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[TR] Bugaboos - WR Pigeon, NE Ridge Bugaboo 8/15/2010

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Trip: Bugaboos - WR Pigeon, NE Ridge Bugaboo


Date: 8/15/2010


Trip Report:

On this gray November day when most of you are dreaming of ice and powder, I thought I'd post a trip about good weather, long days, and warm granite. Looking at these pictures, I'm inspired to get to the climbing gym this week. Enjoy!


I didn't climb much this summer, for a combination of reasons that I'm still trying to figure out. It was my 5th climbing season and the initial novelty has worn off. I married my climbing partner in December, and suddenly have more fear of mishaps in the mountains: there's more to lose when you're climbing with someone close to you. I was burned out from a crazy road cycling season that culminated with an all-out effort at nationals. I was also juggling 3 low-paying jobs over the summer. So, aside from some great Squamish cragging, I didn't get out much. But in August, the clouds of apathy lifted when I saw a good weather forecast for an area I'd dreamed of for several years: the Bugaboos.


Day 1:


I'd had this trip planned for several years, so all we had to do was throw our gear into the car and start driving. We took a full day to drive up to Golden, BC, which is just north of Bugaboo Provincial Park. We made the traditional stop at Deals Only to pick up cheap snacks and Christmas themed batteries. We ate dinner at a neat park in Revelstoke on the Columbia River, and ended up camping in the car alongside Highway 1, serenaded by passing trains, cars, and mosquitos. It was a horrible night's sleep, but was it better than paying $35 for a lousy campsite?




Day 2:


After a horrible night of 'sleep', we drove south on 95, carefully watching for the turn-off to the Bugaboos. We stopped at a convenience store to organize our packs, wash up, and cook breakfast (in retrospect, a good choice since the parking lot was dusty and buggy). The packs were really heavy for this trip, probably because of the fresh vegetables we brought, cans of tuna, 2 ropes, and full rack. I had only carried a full pack one other time this summer, so much for being in shape!




Looking at the surrounding scenery, we couldn’t imagine where the granite spires could be hiding, but we drove up the dirt road, looking for obscure signs that read ‘BUGABOO’ and dodging potholes and cows. An hour later, we arrived at the parking lot and armored the Subie. Horse flies and mosquitoes chased us up the steep trail, which was short but strenuous with heavy packs. Emerging views of wild glaciers and spires, plus some delicious gummy bears, spurred us onward.




Check out this weather forecast!!!!




Arriving at beautiful Applebee Camp, we snagged the “primo” site from a couple that was just leaving. The camp ground is now $10 per PERSON per night, and we'd only brought money for $10 per site. Oops, guess we had fewer climbing days than originally planned. The park has installed a faucet with running water, a gray water disposal, food lockers, gear hangers, and 2 primo out houses with TP, hand sanitizer, and fine views. Definitely worth it. The other climbers were friendly and eager to share beta and trade food. We stared at the spires around us all evening. We cooked a delicious dinner and went to bed, excited about the next day.






Day 3:


We decided to acclimatize and familiarize ourselves with the landscape by climbing the West Ridge of Pigeon, a 5.4 climb that is really popular. We got a leisurely start and headed up the steep snow of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, the most dangerous and unpleasant part of our trip. Many climbers have had bad accidents here from falling rock, and we heard a number of stories from people about near misses with rock fall. Having seen several serious accidents on steep snow myself, I was dreading this part, and stayed focused and hiked up as quickly as possible. Once on top of Col things really opened up and we got our first tase of the heart of the Bugaboos. Views were a bit smoky due to forest fires.






We quickly made our way to the base of the West Ridge and enjoyed a pit stop (oh, the amenities you find in the Bugaboos).




The rest of the climb was just awesome. The exposure, the views, the solid rock, the easy simulclimbing in boots...it was just that good. We took our time and got lots of photos. We used our 8 mm 60 m rope folded in half and a minimal rack, a great choice for this climb.








