Through the early flats, over the boulder garden, past the waterfalls, grabbing chain oink handles, climbing up ladders, and navigating the eroding snow bridges we made the trek into a nearly vacant Applebee. After a roam around to find the best base camp option, we set up camp, and were ready to go get our feet wet. In early July the snowpack was still quite deep which made for decent morning travel. On top of that the boot packs around camp were, for the most part, good routes and allowed us to move about with relative ease.
Mountain Project Route Link: Lions Way
An early morning on our second full day had us fed, caffeinated, and moving by 6 a.m. While this is not what you may think as an alpine start, we had early and long days getting to Radium Hot Springs, with nearly 16.5 hours of daylight, and a solid weather forecast I was not overly concerned about a later start. In fact, this turned out to be a benefit since it staggered the starts with the other 2 teams vying for the same route. A short 40-minute walk up the Crescent Glacier and we were roped up, climbing up a short snow slope, into a moat at the base of the chimney approach pitches. Next, we did several 4th & 5th class pitches off the glacier, into the gulley system, to bolted anchors, and then Crescent Bugaboo Col. After reaching the ridge line short rope scrambling took us along the ridge, up a short soft boot packed snow slope, then several short 4th class pitches to the base of the North East Ridge. Along the way we chatted with one of the teams as they were descending. The guide had concluded the followers crack climbing technique was insufficient and decided to descend and head to Lions Way, the route we did the day before. Now, the only other team on route was already up pitch 2. This was the last time we saw them. An adequate break, food, water, sunscreen, pee, rack up and we were climbing.
Cracks, chimneys, ledges, pedestal belays and crested precipices led us to the top of the North East Ridge and just below the North Summit of Bugaboo Spire. Pitch after pitch of stellar ridge climbing efficiently elevated us up 11 pitches. At just over 35 minutes per pitch and about 6.5 hours of climbing the ridge route went quickly with plenty of moments to soak in the alpine glory. After reaching the top of the pitched climbing we went into single rope travel and scampered along the exposed serrated summit ridge crest, soaring above camp, a soft breeze, comfortable late afternoon sun, looking over the slithering Vowell Glacier, the edge of Bugaboo Spire falling away on either side of us until we reached our first rappel station. Descending from the North Summit leads to more exquisitely exposed ridge scrambling. A couple hours of up and down had us rappelling, then scrambling, back to rappelling until finally reaching the notch between the Great Gendarme and the South Summit. From here a near constant transition of pitched ridge rambles, rappels, and short roping created a mosaic of technical alpine climbing and guiding techniques. As the sunset alpenglow cast over the striking gold and grey granite spires, the aquamarine moraine lakes, that seemed to have been plucked from a Caribbean beach scene and plopped down in the middle of glacial nirvana surrounded us on all sides. In the darkness we traveled by headlamp on easier less exposed terrain until we were able to remove the rope and scamper the short remaining distance to the Bugaboo Snowpatch Col. Finally, 3 rappels would take us down moderate to steep snow slopes back onto the Crescent Glacier. We had the majority of our day seamlessly flow while on an internationally popular route we had it all to ourselves, splitter stunning weather, smooth movement, plenty of snacks and laughs and clocking in at almost 18 hours, this was an adventure of legendary proportions.
Straggling into camp it was late, dark, and chilly. Happy to be close to bed, one of the other climbers greeted us, having watched our headlamps descend into the night, he shared some hot tea with the ladies. At the same time, it had become obvious that an unwanted visitor had ransacked Gina and Tiffany’s tent. A full-on tent evac followed to make sure the mouse wasn’t still in there. What a way to wrap one of best alpine days.
Steph Abegg Route Beta: N.E. Ridge
Mountain Project Route Link: N.E. Ridge
As a result, we would climb an easier route with a more scenic approach, West Ridge Pigeon Spire is another ultra-classic moderate ridge scramble and for the day a Plan A. To access this spectacular adventure, we climbed up moderate to steep snow in crampons with ice axes to the B.S. Col. As low clouds filtered broken sun we long rope glacier traveled across the splendid and scenic upper Vowell Glacier, fragmented golden swords of light cut a dramatic veil through low pillows of clouds flittering brilliantly against the deep alpine blue of clearing skies rich with moisture, atmosphere, ionized, purified water vapor, splitting around the granite spires and stone serpent heads, pigeons, bugs, and snow patches. The Howser Towers teased us with their impressive relief until we reached the Pigeon-Howser Col. Cool temps, dry rock, and short pitches of easy 5th class engaged us as we moved along granite ramps and ridges bringing out big smiles, thunderous laughs, and an overall welcomed ease. After having a gigantic adventure on Bugaboo Spire, we could now cruise and enjoy a more leisurely scurry on a super fun spire. Along the way we ascended 3 Pigeon summits, while scampering along wide gray speckled sidewalks and crested precipice of ridge lines of flawless weathered granite cracks and slabs, even a lingering snow patch, until reaching the overhanging main summit. Even though the summit is an easy slab from the rappel anchor, the top overhangs thousands of feet above the Bugaboo Glacier, while nearby Marmolada and the Hounds Tooth bob buoyantly in the glacier in the background and compliment this striking landscape. Windows through cloud breaks, shown sunlight graced the steep walls and undulating glaciers, far below on the Vowell, one team worked their way towards the Pigeon Howser Col while a few teams climbed the classic Surfs Up on the west face of Snowpatch Spire. A chill bolted rappel took us back along the ridge, avoiding most of the remaining snow patch, passing by and chatting with the only other team we crossed all day. By mid-afternoon we were down from the west ridge going back across the Vowell Glacier while continually being dwarfed by stone giants brooding overhead contrasting against the ice blue and cotton white breaking clouds. Back down to camp and enjoying dinner at 6 we were satisfied with another classic alpine excursion.
Steph Abegg Route Beta: West Ridge
Mountain Project Route Link: West Ridge Pigeon
Our last walk back to camp took some time, it had set in that this was it, our trip was concluding and the moment we have now to admire, to mind scale, to reimagine, ourselves running around the playground of alpine lords. Alpinism roamed free here, tried and true, the respect of this cathedral is now ages old, generations carry the word of this temple, words of honor, admiration, authority, challenge, success, and defeat. But for us we would leave with gratitude, with a sensation we wish to carry for years, to share with others who dream of larger things, who strive for big goals, who appreciate the path but honor the accomplishments.
Mountain Project Route Link: Ears Between