Saturday, July 15, 2006


Now that the pain in my quads has subsided and the lightning-induced adrenaline has been flushed from my body I can revisit Ben and I's trip to the Bugaboos in the Canadian rockies.

When I first started climbing waaaayyy back in 98 when I lived up in northern Idaho, I remember fliping through Climbing magazine and seeing shots like this one

Even when I was young and full of climbing hubris I realized that the Bugaboos, a mere six-hour drive from my doorstep (I routenly took the eight-hour drive to Smith rocks), were outside my abilities. Some of this was due to poverty because I simply could not afford many of the required peripherals like mountain boots, ice axe, crampons, bad-weather clothes, ect..., which could total 1200 bucks or more to purchase. Also, Ropes, and rock shoes were more disposable items back then as I would routenly took 100+ whips on a rope in a matter of 3 months, so just feeding the rope habit was costly. However, the real obstacle was just the intimidation factor. Those spires looked big. They are hemmed in by glaciers and shouded in unpredictable weather. So then I was comfortable climbing at short sunny crags with overhangs and that posed chalenges that you could reduce to specific sequences of moves over a few feet of rock rather than the manifold logistical challenges involved summiting one of those spires.

But this year I made it happen. This spring I finally booked ahead one week at the Conrad Kain hut, which stands at the base of the Crescent glacier, just at the base of the Snowpatch spire (pictured above) and just a little further, Bugaboo spire. The col pictured to the right of Snowpatch leads to Pidgeon and the Howser spires, which are more of a hike.

behind the hut in the picture is the Hound's tooth, which is the first spire you see on the hike in. I did not seem like many climb this because it is surrounded in difficult-to-pass icefall even in early season.

The hike in was probably the most exhausting day. Both Ben's and I's packs were sub one hundred pounds, we think, packed with food for the week and climbing gear. The great thing about the hut is that you don't need to bring any more camping equipment besides a light sleeping bag. No tents or pots/pans.

We woke up at 4 a.m. the next day to set of on a nine-pitch 5.9 that goes up the west face of snowpatch. Below is a picture of Ben walking up to the col in the alpenglow

On the west face in the morning I was really fucking cold. Once we got climbing we warmed up and the climbing went smooth enough through consistent 5.8 and 5.9 climbing to the top on stellar rock. The rappels took forever and then I realized why I love crags with walk-offs.

After that warm up we wanted to do something with less hiking and more sports action. One of the classics there is the McTech arete, which goes at easy 5.10. From the base the 5.10 flake pitch looks a little intimidating, like you have to smear a blank wall while underclinging a left-leaning flake. Once you get on it you see that the thing is littered with mondo footholds that gives you rest stances all the way up. Ben sent the the 5.10 pitch with style. I got the twin crack 5.9 pitch above that which was 40 meters of perfect splitter hands interspersed with a few roofs: Very fun. After we rapped we took inventory in our energy levels and decided for another climb the next day.

We decided on the Cain route up Bugaboo spire which is mostly hiking/scrambling and one 5.6 pitch. Yet another 4 a.m. start and we were hiking. I did not feel so well. When I got to the top of the col I felt downright sick, but scince I was at the foot of the Bugaboo I just kept going. The higher I got the better I felt, but I never felt good. The whole time I kept marveling at how great the weather had been. In four days of being there we never saw a drop of rain. We scrambled and scrambled going quickly up the low-angle rock till we got to a minor ridge which we traversed. We then had to rope up for a pitch, but still wearing our mountain boots. At the top of the pitch there was another ridge to traverse that leads narrows to an inposing gendarme where Conrad Kain in 1918 in leather mountian boots soloed. Stepping across you could finally see the exposure. We were a good 2000 feet above the crecent glacier and it was really nice to finally be on steeper terain that felt like real rock climbing. The traverse was airy and so Ben and I went across it scarefully. Then I put on my rock shoes and scampered up the gendarme where you could really feel the exposure. After that It was a quick pitch up to the south summit. Below is a shot of ben climbing to the base of the gendarme.

