Photo: Sign near Radison Hot-Springs BC
As summer comes to an end and the new school year begins it’s time to look back at the goals we’ve all achieved and all the good times had over the last couple months. This summer has been really great in so many ways meeting new people, traveling, seeing family and being able to adventure gaining so many amazing memories.
This post is about only one month of the summer and what an unbelievable month it has been. August 1st I met Santiago Espinosa, my buddy and climbing partner in Squamish BC to start a month long road trip through British Columbia and Alberta. Along the way we climbed in and around Squamish, the Bugaboos, Lake Louise, Banff, Canmore and the Valhalla mountain range chasing after a bunch of classic climbs that we’ve been dreaming of doing for the last year. We managed to get 21 climbing days in with a total of approximately 5500 meters of vertical climbing and many kilometers of hiking into the backcountry. Because we went to so many different areas we were able to climb many different types of rock with grades ranging from 5.6 to 5.12a, sport and trad from single pitch to 36 pitches, craging areas to long alpine routes, which gave us a very diverse experience.
Photo: Squamish Chief
Squamish is one of my favorite places to climb in the world because of its amazing crack climbing and classic routes, all close to town. The iconic Squamish Chief is the inspiration for many climbers from around the world to come climb in this area and it never disappoints. Well in Squamish we managed to climb a few classic routes up the Chief like the Ultimate Everything, Rock on, Squamish Buttress, Butt Light, Boomstick Crack, Over The Rainbow and Banana Peel. Also managed to get on Angels Crest earlier in the summer, which is highly recommended.
One afternoon sitting back at camp after a failed day of climbing I came up with a pretty cool plan. It went something like this:
Me- (rum in hand): Man we should try to do two laps up the chief one day...
Santi- (Beer in hand): Yeah, that will be cool..
Me- (sip of rum): We should try it tomorrow.
Santi- Challenge accepeted.
Me- Its gonna be legend... wait for it...
11hours after we started climbing...
Me- Dary.. LEGENDARY!..
The goal of the day was to see how fast and efficiently we could climb and preform the different multi-pitch systems. The routes we took were Over The Rainbow to Boomstick crack to the Ultimate Everything then ran down the hikers trail back to the bottom and did Banana Peel, Boomstick crack and Butt light.
Photo: Some of the climbing gear
Our next stop on the trip was the Bugaboos which we were really excited about as we had heard a lot about it but had never been. Unlike Squamish, the Bugaboos are not easily accessible and require an approach hike of about 5 km horizontal and with a 1000meter elevation gain to reach the base camp. From the base camp all the huge granite spires can be climbed as a day trip. The hike up to the base camp is no joke though; it is a tough painful hike with all your climbing gear, glacier travel gear, 6 days of food and general camping gear on your back.
Photo: my 30kg backpack in front of my car which has chicken wire around it to stop the rodents from eating my break lines.
Photo: Sunrise on the second day.
Photo: Glacier travel
Our first day in the Bugaboos we decided to take it easy in order to warm up to the alpine setting after being spoiled in Squamish with the easily accessible climbing. We decided to solo climb Pigeon Spire which is a classic and must do climb; up a really amazing ridge feature thats about 500meters in length. The summit is 3156 meters high. It is one of the further away spires from the base camp and you have to climb up a large steep icy call and across a glacier to access it.
Photo: Approaching Pigeon Spire via the glacier
Photo: Santago traversing way above the clouds in the early morning.
Photo: Santiago repelling off the summit
Photo: Climbing back down the route
Photo: Standing on the summit taking it all in
The second day out in the Bugaboos was one to remember and for me was the crux of the trip mentally. In every dynamic sport you have to expect and be prepared mentally and physically for the unexpected and alpine climbing is as dynamic as it gets. You have to have the skill set to be able to get yourself out of situations that you might find yourself in and be able to keep calm in order to make good decisions. In the mountains there is no get out of jail free card, your decision-making affects you instantaneously and small mistakes can be fatal.
Our goal was to climb a classic route called Snowpatch on Snowpatch spire, which is 19pitches summiting at 3084 meters. A seemingly simple approach and relatively easy route for our abilities but it is never so simple in the mountains.
