Kasper was due to visit Canada again in August and we long ago made tentative plans to climb in the Bugs while he was here. Thanks to the aviary I met Clemens and Noel, both eager to join. Kasper recruited a Golden “local” Ghislain rounding us out to five.
Quick background on each (aka “why I was lucky to have them along”). Kasper climbs hard, geeks out and, aside from getting me both the place to live and job that got me back in Van, is a long time awesome friend. Clemens brings the stoke and shares it — he’s awesome to climb with. Noel is probably the best person you can possibly go into the mountains with: as a meteorologist turned glaciologist with the uncanny ability to announce an impending wind (seriously, more than once, within ~5 min.). Ghislain is a cross country ski coach, social, fit and fun, but he’s always hungry! For me, this would be my second trip to the Bugs after a much too long decade away.
August was late season this year. The col was out. There’s a possible rappel along the Snowpatch side of the col but this would still only have gotten us halfway down the choss. Any routes up Bugaboo Spire and on the backside of Snowpatch, and indeed anything past the col, entailed a roundabout detour dropping nearly to the hut and around Snowpatch and up the glacier behind Pigeon.
Driving was easy with three drivers (no comment on who won for fewest stalls), and my car was astounding for fuel economy. The logging road started out smooth then got a little rough but still no problem for my small Accent. Chicken wire was available at the parking lot (nice change!) and we joined the throng of cars gift-wrapped
for against porcupines. My carload (Clemens, Noel and I) hiked ahead while Kasper and Ghislain had a parking lot dinner (note that it’s not a good idea to eat a Ghislain-sized meal right before hiking the trail up).
Day 1: Kasper partnered with Ghislain and Clemens with me to climb McTech Arete while Noel took it easy at camp. Pitch 1&2 combine to a 65m pitch (doable with a tad of simul climbing on our 60m half ropes). At the altitude, after the long day before, in the heat (I’m good with excuses and could go on) that first pitch was damn exhausting but damn fine. With only a pitch of rambling, the route is stellar overall and deserves its reputation. Rappelling was a loose rope eating nightmare. Clemens and I tried killing Kasper and Ghislain by pulling a decent sized boulder down (we missed); the party after us suffered a missed anchor without prusiks and major rope faff to finish getting everyone down.
Day 2: The five of us set off the long way around Snowpath to climb Pigeon. With one rope for the glacier travel and random gear we would not use on the climb itself, we were light and caught up with the alpine starters tail end of the cue at the base of West ridge. After a quick lunch and usage of the facilities-with-a-view (best view really), we started up the climb and quickly overtook a couple from Texas.
The West ridge of Pigeon, aka “Best 5.4 in the World” is gorgeous. The rock is stellar, the formations are dramatic and the views are epic. We took a nap on the second summit watching the other parties rappel off the summit but lost Kasper who thought he’d join them on the summit and encourage them off sooner. Clemens was fast after him leaving Ghislain, Noel and I to seek out the easiest line (still unroped) and ended up off route on an easy slab (climber’s right) to the summit. We followed the true route (climber’s left along a finger crack traverse) back.
Glissading the first half (or more) of the glacier got us down quickly but when one lost control in the middle of the rope he quickly pulled everyone else after down with him. Fun! Wet! But mmm, good glacier water.
Day 3: Ghislain and Noel splintered to climb Lion’s Way while Kasper and Clemens split leads to drag me up the Paddle Flake Direct. I can’t speak for the others, but the “direct” part was an inelegant shortcut from a fairly nice looking (easier) corner of the original route and I’d recommend against the Direct. Clemens took the first chunk of leads and started out a bit shaky. But after shouting down that he really didn’t feel like leading it (I think that’s his version of scared) not a minute later he yelled ‘climbing’ and pushed through. A second pitch was a route finding challenge (look up for a loose ledge left of a chimney — possibly not visible from below though) By the time he approached what would be his first squeeze chimney lead, he was back to full contagious stoke. Turns out a certain width of fairly tight chimney is universally (generalizing from a sample of three) climbed with hips forward essentially screwing the front rock.
The second chunk of leads went to Kasper. The money pitch was steep but easy full of foot holds; basically a 5.10 crack/ladder. The last bit was one long pitch of rolling crack bulges of 1-2 consecutive moves into a rest; the rock quality was a bit less good. To come down (in a hurry because Kasper and Ghislain had to leave to get Kasper back to Megan!), we found another (much much cleaner) rap line back to where we started.
Day 4: We probably should’ve been climbing. Clemens spent the day watching Will Stanhope free an old aid line on Snowpatch. Noel and I set off to scramble Eastpost Spire but “following north snow slopes” turned into a gravel/ice bowling alley and we didn’t stick around. Weather reports warned us that a big storm system would arrive the next day.
Day 5: We hiked out and drove in search of dryer skies. Noel tapped his inner storm chaser, explained tornados and corrected my physicist-spherical-cow approximations (density does not drop nearly to zero at the centre), but the storms chased us entirely out of the mountains (Mt Gimli was not to be either) and… into camper-infested land of Skaha.
Day 6: We only got in two climbs before the rain followed us there too, but the ice cream was good on the way out (Tinkleberries). We found great pizza at a local place in Merritt (Yaki Joe’s) then stopped at the base of Yak to gain inspiration. That wasn’t enough though and we hiked at a sweaty panting pace to the base of Yak Check to find that, indeed, those vertical dark bands were wet streaks and resolve to come back and climb it the following weekend (it actually took another week nearly and Noel couldn’t make it, but Masaki and Sebastian did instead…).
All told: $160 in gas; 5 climbers; 4 ropes; alas no number BD #4 and no sunshine; 10 pitches of climbing; one mountain; a Crescent Spire peak twice; excellent neighbours from Montana; one world class famous climbing chatting with about what to climb; too much and too many gas-inducing TVP+beans+rice dinners (but they were calorie balanced and extremely weight efficient!).