At the base of the gendarme we met up with this great couple of New Zealanders, Lisa and Rob, which we shared company with. We snaped pictures and chatted all the way to the top. Here is a picture of Lisa at the base of the gendarme preparing to second Rob's lead

The four of us were very merry, our attitude casual, and we sort of lost our haste in the party at the top, which was a bad idea in the Bugaboos. Afternoon thundershowers push through on good days and benight parties and give them a hypothemia on bad days. And by the time we summited we were due... The clouds were forming while we were lounging as you can see in the background

The four of us decided that we would team up on the rappels for speed: The leaders would set up one rope while the last in the group would pull the second rope and then leapfrog ropes in between for the next round. We rappeled the gendarme, me going last, and I was able to unstick the snagging ropes soon enough. Everytime you pull a rope up there it is unnerving. You might spend the next two hours fishing it out of a snag. While I was rappelling it started hailing and the thunder became less than distant. At the base of the gendarme again we then had to reverse the exposed ridge and then rappel once more to get off the exposed summit. As I pulled and rapped the ropes Ben took off ahead to set up a rope across the ridge. Lisa then Rob cliped onto that rope and ran accross. We were all working very quickly, hoping to evade any electricity. At the base of the gendarme at least I wasnt the tallest thing around. On the ridge however you ARE the tallest thing around. When rob steped off accross the ridge I saw him jerk about and go "whoa". He said that something hit him in the back of the head, like someone swatting him. He kept traversing and was OK but we all realized that we were not getting off the hook on this one. The whole ridge was electric. The storm reached a fever pitch. Once Rob was safe Ben was to "belay" me accros the ridge. As I stepped into the unknown my ice axe, attached and sticking straight out of my pack began to buzz. At first I thought it was unusual but I knew it wasnt good. Essentially it was electrons slowly being sapped off the metal shaft to the air (or the other way around, I don't know), being pulled along the rather large electric field set up from the rock to the sky, with me and my rather conductive metal axe in between. The ridge, which on the way up I was carefully traversing accross, I was now flat out running and jumping across. Half way across the ridge I found Ben huddled 20 ft. from the belay. Apparently his first choice for belay spots produced lots of buzzing in his axe and all through the rack and the rock was even buzzing, so he moved away from there where he was the only thing buzzing. We exchanged a few words to explain the situation and then I kept running. Each step I was thinking could be the last. As I was flat out running across the ridge I had a "Tom Ames prayer" moment as my brain was trying to work out the limited options it had in dealing with the situation. At the end of the ridge Lisa and Rob just set up a webbing belay around a rock about 10 ft below the actual chain belay which was wayyyy to exposed. I ducked below a rock and yellled to Ben that I was off and I gave him a hip belay to get him over to us. A minute later I saw Ben leap and tuck his legs to clear the bolder and land on our little perch below the ridge. A bold move in such an exposed position. We all rapped quickly and once off the ridge we finally stopped buzzing. We were out of immediate danger. We all told each other to be very careful. The adrenaline served its purpose in getting us off, but now it could make us do something stupid. Every step down was slow and careful. We rappeled another time just to be on the safe side to get us down some terrain that we easily scrambled up earlier. Here is a picture of Ben seconding the gendarme with "lightning ridge" in the background

On the way down the col we spoke with some other parties with similar stories to ours. There was some lady on the top of Pidgeon spire who was having involuntary limb contractions for several minutes before she could rappel down to safety. I think I would have puked...

The lesson learned is that you must be most of the way down by 1 pm. in the Bugs otherwise you are playing with fire (st. Elmo's)

The fourth day was for rest. The weather that day was perfect so it was unfortunate that we were so sapped because good days are precious. On our fifth day we decided to climb sunshine crack, which has some cool offwidthing and is sustained at mostly 5.10. Here is a picture of Ben heading for the overhanging offwidth on the second pitch

About 10 seconds after this picture was taken it started hailing and got really cold. It has rained and cleared earlier that day as well so we thought it prudent to bail. The forcast looked bad for the next couple of days so we decided it was time to leave the Bugs and head to the Sawtooths for some more climbing after some days of rest. So we drove and drove and got up to the Elephant's perch to try our luck on the fine line. The weather looked questionable up there as well but we started up the first pitch, which was the crux at 11c. We didnt do so well on it but we had some fun. The clouds were looming at the belay and so we decided to bail. This turned out to be wise: On our way out rain and lightning could be seen all around and we found out that our wisperlight stove clogged up, which was the third time a wisperlight has failed me in the backcountry. Don't tell me about the cleaning kit and all that, none of that works in the long run. Those stoves just suck major ass.

So are the Bugaboos are great? The answer is yes. Will I go back? I hope so, but I might try for the alpine granite in the Sierras first as I hear the weather is more stable and the drive to the them is much shorter.


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