Sep 8, 2011, 11:12 PM
Post #1 of 6
Registered: Jun 20, 2007
(This was originally posted on a bulletin board group to an audience of friends who know the group of 3 Texas climbers who recently went to the Bugs).
Saturday 8/13/11- David and I waited for Trey to arrive at the Calgary Airport. We both declared our beef jerky at customs as meat products brought into the country. No one seemed to care. David exchanged $100 into Canadian currency and
paid a $7 service fee. Ouch. Upon Trey's arrival and accusations of jerky smuggling, we rented a Dodge Charger and drove west, past Banff to Lake Louise.
Took some time getting used to the speedometer with the primary numbers in kilometers/hr (good excuse for my speeding ticket one week later).
After a short walk from the parking lot at Lake Louise, we took the obligatory tourist shots, got in the car and drove across the border to British Columbia, headed to the Kicking Horse Lodge in Golden, BC. We checked into our 3-bed suite, got some pizza downtown to bring back to the room and started arranging all the gear for the hike in the next day. The packing strategies revolved around what we would use as our summit packs on the NE Ridge of Bugaboo Spire. It would later turn out that travelling fast and light would be pointless.
Sunday - A hearty breakfast of pancakes and eggs was served to us in the cozy cafe of the lodge. We stuffed ourselves silly, then drove 45 minutes south to Brisco where the 50-km logging road into the trailhead began. Trey navigated the turns in the road, while I dodged potholes here and there. It was like finding the right "line" on a mountain bike trail. A couple vehicles were gaining ground on us during the ride into the parking lot, so I picked up the speed. We didn't want to be passed and have them get the last of the chicken wire that prtoects tires from ruber-hungry porcupines. We didn't see our first peak (Hound's Tooth) until about 45 km into
Warnings of bugs were found to be true at the parking lot. Big skeeters and biting flies were repelled with some 99% DEET. Note - as long as the bottle doesn't leak, it will not eat holes into your pack. The weather was great, and the hike began. Only 2 hrs and 15 minutes later, after a fairly steep but well marked trail, we came upon the Kain Hut, our residence for the next 4 nights (or so we thought). Checked in with the custodian and picked out our spots upstairs in the sleeping quarters. Really a good alternative to having to bring tents, sleeping pads, stoves and cooking utensils. The place had electricity, a full kitchen, tables
and chairs, heat and comfy sleeping pads. All for $25 a head per night. If one is of a sociable nature, it's a good way to get beta on routes from other
climbers. Had our first freeze dried meals and wondered how everyone else had fresh vegetables and real meat to cook. Time for bed with the alarm
clock set for 3:30 am. Weather forecast for Monday said 30% chance of
Monday - On Sunday evening we did get sprinkles. Before bed, we decided that we'd
head straight to the NE Ridge if it hadn't rained more. If weather was still an
issue, we thought we'd do a 3 pitch 5.8 on the Eastpost Spire. Monday morning I
never heard my alarm, as I'd left my watch on my wrist and the sounds were
smothered under the pillow. David had awoke early, saw it was raining and went
back to bed. I jumped up at 5:30, thought we were running late and awoke both
Trey and David. My bad. The climbing was already scratched.
All day, visibility was quite poor, as clouds enshrouded the hut. We couldn't
even see the first ridge on the way to the Applebee Dome campsite. We took
pictures of falling snow and spent the day reading our paperback books and
chatting with the other hut-bound residents. The languages spoken there
included Japanese, Dutch, French and Italian. I learned from a party of two
local women that they'd had a 24-hr trip on the NE Ridge. Poor ladies. What a
miserable mini-epic. Little did I know that would be a good round trip time.
Tuesday - With the watch on the bed rail, I had no trouble hearing the 3:15 am
alarm. We boiled water, ate our oatmeal and set out before 4:00 am, again
destined for the NE Ridge. It was clear and the moon was out. We had
previously hiked from the hut to Applebee Dome on Sunday to check out the
approach with binoculars. This initial hike felt easier (35 minutes) than
Sunday, a day when we didn't even have packs on. Funny what a day's rest can do
for you. Past Applebee, we lost some time deciding which way to go around the
last of three frozen lakes. The ice axes were broken out for the first time.
