Ahhhh the Bugaboos….probably alpine rock climbing at its very best: easy access, a comfortable campground, short glacier approaches, plentiful route information, and beautiful granite walls. Jimmy and I enjoyed all this, complemented by splitter weather. We definitely have some ideas for how to make it even better next time, but as a first destination on our road-trip, we certainly found success.
Getting there and camping:
To get to the Bugaboos, Jimmy and I drove through Seattle, passing through the Coeur d’Alene area for a little while to visit my parents. This trajectory took us through Spokane, CDA, then over the border. The border crossing here is small and we were the only car, so it was very quick. I would recommend this route next time to those considering heading up. Before you make it over the border, be sure to grab camping and climbing supplies you might need (tape, butane/propane/white gas, food, etc). There is a Grocery Outlet in CDA where we got a bunch of stir-fry and curry meals for $1 each.
After the border, you cross through Cranbrook, Invermere, and then reach Brisco. At Brisco, you’ll exit the highway for the logging/mining roads that take you to the parking area for the Bugaboos. The directions in the Bugaboos book were good, but following the CMH signs for the first 40km made it easy to navigate the many forks in the road in the dark. The road probably takes 45 minutes to drive once you turn off in Brisco. We pulled into the Bugaboos parking lot late at night (12am) and slept in a tent until the morning.
We awoke in the lot, did a casual pack up of the car, standard chicken-wire setup included, and started the march to the campground. At an easy pace, we reached Kain Hut in 2 hours, and then probably the AppleBee in another 30 minutes. The hike is beautiful and quite moderate – somewhere you could take your parents!
Here is some of the gear we brought:
Double rack – tips to #3, a single #4 + single set of offset nuts and some RPs to supplement. We climbed the whole week without a second .5 BD C4 but this never turned out to be a probably. We brought 4 slings with just a single biner, 4 doubled up, and 3 QDs. During the week, we supplemented this by borrowing from our neighbors just once – a couple of extra TCUs for Flaming Hack Arrete outside of camp. Lacking a #5, we would also have needed to borrow for Sunshine Crack. We brought a single 70m rope (good for BC and linking on other routes) and a 70m half up in case we needed to make longer rappels (didn’t use).
Small two-man tent, and when I say small, I mean it. Some have called it “The Palace” in order to dramatize its size. Once you find a spot at the campground, there is plenty of room to spread up, so two small 1 man tents or a 3-person tent would give you plenty of space to relax. It gets hot up there during the day, so the shade of the tent is nice on rest days.
Very lightweight glacier gear/approach shoes – The glacier travel is mild at its worst, and Jimmy and I both spent the week in low-top 5.10 Guide Tennis. Sure, your shoes will get wet, but there is no sense wearing heavy boots all the way up there. In the morning the snow is hard enough to provide you some purchase with crampons (aluminum is all you need), and if you are traveling at the end of the day, you’ll be headed back to camp anyway, so who cares if your feet get wet. We only roped up for a 30m section of glacier after coming down from the BC, so leaving your Texas-stirrup style prusic setup at home is also a good idea.
Clothing – Without wavering, I’ll once again plug the OR Ferosi pants and jacket as the best setup for the job. These pieces were the perfect weight for full-days out in the Bugaboos, including use as sun protection when it really gets bright. Make sure you bring a pair of LW shorts and long-johns to wear back at camp. During the evenings, I wore the OR Incandescent hoody which seemed to be about the right weight. I also brought a very light rain shell (OR Hellium II), which I fortunately only threw on once or twice around camp during a few spinkles. Leave the heavy Gore at home!
Food and water – There is a spigot at the campground for fresh water. It is untreated and the split seemed to be 50-50 on whether people treated it or not. Jimmy and I went au-natural and have yet to feel any rumbling in our tummies. If you want to treat your water, a pump/filter setup of some kind would probably be best, and in addition, a small supply of tablets for refilling at East Creek or other areas away from camp. We brought a small French press for slower mornings. This was accompanied by instant coffee for the days where we wanted to get out of camp quickly.
Some other good-to-know tips about camping:
- There seems to be enough sticks and chicken wire to go around, even when the parking lot is very crowded. It doesn’t seem necessary to bring your own
- Chord/string for tying down your tent is a must. Stakes won’t work on the rock slabs on which you’ll be sleeping at AppleBee.
- Bringing in veggies or real food that requires refrigeration seems to be possible if you put them in a large 5-gallon bucket with a lid. During the day, you can place the budget in a nearby snowpatch. We didn’t do this ourselves, but spoke with some other climbers who frequent the place and employed this method with obvious success.
- Do most of your packing before you reach the Bugaboos lot, as there are plenty of mosquitos and biting flies to pester you should you choose to spend to long in the lot. There aren’t really any bugs at camp.
Routes, approaches and glacier travel:
As I mentioned above, the glacier travel for all the popular routes is quite mellow. By the time of our arrival (second week in August, the winter/spring snow had settled out and any dangers that existed (holes and shrunds) were quite clear. The track up the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col was also quite stamped out. We used the lookers-left side of the Snowpatch Col for most of our ascents and descents. There were large buckets which provided security, and was relatively rock free in contrast to the lookers-right side which can be rappelled via fixed line. The large amount of loose rock combined with the stream of climbers heading up and down this variation seemed to make it more dangerous.
Though we had an axe and crampons for most approaches (except for the Paddle Flake and the NE Ridge), those familiar with summer snow travel could skip either one or the other. In our case, having both crampons and an axe just provided an extra margin of comfort/safety which allowed us to move more quickly. Most of the time we used axes to walk up to the top of the Bugaboo col (for use as a cane), then left these there.
