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Alpine Apprenticeship In The Bugaboos
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August 2009 :: Canada :: Bugaboos

Aaron Jones, recipient of an AAC Mountain Fellowship for young climbers, describes his August 2009 trip to the Bugaboos in Canada.

I left Salt Lake City for Calgary, Alberta, on July 28. I had intended to go on this trip solo but was able to convince my best friend, Dave Turner, to come along at the last minute. This turned out to be crucial, given the amount of glacier travel required and the state of the crevasses on the Upper Vowell and Bugaboo glaciers.

After what I’d heard from climbers familiar with the area, the snow conditions were much worse than I expected. I was under the assumption that the Bugaboo-Snowpatch col, the most easily accessible passage to the majority of climbing in the Bugs, was a simple snow hike barely requiring crampons, and an easily glissade in good conditions. However, this was a low snowfall year, and a hot summer had quickly melted most of the snow in the couloir. I only ascended to this col once, to free solo the west ridge of Pigeon Spire. It was steep ice and the receding snow caused wicked rock fall from above. I epic’d in my tennis shoes with strap-on crampons and one tool, and I swore to never do it again. Then nature intervened with a huge rock slide that obliterated the right-side rappel route, effectively closing it to all but the most oblivious of climbers.

The alternate approach to the Bugaboos’ higher peaks is a long glacier crossing to the Pigeon-Hoswer col. This is where having a partner was crucial. There were numerous crevasses with narrow bridges that necessitated roping up. This was very good for me, as I had very little glacier experience prior to this trip. I learned a lot from Dave about crevasse rescue and glacier travel techniques.

The climbing in the Bugs is spectacular. The rock is the most perfect alpine granite imaginable, and the peaks are set up perfectly for long ridge traverses and link-ups. While there, I summited seven different peaks. Eastpost Spire is a fourth-class scramble above Applebee Campground, and I ran this in only 15 minutes camp-to-camp. This was my main diversion on rest days, other than endless reading. I also did a traverse of Whipping Post Spire along the Crescent Spires and North Crescent Tower. I had intended to add the northeast ridge of Bugaboo Spire, but ice-filled chimneys deterred me. I later free-soloed this route in under two hours to the summit. I also free-soloed the southeast corner of Snowpatch Spire several times. These are all fairly easy climbs but of the highest quality imaginable!

I fell short on my main objective of the trip: soloing the Howser towers. I attempted the Beckey/Chouinard on South Howser, but bailed after free-soloing off-route into some 5.9 choss. I spent almost an hour up- and down-climbing before finally reversing my moves and reaching the belay ledge. I roped up and did one more 5.10 pitch before calling it quits and descending back to the East Creek basin. It really rattled me at the time, but in the end it was a very good experience. If you free-solo something, you better be able to get down without the rope!

Later in the trip, Dave and I attempted a route on the Minaret, Doubting the Millennium. The Minaret may be one of the most beautiful rock formations I have ever seen. We bailed due to inadequate rack after I spent an hour leapfrogging our three bird beaks up a super-sustained beak seam.

All in all, this trip was a great learning experience for me. I am much more comfortable on snow and glaciers. I feel more confident moving in the mountains and in my ability to forecast weather patterns. I may not have accomplished the big objectives I set out to do, but I am pleased with my performance and the experience I gained. I would like to offer my deepest thanks to the American Alpine Club for helping me go on this trip and for continuing to support young aspiring alpinists like myself. Your grant programs really do help to fuel and support the dreams of climbers around the world.

Aaron Jones previously used another AAC Mountain Fellowship to travel to Chilean Patagonia, where he soloed the north and central Torres del Paine. Click here to learn more about Mountain Fellowship grants for climbers age 25 and younger.