Category Archives: Stepping Stones

Stepping Stones

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   By mid August I had enjoyed the fruits of easy living in the forest with friends but was developing the sense that a greater challenge to explore myself further lay ahead. Enter the Bugaboos. The first task being, the obvious physical challenge of navigating such impressive landscape safely. The second, being able to do this in harmony with a partner, thankfully in my case, a good friend.

In hindsight, a different kind of fruit was maturing, albeit without fully comprehending it. Climbing jagged peaks in glaciated terrain helped to create gaps between thoughts because my survival was dependant on being fully in the moment.

The medicine of being was slowly permeating the shell of the mind which was plunging deeper into identity and self image.

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   Day One starts with an 80 litre back pack stuffed full with all the essentials. Heaps of rope, clusters of carabiners and bundles of food in the hopes that you can stay up there as long as possible. With the packs ready to crush as much vertebrae as possible we were good to head out to base camp!

The Applebee Dome camp site, that sits at 2480m would be our home for a week or so. The approach is 970 meters elevation gain over 5.6 kilometres. A pretty solid 4 hours. We set out into slog mode as the sun behind began to stain the ocean of blue above with drops of tangerine. The mighty alpine spires slowly rearing their faces ahead.

Later that evening, I collapse in a heap after setting up the tent. Thoma is already cooking us dinner. The first of many rice and wraps combos. “Hows it going mate?” I ask him, since he was charging ahead on the hike in. The whole time I could barley see him through my constant cascades of sweat. “I think my bag rubbed a hole in my back” he replies. “Oh”. Good start.

Appleebee Campground in the morning sun
Appleebee Campground in the morning sun

The next morning we decide to stretch our stiff legs and get a feel for the place. For this, we decide to scramble up the classic west ridge of Pigeon Spire, 5.4 (A more relaxed difficulty. See featured image). A luxury as we could leave the rack (protective equipment) and rope at ‘home’ and climb the peak without any hassle. A perfect climb for the day. Exposure on the little spire was superb, the climbing was simple and enjoyable as we filled our lungs with the alpine atmosphere. Fresh and invigorating, we were psyched for the week ahead!

Thoma & I on Pidgeon Spire ridgetop
Thoma & I on Pidgeon Spire’s ridgetop
   Day 2 – The Minor Setback. We both decide that our pistons need a bit of a rest so we opt for a route within easy walking distance. It’s called Paddle Flake Direct. It’s a 40 minute walk which is one of the easier options for the area. Roping up this time, the rock appears to be slightly friable and dirty en route, exercising my brain more than I had hoped and with some pitches at full rope lengths of 60m it made for slow climbing on my behalf when I went first.  The crawling progress over the course of the day and lack of food (Food? Did someone say food?) meant I was spent when we reached the top. We set up the rappels and I feel drained. Thoma stays on top of it as I mention “Sorry mate I’m not with it today”, in which he replies “I noticed”.
Looking up Paddle Flake Direct - 5.10 6p
Looking up Paddle Flake Direct – 5.10 6p

We arrive back at camp as the sun falls back into the west. The psyche had fizzled out and we realised you can’t ration food like you normally would in the valley bottom up here. You need to feed the furnace constantly and we were low on fuel. Thankfully Daniel (The legend from California) was leaving the camp site and donated a whole sack of supplies. With that stroke of luck we decided to rest a day, chill to some classic tunes, fill our stomachs and our lungs as much as possible to get the psyche back.

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*Ping!* The following morning we wake at 5.30am, empty a pot of coffee into our guts and make for Bugaboo spire. All charged up, our goal was the uber classic north east ridge. 12 pitches (rope lengths) of 5.6-8 (moderate difficulty) that leads to the north summit. Once on top you un rope and traverse to the south summit to begin the rappels down the south ridge. (Known as the ‘Kain route’  as it was first climbed by Conrad Kain in 1916).

Bugaboo Spire
Bugaboo Spire (Our route went up right, down left)

With power bars stuffed in our pockets to keep us buzzing we simul climb, (both people climb at the same time) stopping only when the leader is almost out of gear. The climbing is ace on this route. Great position, good rock for placing gear and brilliant to climb with a constant flow. We arrive under the north summit around lunch time and put the rack away. Its time for some fun on the knife edge traverse! Hello Exposure. The ‘exciting traverse’ does it’s job by making you feel like an ant on top of a skyscraper shimmying from one side to the other, on the outside of the guard rail. Eeek. Done with, we take a breath and soak in the view, feel the love and then commence the rappels.

Still feeling super sonic, Thoma runs down the south ridge towards the outhouse on the col below. I catch up to him later and we both head back to base camp, with energy still to spare. Probably the reason I didn’t fall and slide down the ‘infamous col’ again. So, we made an 8 hour day of it and were excited for the final instalment of this adventure.

