Bugaboo 2019 Recap: The stoke never ends after trips like this 7/2/2020 0 Comments Hike In: With 5 days total and 1-day hiking in and out it would have been a success to climb for 3 days with 3 objectives. But as we prepared to hike into base there was definitely a weather system moving through the mountains in the middle of the week. Would we climb for 2 days, 3 days…Either way we had planned to climb, eat, and enjoy whatever the Bugaboos had in store for us. Through the early flats, over the boulder garden, past the waterfalls, grabbing chain oink handles, climbing up ladders, and navigating the eroding snow bridges we made the trek into a nearly vacant Applebee. After a roam around to find the best base camp option, we set up camp, and were ready to go get our feet wet. In early July the snowpack was still quite deep which made for decent morning travel. On top of that the boot packs around camp were, for the most part, good routes and allowed us to move about with relative ease.
Lions Way A wonderful low commitment cluster of spires rise above Applebee Camp. A short 35-minute hike to a myriad of moderate to difficult routes scale the Crescent Spires and Crescent Towers. After our hike in, we checked in with the camp host, set up camp, gathered the required equipment and made our way for a warm-up romp on the 6 pitch 5.6 Lions Way. This beautiful route climbs along the edge of the Central Crescent Tower following ledges, dihedrals, cracks, a chimney and some slabs to a prominent and proper spire summit. This helped our team get the alpine granite climbing gears turning. Communication, cleaning gear, buffing out our transitions, and focusing on developing crack climbing skills. In preparation for our trip Gina, Tiffany and I spent a day climbing alpine rock on the tooth at Snoqualmie Pass, unfortunately the east face proved to sketchy at best and only provided a “this is not how I roll” vibe. So, our first opportunity to work on crack climbing skills was on route. While Tiffany and I have climbed beautiful granite cracks in Index and she has climbed a variety of rock on her own, Gina had only climbed indoor cracks at the gym. Even so they both possess great athleticism and intellect and were able to quickly adapt to the climbing style and cruise the route. The route starts steep and gradually eases and in no time, we had made the beautiful summit. We took our time with a break to view, scan, overview, evaluate, take in, overlook, anticipate, scout, all the routes we planned to climb. From this vantage point we could see it all spread out in perfect viewing harmony. Shortly after arriving at the summit we started our descent with a bit of short roping down easy ledges, to a single rappel, back onto snow, down the gulley and to our gear depot. A casual 6 hours after leaving camp and we were enjoying dinner as our first sunset in the Bugaboo cast the rosy alpenglow over our next objective, Bugaboo Spire. Mountain Project Route Link: Lions Way Crescent Towers with a little route beta
NE Ridge The always towering, ever-present, glacial sculpted, full sail shaped, granite blade, shark fin circling, surfboard fin shaped, Bugaboo Spire has been inspiring climbers for generations. Gazing in awe to its lofty heights, climbers imagine themselves up there, making decisions, placing gear, route-finding, climbing pitch after pitch of sterling granite scrambling along its summit ridge and dreading the proposition of benighting on route or the descent. Even though the North East Ridge is relatively moderate at 5.8, “it’s grade IV”, and many climbers get turned around early in their summit attempt. This route is a large undertaking, with substantial exposure, considerable commitment, and glorious rewards. Even so, looking down from its attic, catwalk, rafters, upon Applebee it seems so close but so far away as teams of climber’s scurry like insects running in and out of the hive. As with any team venturing into the Columbia Mountains this would be a highlight, a major objective, one that would alone make the trip worth it and the driving force behind Tiffany’s desire to return to the Bugaboos. When tiffany and her husband Scott got married part of their honeymoon was a backpacking trip into Cobalt Lake. From this position they were able to admire bugaboo spire and longed to climb its most aesthetic ridge lines. Now we had put in the effort to see if our grit was enough to climb the N.E. Ridge. An early morning on our second full day had us fed, caffeinated, and moving by 6 a.m. While this is not what you may think as an alpine start, we had early and long days getting to Radium Hot Springs, with nearly 16.5 hours of daylight, and a solid weather forecast I was not overly concerned about a later start. In fact, this turned out to be a benefit since it staggered the starts with the other 2 teams vying for the same route. A short 40-minute walk up the Crescent Glacier and we were roped up, climbing up a short snow slope, into a moat at the base of the chimney approach pitches. Next, we did several 4th & 5th class pitches off the glacier, into the gulley