Mosquitoes and Awe: Bugaboo Special

Bugaboo provincial park is nestled in the purcell mountains of British Columbia, west of the hamlet of Brisco, about 3.5 hours from Calgary or 7 hours from Vancouver. Nestled is a good way of describing it, because you’d never know the world class granite existed just passing on the highway.

I suggested to Brandon a few weeks ago that we check out this alpine climbing destination. “The Bugs’ are out in July”, he says.

A week later –

“Bugaboos this weekend?”

Now i’m confused.

We met late Friday night in front of Radium – the crew drove 3.5 hours from Calgary to rendezvous. The questionable van would no longer be lingering next to the towns’ children park, finally putting the neighbourhood at ease.

The crew, Brandon, Maple, Xavier. Left to right.

A short jaunt north to the hamlet of Brisco, and then some 50km west on some logging roads, you’ll arrive at a trailhead. But if you’re poor planners like us, somewhere between Brisco and the trailhead you might have to camp. Don’t mind the thousand blood hungry mosquitos – get that tent set up quickly and rest the eyes. You’ll need them tomorrow for the mind-blowing visuals.

In the morning, amongst swarms of black flies and mosquitos, we started the 5.5km 800M elevation trek to Applebee dome campground. Maple had bummed one of her ankles and was relying pretty heavily on poles. She, and her ankle, are total champs.

Pictured in the background is the chicken wire burrito-wrap to be performed on your vehicle – the porcupines really like to chew on rubber.

The majority of the morning was rather unpleasant. It was hot and humid, the bugs were relentless, and our packs were heavy as hell. Long sections of the climb were spent in the forest, patiently counting our steps until the next gully, which would welcome us with a breeze of fresh glacial air.

Brandon toting a 65lb pack up the valley. ‘Fast and Light’ is out – ‘Ultra Heavy’ is in.

 

Feeling a sense of progress as we approach the Cain Hut. Snowpatch spire resting behind.

 

If possible, stay in the hut. Seriously. Go right now and see if reservations are available . It hardly qualifies as a hut – with hot running water and a hydroelectric generation system, comfortable sleeping arrangements and a sizeable common area for dining, lounging, and connecting with others. I don’t think you could have a more spectacular view from the dinner table.

Not surprisingly, the Cain hut was practically fully booked for the summer. What ever happened to the Bugs’ being out, Brandon?

A quick recap of the guide book and much needed break from the blood suckers outside. You get a sense of the view out of the dining area windows, but I encourage that you need to see it yourself.

Applebee, which currently has unlimited tenting capacity (under review by BC Parks in 2017) is still a few hundred metres above the hut, which works to your advantage by putting you closer to the climbing objectives… but at the mercy of the elements.

The final push to Applebee. Not visible are the mosquitos, which we expected to fade away at treeline. That makes sense right? Expectations suck, and mosquitos continued to suck (literally).

Relieved from the weight of our packs, we set up camp and took in the sights for the balance of the evening.

Eastpost spire, catching rays.

 

Red moon rising

 

Lights out.

After an enduring struggle to keep my air mattress inflated through the night, alarms sounded at 5:00 for a semi-alpine start. We read that pigeon spire should take about seven to nine hours depending on group proficiency, so we gave ourselves twelve.

Volcanic sunrise, looking back towards Applebee.

Within an hour, we had reached the start of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col (B-S Col). It is known dangerous rockfall, and ever inclining finale, which I’d estimate is probably 60-65 degrees. We remained unroped for this, as the bergshrund appeared to be well bridged by snow and several other groups had tested its integrity before us.

Maple on her final steps up to the Col. Things are steeper than they appear.

After a quick snack break, and trial of the most spectacular portable toilet I’ve ever seen (five star view, but bring your own TP), we roped up and began our glacier traverse. Very simple terrain, as we had expected. There was one crevasse opening as you near Pigeon Spire, but very obvious and easily avoidable.

The shadows of Snowpatch spire

 

The road ahead

 

Xavier channeling his inner Borat.

 

No words…

Crampons off, shoes on. The west ridge of the Spire was looking very manageable, but with just a titch of exposure off the north side… mind your step!

 

Brandon leading the pack, Bugaboo Spire painting the backdrop

We began scrambling the first few hundred meters unroped – easy peasy.

 

Between the two big sections of 5.nil climbing, there is one cruxy move. Not advanced by any means, but a slip could result in a very long, contemplative fall. Brandon proceeded to “have a look” (solo it), and suggested that we might want to tie in. I like suggestions!

Tying knots, magestically

 

 

Continuing after the crux, without a rope, to the first peak.

The simple scramble section came to an end as we crested over the first peak, a slabby descent to the first technical climbing section. It looks much steeper than it actually is, though.

We roped up in teams of two and began simul-climbing, Maple placing gear, maintaining 1-2 pieces between us, with myself cleaning up as we progressed along. Xavier managed to capture a slightly augmented photo of the first few steps, increasing the pitch of the backdrop and giving me a false sense of badassery.

There is one section of elevated exposure, in which the guidebook recommends going “au cheval” style. Still, a very simple section of ridgewalk, but be mindful of the occasional wind gust and try to not get distracted by the view.

We arrived at the second peak just past our turnaround timed, noting developments in the weather system headed our way. We called it – high fived – and proceed to take advantage of the incredible backdrop with ample photos.

Retracing our steps down, the down climbing was easy.

Maple cresting the ridge walk. Peak lighting of the day, no pun intended.

 

Busy being distracted the artsy nature of this rock and rope

 

Glacial, dude.

Arriving at the first crux, we decided to hitch a rappel on some cordage left behind. One 60M rope brought us down to simple slab down-climbing that we had previously cruised up.

 

A walk in the park – Maple struts. Little did she know, her rappel resulted in the rope wedging deep into a crack, making Xavier’s descent very difficult. We learned many inappropriate french words.

Back to the boots, we snacked, crampon’ed up, and began the trudge to our mosquito infested home for the night. Oh, and the lighting got really good.

 

 

 

Two rap sections, one 30M and one 60M (look for rings on the way up), and 200 metres of pacing, we had descended the B-S Col.

All in all, the day ran about 16 hours. Down climbing took more time than anticipated, due to traffic, and placing a little extra gear to ebb on the side of caution. It could have been worse, though, like Brandon and Maple’s 18 hour day. She didn’t notice her axe missing until we neared camp – found later near the bottom of the Col. In team spirit, dinner was waiting for them on return.

We met two really great climbers from Kelowna on our trip, Nick & Tom. Both high spirited guys, having just accomplished what they set out to achieve that day. It was time for them to pack the bags when I captured this photo, prepping for the journey home early the next morning.

Tragically, the following weekend Tom perished on Mt. Sir Donald in Rogers Pass, BC. It was a very somber day when the news struck. Having had only brief interactions, we can only imagine how those close to him were affected by the loss.

Stay safe out there.

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