On the descent from Pigeon Spire we decided to go the long way down Bugaboo Glacier to see some more of the park and avoid descending the notorious BS Col. This was a great choice, and we were treated to incredible views of the South Face of Snowpatch Spire and the broken Bugaboo Glacier. This was very easy snow descent on mild slopes, then on a trail beside the icefall. However, it's a somewhat crevassed glacier and would be more problematic later in season. After cutting below Son of Snowpatch you can stay high and do some easy scrambling back to camp without losing elevation. I'm cautious on snow, and thought this was easy and fun. Surprisingly, we arrived back at camp at the same time as another party we'd met on Pigeon. They'd started descending at the same time as us, but had opted for the BS col, which was more direct but more time-consuming. Total, the whole trip took us a leisurely 8 hours to do.






After getting back to camp and eating some delicious couscous and veggies, a long-haired Californian climber decided to barter bars for some dinner food. We delighted him with a giant organic zucchini we had gotten from my job at the food bank. He and his partner ecstatically chomped it down raw, grins splitting their faces. "Santa Claus is coming to your food locker," he announced as he dumped handfuls of energy bars into our locker. This was a highlight of the trip for us--and since we'd underpacked on energy bars, it was also crucial to our success on the next day's objective: the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, the 50 classic climb everyone does in the Bugaboos. As the sun set, we drank hot chocolate and read the route description again, discussing possible timing and listening to some nearby climbers gripe about the "50 crowded classics" and how it ruins climbing areas. A valid point, but the route just looks so good.. As we lay in our sleeping bags, we heard climbers coming in and leaving at all hours of the night. The Beckey-Choinard saw lots of ascents that week.


Day 4:


We awoke at 4:40 and were moving 20 minutes later. At first, we had that "50 classics off to the races feeling" - the hurried hike to the base of the route, the hope to be 1st in line, worried watching for other headlamps, anxiety about getting stuck behind 10 other parties. As the sun rose, we realized that no other parties were approaching. In fact, we would have the entire spire to ourselves that day. After some scouting, we found the scramble to the Bugaboo-Crescent Col: slabby with loose rock; a few 5.4 moves and low 5th terrain. We decided to rope up for it, although the guidebook mentions that it is frequently soloed. Jon led it in his rock shoes while I kept my boots on and followed. Soon we were at the rope-up ledge, the start of the real climb. We used our 70 mm 9.2 rope and a larger alpine rack - worked well for us.




Pitch 1 was a spectacular and sustained 5.8 finger and chimney pitch that moved up hollow flakes, a wake up call with heavy packs on. Jon led it in good style. Right then I knew why this climb was a fifty classic.




Pitch 2 ascended a system of flakes up and left at 5.6. The next pitch, pitch 3, was one of the most amazing pitches I have ever done in the alpine. Wildly exposed face climbing with fun moves and decent pro traverses climbers right to the crest of the NE Ridge.


On the 4th pitch I think we unintentionally started on a more difficult 5.8-5.10 variation of the NE Ridge. The tip off was the supposed '5.6 hand and fist corner crack' that had Jon grunting and got my fingers all bloody from shallow-flaring finger jams. But I've heard other people complain that this pitch is sand-bagged, so maybe it was right.. in any case, we went leftward on the harder variation after that.




To avoid this variation, climb further to the right of the ridge! Above this pitch Jon kept moving up on increasingly difficult terrain, going a full 60 m and running it out. We were getting worried about our time since we still had a long way to go and a lot of descent. There were some really strong gusts of wind, and fluffy clouds building up nearby. I anxiously watched Jon as he escaped out right on committing and delicate moves to what we should have been climbing: easy low 5th chimneys. We quickly ran up the chimneys and reached the North Summit around 2:30. Next we had to traverse from the North to the South Summit, a long and extremely exposed climb.


The traverse looked something like this:



We started out with a very exposed 20' rappel:



Easy class 3 scrambling led to this airy traverse (we stayed roped up for the entire traverse, which might have eaten up time):



On one au cheval part of the traverse this was the view down the left:



And down the right. This was fun for me since the climbing was easy!



Soon we were at the South Summit, ready to descend:



What followed was a long and complex descent that involved 6 rappels and endless downclimbing that we did blind. I recommend scoping out this descent by climbing the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire first. The most important advice is to stay on the crest when downclimbing. There are many deceiving trails that go down the face, DO NOT GO DOWN THESE! The route on the crest is well-worn. Stick to it.




