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Five Things to Know About the Bugaboos

A series of climbing 101’s about the history, people, routes and gear that shaped the sport

There are some amazing alpine climbing areas in Canada, but the Bugaboos might take the cake for being the most accessible with the best rock. They’re located in the Purcells in eastern B.C., about 300 kilometres from Calgary.

For over 100 years, climbers have been pushing climbing standards in the Bugaboos and thousands of climbers visit every year. The main spires are Bugaboo, Pigeon, the Howsers, Snowpatch and Crescent.

Below are five things to know about the Bugaboos.

The Name

The peaks weren’t originally called the Bugaboos, rather they were referred to as the Nunataks. The Bugaboo spires were first noted on a surveying expedition in the late 1800s.

In 1885, the first Europeans visited the area in hopes of finding gold. They prospected the area, but only found galena and pyrite. The name “Bugaboo” originated from this rush; the term was used by prospectors for a “dead-end.”

The Howser Towers in the Bugaboos

Conrad Kain

If you’ve ever visited the Bugaboos, then you’ve likely heard of Conrad Kain. The renowned European climber and guide climbed countless new routes in Canada during the early 20th century.

In 1910, an expedition led by Thomas Longstaff and surveyor Arthur Oliver Wheeler, which was guided by Kain, visited the area. Kain returned six years later and made the first ascent of the Kain Route on Bugaboo Spire.

Along with Albert and Bess McCarthy and others, Kain also made first ascents on North Howser, Marmolata and Crescent Spires. See here for three Kain routes you have to climb.

Conrad Kain on the first ascent of Bugaboo Spire in 1916. Photo Alberta MacCarthy

Climbing Booms

In the early 1950s, loggers in the area built a road that weaved up a slope to within a casual walking distance from the Bugaboo spires. More climbers started to visit by the late 1950s.

In the early 1960s, American legends Fred Beckey and Yvon Chouinard made the first ascent of The Beckey/Chouinard on the South Howser. Beckey spotted the route the previous year and had tried it with a different partner.

The boom of recreation in the area led the B.C. government to establish Bugaboo Glacier Provincial Park and the Bugaboo Alpine Recreation Area in 1969. The Alpine Club of Canada then constructed a large hut in 1972 to reduce environmental damage to the fragile alpine meadows below the spires. It’s called the Kain Hut. Since then, hundreds of new routes have been climbed from 5.4 to 5.14.

Ines Papert on The Beckey/Chouinard Photo Jon Walsh

Matt Maddaloni

In 2007, Canadian Matt Maddaloni completed the biggest link-up (at the time) in the Bugaboos: five multi-pitch routes to five different summits, all free and all solo. Peter Croft had previously linked the four hardest of these routes (all except Pigeon Spire) in about 14 hours.

Leaving the Applebee Campground at 4:30 a.m., Maddaloni onsighted the McTech Arête III 5.10a by headlamp then climbed the classic Northeast Ridge IV 5.7 of Bugaboo. After descending the Kain Route, he went across the glacier and then climbed up and down Pigeon Spire’s West Ridge II 5.4.

By mid-morning, he was at the base of The Beckey/Chouinard Route V 5.10a and then rappelled the Northeast Face. At 5 p.m., he started up The Kraus/McCarthy Route IV 5.8+ on the West Face of Snowpatch Spire. Rapping off the tower at dusk, he was back at the campground by 8 p.m., 15-and-a-half hours after starting and 50 pitches later.

Matt Maddaloni free-soloing in the Bugaboos

Tom Egan Memorial Route

One of the hardest alpine climbs in North America is the Tom Egan Memorial Route. Daryl Hatten and John Simpson made the first ascent of the 13-pitch line in 1978 and named it after a friend of Hatten’s who had died that same year in a small-plane crash.

Stanhope and American Will Segal worked on the climb over four summers, putting in more than 100 days. Because the start of the headwall crack on the Tom Egan was too thin to climb, they had to figure out a bolt-protected face climbing variation leading from an adjacent route, Sweet Sylvia, over to the Tom Egan.

During their final push, Stanhope redpointed all of the pitches but Segal was unable to complete the crux face traverse. Since 2016, many top climbers have attempted it but no one can piece it together. It goes at 5.14-, but some have suggested it might be harder.