Snowpatch Spire in Bugaboo Provincial Park
offers over 50 published routes on legendary pristine alpine granite. Trying to decide which route you are going to attempt is a brain teaser in and of it self. There is no question, of the main central spires in the Bugaboos, Snowpatch has more than its share of the stiffer routes. So if one is not climbing in the 5.10 range, your choices will be quite limited.
The Buckingham Route allows for two options, the “Enjoyable Way” at 5.9, AD+ (8 pitches) and the continuation of Buckingham to the north summit, 5.10+, D (an additional 4 pitches). The north summit (10,040’) of Snowpatch Spire requires 2800’+/- gain from the Conrad Kain hut
or 5100+/- gain from the Bugaboo trail head/parking area.
The approach to the start of the route requires ascent of the Snowpatch-Bugaboo Spires col which can involve the most danger of the day as you ascend the glacier crossing at least one crevasse and a bergshrund below other climbers scrambling through loose rock above (photos). That is why I always prefer the Pigeon
-Snowpatch Spires col for descent when climbing the west face of Snowpatch Spire. This optional descent involves six single 60m rope raps. I advise ascending the Snowpatch-Bugaboo Spires col fast, which in my case means solo. If you are going to rope up for this section, please manage your rope carefully when you enter the loose rock area above.
The Buckingham Route is the left most route on the West Face of Snowpatch Spire easily accessed once you drop down the west side from the Snowpatch-Bugaboo Spires col. Keep your crampons on and drop down onto the Upper Vowell Glacier and ascend southwest just a tad and cross back down to the moat area between the Upper Vowell Glacier and Snowpatch Spire. Pass a small glacier melt pond (2007) to the right and come back left to the wall looking for a cairn (2007) and line that ascends the north tower at a leftward angle and then doglegs right.
Route Description”Enjoyable Way”/325 Meters, 8 Pitches, 5.9
Rappel tat is all over this route. At a minimum it is set up to take seven 50m raps (2007) on slung blocks or flakes which start straight down until the raps join the route again at the dogleg. I always climb such alpine routes with double ropes and am not positive you can rap this route with a single rope. Most of your belay stations will be built among rap stations along the route. You can rap left, right and all over the place. Take plenty of extra webbing and/or cordellete.
1st Pitch- 40m- 5.4/
Real nice rock following a corner up and over a fun move onto a broad ledge to the left for belay. There are many options to start off of the ground.
2nd Pitch- 25m- 5.6/
Again, several variations, a nice crack runs slightly right of the belay and takes all the gear you want to place.
3rd Pitch- 45m- 5.5/
Keep following cracks and flakes as they start to straighten out in the depression as you start to pass a large pillar on your right.
4th Pitch- 50m- 5.2/
A “sleeper” pitch as you keep trudging towards the fun pitches (right turn of the dogleg) at the base of the dihedral. Start left, then move right, past a rap station and up to good cracks to build a station in the wall below the north tower.
5th Pitch- 45m- 5.6/
A decent pitch up solid rock to the base of a long weakness (series of chimneys) just left of the true ridge line. Build a belay at a bail rap station, but not one I recommend using on your descent.
6th Pitch- 40m- 5.7/
Use the chimney to stem up to any where you want to build a belay.
7th Pitch- 60m- 5.7/
By far the best pitch of the route. Completely sustained flake climbing that takes you to the right out over exposed ground and back left into solid steep climbing that eventually follows a short chimney/flake up behind it to the left and onto a small ledge below a steep slab.
8th Pitch- 25m- 5.9/
The most difficult climbing of the first eight pitches of the Buckingham route. It is published at 5.8, many claim it is 5.10, but my partners and I believe 5.9 is a good compromise. Bottom line is somebody in your party needs to be confident of their slab skills. Traverse out left and up past a bolt for several crux moves, with little positive traction and some exposure to boot (thus the only bolts on the route). Continue back right past another bolt and thus another crux slab move that puts you into a small right angled crack that can assist your ascent from there on easier ground as you near a rap station.
From the rap station, you can continue up to the summit of the north tower where a short rappel to the left takes you into a notch below on the east face of Snowpatch that allows you to tackle the 5.10+ crack pitch that gets you started to the north summit (photo). Or you can call it a day with completion of “The Enjoyable Way” and walk back down to the rap station on top of the slab.
Rap back down the slab for a short rap to the top of the chimney system you ascended. Rap from there straight down which will take you slightly skiers left of your ascent route. Watch out for slung rappels and make wise choices. There are several options here. Continue until back to the dogleg section and just rap the route from there back to the Upper Vowell Glacier.
You can descend the Snowpatch-Bugaboo col or (my druthers always) descend the Pigeon-Snowpatch col. Travel up glacier circumventing Snowpatch to the south until you can gain some ledges that lead to the top of a steep rap section just east of the massive ice fall filling the col. It is best to take the first two rappels as 30 meter ones to avoid rock fall on others or yourself from above. Then two 60 meter raps takes you to the moat on the southwest corner of Snowpatch Spire. There are six-30m double ring rap stations down this steep corner (2007). From there, descend the Pigeon Fork Glacier on snow staying skiers left. You might or might not have to break out the crampons. In late August, we found plenty of snow to glissade down to the bottom of the Pigeon Fork Glacier. When you come to a rocky patch, circumvent it to the right. Once at the bottom, circumvent Snowpatch Spire back northeast to pick up cairns leading back to the Conrad Kain Hut.
Full set of Camelots from .3 to 4. Full set of nuts. 10-12 draws/slings. Crampons, Alpine Ax, Boots, Climbing Shoes (slab pitch), Webbing or Cordellete, Helmet
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