Rapping off the Gendarme:



Endless downclimbing that we did unroped in rock shoes:





Pigeon Spire, what we climbed yesterday. And it is getting dark:



After this we rapped down the BS Col via a new bolted route. This was the most horrible rappel I have ever done. Dirty, wet, dangerous, and rope-destroying steep dirty ice. Jon's right hand got pegged with a fist size rock on the way down, and we lived in fear of more rock the rest of the way. We were extremely careful. Rap stations were hard to find, especially in the fading light. Finally, we finished rappelling and down-climbed steep snow. By that point, I was mentally fried, afraid of the steep snow, and took a painfully long time do down climb it. Jon could have done it in 1/4 of the time. Sorry, Jon! We stumbled our way to camp, totally spent and exhausted. We didn't stop moving the entire day and as a result ate only 5 energy bars plus some gummy bears, always trying to beat the clock. In total the climb took about 16.5 hours and tested nearly every alpine skill we know. Satisfied and tired, we cooked dinner and collapsed into our tent. We were hungry for the next 3 days.


Are we done yet?



If we did this again, I'd like to be in better climbing shape, mentally. Though I was very fit from cycling and cragging, mentally I lacked some of the endurance and confidence I have when I'm climbing more. We think we could shave a few hours off our time by knowing the approach and descent route. I'd consider taking the Bugaboo glacier walk-around rather than descending the col. One thing we definitely lacked was the lightweight gear: aluminum crampons, lightweight ice axes, etc. A very early start is a must for this climb.



Day 5:


We rested in camp, ate as much as possible, watched people ascend the Bugaboo Spire, and watched some dark clouds roll in. Since the weather was turning, we had done 2 great climbs, and were out of money, we decided to pack up and head out. Reluctantly, we hiked away from the beautiful views, stopping at the hut to stay dry during a brief rain shower. In the hut, I found a guidebook and began perusing more routes that I'd like to do when I come back.


Although a route like the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire may be "only" 5.8/IV, it was harder than other routes of a similar or harder grades that I've done. Though Jon and I are both strong, experienced, and efficient, we found that the altitude, exposure, lengthy approach/descent, and heavy packs tested us. It reminded me why I both enjoy and respect the mountains, and makes me want to get out there again.






Gear Notes:

heavy packs


Approach Notes:

watch out for annoying RV's on the drive!

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Did they really put in a toilet at the base of Pigeon Spire?


Yes, they did. There is also one at the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. There is someone working on a self-sustaining composting toilet/voluntary blue bag system for Kain hut that eliminates the need to fly those waste cans out; I think it's his dissertation topic. Not sure on the details, but it's an ongoing project.


IMO flying out barrels of waste every year is expensive, but better that than having such a beautiful area ruined... plus it makes a great picture to hang in your own bathroom at home.

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I was just going through my Bugaboo guide the other day so this is good timing for some motivation. I'm not a fan of steep snow either and that col has been the one thing that's kept me at a distance. A friend of mine who has been up it many times wants to do the Kain Route with me next year. He promised not to tell anyone about me wimpering my way up and down the snow as long as I don't let it out if he cries loudly on the rock..lol.


Nicely written TR and great pictures. By the way, the pictures for your Stuart North Ridge climb aren't showing up any more!

Edited by spotly

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I was just going through my Bugaboo guide the other day so this is good timing for some motivation. I'm not a fan of steep snow either and that col has been the one thing that's kept me at a distance. A friend of mine who has been up it many times wants to do the Kain Route with me next year. He promised not to tell anyone about me wimpering my way up and down the snow as long as I don't let it out if he cries loudly on the rock..lol.


Nicely written TR and great pictures. By the way, the pictures for your Stuart North Ridge climb aren't showing up any more!


Going up the col isn't bad as long as it's early in the day and the sun hasn't hit it yet. Going down.. well.. though I have good snow skills I dislike and fear descending steep snow. So much can go wrong so quickly. As long as the glacier on the walkaround is in, the longer but more straightforward descent won my vote. However, the col is not enough reason to not go on the trip. It's just the toll that you pay. There are a lot of people who do it without even crampons (though I think that's kind of foolish).


I changed all my flickr pictures to "friends only" and it altered the url's. I will have to go in and re-do all the photos at some point.

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Awesome pictures! I've always wanted to climb there...now I've got to go. Thanks for the inspiration. Can you provide the same stellar weather for me?

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Looks like much less snow from third week of July. That snowpatch at the base of NE ridge was much bigger. I think we did it in 3 "pitches".Friggin great route just run up and down.

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