Bugaboos 2018

By Michael Shoemaker

Posted on 7/21/2018 6:31 AM


A Bugaboo Dream – 44 years in the making


I still remember the day, perhaps it was in the fall, at JR Smallwood Collegiate in Wabush, Labrador, 1974. I was in grade 4 and Ms. Young (my all time favourite teacher) was giving our Geography Lesson. Our textbook had a picture of … perhaps it was Bugaboo Spire. The name enthralled me … and the picture compelled me.


Last weekend (July 13-16, 2018) I hiked up to the Alpine Club of Canada’s Conrad Kain Hut in Bugaboo Provincial Park with the Calgary Mountaineer Scrambling Club. It was my 3rd time to the Hut in the last 10 years. The previous two times were day hikes.


Prior to the trip, I got myself a fancy new 35 litre mountaineering backpack and rented mountaineering boots and crampons from University of Calgary Outdoor Center.  (At MEC, I asked, “what makes a mountaineering backpack a mountaineering backpack?” They sit higher, the waist belt isn’t big and cumbersome to allow easy access to your harness, there is a place to put an ice axe and your crampons. Made sense … I bought one.)


On our first full day (Day #2) our focus was Pigeon Spire. I really knew nothing about it … but I did set it as an objective when signing up with CMSC … on request, a couple of friends had told me that I probably had the skills to do it.


We planned to leave the hut at 6am. About a 2.5 hour hike up ~1100 meters from the Hut over glacier and a very steep Col between Snow Patch Spire and Bugaboo Spire – crampons required, led us to the base of Pigeon Spire.


I was matched with Andrew and Al … Andrew was looking forward to increasing his skills at setting Anchors and placing “Trad Gear” along this 5.4 route. Al, a long time mountain guy with lots of experience … hadn’t been in the mountains for a couple of years …. and looked forward to “feeling it” again.


We started on our way.  I was shocked! This is 5.4!   Since about 1991 … I have done various climbing … and have managed to climb upto 5.10b. This was different. EXPOSURE.  A fall – could have you dead. However, why fall?! 5.4 – done with confidence, is pretty easy.


Not being confident, I was happy to be on a rope with Andrew and Al … taking our good ole time … pitch after pitch.  At some point, Al suggested we have a “Turn Around Time”. We agreed, that if at 2:30pm … we weren’t at the summit, we would turn around and be home for supper.


At one point, another CMSC member – Anna, and her group of 3 others … ripped past us – soloing the entire route. They were basically running up the spire – unroped. Shocked – again!  (I want that!!!)

Wow – to have the confidence … to scramble up this ridge – unroped.


At 3:30pm … we were at the top of the 2nd (3019 meters) of 3 summits to Pigeon Spire. We called it … and turned around. I was happy. We would be home before dark.


We exited of the Spire, climbing down the glacier to the hut. The snow was soft at this point, so we did not use our crampons. It was a nice run down hill.


Back at the Hut, at 8pm – completely exhausted physically and mentally, I immediately headed to my bunk … and slept 12 hours.


On Sunday, Day #3 … after a lazy morning in the hut, Andrew suggested we do a 5.7 – Lions Way on Central Spire. I asked, “What makes you think I have the skills?”  If he was game to lead, I was game to follow.


After some not so easy route finding, we were at the base of Central Spire and the beginning of Lions Way at 2pm. At 4:30 … we were on our 3rd pitch … and spent about an hour going up … what seemed like a 5.9 route. It was beyond our ability (we were off route).  We were happy to turn around and repel down, making it back to Conrad Kain Hut for Supper.


On reflection, I feel like I’ve been preparing for this trip since 1974!  I look forward to more scrambling including future trips to The Bugaboo’s – doing more routes, and finishing the routes we started.

Bryon Howard