The Bugaboo Experience

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Deep in the Purcell mountain range of British Columbia lies the Buagboo Provincial Park, a remote and rugged alpine wonderland about 4-5 hours from the US border (or Calgary), and about 50 kilometers off Highway 93. The parking area is one mile past Canadian Mountain Holidays’ (CMH) Bugaboo Lodge where four star lodging, heli-skiing and heli-hiking services are provided. Before departing into the mountains, visitors must wrap their car with chicken wire and prop it with boards and rocks to protect it from the rubber eating porcupines.

Let the fun begin. A steep and scenic trail ascends 3.5 km to the Conrad Kain Hut followed by additional 1km to the Applebee Campground (the standard climber base camp) — over 3,000 feet of elevation gain. Rock steps cover a majority of the trail and some areas require the use of chains or metal ladders to scramble up the rock. The trail passes through dense forest, open wildflower thickets, and cascading glacial waterfalls. After about three hours, the Kain Hut appears, finally. Most climbers prefer to stay at the Applebee Campground because it is located higher and closer to the spires, saving them time on their approach each day.

Any seasoned BC climber knows alpine starts are important due powerful afternoon thunderstorms. And, as expected, the Bugaboos didn’t provide us any favors this trip. On our first day we decided to do the classic, McTech Arete on Crescent Spire. After finishing the second pitch a light rain started, so we bailed off. Then, the sun came out. When we were ready to head back up, the rain started again, but this time all hell broke loose. The rain came down in buckets with constant lightning strikes.

As we hurried back to camp, I looked up at Crescent Spire. I counted six people still several pitches up as it started to hail. The hail grew in size for the next 20 minutes until it reached the size of a quarter. At this point, it was like being beaten with a ball-pean hammer. We couldn’t find adequate shelter anywhere, so we continued to take a beating. I looked up and could still see climbers near the top of the spire. I feared for their safety. The hail finally subsided as we made it back to camp and about an hour later everyone else safely returned to camp with some great stories.

The next two days consisted on rain, wind, and snow. Camp cleared out as many people went down to Radium Hot Springs for a break from the weather. On our third day, as the weather continued, we scrambled up Eastpost Spire. On day four we attempted the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, a classic climb with an exposed au cheval ridge traverse that is accessed by passing through the Snowpatch Bugaboo Col, over the Vowell Glacier to Pigeon-Howser Col. The trek across the Vowell Glacier contained some of the most spectacular views that I have ever seen.

Upon reaching the Pigeon-Howser Col, a large group was gathered at the beginning of the climb where the wind and ice became evident. With whiteout conditions, and severe wind and ice covering the spire, no one was going to summit that day. One by one, everyone headed back down to camp. Even though the next day was warm and clear, for me, it was time to head home — fulfilled with a great British Columbian experience and lots of photos.

See a photo gallery of this trip by Jeff Zimmerman

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