The Bugaboos are one of my favorite places on earth. Towering granite spires with rugged glaciers lapping at their feet, they make for an awe inspiring landscape. With an extremely lucky break in the weather that allowed us three days of perfect conditions to knock off my biggest objective for the summer- the classic Beckey-Chouinard on the South Howser Tower.
We hiked up in the afternoon and with the recent collapse of the Bugaboo Snowpatch Col, we decided it would be better to camp in the Boulder campground by the Kain Hut rather than up at Appleby. The main objective for the trip was the Beckey Chouinard, an 800m long, 5.10 alpine gem, but we were keen to get our heads into Bugaboo mode so decided to climb Paddle Flake on Cresent Spire the next day.
Dawning bluebird, we hiked up past Appleby to Crescent and enjoyed some spectacular granite cracks above the glacier.
Feeling as ready as we would ever be for the Beckey Chouinard, the plan was to move camp to East Creek that same afternoon and begin from there the next morning. Thinking it was redundant to have to hike out of East Creek once we had climbed the route, we decided to make one push from Boulder. It would mean we had a few hour approach and hike back to camp afterwards, but we were keen to push ourselves.
We roused ourselves at 2am to begin our day and were greeted by bright stars and a complete lack of clouds. Hiking up the glacier, our world entailed the illuminated beam from each of our headlamps and masked the 3 hours of hiking that loomed above us. The sun rose as we approached the Pidgeon Howser Col and we got our first look at the South Howser tower.
Leaving our big packs with food and water for the return, we skipped down into East creek, anticipating being on the route within half an hour. Throwing a spanner in the works was a 50m wide exposed strip of glacier ice that without crampons took us maybe 40mins to cross, slipping and slidding and chipping steps.
Five hours later we were finally at the base of our most significant objective for the summer. The line is so clean, steep and in such a sublime location that it captured my imagination the first time I flicked through the guidebook. Roping up, we embarked on the Beckey Chouinard and a lesson in how to climb cracks.
Somewhat nervous about the climb, we decided on a schedule and strategy that had each of us leading a three pitch block before swapping out. Hoping that the 5.8/5.9 pitches prove easy to dispose of, we hoped to average 30mins per pitch. All that was abruptly thrown out the window. Quickly humbled, we knuckled down got to work.
The climbing was incredible. Clean cracks, good protection and long pitches. We perservered to Big Sandy Ledge and gazed up the steeper headwall. Already thirsty and above 3000m, we were feeling tired to say the least. Slotting one perfect handjam after another we soon found ourselves at the 5.10/A0 tension traverse. This route was put up by to of North Americas legendary alpinists in 1961 and the sustained nature of this climb is a reall tribute to their commitment, strength and vision. Popping around the corner into a gully, we scrambled up to the rappel and then onto the summit for a jow dropping sunset. Forest fires had clogged the valleys with smoke throughout the day and madde for surreal light.
Ecstatic to be simple be on top, let alone before it had gotten dark, we turned our energy to the descent. The rappels began well, but on the fourth, our rope got stuck as we were pulling it. Nineteen hours into the day, it was not what we really felt like. Presented with a few options, a)climb up and free it, b)cut ti and tie it into the second rope which was too short for 30m rappels, or c) wait for the party behind us to come down and free it. We opted for c since we figured they couldn't be too far behind us.
An hour and a half later we spotted their headlamps above us, after taking the knife out in preparation for cutting the rope if they didn't materialize in the next 5 minutes. Sucking back caffiene PowerGels to retain some form of concentration we made it down onto the glacier smoothly and began the slog back to camp.On the third rappel under Snowpatch, Erics alarm went off, indicating we had been awake for 24 hours. We blinked blankly at each other and continued down.
22 pitches, 17 rappels, 2000m of elevation gain and loss, and 26 hours later, we stumbled into camp sore, but content. It was a huge day and left us sleeping, slouching, dehydrated lumps of not much the next day. Christoph and Markus had a 19 hour jaunt on the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire so the groups aspirations were all together equal.
Stumbling down the train to the car park the next day, I couldn't help but place the Beckey Chouinard at the top on my list of favorite alpine climbs. It was that much fun.
To view a gallery of the trip click here