About a week and a half ago, I got ambitious and proposed to my roommate BJ in Revelstoke that we should go walk into the Bugaboos (an amazing group of granite intrusion Spires in the Purcells) and climb the Beckey Chouinard. It's a route I've wanted to do for about 12 years and I figured that since the mountains are only getting smaller, we might as well go climb the thing. I left from work in the Roger's Pass Sunday evening and drove 3 hrs to Canmore to get all of my gear organized and half assed packed it in dufflels in my car so that I could rendez-vous with BJ in Golden at Jeff Relph's place (thanks buddy!) early the next morning.
Later that morning we met and grabbed some food for our meals for the next 3 days and then headed up to Jeff's house to load our packs for the hump in, we high-fived Jeff and then drove south down the HWY 95 to Brisco, stopped at the Brisco General Store to grab some last minute victory beers for the way out and started up the logging road. It became glaringly obvious very quickly that there was active logging going on and we turned on my radio and started calling out the KM's on the road. Its mind bogglingly hazardous when you don't have a radio and I won't ever head up there without one. Even BJ's monster truck, we still felt small & pretty vulnerable on that road. Loaded logging trucks don't stop because often times they CAN'T stop.....felt like the most dangerous part of the trip - literally. Travelling that road without a radio.....and you're taking a pretty serious risk. Beware.
We got to the trail head eventually, got out and we were greeted by horse flies, mosquitos and heavy-ish packs. The ceremonial pre-Bugs experience of reinforcing your vehicle with chicken wire, sticks and rocks to stave off the porcuipines and then we set off. Walking up towards the Kain Hut - I was reminded of the phenomenal beauty of this place. The flowers were blooming with insects contently harvesting flower nector, alpine streams of fresh water and a beauty, blue sky day with some light intermittent afternoon squalls - good pack humping weather. Along the way we bumped into a few people we knew - Mountain Guide Mike Trehearne and his lovely gal Lara and then further on up the trail, we met up with fellow Mountain Guide Todd Craig and his wife as well. Good to see some ACMG members fostering domestic bliss by getting out into the mountains with their wives!
Shortly after the trail on moraines, we got on the ice and put the rope on to move through the Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col and then across the glacier to the Howser-Pigeon Col where we dropped down into East Creek which would be our alpine home for the next 48 hrs. As we descended down into East Creek, I looked around and took stock of the terrain, the slots and the icefalls. It was truly beautiful but there were some real hazards travelling into this place as this was first time down this way and my mind took inventory of it all but what got my attention was the icefall on the SE corner of the South Howser Tower. The Seracs were huge and the runout for a bigger calving event could steamroll for quite some distance - perhaps even fairly close to the bivy site. As we made our way down to the bivy site, my calculations of the icefall runout potential exceeded my estimations and I commented to BJ on the old serac debris embedded in the snow in very close proximity to the East Creek bivy site. Wow.
We pitched camp and boiled up a meal and got to sleep. Interestingly for me - this trip was the first for me in some time where I wasn't guiding guests, training with fellow Parks Canada Visitor Safety staff or the like.....I was here to climb for myself and for my partner for pure fun. As I got into my sleeping bag, I started to think about the lapse in time since I'd climbed any granite and more importantly how little climbing I'd done this summer. I'd been biking lots and mountaineering in the Pass for Parks training days, good exercise of course, but for the legs and not so much for the upper body and core muscles. I had done very little cragging and maybe 2 days of multi-pitch climbing on bolts.
I could feel a bit of an ass kicking coming my way......
Consquently, there was little to no sleep for me that night and the alarm sounded off at 4, we arose to a below freezing morning and cloudless, starry skies. Perfect.
We horsed down the 'bloatmeal' breakfast and chugged a quick coffee and cast off for the SW Ridge.
300 meters of 4th and easy 5th class terrain got us to base of the real climbing and we stopped to have a bathroom break, hydrate and throw a log on the fire. We took the opportunity to rack and rope up and started what was going to be a relatively large day of moving over lots of granite. One of the toughest parts of climbing big alpine rock routes; besides the carrying a pack with clothing, food, water, ice axe, poons, radio and tarp for us that day, were the temperatures. We got into the technical pitches and there was a distinct absense of daytime heat of any proportion for several hours and stuffing your hands into cold granite cracks had us hoping for some sun to heat up the rock! It was cold at the belays too and so when it was time to second and clean the pitch - it felt really damn cold. The cold that morning felt like the crux for us that day. Just like ice climbing in a way but different still.
Although it was really cold - I marvelled at the quality of the rock and the clean symmetry of the features. Miles of perfect granite - Fred and Yvon must have felt like they hit the jackpot when they were climbing this line for the first time!
Things were going well and we felt we were moving well enough but as the day went on, I started to feel the fatigue of not having slept a wink the night before and I was definitely starting to drag ass a bit. BJ was a champ all the way up and was climbing well and for what seemingly felt like an eternity - we made it to the top and starting scoping out the descent. We were definitely feeling like we'd climbed 15 x 70 meter rope lengths along with the 450 meters of 4th & 5th class climbing and were ready for some food and some rest.
A few hours later we were rapping over the bergschrund, reconfigured the rope to travel across the glacier to the Howser-Pigeon Col, we cramponed up and pulled alpine axes from our packs to finish off the last part of the day back to East Creek.