We got to the spot where the snow ended and the 5.4 solo began. This was easy
to find, as the guidebook said, "look for the highest point on the glacier". I
scrambled up first. A few dicey moves, especially with the pack on. David and
Trey might have preferred roping up here. I said, "that's what the ladies did
that took 24 hrs on the route."
Upon getting to the top of the Bugaboo-Crescent Col, we already started doubting
the ability to climb the route that day. The sun had started to shine on the
east side of the ridge, but there was still lots of snow and ice on the route.
The crux of the first 5.8 pitch looked like two Frosted Flakes. We waited for
another party of two to reach us. Maybe they had a different opinion. They were
local Canadians, and when they decided to bail, it made our decision much
easier. We rapped down the Col and thought about what else we would do for the
It was decided we needed to try out our crampons. We felt checking out the
Bugaboo-Snowpatch Col (part of the Kain Route and the NE Ridge descent) would
benefit us. We wanted to see where these two double rope rappels were that
were mentioned. Up and up we went, making small traverses, kicking our feet
into the snow and keeping our ice axes on the uphill side. Quite an aerobic
workout. Somehow however, it didn't seem quite as steep as it looked from a
distance. Until you got to the top and looked down.
The crest of this col was the coldest, windiest spot we'd seen yet. The down
jackets came out. Pigeon Spire was now visible in the distance and it looked
pretty snowy as well. We didn't stay here long - found the rap stations and came
down off the toboggan chute.
It was only noon. Got to be something else to do. Let's go scramble up Eastpost
Spire. No ropes needed. I took off first and scouted a way to the left of the
second frozen lake. Trey and David doubted that was the right way and waited
for my report. After some navigating, I advised them to go the other way. I
dropped my pack at the ridge and went ahead. They detoured to Applebee to drop
their packs. Some great views from this spot. I waited at the summit for the
guys then we all descended. It was the third time in one day that we'd been at
the same altitude. We wondered how many total vertical feet we had done. We
were back to the hut at 4:00 p.m., after a continuous hiking day of 12 hours.
I wondered if Trey and David even wanted to try the NE Ridge again. The soloing
before even getting to the main route was on their minds.
At the hut when I asked, "what do you want to do tomorrow?", I was actually a bit
suprised they were both psyched for the final attempt on the NE Ridge. Alarms
were set again, this time for a more leisurely 3:45. We figured we had more
time, since we wanted to arrive at the soloing spot at dawn, and we already
figured out the way around the frozen lake.
Wednesday. The alarms went off at 3:45 am. We repeated the pre-dawn ritual
from the day before; oatmeal, hike to Applebee Dome campsite, left around the
third lake, and hit the 5.4 soloing at sunrise. Again, we were the first at the
base of the climb, but a party of two was fast on our heels. We decided to wait
until they reached us and graciously allowed them to hike the snowpatch first,
towards the true "rope-up ledge". It was the pair of Montreal climbers we recognized from the hut. This probably created the first hour of
our delays for the day. They were not as fast as we had hoped, and the leader
on the 5.8 first crux pitch was surely taking his time. Once they were on their
way, we roped up. It was determined that I would switch leads with David the
entire way, with Trey in the middle as a pack mule, carrying my boots and ice
axe, along with some of David's gear. As I lead the first pitch (the 5.8
layback finger crack), I could see four other parties of two starting to arrive
at the base of the climb. It was going to be a traffic jam all day, hence the
accurate joke of "The 50 Crowded (not Classic) Climbs of North America."
I stopped at the end or pitch one, after traversing left past the 5.9+ variation
that I wisely skipped. Other parties then began passing us. We now recognized
that pitches 1 and 2 could be linked, and I sat there at the belay ledge for
quite a while as other parties passed through. Trey had a minor slip on pitch 1
and scuffed up his hands pretty well. When he reached me, he was bleeding
profusely, so I patched him up with some tape. His hands would end up looking
like swollen boxer's meat clubs within the next 24 hours.
By the time David had led pitch two, and I was in the middle of pitch 3 (an
awkward, right traversing 5.7 that went to the other side of the ridge), ropes
had become crossed and belay stations quite crowded. One female climber
apologized on behalf of all the other parties that created such a mess.
By the time David began to lead pitch 4 (a classic, clean dihedral), I think all
the other five parties were now ahead of us. Time of day was about 12:00 noon.
I recalled hearing how friends of ours recently did the route from
Applebee Dome and back in 12 hours. We were already into our 12th hour, with
just the added 45 minute hike from the Kain hut to Applebee Dome. It was
looking like a long day. And the weather forecast had called for 30% chance of
precipitation in the evening.
Pitch 5 was my turn to lead again. It was not particularly memorable, but seemed
much harder than 5.5. Was fatigue starting to set in? Pitches 6-9 were supposed
to be easy 5th class chimney routes, where many parties simulclimb. We kept
with our system of setting belays and bringing up one climber at a time. I had
never stomped my climbing shoe clad feet through so much snow in my life. At
one point, I actually climbed past a definitive belay ledge just to set up a
belay where we wouldn't all be standing in white stuff.
Given the time of day, we weren't having so much fun. We all stopped taking
pictures. We came upon the Quebecer's again, the party we allowed through us
first. They were slow enough to have been passed by the other four parties of
Onward and upward. Were we ever going to top out? I climbed on and stretched
the rope out as far as I could towards the summit. It looked like we were
finally there. Set the belay and brought Trey and David up. It was now 7:00
p.m. Ugly clouds were rolling in. Two hours of light left. We were screwed, as
David aptly put it. No glorious summit shots were taken. I was reminded of the
song by The Clash. Should I Stay or Should I Go? If we go there will be
trouble. If we stay it will be double.
Wed. 7:00 p.m. We were all at the summit of the north peak. There was a flat
spot here that would have provided a large area to bivvy away from the edge, but
it had no overhead covering and was directly on the ridge, unprotected from the
wind. It had not yet started sleeting or snowing, though the clouds were
getting closer. We also had two hours of light remaining. We decided we'd
continue. Try to get as far as we could as long as it was dry and we had
sunlight, and keep looking for shelter spots along the way.
This is the point of the climb where you unrope and scramble from the north peak
to the south peak, where the true descent begins on the Kain route. At this
point, we still had thoughts of rapping down in the dark with the aid of
The route finding along this traverse is quite easy. Just stay on the ridge and
avoid the 1000-ft fall to your left and your right. At one point, you are
literally scooting your bottom across the knife-edge of the ridge, with
incredible exposure on each side. These great photo opportunities were bypassed
in favor of more panicking.
Past the sphincter splitter, David had gotten in the lead and found a spot where
some tricky downclimbing was required. It started sleeting. Who's got gear to
leave behind? We were more comfortable setting a short rappel. A rock was slung
and David descended about 20 feet, then made it a running rappel getting as far
along the ridge as he could. Trey followed, then I came down.
We were all looking at the definitive "notch". This is where you decide to
either climb a 5.10 move to the south summit, or descend down in order to climb
a 5.6-5.7 route to gain the south summit. Hmm... How have people gone on this
huge ramp to gain the "notch"? Hug the ridgeline or follow a crack midway up
on the ridge? Precipitation was falling and the ramp was getting slick. Trey
ventured out along the mid-ramp crack. I thought the ridge looked better.
Before I started, David said, "take a couple pcs with you and belay me over
there." Good idea. I went along the ridge of the ramp, placed two pcs then
slid backward on my belly towards the rap station at the notch. I locked into
the anchor, then brought David and Trey across. We were all safely tied in and
took a look at the 5.10 move to gain the south summit. Not suprisingly, no one
felt like doing it. We consulted the printed route descriptions again. How far
do we really rap down? There were two places that looked reasonable. I went
first and rapped down to the lower of the two spots. I chose that because of
the shelter spot I could see. It was now snowing lightly. David and Trey came
down and we all investigated the bivvy spot. It had some overhead cover. It
was on the east side of the mountain, away from the direction of incoming
weather. It was big enough for about 1.5 people. It will have to do. We were
done for the day. A question was asked if this was really the true spot to rap
to. I thought so and said yes. We also talked ourselves into this course of
action because we didn't want the rope out all night in the elements. David was
also looking forward to sitting on it. The rope was pulled and we started to
figure out how we'd arrange ourselves in this bivvy spot. My water bottle slid
through a big hole and cascaded over the edge. Time to start tying some packs in
and maybe our bodies. Darkness fell upon the mountain. I offered the
encouraging thought, "At least we're not hurt. We're not going to die up here."
Climbing shoes came off and boots came on (dry socks would have been nice).
Headlamps came on. Emergency blankets came out. Snow fell. Yippee.
David actually had a disposable bivvy sack. He climbed in, sat down on the rope
and placed his back to the wall with his head bent over onto his chest. He was
mostly out of the elements and was in the best position for comfort. I put
myself next to him initially. The spot was cramped and crowded. I sat on my
pack to keep my butt dry and tied into a #3 Camalot. A rock dug into my hip.
To keep my feet from dangling through the hole where my water bottle fell
through, I rigged up a hammock for my boots with a cordellete.
Soon my emergency blanket was shredded into thin strips. Trey and I both
climbed under his, to stop the snow from falling on our heads. It was very
quiet (except for the sound of dripping water) and nobody said much. All in
all, I probably whined the most, fueled by my repeated muscle cramps in my upper
abdomen, the rock digging into my hip and my chattering teeth. I was wishing I
had packed my rain pants for an extra layer on my legs. David and Trey had
theirs and seemed a bit warmer than myself.
I ate my last Power Bar. Might as well get some calories to burn up with all
the shivering. I gave Trey my spot next to David permanently. I had to stand
up and stretch. When I became too cold, I crouched next to Trey for added body
warmth. Many times I put my arm around him and he placed his head on my chest.
Awe, how cute. This routine was repeated numerous times throughout the night.
I had purposely not looked at my watch. I didn't want to agonize over how long
the night would be. I think David and Trey actually may have fell asleep for a
few moments here and there, when my constant fussing didnít disturb them.
Oh what the heck, what time is it anyway? 2:30 am. It would be dawn in only 4
hours. That was encouraging. But how long would it be until the route dried
sufficiently to allow us to climb the last pitch to the south summit?
The sun came up. The worst may have been over, but we still had a lot to do. At
7:30 or 8:00 am, we started scouting the route up. I figured we had probably
rapped down too far, but knew it was chosen because of the source of shelter.
With zero sleep in the last 29 hours, hunger and exhaustion, I roped up to lead
the last pitch to the south summit. The rock was in the sun and some of the
snow was melting. It was about 9:00 am and my gloves were soaking wet. How
come I didn't remember seeing anything in the guidebook or trip reports about
this last 5.7 looking pitch? I was ready to be done leading anything.
We summitted the south peak. Big deal. Maybe more photos would have been taken
if it was about 20 hours earlier. Time to get off this stupid mountain. None of
the rap stations were hard to find. There were about six total, four of them
coming after the famous gendarme feature.
At some point we ran into the first party that was climbing the Kain route. A
female guide and her client commented, "You guys doing the NE Ridge? You must be
really fast!" We bowed our heads in shame and said, "No, we've been up here all
night." She said, "Oh, you guys are the three Texans that we heard about."
Apparently word had spread fast around the campsites. Leave it to us to
perpetuate the opinion that foolish, cowboys Texans have no place in these
mountains. She was concerned about our food levels, and donated an entire bag
of peanut M&M's to us. Yum yum and thank you kindly.