Weather and clothing:
We had splitter weather with the exception of one afternoon during the middle of our stay. This seems to be inline with the commonly observed weather in the Bugs. The first couple weeks in August are held to be the most consistent. For most of our days, I just wore a Outdoor Research’s Astroman shirt and Ferosi. I washed the shirt briefly in stream when we walked down to the car one day, thus allowing my packing list to stay just a little bit shorter. It remained warm enough at night that I rarely zipped into my 15 degree bag. During the day, the direct sun was quite warm and required one to layer up in one way or another (sunscreen or a lightweight layer). Having a buff and hat in my pocket made it bit easier to regulate my temperature, but when the sun went behind the clouds, the heat seemed to be sucked out of the air quite quickly (its much dryer than the Pacific NW).
I made a separate trip report about climbing the Becky-Chinourd here. In addition to the BC, we did a few other routes, all of which I would repeat. After talking to a few other folks at the campground and in Squamish afterwords, it seems that there are about 10 routes in total which probably make up about 90% of the climbs that people do in the Bugaboos. The four we did, listed below, expect for Flaming Hack, are all on this list. Others that we did not complete but that are frequently mentioned classics for the 5.10, 5.11 climber are: Sunshine Crack, McTech Arete, the West Ridge of Pigeon, and Surfs up. If you are doing something else, congrats, you are really getting creative!
NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire
A great warm up for the BC. Jimmy and I did this the day before. Its pretty much a long 5.7 run-up that can be done very quickly out of camp. The descent was a bit tedious but since you end up at the col, you can use this as an opportunity to store gear for the BC the next day. See full TR linked ab0ve where I describe how we did this.
Paddle Flake-Direct in the McTech Arrete area
Paddle Flake was an awesome short climb near just to the left McTech. When we showed up, a previous group told us they had just bailed because the route was dirty and some of the cracks were a bit sealed with plants and dirt. Undeterred, we decided to stick to our guns and give the Direct start a go anyways. It turned out to be a great route, with ample protection, that required just a bit of care and back cleaning to keep the rope running smoothly. Here is how we climbed it (the pitch lengths and description in the book seems rather off, and you could link quite a bit of the route with the right beta).
P1 – 5.10, Climb the finger cracks on the right, just to the left of a wide hands crack that parallels it. You can move into this 10m up for a brief rest, before launching into a brief layback through a small roof where the feet are lacking. This puts you into a deeper corner, where the gear becomes harder to find (this is likely where the party we ran into had problems). You can protect this section quite well with a small nut (RP or small offset), before stemming up the rather blank corner under a roof. Gear can be found under the roof, before you wrap around to the left, through another strenuous roof move, and to a belay stance.
P2 – Climb from here to the base of the Paddle Flake. There are three crack systems that seem to run from here to the next. I took the middle one, though I believe the right one is actually the route. The middle crack system I took will put you at a small ledge up and left from the base of the Paddle Flake.
P3 – From the small ledge mentioned above, we did a massive full 70m pitch up past the ride side of the first Paddle, through the corner system (easy 5.9 climbing via hand-sized cracks but lots of vibrating blocks), into the strenuous crack that splits the roof (red and yellow BD C4s), and then up and left another 15 m to a belay. Skip the belay that can be built just after the roof and keep going! The last 15m take a #3, and small finger sized gear/nuts (purple C4 and a .4?)
P4 – 1 pitch to the top. Some disjoint but strenuous 5.10 if you go straight up.
Flaming Hack Arrete
This may be the closest route from the campground, requiring just a ten minute approach to the base of Eastpost spire. We did it in three pitches. I am not sure where on this route the 5.11+ rating comes from, but it is well-worth a few hours.
P1 – Climb the sustained 10d corner which requires a lot more lay-backing than you might expect. A few extra TCUs are necessary for this one (0,1 MasterCams and BD .3s will do you best). Be aware that it is a bit runout near the upper half of the route. You get a pin, a good .3, but then there is about 15 ft of climbing that are marginally protectable at best, and maybe even a bit of loose rock I wouldn’t pull out to hard on. Be prepared for battle on this route!
P2 – Move the belay from the hand-cracks on the wall on the right at the top of P1, to up and above the slabs. On the slabs that are below the roof, belay on the right. See photo.
P3 – This could be done as either one or two pitches. After briefly starting up the wrong spot, I eventually found the way up through budges to a finger crack below a small roof, then climbed left, up through an easy but dirty corner to a set of anchors below a slab with a finger crack, which is the crack as seen from camp. Continue up the crack,past the anchors (or belay here) and through a tiny roof. The climbing above this second anchor here is probably mid-5.10 with great protection.
Summary of the trip and plans to go back:
Jimmy and I were extremely impressed with the Bugaboos. The comfort of camp, combined with the access to such a wide-variety of climbs was quite remarkable. Originally I was a bit dismayed by the lack of harder routes, but it turns out this is just because Jimmy and I failed to do our research. Most of the hard-free climbs have been put up after the guidebook was released (early 1990s), and beta for them can be found online. Without having done this research ahead of time, Jimmy and I were feeling a bit unmotivated after we did a few of the most classic moderates. Next time we’ll definitely have to give Sunshine Crack a run.
Our neighbors at camp also suggested a few of these other routes, which I’ve since found on the internet. Here are some of them for next time (many of which may still be two hard, but are worth eye-balling):
On Bugaboos Spire, there is Divine Intervention (8 pitches, 5.11b)
Then on the the East Face of Snowpatch (good topo here), there are MANY hard long climbs:
East Columbian Indirect
It turns out that Blake Herrington also has some more beta on some of these climbs here