On the drive from the Valhallas to the Bugaboos, there is an unusual part where you have to wait and take a car ferry across the massive inland reservoir. We had to wait nearly an hour, but it gave us time to relax on the drive.
The next day was rainy as we drove to the Bugaboos trailhead, but it cleared up just long enough for us to enjoy a cool and dry hike to the hut. Just after we reached the hut, the weather deteriorated again.
Alec and the packs are ready to go on the steep stairstepping approach to the Bugaboos. Wire mesh is in place on the car to keep those pesky rubber-eating porcupines away from the tires. Note the corral beside us filled with chickenwire for this purpose.
Map of the Bugaboos Area. While not too large, there is a lot of world-class climbing to be found here. (click to enlarge)
The trail, while short and starts out flat, has a pretty grueling grade, so be ready for some exercise getting to camp. Still, it is only 2.9 mi and 2,700' gain to the Kain Hut, so if you keep up a good pace, it is over with before too long.
Talk about red carpet treatment crossing the wooded marshes!
Getting higher on the trail, with some early views of Hounds Tooth (left) and the aptly named Snowpatch Spire.
The trail gets a bit more exposed here, but really, is this necessary?
They really don't want you to work too hard to reach the Bugaboos :-P
Chains and mortared steps ease passage up the slabs.
I kept up a fast pace, and even with my full multi-day climbing pack (including the 6-pack of beer), I still made it to the hut in about 1:30 hrs. Alec followed behind at a more leisurely pace, so while I waited, I looked over the hut and checked in with the ranger about campsite registration and currently acceptable bivvies for climbing the Beckey-Chouinard route.
The Kain Hut at last. I was going to wait for Alec here and then we were going to camp at Applebee, but as soon as he arrived a torrential sleet storm started. Fortunately there was just enough room for us in the hut, so we settled in for an easy night here.
The classic West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, seen from atop South Howser Tower.
Map of the Howser Towers and areas accessed from Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col
Snowpatch and Bugaboo Spires seen from the Kain Hut.
Onward to Applebee Campground! Since we indulged and stayed at the hut, we had to hike up to the campground and set up camp before continuing our approach to our bivy by Pigeon Spire.
Panorama from our tentside, with Hounds Tooth (far left), Marmolata, Snowpatch Spire, and Bugaboo Spire visible.
Looking towards Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col as we approached it via the lakes above camp.
Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col. This col is steep and potentially hazardous, but when we were there, good steps were kicked and the snow was soft, so it was very easy! Rockfall took out rappels on the right, but new stations have been added on the smaller rock peninsula extending down
Panorama from Snowpatch-Bugaboo Col. Left to right are Snowpatch Spire, Pigeon Spire, and the 3 Howser Towers (South, Middle, North)
Climbers on the Vowell Glacier. This glacier was quite tame - Alec and I never felt the need to rope up, and an axe isn't even really needed! Crevasses are present, though, so certain conditions might warrant a rope, especially the bergschrund crossing for reaching the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col.
Pigeon Spire. The smaller spire below is called 'The Gooseneck".
Panorama looking back towards Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col, with Alec following behind.
Mark on the glacier, headed to Pigeon Spire. (by Alec LaLonde)
Guide and client descending the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. Little did we know that there were over a dozen other climbers heading back along the ridge!
Starting up the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire. We decided to start out unroped and then rope up once it got hard or exposed enough.
In the beginning there is a step that one must climb, that might be one of the more typical rope-up sections. However, the move requires climbing up to an arete and making some weird arete-face climbing moves without pro, so a rope wouldn't help much if you fell on the tricky part. However, when we downclimbed, we found an OW that was plenty easy to downclimb. It would be harder than the standard way to climb up, but you are more secure against a fall if soloing.
Above this lower step the climbing drops to cl. 2-3.
Heading into more of a jumble, on the worst rock of the route (but still quite good!). You can see the first of many climbers starting down from the top.
Another "Wow" moment on the West Ridge. The summit is the one on the right. See the other climbers downclimbing the next section?
After topping out on the first highpoint, you descend an exposed cl. 2-3 slab to a notch. From there you can choose between two grooves to climb up, which are both about cl. 4. The left one is a bit tougher but less exposed.
Alec following down one of the many picturesque sloping slabs.
Alec following down one of the many picturesque sloping slabs.
Alec following on the narrowest walkable knife edge sections of the ridge. Time for a photo-op!
Nearing the first summit, with the higher one beyond. We would have to downclimb and traverse around the left backside of it to summit.
Traversing on ledges around the north side of the summit. Climb into the chimney on the lower left to pass around to the final 5.4 slab & finger crack.
Looking back at the sub-summit and what I thought was the real crux of the route. Downclimbing that wall was pretty tricky, although I took a harder way down than Alec, and found his way easier on the way back.
Rounding the summit towards the east side.
Looking down the 5.4 slab & finger crux before the summit. This was a little spicy to solo and we belayed each other on the downclimb, although the downclimb turned out to be easier!
Alec celebrating on the summit of Pigeon Spire. I took this shot from the rappel chains on the sub-summit.
Snowpatch Spire seen from atop Pigeon Spire.
Headed back, the ridgeline money shot (by Alec LaLonde)
Soloing went fast enough that we caught up to most of the climbers that we had passed on the ascent. Fortunately the terrain offered enough options for us to easily pass them. There was a large bottleneck of climbers at the final rappel, and while I didn't like the idea of downclimbing the tricky crux here, I didn't want to wait in line either. I spotted an OW/squeeze chimney crack below that would do just fine. For those familiar with wide climbing, usually the crux is moving up, but wide can be quite secure for plugging yourself in, and downclimbing by gradually releasing and letting gravity pull you down. This made for a quick and relaxed downclimb of the final step.
Alec bypassing the gridlock at the second rappel station.
Climbers at the second optional rappel for the descent of the West Ridge of Pigeon Spire.
The climb only took us a leisurely 1.5 hours round trip and was well worth the detour. We had plenty of time to get out here, do the climb, and set up our bivy and get some rest before our main objective for the next day: the Beckey-Chouinard route on South Howser Tower.
Perhaps the ideal way if you are moderately proficient at trad is to rope up for a few short cruxes, then solo or simul-climb the rest, and possibly use the rappels on the descent. These sections are the first step, perhaps climbing out of the notch, downclimbing the first sub-summit, and the final pitch ascending from ledges around the summit block to the top.
Another thing that makes this climb a great one to include on your Bugaboos list is that it can be a good rainy day climb - although you might want a rope in more places when the rock is wet. There are enough rainy days (or 40% POP) days in the Bugaboos that easier and shorter climbs are important to have on your list to still get out and about, get some exercise, and enjoy the range. The three most popular ones seem to be Marmolata, West Ridge of Pigeon Spire, and cragging routes on Crescent Tower or McTech Arete areas. The South Ridge (Kain Route) of Bugaboo Spire also seems to be a good one in this respect, and can serve as a means of getting familiar with the descent if later planning on doing the NE Ridge - this descent would be very difficult to follow your first time if it is done in poor visibility (clouds, darkness).