British Columbia, Canada
Who, as a young aspiring alpinist, doesn’t dream of a pilgrimage to the Bugaboos? As a teenager living in New England in the early 1970s, I sharpened my climbing skills on Canon, Whitehorse and Mount Washington. At night I poured through books that showed tantalizing photos of the granite spires of the Bugaboos. It became my obsession.
In July 1982, the obsession became a reality. My younger brother and I drove 36 straight hours straight to reach the Bugaboos, driving my old Volkswagen to the limit. We turned up the narrow, rocky dirt track that ascended up to the Bugaboo trailhead. We had survived hours and hours of bleary-eyed driving, but were nearly blotted from existence over and over by logging trucks barreling down the narrow road.
It was raining when the old Volkswagen shuttered to a stop at the trailhead. We donned our rain gear and headed up the trail with full packs, feeding the mosquitoes along the way. We really did not like the idea of staying in the Kain Hut, so we set up our tent on the terraces nearby.
Snowpatch Spire – First Attempt
We spent the first couple of days in the Bugaboos sitting in our tent because of the high winds and heavy rain. Welcome to the Bugaboos. The third morning we got up at 3:00 a.m. and though the skies still looked angry at least it wasn’t raining. We packed up and headed for the Southeast Shoulder of Snowpatch Spire.
As we ascended the lateral moraine, the clouds opened up and we were treated to a fiery alpenglow on the Bugaboo Glacier. We climbed the first five pitches in high winds and light rain. Waterfalls were pouring off the Snowpatch above, soaking the rock and blocking our progress. As we started our rappels, the rain turned into an intense blizzard.
Our first failure in the Bugaboos.
Snowpatch Spire – Second Attempt
The next day was clear and sunny. Another alpine start and soon we found ourselves high on the Southeast Shoulder of Snowpatch Spire. There were still some waterfalls pouring across the 6th pitch, so we did the Wiessner Overhang instead.
The five slab pitches along side of the great Snowpatch were mostly fourth-class. However, once we reached the headwall at the top of the 12th pitch the climbing got interesting. The route finding was actually challenging. We reached the summit in the early afternoon and rappelled down. Unfortunately, we lost a couple of rolls of film so I don’t have any summit photos.
Bugaboo Spire – Frozen Failure
After a day of rest, we packed up for our first big wall attempt in the Bugaboos – the East Face of Bugaboo Spire. We crossed the Crescent Glacier in good weather and climbed one pitch up the large balcony on the east face. From our bivy we planned for two days of climbing to the summit. Fools!
The night a major storm rolled in. Large waterfalls poured off the east face and soaked us even inside of our bivouac sacks. The temperature dropped dramatically and everything froze solid. The rain turned to snow.
In the morning we were frozen and nearly hypothermic. The sun showed its face briefly, but we could not retreat from the cliff. All of our ropes and hardware were frozen into a solid block of ice. We spent hours chipping away at the ice to free our gear. To make matters worse, when we finally rapped to the glacier our ropes were so stiff we couldn’t pull them down. I had to jug back up, placing protection, and then down-climb the pitch with frozen hands. Early in the evening we finally got our sorry butts back to our tent and spent another cold night in wet sleeping bags.
We needed a few days to warm up and dry out.
Hound’s Tooth - First Ascent of North FaceThe Hound's Tooth (9,249 feet)
First Ascent of the North Face
A few days of good, warm weather and we were ready to hit it again. We had spent quite a bit of time staring across the glacier at the unclimbed north face of the Hound’s Tooth. It looked easy and straight-forward, so we headed across the Bugaboo Glacier icefall. Bad, bad idea. A collapsing serac here and there sent us scurrying back to the lateral moraine.
We back-tracked and ascended the lateral moraine all the way up above the icefall, then crossed over the base of Marmalota Mountain. From there we descended along the base of the Hound’s Tooth to the bottom of the north face. We received a horrendous pounding from rock fall. We couldn’t believe the number of rocks whizzing by all around us. Was this truly any better than crossing the icefall directly? We took turns traversing and down-climbing so that one person was always on the lookout for rocks.
The north face of the Hound’s Tooth was extremely shattered. The ledges were piled high with loose rocks, which required a very light touch. I likened it to climbing up stacks of bowling balls. One dislodged rock would set off a chain reaction, releasing enormous cannonades of rock fall.
“ROCK! ROCK!! ROCK!!!” We were getting hoarse from all the screaming.
The climbing easy class 4 and class 5, but I did use one point of aid to get over a small overhang. The key was to zig-zag up the face so that the rocks did not rain down directly onto the belayer below.
Once we got up into the giant right-facing chimney system, there were plenty of nooks, crannies and overhangs in which the belayer could hide from the rock fall. It was a little more comforting.
At the top of the north face we traversed slightly to the base of the giant snowfield on top of the Hound’s Tooth. We thought it was going to be easy, but late in the day we were both terrified that the soft, steep snow would avalanche. It was good to finally make the summit and head home unscathed.
South Howser Tower – Our Final Failure
Full of hubris from our success on the Hound’s Tooth, we set our sights on another big wall attempt: the Chouinard-Beckey Route on the South Howser Tower.
Once again we packed our gear and humped over the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. We descended to the base of the route and bivouacked in a cave at the base of the ridge.
The next morning we started up the route but ran into some trouble on the fourth pitch. Our main 11mm lead rope got struck deep inside of one the cracks. Our attempts to free the rope were futile. We literally spent the entire day on the fourth pitch trying to free the rope. We were finally successful very late in the day. With only half-a-day of food remaining, we rapped off in failure. The Gods had spoken.
We spent the rest of the day at the Boulder Cave below the Central Howser Tower, trundling rocks off the long ridge below. The next day we humped back over the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col and down to our camp.
We stayed in the Bugaboos for a couple more days, hiking around and doing easy stuff like the Kain Ridge on Bugaboo Spire. But our first pilgrimage to the Bugaboos was over and we were satisfied with our adventure.
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