A Week in the Bugaboos
Mike Brumbaugh and I finally made a trip to the famed Bugaboos within the mighty Purcell Mountains at the end of July, 2007. Mikey’s been a good friend since we met sport climbing at Rifle in Colorado and we’d been talking about taking a trip up to this fantastic British Columbian spot after years of drooling over photos. The well traveled trade routes from Steck and Roper’s 50 Classic Climbs of North America (Sierra Club Books 1979) have inspired me since I started climbing in high school. And now, I was finally going to get a chance to sink my meat into the splitter granite cracks of the Beckey-Chouinard (AKA West Buttress) on South Howser and the East Ridge on Bugaboo Spire.
Once we’d arrived at the backside of the range, and after lounging around dumbstruck and humbled by the massive towers above us, we took off for our first objective, the Beckey-Chouinard on South Howser at around 11 AM. Mikey is a beast, kind of like a dog that walks you when it’s been caged up for a while. He owns a ski and bike shop in Avon CO, so I think that’s how he felt — ready to get it on. Anyway, he took off like he’d just seen a cat, and basically launched us up the route dragging me along behind him. Coming from my home in Tennessee (at almost sea level) I was out of breath almost the whole way. We arrived at the summit just before sunset and were rewarded with a gorgeous view only those who’ve visited the Bugs can relate to.
Next on the list was All Along the Watchtower, a really big, much harder climb on North Howser Tower that sets you up in (probably) the most exposed and remote section of the Bugaboo Range. To make a long story short, after getting close to starting the route, we chickened-out, and turned around, because we thought the weather looked scary. It turned out the weather was fine ... anyway... we opted to try something smaller and closer to camp, Cameron’s Pillar. I wouldn’t recommend this route, with only a few splitter pitches, a lot of loose scrambling and a very challenging descent, but it was still worthwhile, and offered an incredible vista while big chunks of the glaciers broke off around us — thundering through the cirque.
After our adventures on the backside we began the scenic glacial hike back to the front. We got some quality rest time while it rained and the wind blasted our tent. Between thunderstorms we climbed a few more fun routes: Fuzzy Pink Arete, and Sunshine Buttress on Snowpatch Spire (Sunshine Buttress is now on my list for one of the most fun, sustained and splitter 5.10 romps around). While we waited out our last days of wet and stormy weather, we spent some time at the Kain Hut, which has to be one of the coolest backcountry huts in North Amercia.
Sadly, our time ran out, and we were forced to retreat without bagging our final “classic” on the list, Bugaboo Spire. But I’m still glad we got away with what we did, and now I have more reasons and routes to go back for. The Bugaboos are a magnificent and wild place with some of the most immaculate white granite anywhere. The hardened adventurer, Conrad Kain, is my new hero; he climbed Bugaboo Spire in 1916! I was destroyed after a week of climbing there using all sorts of high tech, lightweight gear. He didn't even have a trail! Most of us can only imagine what an experience it was to be in the Bugaboos, long before everyone else.
Luke Laeser currently lives is Chattanooga, TN, is the Online Editor for Climbing.com and UrbanClimberMag.com and can't wait to get back to the Bugaboos.