On Top of the World at The Bugaboos, BC.
The Bugaboos are a must for anybody who likes to climb, scramble or just stare at mountains. Dozens of glacier-sculpted granite spires are hidden from view unless you hike into them, plunked down among the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia like hidden treasure.
Those who just want to lay their eyes on them are in luck. The hike in is about three miles and 3,000 feet of gain and ends at the Conrad Kain Hut, where you can stay a while and stare from the windows of the quaint, cozy hut.
Those who came to climb, your dreams will come true. There’s the Beckey-Chouinard route, a 15-pitch 5.10 that’ll land you on top of South Howser Tower. Or a 10-pitch 5.8 that goes up the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire and lets you get your hands all over that sexy rock. Both gain thousands of feet and are included in the historic climbing book Fifty Classic Climbs of North America.
Of all the routes to choose from, my partner and I opted to start with Pigeon Spire. It’s one of the most striking mountain out there – black rock with chiselled edges set against white snow – and boasted an easy route with classic views to give us the lay of the land.
It was something of a shotgun trip with less than five days in a place where many Alpinists spend weeks. A short flight to Calgary, several hours in the car and a steep hike in the dark to the hut where we planned to sleep for one night before moving up to the camping area.
Our time was limited but our desire to climb in a world-renowned place was strong.
The couloir typically used to reach Pigeon was out of condition so we had to use the Vowell Glacier instead, adding hours onto the approach. Since both of us are experienced with glacier travel, we opted out of roping up and carefully picked our way across the web of crevasses.
Three hours later, we reached the bottom of the spire and slipped jackets over our sweaty shirts. One of the storms notoriously always brewing in the Bugaboos was hovering within sight and we knew we’d likely get caught in the rain while climbing. Hoping to save time and elevate exhilaration, we again ditched the rope and started ascending.
The West Ridge is rated 5.4 and proved no problem to scramble using just hands and feet. We were atop the first summit in less than 15 minutes and skirted down the slabs toward the saddle, staring up at the next granite rise.
It was intimidating. The rock looked steep and blank and I considered for a minute pulling out a rope. But then I remembered what veteran climbers told me: the rock lays down for you. And so it did.
We literally walked up the section that had moments before given me pause, then started across an exposed ridge that would terrify anybody who doesn’t love heights. The second summit was ours.
Watching the clouds turn gray and move closer, we traversed to a chimney, shimmied up to a cool hand rail and tagged the summit. Then we bundled deeper into our jackets and stared in awe at the 360 degree views of magnificent spires, alluring glaciers and our camp, so close and yet so far.
We needed more time.
Written by Stacia Glenn.