Bugaboo Spire, NE Ridge

Technical climbing info

Mountain: Bugaboo Spire
Elevation: 3,176m
Route: NE Ridge
Length: 500m
Grade: D, 5.8+

Funnily enough, Will and I didn’t come to the Bugs really planning to climb this mega-classic.  I actually had this climb on me and Jess’ list, which is why we had climbed the Kain Route a week and a half prior. However, with conditions making our primary objective hazardous, the NE Ridge was an undeniably worthy backup objective.

Knowing how much of an additional haul it would be coming off the route from our climb up Snowpatch Spire’s Snowpatch Route, we decided to start not-bright and early at 2AM.  We didn’t want any chance of navigating back through the rubble in the dark.  It made word around Applebee that Will had climbed the route before, and which made for a little lineup of teams planning to start in 15 minute increments after us.  With the Kain Route being much harder to access, teams who had the intent to scope their way down the spire didn’t have the chance.  

So when our alarms rang at 1AM, we shuffled out of our tents, made coffee and breakfast, and used the (well maintained) bathrooms. By 2AM we were out, wandering through the less-than-usual traveled paths leading up to the base of the Bugaboo-Crescent Col, where the famous NE Ridge route begins. Wrangling through the melting out moraine was just part of our modus operandi at this point. With the small steep snow field leading up to the ridge fully melted out, we wandered around in the dark for a minute looking for the first chain anchor. (I still don’t understand why there are chain anchors with rap rings for the approach pitches, that then fully disappear once the route actually begins when you would actually want them.) Unexpected to me, there was actually quite a bit of climbing prior to “pitch 1” in the guidebook.

The sun coming up on the ridge below us.

We climbed the crux 5.8+ move in the dark, which turned out to feel a lot more like a modern grade than what we had touched a few days prior on the similarly graded Snowpatch Route. The finger cracks were much more moderate than I expected, with good feet aplenty. But that didn’t stop my fingers from getting a little torn up. We could see two other teams’ headlamps behind us lower finder their ways onto the ridge.

As the sun came up, we were treated to a wonderful view down the ridge. The ultra-low angle offwidth we had followed up getting to the first pitch became strikingly obvious below us. The sun seemed to bring on the melt, and we could hear the area rattling with moraine collapses, some with big punks into the lake. We were happy to be high up on a ridge far away from anything melting.

The climbing eased up with every pitch, but each pitch felt equally exciting and special. Each pitch was surprisingly varied and direct with fantastic views the whole time, making for a lot of straightforward fun. It was easy to see how this climb got the 50 Classics label a this point. Eventually we got onto the 5.6 chimneys which seemed to go on and on and on, for a lot of fun moderate climbing.

The epic summit ridge, so much longer than I expected, with the north and south summits in view.

Eventually the famed (or infamous..?) summit ridge came into view above us. Pulling onto it, I knew that the easy part was now over, and the difficult part was just beginning. I’d take moderate 5th class straightforward climbing over loose exposed ridge climbing any day of the week. But overall, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected, and felt pretty similar to what Jess and I had experience on the other side of the ridge of the Kain Route.

The classic view down the Kain Route‘s notorious gendarme.

We skipped hitting the true summit itself, which actually took out a large complexity that I was anticipating. The choice of a 5.10/shoulderstand move or wandering traverse to the summit was simply bypassed with some rap rings. I’ll take that deal any day!

Descending the Kain Route was what it was. At this point, loose scrambling was all too normal to phase us. We shot down the Snowpatch rappels, scooping sandy water out of little glacial streams wherever we could find them. I ended up drinking nearly 6 liters of water that day.

Can you spot the climber rappelling down the Snowpatch rappels?

We ended up climbing the route much faster than I had expected.  We were by all means not “fast”, but we were fluid and kept moving.  My suspicion was correct that the 8 documented pitches of climbing was the easiest part of the day.  The crux really came once the pitches ended and the ridge traversing and descent navigation began.  We ended up having the route to ourself, all the way up and down.  The route proved that it was every bit worthy of it’s 50 Classics status.  

I’m excited to come back and climb this with Jess, and I’m even more excited not to onsite it.  

Rock on!

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