Pikas, Packrats and Pancakes: Bugaboos July 2012

By Knut

I’d been dreaming about returning to the ‘Bugs for months, so when the time finally came to potentially head up I watched the weather forecast like a fanatic. Packing commenced nearly a week before and was accompanied by an aggressive meal dehydration scheme spearheaded by Erica. Pasta sauce, stir-fry, chili, all manner of delicious meals had the juices sucked out of them in preparation for the slog in.

We headed up late on a friday night, driving to Kamloops where we poached a site by the side of the road out in the boonies. We drove on the next morning disappointed by wet weather and damp. When we reached Revelstoke it was still raining and the forecast hadn’t let up so we decided to head to the Banff-Lake Louise area for some climbing in the sun. We spent Canada-Day climbing at the back of the Lake, where Jon and Jen discovered some sport and trad that was to their liking. The climbing at the Back-of-the-Lake is well known as being a destination for hard steep sport climbing, lots of big horizontal holds and solid rock. While all of that is true and the climbing is fantastic, I couldn’t help but feel that for the grades the routes we were climbing were definitely on the harder end and perhaps that grade -inflation in Squamish is more real than I had previously realized.

Finally we gave the weather forecast another look and decided to head into the Bugs when Jon’s iPhone called for a string of sunny days after one lousy one. Seizing our window we hiked in and decided to wait out the crap weather in the Kain Hut. We enjoyed the best possible weather-day given the circumstances, playing Settlers of Catan, reading and drinking tea. We played cards and I spent some time imagining that for once in my life I had found a game I was good at. That hope was shattered as I proceeded to lose catastrophically. Ah well.

When finally the clouds that had engulfed our view cleared we moved our camp up to Applebee and Erica and I decided to head up to Pigeon. Up on the glacier clouds rolled in and we found ourselves engulfed. When it cleared we were able to get a bit of a view of the West Ridge (5.4), and decided that there was too much snow on it to really make it feasible in the allotted time. We reckoned that with the time it would take to pitch out climbing that would normally be soloed, we would be climbing into the evening.

Erica heading up a couloir by the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. Firm snow and snice underfoot.

Erica’s last trip to the Bugaboos had unfortunately been during a period of intense rock-fall on the B-S Col, which meant that she’d had no chance to climb on any of the more prominent spires. I had singled out the Buckingham Route as a goal, as it is relatively short and follows a fairly easily discernible line of weakness up broken ground and flakes to the summit of Snowpatch Spire. With the hardest climbing at the top (a few moves of 5.8 slab) I had hoped to simul much of the lower section. Unfortunately despite having given it lots of time to melt after the snowstorm earlier in the week we found nearly the whole route choked with ice and verglas. We did it anyways and while it was considerably slower than we hoped, the weather held out and we enjoyed beautiful views and particularly full-value nearly-Patagonian conditions. On the descent, one of our two rappel ropes (50m raps) got jammed and had to be chopped (this route is particularly bad for that). Such is life.

Erica, summit-bound amidst an ocean of flakes.

McTech Arete had been a goal of mine for ages, and while unfortunately we didn’t end up climbing the whole route this trip. We got the first few pitches out of the way before our stoke wavered in the face of intense sun and dehydration and we decided to bail. In fairness, the first two pitches are pure gold, undoubtedly amongst the best quality I have climbed ever. The 5.9 roof which you hit just before the first belay is stout and the finger crack that follows is marvellous, surrounded by plenty of edges just right for standing on.

Mid-McTech Arete, feeling the sun at noon with the water bottles running dry

Despite the relatively early season dates for our trip (first week of July), we enjoyed splitter weather and good snow conditions for walking. Some of the higher spires still had quite a lot of snow left on the routes which made things like Pigeon and the Kain Route challenging, but if we had been more focused on those I am sure we could have done them as well. As it was we stayed closer to Applebee and explored more of the technical climbing around Crescent Spire which was beautiful.

It should be noted that on the road back to Vancouver the Bat-Mobile (as Jon and Jen’s car is named) stopped at the Big Bend Cafe in Golden and several Mountain-Man breakfasts were demolished. Whole battalions of pancakes met their Waterloo. They were delicious.

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