The Becky-Chouinard in a day

This must be one of the most talked-about climbs in Canada, and certainly in the Bugaboos. I mentioned in my overall trip report that everyone visiting the Bugaboos for their first time seems to repeat the same 5 climbs.  This is one of them.  I would compare the Becky to climbing the North Ridge of Mt Stuart, or NE Buttress Mt. Slesse, with just a bit more 5.8 and 5.9 climbing.  It is a quintessential “mountaineers” route – the climbing is ledge to ledge, following the weaknesses along the ridge. Despite the fact that the exposure isn’t as great as some of the other ridge climbs I have done, the BC still provides an amazing alpine experience: a spectacular glacial approach and climbing that provides beautiful views of rugged valleys and mountains.

Jimmy and I did the climb in a day as our second outing in the Bugaboos, and as one of his first rock climbs after coming off of a Denali guiding season.

Approach:

The day before we tackled the BC, Jimmy and I tackled the NE Ridge of Bugaboos Spire as a warm-up.  On that climb we took a rope and a single rack.  During our descent the back to camp, we left our gear and rack at the top of the Bugaboo0-Snowpatch col.  This strategy allowed us to wake up in the morning and fire up the col from camp without much weight (just the other half of our rack, a very small amount of water (1L).  From here we made some route finding errors, but eventually descending down the Pigeon-Howser Col where magnificent faces of the South Howser Tower and the Becky come into few.  We found water here, and refilled to 3L, before dipping our lips in the glacier stream and ingested a little bit of silt right into our stomachs. Quite full of water, we crossed the talus and scrambled to the base of the climb.

Climb:

After reaching the notch in the lower ridge that comes down from the Becky, we started climbing up.  Though I had seen trip reports which commented on the treadmill like effect that one experiences climbing the ridge (a few hundred meters of scrambling), it seemed to go quite easily and quickly.  We hugged cairns which mark a “route” on the right side of the wide ridge crest.

Jimmy hiking/scrambling towards the base of the route on the Becky-Chouinard. The tower on the right is the Minaret. A cairned path through the boulders and talus existed towards the right side of the crest
Jimmy hiking/scrambling towards the base of the route on the Becky-Chouinard. The tower on the right is the Minaret. A cairned path through the boulders and talus existed towards the right side of the crest

Upon reaching the split boulder, Jimmy roped up and blasted up the 5.7 stuff.  We broke up the climbing in such a way that I led anything harder than 5.8, Jimmy led the 5.8s, and he led simul-climbing on everything else. In this way, we positioned our selves to move safely but quickly:  the strong leader followed on the simul pitches, but then leads the hardest rock pitches.

Jimmy following on the short but strenuous 5.8 chimney. This is where the pack hurts...I was actually able to get inside.
Jimmy following on the short but strenuous 5.8 chimney. This is where the pack hurts…I was actually able to get inside.

Given that we had brought a 70m rope, and the numerous optional belays, it is possible to link or climb the route in many different variations.  As Jimmy and I were leading in blocks, we often made 3 pitches into 2.  For example, you can do one long pitch from the top of the 5.8 chimney (photo above), to a very comfortable belay in a full lounge chair position mid-way up the long 5.8 corner (position from which photo was taken below).

One of the best pitches on the route: the second half (and pitch) of the long 5.8 corner. We both took a second to breath in the exposure at the top.
Jimmy leading one of the best pitches on the route: the second half (and pitch) of the long 5.8 corner. We both took a second to breath in the exposure at the top. Quite good.

After the long 5.8 corner, Jimmy put me on quick belay as I scrambled up to the pitch just before the headwall.  Jimmy started up in the center of the wall underneath a rectangular block (WRONG), then came down, walked left along the lidge, and headed up an easier looking crack in a corner (RIGHT – do this).

We climbed the typical headwall pitch (wide 5.9 to 5.10 hands), then took the 5.10 fingers variation to the left of the large chimney.  A little dismayed by the lack of sustained climbing on the route, I was quite taken aback when I ran out of gear and gas 1/2 up this pitch.  It is hard and sustained the whoooole way.

My on he headwall pitch. Next time I want to take the finger crack on the headwall!
Me on the headwall pitch. There are a few other pitches on the headwall which could be used to add difficulty to the climbing.  After clearing the wide 5.9 just passed the rope in this photo, I stayed predominantly within the hand cracks on the left, rather than cutting right into the chimney.  The hand-crack was high-quality 5.10 fun.

