at the base of a long, shallow, right-facing corner (5.9, 60m).
The photo shows the view from the upper pitches on the route. It got dark soon after we finished Pitch 12, so we didn’t take any photos.
Follow the corner to a two-pin belay at a small notch (5.8, 30m).
Tension left (A0) into a gully (or free at 5.10+) and follow it to a belay at its top (5.6).
From the top of the gully, step down right to gain rappel slings and make a 20m rappel to ledges on the south side. Climb up and right around two indistinct buttresses to gain the ridge just right of the summit. This is about 200m of steep and broken fourth-class terrain with numerous short, mid-fifth class steps. Bivy sites are possible through here and near the summit. The rappels start about 20m south of the summit where most parties emerge from the broken terrain.
Due to the dark and because we were tired, we pitched out this section instead of simulclimbing. It took quite awhile since it was difficult to route-find in the dark.
ON THE SUMMIT
We arrived on the summit at 1:15am, about 17 hours after we started the roped climbing. Although it was a bit chilly, we were lucky to have no rain for our climb. We did not have any bivy gear and thought it would be best to keep moving because of the cold, so we began the rappels down the east face in the dark.
We rapped down the east face of South Howser Tower. We got one of our two ropes stuck in a flake on the third rappel, so we had to cut the rope and continue rapping with a single rope. We managed to find sling anchors every 30m. We were worried that we would not be able to make it over the bergshrund with a single 60m rope, but someone had extended a line of rope to the last rappel anchor, and we added on the remaining half of the rope we had cut and were able to rappel past the bergshrund onto the snow below. Less than 2 hours later, we were diving into our sleeping bags at Applebee.
1. Clint setting up to rappel over the bergshrund from the end of a fixed rope extended from the last rappel anchor.
2. The rappel route down the east face of South Howser Tower. It can be done with a single 60m rope, although two ropes are usually required to get past the bergshrund (unless the anchor is extended by a fixed line as it was in our case).
3. Our second sunrise of the climb. A good way to end a long and stellar climb!
Below are some photos from my climb of Hound’s Tooth and traverse around the upper end of the Pigeon Fork of the Bugaboo Glacier.
An illustrated pitch-by-pitch description of our adventure on the SE Corner (Snowpatch Route) on Snowpatch Spire is given below. The pitch numbering is from the topo in the Atkinson-Piche guide.
We left Applebee Dome Camp at 4am. We hiked the trail down to the Kain Hut and took a climber’s trail around the toe of Son of Snowpatch. We ascended snow and loose dirt to the notch between Snowpatch and Son of Snowpatch. It took us a couple of hours to reach the notch. We were beginning the roped climbing by 7am.
1. The SE Corner (Snowpatch Route) on Snowpatch Spire. This photo was taken a couple of days before the climb.
2. The approach and climb of Snowpatch Spire. This photo was taken the day before from the summit of Hound’s Tooth.
3. Ascending the loose dirt slopes to the notch between Snowpatch and Son of Snowpatch.
4. Ascending to the notch, the Bugaboo Glacier in the background.
5. The notch between Snowpatch and Son of Snowpatch.
6. Lots of clouds during the climb, but the rain did not materialize until after we got back to camp.
7. Son of Snowpatch.
We scrambled up the first three pitches unroped. From the notch between Son of Snowpatch and Snowpatch, contour down the Kain Hut Basin side slightly until able to scramble up broken ground bypassing two small pinnacles on the ridge to gain the ridge-crest proper where it steepens. Several off-route variations exist to the right of the ridge at about 5.9 to gain the ridge higher up. Cross the crest back to the Bugaboo Glacier side and follow a descending ledge system to gain the base of a dihedral overlooking the approach gully.
The photos shows Clint ascending the Kain Hut side back up the ridge.
Climb the dihedral for one low-fifth pitch.
This photo was taken looking down Pitch 4.
Climb the low-fifth cracks on the right wall to gain the spur and a belay at the base of a steeper wall known as the Weissner Overhang.
This photo shows Steph near the top of Pitch 5, with the Pigeon Fork of the Bugaboo Glacier far below.
Drop down right to follow a rising mid-fifth class hand traverse on the white slab below a bulging black wall. Belay on its end below a small ledge below the snowpatch.
The photo shows Steph leading Pitch 6 just before the hand traverse under the bulging black wall. This was one of my favorite pitches on the route. As on the Beckey-Chouinard route, notice I wore my approach shoes the entire route - they worked out great!
Pitch 7 climbs straight up to gain slabs below the snowpatch. Then four long pitches lead up the slabs left of the snowpatch. The climbing is easy fifth class but protection and ledges are scarce.
The photo shows Clint climbing up to the left of the snowpatch. We simulclimbed Pitches 7-13.
Follow broken ground for two more low-fifth class pitches, trending steadily right to a belay behind a large flake known as the Inverted Pear.
This photo shows Clint climbing up to the Inverted Pear. We simulclimbed these pitches along with Pitches 7-11.
Pitches 14 and 15 (as described in the topo) can be linked, since these two pitches are short and do not create rope drag to be linked together. Pitch 14 continues along the ledge system to the base of a left-facing white corner. The harder climbing starts here. These upper pitches are not long but the route-finding is convoluted and rope drag is a concern. At the start of the white corner, slings out right in another corner mark the off route Honeymoon Variation. Pitch 15 climbs the first corner past fixed pins to a flake and frictions out left below a bulge to a slab belay below a short dike and offwidth.
The photo shows Steph climbing the white corner of Pitch 15. Pitch 16 goes off the left corner of the photo.
Either face climb or off-width the short steep wall at 5.8 to another slab and a belay at its top.
This photo shows Clint climbing the vein to the right of the off width. The topo marked this as 5.6 but I would say it is more like 5.8.
Climb a short section up steep flakes to a hand-traverse left past fixed pins. Make an awkward move left around a jutting flake and climb hollow 5.7 cracks up the short, steep white wall past fixed pins to a ramp. Shuffle right along the ramp to a belay.
We split this pitch into two pitches. The first photo shows Steph at a belay at the top of the steep flakes. The second photo shows Clint leading the tricky hand traverse.
One or two easy pitches lead to the south summit.
The photo shows Clint on the south (highest) summit of Snowpatch Spire, at 3,084 m (10,120 ft).
We arrived on the summit at 1pm, 6 hours after we started the roped climbing. We were lucky to have pretty decent weather (some clouds, but no rain until we got back to camp). Snowpatch Spire sits in the middle of the Bugaboo group, so has a great view of the Bugaboo Glacier Peaks, Pigeon Spire, the Howser Towers, Bugaboo Spire, Crescent Spires, and Applebee Dome Camp.
We descended down the Kraus-McCarthy rappel route on the west face of Snowpatch Spire. This was a very good descent route – ledges at every rappel station, minimal loose rock, single-rope (30m) raps from chain anchors. It took us 8-9 single rope raps. We were back to camp in no time!
1. "I hope it reaches….” Beginning the rap route.
2. View of East face of Pigeon Spire from the descent.
Clint and I had a great trip to the Bugaboos. Thanks Clint for being a great climbing partner! How about tackling some of those cracks on the Great White Headwall….?
In the years since this trip report, I've had the incredible experience of flying over the Bugaboos with pilot/photographer John Scurlock. To see some of these aerial photos, check out my aerial photography page ("aerial trip reports" section).
Here is a video clip of a spectacular flight over the wintery Bugaboos in March 2013: