Snowpatch Spire, Snowpatch Route

Technical climbing info

Mountain: Snowpatch Spire
Elevation: 2,658m
Route: Snowpatch Route w/ 1940 Variation
Length: 500m
Grade: D, 5.8

The Snowpatch Route, also known as Wiessner’s Route, seems to be one of those routes that everybody looks at.  The climbing line up and around the massive namesake snowpatch feature towers over all those who walk far enough the trail to get into shooting distance of any climb.  Apparently at some point in the first half of the 1900s, it was talked about as North America’s most significant climbing “problem”.  Now, boasting the “modest” grade of 5.8 IV, it was not lost on us that it still presented 19 pitches of wandery potentially rockfall-exposed climbing.  

This year, Snowpatch had been dubbed as “No Patch”, which all of the snow being melted down to bare ice very early in the season.  It was a stark difference from just last year– I don’t think a single person didn’t feel like it was a silent but unmistakable cry for help from the mountain range around us.  And climbing wise, we knew that the bare ice would hold far less falling debris in.  There were a lot of stories of rockfall around the route, I had even seen a pretty massive rockfall event below the snowpatch a week ago.  But it looked like we’d be minimally exposed to rockfall, if at all.   I spoke to a Japanese group the previous week about their experience on the route.  “There was rockfall around us, but we were safe.”  Okay, good enough?  This was really the only route that I came into the park feeling some anxiety about.

The towering Snowpatch Spire looking over the Applebee Camp, shot from the McTech Arete [climb]

We headed out of camp at 4AM the morning of.  We knew it would be a long day with the extra approach and descent antics, not to mention the fact that the route just looked like it may have some route finding elements to it.  To our surprise, we weren’t alone on the route that morning.  A couple from Golden, BC had taken a long weekend to come out and attempt the climb.  It was funny, because to us we felt surprised to hear somebody coming out to the Bugs for just a weekend objective, which really totally makes sense for those living close.  And to them, they were surprised that somebody would come out for a whole week and carry in a bunch of food and gear for what is typically their weekend objectives.  

The big leaning crack is hard to miss!

The climbing itself started off wandery up the ridge, eventually connecting to the “big leaning crack”.  It was obvious that we were on the route when we saw that, along with a few old pins.  The climbing was fairly moderate, and was marked by wear on the granite and more pins. To our surprise, we found quite a bit of running water on the route as well, which maybe wouldn’t be something to bet on in the future.

Making our way around the snowpatch. Getting to this point had some seriously anxiety inducing moments.
A fun perspective back onto Applebee Camp.

As we began to crest below and around the snow patch itself, we were shaken alive with some large rocks plummeting down beside us.  A large watermelon sized rock cruised down the mountain a lot closer to us than we’d like.  And the sedan sized rock that followed it not long after came with so much force that it left a large scar in the glacier below.  That made us climb with urgency to get around the melting ice.  

Debris at the bottom of the snowpatch waiting to peel off.

Above the snow, we got a breath of relief and could see what was going on.  The ice could no longer hold in some pretty mega sized chunks of rock.  As melt occurred, they had nowhere to go but down. 

Getting above the snowpatch, we shot towards the “inverted pear” for the 1940 route.  The team slightly ahead of us poked around.  We couldn’t help but feel happy to have them doing some of the lifting in regard to routefinding.  The climbing from there stiffened up, and I honestly felt like a few of the sections felt like a clear notch harder than 5.8 (and felt more difficult to me than anything on Bugaboo Spire’s NE Ridge rated at 5.8+).

Getting up on the headwall, making our way up the 1940 route.

The sun beat down on us, and we had sucked the last drops of water out of our packs.  The summit and rappels came just in time, and we made our way down to the glacial streams below.  

Overall, I felt like this climb was a pretty fair notch harder in seriousness than the similarly graded Bugaboo Spire NE Ridge.  The routefinding felt more involved, the cruxes felt more technical, and there is some level of objective hazard.  What does give it a little bump down in difficulty is that going down the Kraus-McCarthy is an absolute breeze, maybe the most straightforward descent I had been on in the area altogether.  I don’t know if I would climb it again; I’d at least want really solid conditions as getting run over by a Dodge Charger sized rock falling at terminal velocity doesn’t sound cool, but I was happy to have got it done.

Heading down the very straightforward Kraus-McCarthy down onto a moody Vowell Glacier.
Summit smile!

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