We finished the rap stations, and encountered a few more parties coming up the
Kain route that had also heard of our exploits. From here on it was 4th class
downclimbing and traversing across the ridge to the Snowpatch-Bugaboo Col. My
toes were hurting badly. I was starting to think that I had suffered frostbite
and struggled to keep up with David and Trey. The col was upon us and it was
time to get the crampons on. We got to the double rope rappel that we had
scouted the day before. Hmm... I guess it was two days before. Time had begun
to get blurred together.
I rapped past the steep part of the top of the glacier first, knowing I needed a
head start given my slowing pace. I then tried some glissading, sliding down on
my butt while digging my ice axe into the snow. Twice, when my speed became too
extreme (or when I saw a rock ahead), I flipped on my belly and stopped myself
with a self-arrest.
David and Trey soon passed me, as I wobbled back and forth across the snow like
a drunken zombie. My toes hurt terribly. I told them to leave me to die. No,
not really. I told them to get to the hut to see if we could stay another night
there. Our check out time was past due, and I didn't envy the thought of
packing up for the hike out. It was close to 3:00 p.m., and it would still take
me another hour to get back to camp.
Finally, I made it back to camp. David had water boiling already for our fine
freeze dried meals. It was determined that we could stay Thursday night. Thank
goodness. The custodian looked at my toes. No frostbite. I just had a bad case
of "boot toe" from jamming my toes into the front of my climbing shoes and
boots. I reckon to be losing both of the nails from my big toes, and all my toes
are still numb over one week later. We were all in bed by 5:00 p.m.
I awoke at 8:00 p.m. due to hunger, so I went downstairs, ate some sausage sticks
and read my book for a while. From a few tables over, I overheard a guide
telling his four clients (they'd signed up for a multi-day intro alpine class)
about these three guys from Texas that had recently spent a night on the
mountain. As I eavesdropped, I expected to hear him tell his pupils about
foolhardy behavior. On the contrary, he talked about the wisdom of knowing
when to stop, what type of shelter to seek and how to make best use of emergency
gear. We had become part of his training curriculum. Geez, this guy must be an
epic-master himself, I thought. I did not butt in with specific details, but
rather, went back to bed feeling more smart than stupid.
Friday morning, we all stumbled out of our sacks about between 7:30 and 8:00 am.
None of us were in a great hurry. Breakfast and packing was done leisurely, and
I started out about before 10:00 am, about 15 minutes ahead of D & T. My toes
still hurt, but were much better than the day before. I knew the others would
catch me quickly.
Two hours or so later, we were at the parking lot. Trekking poles served their
purpose well in aiding my descent. I came into the parking lot last, and
complained that we parked our car too far from the trailhead. That would have
saved another hundred yards of hiking! I was ready to drive into Banff and be a
tourist for the afternoon. Our original goal of sportclimbing near Lake Louise
on this day was blown about 48 hours ago.
We removed the chicken wire, rocks and logs that surrounded the Charger, climbed
in and fired up the engine. The 50-km dirt road was the only obstacle in our
way until obtaining some snacks in Brisco. Someone mentioned how an entire
transmission can get ripped out of a car by hitting low-lying rocks. We debated
going to Radium Hot Springs instead of Golden on the way out, because that meant
we could get a real meal sooner. Wishful thinking indeed.
Within three minutes out of the parking lot, an oncoming truck blocked our way
on the narrow road. Guess we'll have to back up to a wider spot. Funny how big
rocks are harder to see when you are looking through the rear view window
instead of the windshield. A sickening, scraping sound was heard. Then again.
And again. Trey, who had been very well composed throughout the trip, had a
Tourette style cursing meltdown. I got out and didn't see any fluid leaking
from the car. Seems OK to me, I shrugged. That's why we paid for the full
insurance. On we go.