Photo: Snowpatch Spire view from base camp
We woke up at 4am and that’s when the first taste of the days complications would start. Felt sick from the water I was drinking in camp and had my first nosebleed in as long as I can remember. The water in camp was also not working and so cold breakfasts and a hike up to a lake to get water made us leave camp later than planned. Finally left camp at about 5:30am on the approach to Climb Snowpatch spire, which was simple, we could see the ‘right’ gully we were to climb up. What we didn’t realize is that we were on the wrong side of the gully and were headed to a very exposed cliff with no pro or repel options. After climbing up a large ice ramp we got to a point were we had to get onto the rock. I decided to go first, stepped over the large gap between the ice ramp and rock face and started climbing. Pretty soon after I started climbing the realization that there was no turning around set in. I also noticed that for a classic route there was a lot of loose rock and boulders that I was pulling off but I knew going down was impossible at this point. A few meters later I couldn’t go up any further and was stuck. My climbing partner untied from the rope because if I had fallen he would be dragged with me. My heart beating out of my chest, shaking and mentally fried and only 100meters off the glacier below I didn’t know what to do.
A few minutes went by as I thought of my options, which were either fall or keep going up and decided that I just got to commit and keep going. I managed to get my head back into the game and went for the moves I thought were impossible earlier. Found a small foot chip which I got about 5mm of my mountaineering boot on, found some small hand holds and just went for it. The sweat poring down my face I was so relieved I pulled the move and moving over to a safer location to belay my partner up was such a good feeling. 4 more pitches of loose sketchy scary climbing continued after that before reaching the base of the climb. It took us 6 hours to get to the base of the climb which was meant to take 2 hours so we decided that our brains were to fried to continue and turned around repelling off the other side of the gully where the proper approach was.
Photo: Camping and climbing gear for 6 days
After our failed climb the day before we decided we could not leave without a second, more educated attempt on the summit of Snowpatch. We now knew the proper approach and were more prepared. We left camp a bit later and managed to safely get to the base of the climb. By 12pm we were 4 pitches from the top and were feeling smooth and fast. Everything was perfect but maybe too perfect it seemed. As we reached the top of the climb route finding became extremely complicated and we ended up getting off route. It took us 4 hours to do the last section and was getting late. After a struggle to reach the top off route we finally made it and had no time to celebrate the achievement. It was late and we still have about 9 repels to do and a steep ice gully to descend.
Photo: Snowpatch Spire from the proper approach
Photo: Repelling off the summit of Snowpatch Spire
On the descent of Snowpatch Spire about 3 repels down as we reached the next anchor station and began to pull our rope down for the next repel pretty much the most feared thing in repelling happened, our rope got stuck in a crack. At this point there was no time to be wasted and I started leading up the repel route to retrieve the rope. After freeing the rope once again and re-rapping the pitch we were finally on our way again. We finally made it back to camp at 10pm and were exhausted.
We learnt a lot in the Bugaboos about what can go wrong and how to over come the challenges involved when alpine climbing. We were able to use many skills that we had learnt over the years of climbing and felt confident in keeping ourselves safe well out in such an unforgiving environment. I am excited to return to the Bugaboos next year more prepared and educated about the area.
Photo: Santiago leading one of the pitches
Our next stop on the trip was Lake Louis, Banff and Canmore which are all relatively close to one another. We got on some amazing routes and summited some very cool peaks including the Grand Sentinel and Ha Ling.
Photo: Just chilling
Photo: Santiago on the approach to The Grand Sentinel his favourite climb
Photo: The Grand Sentinal, we climbed up the pillar twice that day up two different routes.
Photo: A view of Canmore from Ha Ling
Photo: Santiago being stocked on our climb
Photo: Summit of The Grand Sentinel
Unfortunately we did not get many pictures of our climbs at Lake Louise and around the rockies but we had a great time with many amazing adventures along the way. After the rockies we decided to make one more stop in the Valhalla mountain range in order to climb Mt Gimli.
Photo: Mt Gimli
Over all we had an amazing trip and this climbing season has been really successful. Although the trip is over i will still be climbing for the next couple of weeks and then will prepare for the ice climbing season, stay tuned for more blog posts later in the year, hope you enjoyed reading some of our adventures.