Thoma starting the rappels
Thoma starting the rappels down the south ridge. The big peak to the left is Snowpatch spire. The shadowed face was to be our ‘final instalment’ (see picture below). The ‘infamous col’ is the low point in between and is subject to steep unstable snow.

At this stage, we were in a good sync and climbing well together. Alas, our food was almost empty so we were back to mixing a mish mash of random morsels left over and the enclosed space of the tent was…well, you can imagine. That being said we had one day left, the sun was shining and we wanted to go out with a bang.  ‘Sunshine Crack’ on the north face of Snowpatch spire was the obvious choice. We strapped our boots on and set out mid morning the next day.

We arrive at the base of the route and don the puffa jackets. Since it’s north facing we would be in the shade for most of the day. That, with the proximity to the glacier, meant it was pretty cold. “At least it has three pitches of off width. (A wide crack you jam your body into to ascend. Strenuous). We’ll warm up in no time” I mention hopefully. Thoma doesn’t waste time to think about it, he ties into the rope and climbs immediately. Boom, we were off.

Looking up 'Sunshine Crack' on the north face of Snowpatch Spire
Looking up ‘Sunshine Crack’ on the north face of Snowpatch Spire

The first pitch (rope length) is a nice hand sized crack leading to the second pitch. A 5 inch wide crack. Sweet, can’t wait to warm up! I set off and am gasping for breath in no time as I thrutch my body up the wide crack and get warm. Hey this isn’t too bad, at least I can feel my hands now. I clip the chains of the anchor and tell Thoma he’ll be hot in a jiffy. I zip up and and set in for a long top belay. Tom has other ideas and is with me in moments. “How the hell did you climb that so quick?”, “Don’t stop moving” he replies “nice, you warm yet?”, “Nah my feet are still numb”, “Ah, better keep climbing then eh”

4 fabulous pitches later Thoma sticks the crux finger locks (hardest section of the route in which the crack tapers into the width of your finger) and pulls through into sunshine. Thank goodness! We thaw out and climb another pitch in the warm embrace of the sun and reach the last pitch. A 15-20 meter 4 inch off width crack that narrows at the top, followed by a savage sequence of small holds to gain the final crack. (For those that know the route we went left after the wide stuff). Great, my lead to end this adventure!

There was one little detail that made me nervous about this though. We only had two 4 inch cams (pieces of protection) left for the entire 20m crack. Kinda far for two bits of pro. I start up, none the less, slightly alarmed, but there’s only one way to go, and that’s up. We were finishing this amazing route. I place the first one down low and jam and scrap my way onward.  Getting higher above the first cam now, fall potential increasing. It’s OK though, my whole right arm is shoved as far as it can go and its keeping me inside the crack. Keep going. I call down to Thoma, telling him that my armour is starting to buckle. “Throw in some tipped out 3’s” he calmly replies. (Smaller pieces of protection that gingerly fit into the wide gaps). I do so and the tide of fear slowly ebbs into a manageable dimension. They’d probably hold. That being said, I bump the second 4 incher above me until I’m at the top of the crack. It would have definitely held but it’s a long ways above the last decent cam. Just a thought anyway.

Looking dooown somewhere near the top
Looking dooown somewhere near the top

At the top of the wide crack I have a mini celebration as I stuff some more protection into the now tapered crack. Time to muster the last of your strength for the boulder sequence. A high crimp with the right hand, a long left ‘gaston’, feet pasted on tiny ex foliating knobs. There’s nothing for it. Lunge! I cross with the right hand on the edge above my left hand followed by a growl from the depths of my stomach. Yes! I stick it and jam into the final crack to the top! Thoma soon joins me and we sit in the glow of warm sun smiling from ear to ear, fumbling with the cameras with our raw bloody hands, trying to capture this moment. The best climbing experience yet!

   Still. Breathe. Be.
Joy at the top!
Joy at the top!

Back at camp we are exhausted and in need of food. Cooking the last strands of the pasta, we sit and stare at the pot with hungry eyes as the the flame flickers and dies. Damn. We’re out of fuel. Thankfully a group of Americans armed to the teeth with everything they’d need for a month give us some and we demolish our lavish (by our standards) dinner and enjoy some quality tunes with the company of the final sunset here in the Bugaboos.

The next day, we hike our sore bodies out back to the cars, inhale the food we left there, take a much needed wash in the river and zoom down the logging road like a bat out of hell with the music cranked, heading to Revelstoke, the tapestry of life changing form once again.

This is the time of our lives. Thank you Thoma, thank you Life.

The sun is rising. (Snowpatch spire)
The sun is rising. (Snowpatch spire)

“Lets sleep, eat and dream and savour our travels and babble our stories to anyone who’ll listen..”   – ‘The Travel Song’, TZU