August, '05


The Northeast Ridge of

  Bugaboo Spire

Written by Lisa Foster



      As we drove to Canada I was filled with anxiety about climbing in the famous Bugaboos. The routes there were long, the vertical relief great. We got to the trailhead after a terrifying near-miss accident on the rough, dirt, rutted-out logging road that stretched for miles and miles. We poured out of the van, encircled the bottom of the vehicle with chicken wire to prevent the porcupines from eating all the hoses, divvied up the gear and struggled to hoist our mighty packs on our backs. This was gonna be rough. As I trudged up the trail under the weight of my 70 lb pack, I thought about the first climbers to come to the area. I knew that I was a pansy for thinking the hike was difficult when hearty men like Conrad Kain and vigorous women like Bess MacCarthy and Mrs. John Vincent came here in 1916 without the benefit of a trail at all and completed an amazing one day journey from our present day trailhead to the top of the North Tower of the Howsers and back. As I fought to haul myself and my pack up the steep terrain that was wonderfully equipped with metal ladders to scale the rock walls, I wondered how they bushwhacked through the underbrush and rock climbed up the short cliffs to breach the bench upon which the famous Kain Hut now stands.

      Pair that first day's hike with the grueling night of drinking and not sleeping at the Kain Hut, and then the miserable, puking, three hour journey the next day to make the “45 minute hike” to the Appleby Dome camp site, and you may understand my state of mind when, on our first dank morning under the shadow of Eastpost Spire, the alarm went off and I prayed for poor weather so I could rest. We were scheduled to climb the classic route, the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire, but I secretly longed that the weather would be as miserable as everyone had told me that the Purcell Range weather could be.

      As I peeked out of my tent it looked like the weather was on my side, but as I gazed out into the gloom, my comrades were not—Brad and Paul were already gulping down their portion of our disgusting (in my opinion) chocolate protein shakes with packs already full and ready to go. I should have known the weather wouldn't save me because years ago when Brad and I had wasted a perfectly good, blue sky Colorado climbing day by playing pool at the local pizza joint because in the morning the skies had looked suspiciously like rain—he had assured me then: “From now on, if it's not raining, we're CLIMBING!” I knew that he lived by this philosophy, and hope as I might, there was no moisture actually falling on my outstretched hand. So I hauled my sorry body out of the tent and choked down my share of the “chocolate death” and fell in behind Paul and Brad as they hiked across the campsite and up the small moraine that separated Appleby Dome from two gorgeous unnamed lakes.

      The weather really did look bleak. “Rain, rain, rain,” I silently sang to myself as we hiked. As we skirted the lakes and stepped foot on the beautiful and dirty Crescent Glacier, we noticed a couple hunkered down under a poncho by a large boulder. I didn't even have the energy to even speak to them, but my ears perked up when I heard the man's accent and his words that he was from Canmore.

      They were concerned about the weather, knew the local weather patterns, and decided it was too risky to continue with the climb. I looked hopefully at Brad, but my unspoken entreaty for retreat was countered with, “Well, we'll go up a little farther and see how it goes.” At that point I knew I had to change my attitude. I shrugged off my sluggish sleepiness and set my mind to climbing the huge, intimidating spire that loomed over our heads. This was going to be AWESOME.

      We hiked up the glacier, enjoying the ice art that was formed by the surface water streaming down to the lakes. We reached the rock barrier of the Bugaboo-Crescent Col and began scrambling up the 4 th Class terrain. It was steep but there were plenty of holds, so we went unroped and scrambled up to the top of the col. The view was magnificent, overlooking the Crescent Glacier, the cobalt blue icy lakes, and majestic Snowpatch Spire.

      From here we walked along the ridge to a set of vertical parallel cracks that split a beautiful slab system. Here we racked up and put on our rock climbing shoes, then scrambled up the cracks to the base of the route.

      Damn! My heart sank as I saw the backpack and realized that we were late. There was another party already started on Pitch 1. All that talk about weather and the possibility of not climbing had slowed us down, and since there's no way to go back in time and get up earlier, I sat down and made friends with Erin Williams, who also happened to be from Colorado. She was climbing with Josh Carnes, who was leading the first pitch. Erin turned out to be from Fort Collins, and Josh lived 30 minutes from me in Loveland. Small world.

      Brad was in a stellar mood, singing all the songs I love from John Denver and other whimsical tunes, excited to be at base of such a worthy objective. Paul is quieter, but I could see in his wry smile that he was excited too. I was nervous as hell, about the route, the immense size of the spire and the weather.

      When it was our turn to start, Brad jumped on the first pitch and fired it off. There was a small, cruxy roof right off the ground but this didn't even slow him down. Almost before I could lace up my climbing shoes again he had set up a belay and was tugging on the rope.

      At the top of the first pitch we again waited for Josh and Erin. The weather was not looking good. Erin was leading a delicate traverse when it started to mist; a mixture of hail, snow and rain. Josh looked nervous. Brad sang songs and made us all feel more at ease, and for some odd reason, safer. We climbed another two pitches before we passed Josh and Erin. All the while we made jokes, we sang, we pretended the weather wasn't getting worse. It helped. We climbed to a strenuous hand crack that would lead to the main chimney system of the upper ridge. Brad tried the more difficult line first, one with a mass of lichen on it that no one ever climbs, but in the interest of time decided to follow the more well-worn hand crack to the belay. Good call, my friend! At the base of the chimneys, we decided we needed to move a lot more quickly. We looked at Paul, the rock, and the man who gets it done, and handed over the lead for the rest of the ascent. He moved methodically and smoothly through the chimneys, brushing the falling moisture off his jacket, adroitly using the wet holds and continuing upward. It was impressive. We got to a break in the ridge and began to follow it, ever upward, leaving Josh and Erin far behind.

