Thursday, September 27, 2007

Bugaboos & Yoho

I've been in Canada for a week and a half now. Last week I visited the Bugaboos, a provincial park, which is a well known alpine rock climbing area. The park is full of granitic spires, many of them rising out of sheets of glacial ice. The summits are around 10,000 ft in elevation. Unfortunately the weather wasn't terribly cooperative. It snowed every day I was there and I had one night out in a storm.

I wound up climbing one peak (Eastport Spire). It was easy rock, mostly scrambling, but a bit slippery at times because of the new snow. I wanted to check out Pidgeon Spire as well but I don't think I ever even saw it. I climbed up glacier ice one day to a pass where I knew I should be able to see it, but the visibility was near zero so I didn't see much at all. I spent the rest of the time exploring the area, climbing up and over low points on ridges to see what was on the other side.

Even though I didn't see everything I had wanted to see I could understand the appeal of the Bugaboos. For one, it's pretty accessible. The hike in, while strenuous, is over in a few hours. At the end of the hike there's a really nice hut you can spend the night at. It's got stoves, heating, lighting, cooking utensils, hot and cold running water, and bunks. The electricity comes from a mini hydro generator that's set up in a nearby stream. If you'll just be in the area near the hut and are willing to shell out $22 Canadian per night you can avoid having to haul in a bunch of camping gear (like I did). The most famous spires (Bugaboo and Snowpatch) are within an hour's hike of the hut. The routes on the spires, even just those near the hut, span the entire range of technical difficulty. There's everything from routes for beginners to routes which would challenge the world's best climbers. The east face of Snowpatch in particular is a big wall with routes which are over a dozen pitches in length. The rock is solid high quality large crystal granite, the type of rock that rock climbers love. If you want a more remote experience just head for one of the passes between the spires and you'll find more spires on the other side. The park itself is not especially large, at least compared with places such as the North Cascades or the Olympics. However, the area is quite dense with spires and routes. Besides climbers, the park's natural beauty also attracts hikers.

It's clear, however, that I had arrived too late in the season. July or early August should be prime. The hut custodian told me that the hut can get very crowded in high season, to the point where they have to turn down people (the hut's maximum capacity is forty people). Most days I was there the hut custodian and I were the only people in the park. The hut shuts down at the end of September.

My night out in the storm was surprisingly comfortable. I spent the night in a space formed by two slabs of rock. One slab had fallen on the other and formed a tunnel shaped like an upside down V. It was the perfect size for a bivy sack and some gear. I walled up one end of the tunnel with boulders to keep the wind from blowing through the space and called it good. During the night I could hear the wind howling fiercely at times, but I was warm and dry, protected by a shelter of solid granite. I never thought I'd be so happy to be sleeping under some rocks.

I had seen many pika (a small rodent-like animal) in the area and had noticed that they used the spaces under boulders as shelters. I remembered the advice given in a wilderness survival book I had read a while back. If you are in an unfamiliar environment, observe how the local wildlife gets by and learn from them. Good advice.

Speaking of wildlife, I saw a lot of pika and squirrels. I also ran into a couple of ptarmigan, who's plumage was starting to turn white. The largest animal I saw was a beautiful snow white mountain goat, a ram. He definitely looked ready for winter. Besides having his full winter coat he looked pretty fat. He was lying down when I first saw him and seemed very reluctant to get up. He reminded me of Ann's chubby cat Samantha after she's had a meal. See the link for Bugaboo pictures.

After returning from the Bugaboos I stopped at some local hot springs and relaxed a bit. I next went to Golden, British Columbia to pick up a package. I hung out there for a couple of days before I got tired of being told that it had not arrived. I decided to spend a couple of days backpacking and hiking in nearby Yoho national park. I spent a night in a camp with a bunch of friendly Canadians and explored the area on foot, checking out valleys, lakes, and various passes. It snowed both days I was out. At times the snow was so deep that I had to wade through it, but it was fun to explore such a beautiful place. The park ranger who talked me into this particular area told me that the permits for it are typically reserved to capacity three months in advance. Since I was there at the end of the season I was able to get a permit the same day I hiked in. The pictures from the Yoho trip didn't come out too well but I uploaded a few to this link.

Currently I'm in Calgary. The van recently developed an electrical problem which prevents the windshield wipers and headlights from functioning. I was able to bypass a relay with some bailing wire and got the wipers to work. I thought I could do something similar for the headlights, but before proceeding further down that path I decided to stop listening to my inner third world mechanic. I figured I'd better have a real mechanic look at it before I short something out and burn down the van and everything in it. Luckily I found a VW specialist in Calgary. She was willing to get me in on short notice since I'm living in the van. She just called me and said that the ignition switch needs to be replaced. It should be ready later this afternoon. Meanwhile I've been cruising around Calgary on my bike. The weather's much nicer on this side of the mountains.

I had to stop at four DMVs (one in Washington and three in Idaho) but I managed to get a vehicle permit that's good until October 17th. I should have the replacement title by then. So far I've managed to avoid any jail time.

I'll post another update in a couple of weeks.


Matt said...

Nice blog Vic. I like the pics too. Sounds like wandering the earth is a pretty cool way to spend one's time.

Chris said...

Vic, you're lucky that that goat didn't gore your guts out.

I'm still waiting for you to catch your first animal.

See you in Baja.

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