Greetings from Bugaboo Provincial Park
By: Olivia Eads
At the beginning of July, I had an opportunity to meet up with one my friends, Jangbu, in Seattle. He scooped me up from the airport and together we drove 12 hours to the Purcell Mountains in British Columbia. The target destination: Bugaboo Provincial Park to stomp around in pristine Canadian wilderness. Also, to climb some beautiful granite spires!
Overcast weather was pleasant as we approached Kain Hut (to pay fees) and set up station at the Applebee Campground. The last stretch of winter was present in these mountains and the landscape proved very dynamic.
Upon arrival to the Applebee Campground we were 1 of 6 groups setting up tents. There were a few more people in the Kain Hut; however, more and more people arrived every day following due to nice weather rolling in. There were permanent structures for hanging backpacks, ropes, gear, and locking containers for food storage that kept the rodents out. They scampered around all hours of the day. Sleeping rocks were wet and flat. Drinking water fresh, crisp, and straight from glacial water runoff.
The day after the approach we slept in. I watched a few avalanches and rock falls in the gullies that happen daily as the sun and temperatures rise. A decision was made to stomp around the Crescent glacier to gain perspective on our next approach(s) to Pigeon and Bugaboo Spire via Snowpatch Col. Around, down and up we ascended the South Crescent Tower. On top we were able to see the entire route to Pigeon Spire, the granite nunatak we hoped to climb the following morning. After finding the best route, walking commenced for the rest of the day. Judging distance and time across this vast landscape is a difficult task even for a trained eye and fit body.
The guidebook explained the approach to Pigeon Spire as an easy 3-hour jaunt. That was overly optimistic for our first round on the Bugaboo Glacier. Especially because we walked too far along the snow trail to Pigeon and were headed to the wrong spire. So, instead of walking back up one steep slope, we chose to traverse across the snow to a patch of climbable rock on another near vertical slope. The climb was covered in snow and in the dawn’s shadows. I quivered, freezing while trying to belay then rejoiced when I could start climbing. Moving helped to warm up my extremities. At the top of that pitch there was a seemingly awesome finishing hold, however that was not the case. It was a precariously perched death rock instead. A few pitches later we were at the west side of Pigeon Spire to ‘start’ our climb. What should have taken 3 hours, took us 5 to get to this starting point. As we ascended we ran into another group of climbers on their way down. They suggested we bring our ice axes instead of caching them because between the second and third peak there was quite a bit of snow. This spire tested my comfort levels with snow repeatedly. I was very pleased to have the ice axe in my possession.
The Pigeon Spire is known for being a relatively easy climb (5.4) to get acquainted with the style of climbing and rocks in the Bugs. However, the dusting of snow present made things difficult and slightly terrifying. Completely exposed with little protection we moved together carefully across the spire’s ridge to the summit. At 3:30pm we reached the summit, had some calories and coffee then started our trek back to Applebee. Starting our day at the campground around 7:00am we ended just shy of 9:00pm in the same location; exhausted and ready for dinner.
The next two days while there I took little to no pictures.
We woke up late after our previous 14-hour day and went for a walk to climb the North Crescent Tower. At the summit we dropped packs then traversed the ridge hoping to summit the Central Tower as well. We made it just shy of the Central Tower summit then weather started rolling in, so we decided to gather everything and leave. While grabbing our stashed packs I heard a bizarre buzzing… Which was me, electrically charged, and I not able to ground that energy. Very scary circumstance, especially when holding metal equipment on top of a tall Spire with no vegetation surrounding. After a minor freak out and thinking I was going to spontaneously combust, we started rappelling down from the towers and headed back to the tent. There was a crazy thunder and lightning storm that evening. The next morning, we wanted to attempt the Bugaboo Spire, which originally sparked my climbing kindling for Bugaboo Provincial Park.
A 6:00am, bags already packed, early departure commenced. Around the rocks and up the Snowpatch Col, we made it to the base of the Kain Route on the Bugaboo Spire in about an hour and a half; a personal record for us traversing the snow! It was rather overcast that day and we wasted no time getting started on the climb. Around, over, and up we went. Weather started deteriorating fast. First with high winds blowing towards the south smacking the north side of the spire. The force just about knocked you off your feet as you come up over the ridge, which was fine. Then snow started flurrying. That was also fine, at least it wasn’t rain. Once we saw a white out starting to form in the cirque below and having little to no visibility on the ridge itself, we decided to call the climb and start heading down. Rocks were slippery, with high winds, and low visibility it made for a slightly dangerous descent. The sticky snow was perfect for slide steps on the way down the Col. After two self-arrests down the Snowpatch Col for being over confident in my steps, we made it back to the camp site around noon.
After a nap from the failed summit attempt we discussed our options. The decision to hike out and start our drive back to Seattle a day early was made. If we attempted the Bugaboo Spire again and got stuck/ had to bivy on the mountain, there was a possibility I would not have caught my return flight home. Instead we camped along I-90 and went to Deception Crag off Exit 38 near Seattle for a bit of climbing in the West Cascades. After a few sport climbing routes there, beer and burgers at Rogue Brewhouse, we drove the last leg to the Seattle- Tacoma Airport. Jangbu dropped me off: dusty, dirty, and rather stinky I entered the terminal reflecting on what was a successful and humbling climb.