      When we approached the north summit, we rappelled from the ridgeline so that we could traverse between the north and south summits in an effort to use the Kain Route to descend. This is the standard descent. The traverse was tricky and Paul and I roped together for the most exposed sections, while Brad soloed it without concern. As we stood on a sloping slab below the south summit, I could finally see Josh and Erin top out on the ridgeline below the north summit. The entire traverse between the summits was ahead of them, and the hour was getting late. I was happy to not be in their shoes, and I worried for them. Paul climbed an awkward crack system to bring us up to the true (south) summit, upon which we sang and reveled in the absolute beauty and majesty of the Purcell Range. It was glorious beyond words. The sun was inching its way down, closer and closer to the horizon, and we knew that we needed to keep moving to make it below the rappels on the Kain Route and on to non-technical terrain before dark. With this decision, we shelved our glee and solemnly rappelled off the summit to descend the Kain Route. There was quite a bit of route finding, all credited to Brad and Paul being masters at that, and several spicy and exposed scrambles. We reached the non-technical terrain before dark, but I kept looking back for signs of Josh and Erin. Nothing.

      As we high tailed it down the rubble-strewn slope to the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, I realized that Josh and Erin would be spending the night up on the Kain Route. I shuddered for them, thinking of the uncomfortable, cold bivouac they were about to endure.

      It got dark as we reached the saddle, and we descended the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col with our headlamps barely penetrating the blackness. I could see the weak points of light that represented Josh and Erin's progress down the Kain Route, high on the mountain.

      We reached camp, exhausted but happy about our day. We had not experienced an epic due to weather, we had stood on a summit that few ever see or hear about, much less have the good fortune to climb, we had reveled in our friendship and in the beauty of climbing, and we had been successful. It was a great day, one that makes life worth living.

      The next day I meandered over toward the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col to try to find Josh and Erin. I heard them before I saw them, laughing and chatting as they weaved their way among the boulders of the moraine. They were in high spirits, the hard night of an unplanned bivy chalked up to experience and a lesson in perseverance. I was proud of them, and damn happy to see them safe and in such good moods. The turned down our offer for breakfast and retired to the Kain Hut to get some much deserved rest.

      Bugaboo Spire was our first mission in the Bugaboos, and it quelled my anxiety that I had felt about climbing in the area. The spires of the Bugaboos are true alpine gems, and the area is a brilliant and inspiring place to climb. The scale of the routes is enormous, but approaching from such a high base camp makes the routes reasonable, many of them within a single day. I recommend every person who loves to climb to visit this remarkable range. It is truly magical and magnificent. You have to see it to believe it.



Crossing the Crescent Glacier. The party of locals on the rock in the background decided to abandon their attempt due to the weather. Not a great sign.

Starting up 4th class scrambling which gains the Bugaboo-Crescent Col.

Looking up at the approach...


Looking over to Snowpatch Spire from the top of the Crescent Glacier.



A vertical panoramic shot of Lisa and Pavel third-classing the approach to the NE Ridge.



Wondering if a rope would be prudent...


Looking at the Vowell Group and the Vowell Glacier from theBugaboo-Crescent Col.



Looking up at the NE Ridge from the Bugaboo-Crescent Col.



Pavel gearing up with Snowpatch Spire in the background.



Lisa hydrating beneath the route.



More third-classing to gain the true start of the route.

The approach to this route is an easy rock climb in it's own right.

We were late enough in the season to avoid crossing the snowpatch which guards the ridge from the col. The tracks are still obvious from past parties.


Self-portrait below the route.



Turning the crux roof at the beginning of the first pitch. This Angle shows the terrain above.



Looking down at Lisa and Pavel from the first belay.  Here is a closer view.



Nearing the top of the first pitch. ..



Lisa waiting for Pavel to find an intermediate belay while we wait for an opportunity to pass a party of two we me at the Kain Hut.



This was not to be our best day of weather while in the Bugs.



Lisa on our third pitch with Snowpatch Spire in the background.



Looking over Brenta Spire, Crescent Spire, and the Cat's Ears to Cobalt Lake.



Looking down one of the best pitches on the route. A beautiful 5.6 corner. Here is a closer view of Lisa and Pavel.



The B-Team!

Pavel about to gain the 600 feet chimney system that accesses the upper ridge.


A vertical panoramic shot of the Vowell Glacier.



Pavel at work in the chimneys.



Lisa leaving the chimneys and beginning the ridge scramble to the true summit.



A shot of me high on the ridge with Brenta Spire and Cobalt Lack in the background.



Pavel rappelling through a gap on the summit traverse. Snowpatch is framed below.



Lisa waiting high above the Vowell Glacier for her turn to rappel.



Squeezing behind an exposed block while still on rappel.



Pavel and Lisa roped together for the some exposed moves of the traverse.



Pavel happy to be across.



Lisa using an unorthodox approach that I found spooky to watch.



Nearing the true summit with the North Summit visible behind me.



Shadows on top of Bugaboo Spire.



Looking down to camp which is still many hours away.



The B-Team on the summit of Bugaboo Spire.



Lisa feeling on top of the world.



Rappelling down some stellar white granite on the Kain Route.



Pavel arriving at the famous gendarme on our descent of the Kain Route.



Rapping with Snowpatch in the background.



Pavel ready to rap from the Gendarme.



Snowpatch and Pitch Spires. The West Ridge of Pigeon which we climbed later follows the right skyline.



Self Portrait at the Gendarme.



Snowpatch and her shadow.



Hurrying down in the waning light. We made it to the bottom of the Bugaboo-Snowpatch call at dark.

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