After about 10km, the low tire pressure light blipped on. Within one minute we
had a flat. No problem. The rental car guy told me we had a full size spare.
We popped the secret hatch in the trunk and found a wimpy, mini-spare. A bit of
a letdown. We slapped it on anyway and proceeded. For all of about 30 meters.
That one was now flat too. As David once said earlier, we were screwed. It was
decided that we would ride on the rim of the mini-spare until we could get to
cell phone range, or if we could catch someone passing us headed out of the
park, we'd throw one of us in to reach help sooner. We were doing about 10km
per hour with 40km to go. Thoughts came into our heads about missing our
Saturday morning flights.
A car was coming up behind us. We flagged them down and convinced them to let
Trey ride with them to call roadside assistance ASAP. David and I proceeded
slowly, especially when traveling over the cattle guards. We were able to pick
the pace up to about 14-km per hour. As we got closer to the highway, we did
hear from Trey. "What's your birthdate?" he asked me. The rental car people
wouldn't help him without some proof he was with the party that rented the car.
Twenty minutes later, we heard help was on the way.
What kind of help? A tow truck that would take us to the nearest place to fix
our full sized flat. But where was that, was the tire fixable and when would
We finally made it into Brisco at about 4:00 p.m. The tow truck wouldn't be
around for another half-hour (so they said) and the nearest service station that
could fix a flat was at least 20 minutes away. They closed at 5:00 p.m. Time to
get creative. We inspected that flat and felt that it was indeed fixable. No
sidewall damage. David found a Good Samaritan to run him and the tire into
Radium Hot Springs, while Trey and I waited with the car. When David confirmed
that the flat was fixed, we called off the tow truck. Thanks for nothing
Enterprise. David returned, the tire was mounted and we were on our way.
What else can go wrong before our destination hotel near the Calgary Airport
over three hours away? How about a speeding ticket? Sure, I'm good for one in
every state and country. The officer asked if I had been drinking. I replied,
"I should have been by now." He smiled, said he didn't want to ruin our vacation
and reduced my fine. I was clocked at 106 km/hr in a 60 km/hr zone. It wasn't
a terrible delay however. We had already saved time by skipping Banff and any
real restaurant in favor of a quick meal at Wendy's. At least I had my newly
purchased $24 tin of Skoal.
Got to the hotel about 10:00 p.m. Had recently missed taking a photo of a black
bear at the side of the highway. Had a beer or two and went to bed by midnight.
Alarms set for 4:30 am. My flight was 90 minutes later, so I took D & T to the
airport. I would worry about hassling with the rental return later. I returned
to the hotel, repacked and headed back to the airport. I convinced Enterprise to
give us credit for the flat we paid $40 to fix, plus another $20 for our
Made it through customs with nothing to declare. I thought about the value of
what I'd bought in Canada that I was bringing into the US. Not a thing. Didn't
even buy a T-shirt or a souvenir magnet. On the plane, I passed the time by
watching Lincoln Lawyer. Landed back in Houston and finally got the feeling
that the adventure was over.
Sep 9, 2011, 12:57 AM
Post #2 of 6
Registered: Mar 29, 2009
Good account. Climbing one at a time in a party of three sounds like it may have been the kicker.
Sep 9, 2011, 11:01 AM
Post #3 of 6
Registered: Oct 1, 2007
Quite the epic. Glad everyone came out ok.
Sep 9, 2011, 12:39 PM
Post #4 of 6
Registered: Jun 20, 2007
You are exactly right. I should have led every pitch and trailed a rope, then top belayed two climbers at a time.
Sep 9, 2011, 1:52 PM
Post #5 of 6
Registered: Mar 16, 2009
you should have lead with doubles, & brought up both at the same time, leaving 10 meters or so in between them.
Sep 23, 2011, 3:21 PM
Post #6 of 6
Registered: Apr 25, 2011
Awesome trip report. In the high alpine the snow and ice doesnt melt off fast without direct sun. You guys were def the talk of the hut, we were all glad to see you come back safe.