 

The 5.10 fingers variation to the left of the chimney, just after the headwall. This is definitely the most sustained and hardest pitch on the route. As a solid 5.10 climber, it is probably one of the only pitches where you will need a full double crack and then some!
The 5.10 fingers variation to the left of the chimney, just after the headwall. This is definitely the most sustained and hardest pitch on the route. As a solid 5.10 climber, it is probably one of the only pitches where you will need a full double crack and then some!

From here, we climbed to the top of the pitched climbing in 2 more pitches, skipping the tension traverse and climbed straight up to the 5.7 corner.  This required about 15m of simul-climbing, but allowed us to skip the tension traverse and any related shenanigans.

A little bit of simul-ing through the broken terrain took us to the top.  With great weather all day, we were psyched, a little low on energy, but in no rush to race down to the glacier.  Time for a selfie and a bar!

Summit self-ie
Summit self-ie

Descent:

Mid-August, the rappel put us into the rather large and ugly burgschrund. Though it seemed quiet, we didn’t stick around long to find out.

Thank you thank you Canada for bolted rappels.  The rappel setup for the BC is quite nice.   Some thoughts on these:

  • We made all the rappels, rather than opting for any scrambling to skip the first couple.
  • The second and third rappels lend themselves well to getting your rope stuck when either initially tossing the rope or pulling it through, so we avoided knots after dealing it once.
  • Rather than performing the traversing rappel, down-climbing is reasonable; there is a tag line for the first 20m, then another 10m on slightly steeper terrain.  If in doubt, just rap it and pull your rope very slowly to avoid it getting caught.
  • We found that the last rappel puts you into the burgschrund (see photo).  You need to climb back out of it (still on the rope, then can rappel another 5 m which leaves you on the glacier.  As the second, I rappelled this last 5 minutes, tied end of the rope to my harness, and then ran quickly out of the firing zone.  This seemed to be the best way to avoid any unnecessary time under the scary looking (but seemingly stable overhanging lip of the ‘schrund.

After the rappels, Jimmy and I made it back to camp in about 1.5 hours.  We roped up and threw in a few knots for a very small section of glacier near the Pigeon-Howser col.  Here, wet fresh snow blanketed the dry glacier, and we were we worried about hidden holes that appeared plugged.  After this, we left the rope on instead of making another transition until we got to the Snowpatch col.  From here we dropped down back into camp.

Kit:

  • 1x MasterCam 00, #3, #4, 2x MasterCam 0 -> BD #2 (We also were missing a BD .5 C4, )
  • Single set of DMM offsets + a few smaller offsets (though missing a nut, so just 5 nuts total)
  • 70m  x 9.8mm
  • Personal clothing: OR Astroman shirt + Ferosi + LW down jacket
  • Food: Shared 1L until reaching East Creek, Refilled 3L and drank out of stream. 1300 calories of bars and gels
  • Guide Tennis approach shoes, aluminum crampons (left axe at col)
  • 1 large waterproof tarp to share if the weather hit us

Times:

Overall, without using a watch all day, we’ve estimated our itinerary looked something like the following:

  • 2am: Wake-up with a little bit of coffee and some oatmeal cooked the night before
  • 3am: Leave camp as other tents begin to turn on and glow
  • 345am: Top of col
  • 4am: Picked up stash gear, repacked, and headed towards Pigeon-Howser Col
  • 5am: Screwing around on the Pigeon-Glacier (lost)
  • 530am: Finally descending towards East Creak at the Pigeon-Howser Col
  • 6am: at East Creek
  • 730am: Base of P1, roped up
  • 530pm: Top of climb
  • 730pm: Finished raps (we took our time, could be done much faster)
  • 9pm: Back at camp making dinner with energy to spare – definitely the way to do it!

Takeaways and beta for the next suitor:

  • Expect a mountaineers-route with 5.8/5.9 climbing between ledges, and great exposure on a few pitches.
  • A 70m was nice.  It added some security on the raps (apparently they were made for 60m ropes, but seem to be just on the verge of being too long), and also allows you to take advantage of the many optional belays to extend pitches a bit.
  • There was an abundance of water at East Creek during the time of year we did the route (second week in August)
  • The 5.10 variation to the 5.9 chimney after the headwall pitch is super-sustained, and the right side seems to be easier (per Jimmy ;))
  • Doing something like the NE Ridge of Bugaboos Spire the day before allows you to leave you gear at the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, thus substantially lightening your load for the first half of the approach.  This way, you’ll have an advantage over other parties headed out at the same time.
  • Go light and do it in a day if you’ve got the mustard.  Its really great that way!

2 thoughts on “The Becky-Chouinard in a day

  1. Great TR. thanks for some great info and photos!

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