system, to bolted anchors, and then Crescent Bugaboo Col. After reaching the ridge line short rope scrambling took us along the ridge, up a short soft boot packed snow slope, then several short 4th class pitches to the base of the North East Ridge. Along the way we chatted with one of the teams as they were descending. The guide had concluded the followers crack climbing technique was insufficient and decided to descend and head to Lions Way, the route we did the day before. Now, the only other team on route was already up pitch 2. This was the last time we saw them. An adequate break, food, water, sunscreen, pee, rack up and we were climbing. Cracks, chimneys, ledges, pedestal belays and crested precipices led us to the top of the North East Ridge and just below the North Summit of Bugaboo Spire. Pitch after pitch of stellar ridge climbing efficiently elevated us up 11 pitches. At just over 35 minutes per pitch and about 6.5 hours of climbing the ridge route went quickly with plenty of moments to soak in the alpine glory. After reaching the top of the pitched climbing we went into single rope travel and scampered along the exposed serrated summit ridge crest, soaring above camp, a soft breeze, comfortable late afternoon sun, looking over the slithering Vowell Glacier, the edge of Bugaboo Spire falling away on either side of us until we reached our first rappel station. Descending from the North Summit leads to more exquisitely exposed ridge scrambling. A couple hours of up and down had us rappelling, then scrambling, back to rappelling until finally reaching the notch between the Great Gendarme and the South Summit. From here a near constant transition of pitched ridge rambles, rappels, and short roping created a mosaic of technical alpine climbing and guiding techniques. As the sunset alpenglow cast over the striking gold and grey granite spires, the aquamarine moraine lakes, that seemed to have been plucked from a Caribbean beach scene and plopped down in the middle of glacial nirvana surrounded us on all sides. In the darkness we traveled by headlamp on easier less exposed terrain until we were able to remove the rope and scamper the short remaining distance to the Bugaboo Snowpatch Col. Finally, 3 rappels would take us down moderate to steep snow slopes back onto the Crescent Glacier. We had the majority of our day seamlessly flow while on an internationally popular route we had it all to ourselves, splitter stunning weather, smooth movement, plenty of snacks and laughs and clocking in at almost 18 hours, this was an adventure of legendary proportions. Straggling into camp it was late, dark, and chilly. Happy to be close to bed, one of the other climbers greeted us, having watched our headlamps descend into the night, he shared some hot tea with the ladies. At the same time, it had become obvious that an unwanted visitor had ransacked Gina and Tiffany’s tent. A full-on tent evac followed to make sure the mouse wasn’t still in there. What a way to wrap one of best alpine days. Steph Abegg Route Beta: N.E. Ridge Mountain Project Route Link: N.E. Ridge
Looking over Applebee during the descent of NE Ridge via the Kain Route
Weather Day Every time we plan a mountain adventure the weather factor is lurking in the back of our minds. What if it rains? What if it pours? Snow, wind, clouds and fog. Early frontal passage or late passage? Which weather model looks encouraging, which one looks realistic? With 5 days in the mountains we could only rely upon 2-3 days of weather forecast accuracy. After that model runs change. Even then, we still have to evaluate, confirm, or contradict the forecast. It started to rain a few hours after we got back down from the North East Ridge and it didn’t stop for nearly 30 hours. So, with 2 successful climbs and our big primary objective accomplished we hunkered down for a rest day- weather day combo. During this time, we recovered from our wonderful climbs by drinking pure glacier water and organic green tea, munching our delicious snacks, fresh cheese, cured meat, and candy, lots of candy! Chatting, napping, reading, listening to podcasts, and I reluctantly admit, watching a few good movies on my phone. What better way to get stoked during a climbing trip than watching “The Dawn Wall”! So, with a flexible plan, an acute mountain sense, time for proper self-care, and of course a group discussion about desires, fitness vs fatigue, and a red lined level of stoke, we decided to have an early morning on our 4th day. Soft soothing tones electronically chimed us awake at 4 am. A spattering, trickling, plopping of raindrops fell on our tents. Still we prepared for our day by eating breakfast, dressing for early morning conditions, but by our departure time it was evident, the rain wasn’t ready to relent. Instead we retreated back to our tents. Hour by hour passed and by 7:30 a.m. the rain stopped, the clouds were breaking, and our confidence grew as we confirmed the earlier forecast that the front was indeed passing. Without hesitation we were dressed, packed, and were departing camp for our 3rd objective on our 4th day.
