Monday, August 29, 2016

A Bugaboo expedition

I set out panting, kicking the soft snow under my boots, a heavy pack weighing me down and trying to trip me over. My glacier sunglasses, a 20 bucks score from the Squamish gear exchange, project a false image of reality to the eyes behind them. Not only the scratches on them, the dimming of the natural light feels so unreal and annoying. I want to strip them off. But we are well above 2000 metres, walking on a glacier and the sunnies are crucial to my eyes. It's always a bit of a shock going to alpine terrain for a crag rat :)
But even without the glasses, is what I am seeing really that what is there? My brain is flicking through a kaleidoscope of images of vast white fields, big granite spires, the evil looking gray moraines at their bottoms and powerfully reflecting crystal lakes. Fatigue and the monotony of our three-hour hike blend reality and imagination into one and I gradually take a third-person view of everything that is going on around me, blocking out the thoughts of tiredness.
When I pull on the rock though, what the senses are telling me seems to get closest to actual reality. A sharpened awareness and surge of adrenaline naturally quiet the passing thoughts in my head and my focus zones down to the stretch of rock in front of me. A face of golden granite, split by a striking crack... finally, I am in the Bugaboos! The climbing here is pleasantly stimulating my climber's taste. Psyched. During another full day of climbing, I am immersed in the beauty of the movement, still so unique to me and my limestone climbing roots, I am a bumbly tick-mark following sport climber after all. This place poses a different challenge, a fun mix of alpine adventure, masochistic hiking and splitter cracks. Wooo!

This trip was a great adventure, and surely the highlight of my three months in Canada. I got a ride from Squamish in late July, hiked in, spent a few days at Applebee campground, hiked to East Creek bivy, my partner Martin left and I joined a group of psyched Quebecers (new french canadian friends! Yay!), spent a full week with them and then hiked out. We spent a few rest days in Golden that were mainly composed of watching movies and drinking beer on the couch (civilization feels good after a short period of deprivation, at least for a few days...). Then we returned with renewed psyche and new supplies of peanut butter for another full week, this time staying at Applebee but managing another quick trip out to East creek for a mission on the North Howser tower, its tall and remote west face. None of the climbs I did were of extreme difficulty, in this sense I missed out on a couple hard ones like The power of lard or Sendero norte. Anyway, I grew more familiar and confident with rock climbing in alpine enviroment and above all spent a great time with new friends. I like lists, especially if they're long and since this one is considerably long, here's the routes I climbed:

Mysterious corner left of the Watchtower, ~5.11, North Howser tower, see below for the explanation

Beckey-Chouinard, 5.10, South Howser tower, a cruisy day with Martin

Club confidential, 5.11 into a unnamed (?) splitter crack of about 5.12- on the Great White headwall,
South Howser tower, mega splitter was probably the hardest pitch of the trip, anyone knows about it? (crack left of Your girlfriend gave me RP's)

Italian pillar free, 5.11d on the Minaret, a great day with Sebastien, finally reached the summit of this imposing 600m face after two attempts on the Millenium, scary and hard second-to-last, crux, pitch on diagonal 'flutes' with footholds crumbling away.

Two attempts at 'Doubting the millenium' on the Minaret, the best looking line of all in the Bugs, a 5.12 freed by the Belgian wild bunch, Villanueva&Favresse, a memorable rappell in hail

An attempt on the Wide awake on the Pigeon feathers, the most sandbagged 5.10 ever (I bumped a nr. 4 for 50 metres).

Solitary confinement, 5.11-, a 5-star single-splitter route that stretches for 6 pitches, more wideness

Nothing on the Pigeon spire (west ridge was a traffic jam)

Sunshine crack, 5.11-, on the Snowpatch, another cruisy trip with Martin after so much crack training in Squamish

The Labyrinth, 5.12-, on the East face of Snowpatch, a varied and interesting climb, spiced up with rappelling in the dark and crowned with a beautiful last night in the Bugaboos, spent on the Applebee slabs lit by the full moon

McTech arete, 5.10-, because classics are supposed to be done (it was great)
And the Kain route, 5.6, on Bugaboo Spire, done in my Decathlon approach shoes which probably still were grippier than what they used in 1916!

