There are a few mountains and ranges on this planet that are so compelling as to be almost beyond belief. The Fitzroy Range in Patagonia. The Tetons in Wyoming. The Matterhorn in Switzerland. Half Dome in Yosemite. The Karakoram in Pakistan. The Bugaboos in British Columbia.
It doesn’t really matter how one visits these areas - be it by car, bus, boat, plane, helicopter, foot or bicycle, hiking or climbing - it’s all (better than) good.
There are others as well, but these half a dozen mountain ranges are in many ways the crown jewels of topography on planet Earth. At CMH Summer Adventures we consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to explore in and around one of these jewels: the Bugaboos.
After a rock climbing adventure in the Bugaboos, I stopped by the CMH Bugaboos Lodge and talked with a group of heli-hikers twice my age who had just spent a couple of glorious days on comfortable hikes along low-angled ridges and between turquoise lakes with postcard views of the Bugaboo Spires while heli-hiking with CMH Summer Adventures.
We compared notes:
- They did things they didn’t believe were possible for them; I did things I didn’t believe were possible for me.
- They stepped onto summits looking over vistas of fairytale mountains; I stood on summits and looked around at the kinds of mountains climber’s dreams are made of.
- They had a few of the best days of their lives; I had a few of the best days of mine.
In the end, we realized the mountain experience is the same for everyone - we just all find it in different places. It’s one of the things that makes mountain sport so special - anyone can do it. And of all the planet's alpine crown jewels, the Bugaboos is certainly the best suited for everyone to experience.*
With this fact in mind, here are six of my favourite technical climbs in the Bugaboos, places where I’ve spent the best days of my life. As you look at the following photos remember that the Bugaboos has something to offer everyone and can make climbers, hikers and sightseers feel the same euphoria and elation that I felt during and after climbing on these beautiful spires.
The West Face of the North Howser Tower:
As the biggest wall in the Bugaboos, the West Face of the North Howser Tower is about a thousand metres tall, the same height as Yosemite’s famed El Capitan, but in an alpine setting. Climbs are mostly 5.11 or 5.12 in didfficulty, and both long and extremely committing. Of course, just looking at the peak is a complete mountain experience.
West Ridge of Pigeon Spire:
One of the best rock climbs in the world, and at a moderate grade of 5.4, anyone who can climb can do the West Ridge of Pigeon. In this photo, a climber in yellow near the summit is dwarfed by the massive peak.
The West Face of Snowpatch Spire:
The West Face of Snowpatch Spire gets high marks, not so much for the superior climbing but for the outrageous position overlooking the rest of the Bugaboo Spires, views down both the Vowell Glacier and Bugaboo Glacier, and an incomparable pointed summit to complete the ascent.
One of the least committing climbing objectives in the Bugaboos, Crescent Spire, offers a climbing option for everyone, from 5.4 to 5.12. Here, a climber stretches for the safety of a gear placement on Energy Crisis, a sustained 5.11 that follows a clean corner for 70 metres.
The East Face of Snowpatch Spire:
Arguably made of the most beautiful stone in the world, the East Face of Snowpatch is worth hiking underneath just to stare upward at the black and white streaked rock framed against the blue sky and the white glacier. If I could have a house that looked like a mountain, this would be it.
The East Face of Snafflehound Spire:
A lesser known and rarely visited spire in the Vowell Range just north of the main Bugaboos Group, the smooth East Face of Snafflehound Spire is home to the cleanest cracks I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately many of the lines are not continuous to enough to make for climbs of reasonable difficulty, but our ascent of the face may have been the first 5.13 in the Bugaboos.
For those of you who are not familiar with climbing ratings, the “5” indicates that the climb is 5th class - meaning a rope and protection devices are usually used to secure the climbers in case of a fall. The number following the decimal point, like the “10” in 5.10, gives climbers a subjective idea of how difficult the gymnastics of the ascent may be. In the mountains, the grading can be viewed like this:
- 5.1-5.5 is considered beginner terrain
- 5.6-5.8 is considered intermediate terrain
- 5.9-5.11 is considered advanced terrain
- 5.12-5.13 is considered extremely difficult terrain.
- The world’s most elite climbs are 5.14-5.15, but no climbs of this difficulty have yet been climbed in alpine environments like the Bugaboos.
*The Bugaboos are the most suited for everyone thanks to CMH Summer Adventures with their unique helicopter access and diverse holiday programs for all ages and abilities in the area surrounding Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park.