Pigeon Spire Admittedly, I thought a lot about executing this trip. It’s what I get paid to do! Whether it’s an innate part of my personality, a developed behavior from excellent mentorship, decades of climbing and execution, or just my job, anticipating everyone’s fitness, experience, fatigue, objectives, weather, linking it all together and having plans B, C, and D ultimately pay off. As a result, we would climb an easier route with a more scenic approach, West Ridge Pigeon Spire is another ultra-classic moderate ridge scramble and for the day a Plan A. To access this spectacular adventure, we climbed up moderate to steep snow in crampons with ice axes to the B.S. Col. As low clouds filtered broken sun we long rope glacier traveled across the splendid and scenic upper Vowell Glacier, fragmented golden swords of light cut a dramatic veil through low pillows of clouds flittering brilliantly against the deep alpine blue of clearing skies rich with moisture, atmosphere, ionized, purified water vapor, splitting around the granite spires and stone serpent heads, pigeons, bugs, and snow patches. The Howser Towers teased us with their impressive relief until we reached the Pigeon-Howser Col. Cool temps, dry rock, and short pitches of easy 5th class engaged us as we moved along granite ramps and ridges bringing out big smiles, thunderous laughs, and an overall welcomed ease. After having a gigantic adventure on Bugaboo Spire, we could now cruise and enjoy a more leisurely scurry on a super fun spire. Along the way we ascended 3 Pigeon summits, while scampering along wide gray speckled sidewalks and crested precipice of ridge lines of flawless weathered granite cracks and slabs, even a lingering snow patch, until reaching the overhanging main summit. Even though the summit is an easy slab from the rappel anchor, the top overhangs thousands of feet above the Bugaboo Glacier, while nearby Marmolada and the Hounds Tooth bob buoyantly in the glacier in the background and compliment this striking landscape. Windows through cloud breaks, shown sunlight graced the steep walls and undulating glaciers, far below on the Vowell, one team worked their way towards the Pigeon Howser Col while a few teams climbed the classic Surfs Up on the west face of Snowpatch Spire. A chill bolted rappel took us back along the ridge, avoiding most of the remaining snow patch, passing by and chatting with the only other team we crossed all day. By mid-afternoon we were down from the west ridge going back across the Vowell Glacier while continually being dwarfed by stone giants brooding overhead contrasting against the ice blue and cotton white breaking clouds. Back down to camp and enjoying dinner at 6 we were satisfied with another classic alpine excursion. Steph Abegg Route Beta: West Ridge Mountain Project Route Link: West Ridge Pigeon
Descending the Vowell Glacier towards the B.S. Col, Bugaboo Spire (L), Snowpatch Spire (R)
Ears Between Before we knew it our week of sending had caught up to us. Once again, we deliberated our options and decided on a capstone climb to complete our extraordinary week in one of the world’s great alpine climbing destinations. Up until now I was thoroughly impressed with our team dynamic, endurance and would have been satisfied walking out with our accomplishments in hand. But why stop there when, just a short distance from camp, we could climb another 6-pitch route, walk out, and make happy hour in Radium Hot Springs. So, we decided to leave camp by 5am and climb an aesthetic 6-pitch 5.7 line up the middle of the Crescent Towers called Ears between. another incredible sunrise saturated the surrounding spires as we made the short 40-minute approach. We climbed a mix of face, cracks, then chimneys. We channeled strength, managed fatigue, finessed the chimney or thrutched it to another rewarding summit spike. After several hours of climbing, we relaxed on top took in the stunning beauty that surrounded us and reminisced about our accomplishments. As we looked around, we thought back to all the routes we climbed. They spread out in a display of perfectly faceted stone towers rising thousands of feet out of ancient wrinkled and cracked white ice, reaching towards the sapphire sky, in a primal offering, reflecting our fears, our courage, our desires, accomplishments and insignificance in the teal pools of glacial till and runoff. Just like all the other descents in the Bugaboos we rappelled, short roped, then easily scrambled to our last rappel that would put us a short 15-minute walk back to camp. Our last walk back to camp took some time, it had set in that this was it, our trip was concluding and the moment we have now to admire, to mind scale, to reimagine, ourselves running around the playground of alpine lords. Alpinism roamed free here, tried and true, the respect of this cathedral is now ages old, generations carry the word of this temple, words of honor, admiration, authority, challenge, success, and defeat. But for us we would leave with gratitude, with a sensation we wish to carry for years, to share with others who dream of larger things, who strive for big goals, who appreciate the path but honor the accomplishments. Mountain Project Route Link: Ears Between
Aquamarine and Snowpatch Spire
Sunrise above the Crescent Glacier