The climbs on the west face of the North Howser are considered some of the most serious due to their length and the remoteness of the face. I was debating going on 'All along the watchtower' with a couple of friends. It is the classic, featuring a long stretch of stemming in a sustained, 5.11+ corner. We were all slightly intimidated by the scale of the thing compared with our experience in similar things (plus all the glacier travel stuff, it's the 'axe and crampon and shit'...). Eventually me and Oli manned up and went for it and it all went smoothly. A 3 AM alpine start, rappelling to under the face in the dark, climbing the whole day, all free, right until the summit, bivvying under one sleeping bag but spending a beautiful, not too cold night after having had the most tasty instant mashed potatoes of my life. Anyway... all was good except for the fact we didn't actually climb the right corner (oh and I put a core shot in Oli's rope, that was stupid)! I worked out we must have missed the (very obvious) corner because it was considerably wet and the route sketch was kinda poor. We climbed over 100 metres of a beautiful, tight-hands corner (after having traversed too far left) in low 5.11 range and were expecting to hit the crux roof anytime, but then we suddenly entered easier terrain and broken ledges took us to the summit ridge. The route must have been done before since we found nice booty (well, that's something) in the form of a stuck .75 cam.
Nonetheless we were not too bothered with our poor route finding since the whole thing was a good (and tiring) adventure. Next morning we rapped the other side of the tower, past a huge bergschrund and walked out on the glacier that was indeed less sketchy than it looked from the distance. Mega!

Spending almost a month out on the glaciers made this trip feel like a mini expedition. A great deal of hiking had to be done to carry all the gear and supplies, and my legs progressively grew. Getting adopted by the Quebecers provided for an unexpected improvement of my diet as I ended up stuffing my belly with poutine, chocolate cake, bacon and fresh fruit for breakfast as they were clearing out their food stash (the perks of having a heli drop-off!). It grew from funny to ridiculous when we had to hike all the Rubbermaids, the plastic boxes accross the glacier (the perk of not being helied out!). Anyway, staying with them confirmed my theory of the importance of hanging around Francophone people if you want to eat well (haute cuisine, right? Is 3000m considered haute, already?).

Another weary hike-out, a drug-addict behaviour led raid of the 7eleven ice cream aisle and a two-day hitchhike accross British Columbia put me back to Squamish, the home base for this trip. Since then I've been a bit less motivated with some really hot weather in Squamish, lack of partners and blown out shoes. A short trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island for some surfing in Tofino... and now I'm back for the last few days of my BC trip.
Bugaboos is hiking!
'so what does a porcupine look like? don't know, but i guess they're quite a beast'
approaching the madness
Eastpost Spire and its reflection in the 'bathtub lake' 
soloing out the summit ridge on the South Howser after a great day on the mega classic 'Beckey-Chouinard' that features great sustained 5.8-5.10 climbing in chimneys and corners
on the Kain route on Bugaboo spire
The Minaret getting the first rays of sun
cool place to camp out...
hiking accross the Vowell glacier towards East Creek basin, left is Pigeon Spire and on the right is the backside of The Howser Towers
me on the amazing splitter on the Great White Headwall of South Howser! Things kept turning more epic as we found out it's harder than it looks, pretty runout even with a double rack (it was a desert sandstone kinda splitter!), full 60 metres between any belay options and the howling wind was announcing a storm. Luckily we were able to escape through a small squeeze into the Beckey-Chouinard chimney. One full pitch of the same crack was still above us - anyone has info about this route? The weather luckily was not too bad and we only got a few bits of hail, but it the exposure made it feel so epic!
spent the first few days climbing with my buddy Martin...
The Pigeon feathers in the morning fog
fighthing the 'Wide Awake', a hundred metres of the same size nr.4 crack, starting with this roof to warm you up. we were going to attempt the free variation from Villanueva&Favresse, but by the time we got up to the scary looking roof/flake (that gave the name Wide Awake Cornflake), I was pretty smashed, physically and mentally

Oli making lunch for the Watchtower! this is haute cuisine as well!

hanging out at the bivy boulder in East Creek

Birthday cake for Eliel!
and we're talking proper chocolate orange cake here!

chilling out on the porch in Golden after a monumental shower and breakfast
the curious neighbours in Applebee camp

the alpine warrior

...meets a Quebec strongman. 
Image result for howser towers aerial
the west face of the North Howser (with a bit more snow than we had)
Seb doing the Sherpa on the hike-out. I heard Rubbermaid are going to start making back packs!
hitchhiking accross BC... next time let's hop trains!

leading up a very wet corner on All along the watchtower. 'let's hope it's not going to be like this the whole way!'
the pseudo corner! even though we were off-route, the route was still pretty amazing :)
Patagonia provisions caters to high-class dirtbags who care about acting enviroment-friendly and are not friends with gluten. We just got it from somebody at camp, but it sure tasted good... thank you.
climbing out the sick ridge of the North Howser
Oli scoring the probable FA of this little flake right below the summit
nice job Pinti!
about to dissapear in the bergschrund. There goes!

hanging out at Applebee!

 I feel grateful this trip happened for me. Thanks to all the climbing partners, especially Seb, Martin and Oli, thanks to Leo Houlding and Will Stanhope for inspiration and fixed rappels to the North Howser, thanks Dylan for the ice axe and Chris for useful beta and psyche. A big shoutout to everyone who was there, the Quebec crew above all. Cheers!

p.s. Thanks to Martin and Oli for some of the pictures in this blog.