Thursday, October 31, 2013

Bugaboo?? What's a Bugaboo?

Conrad Kain, a renowned alpinist, is credited with many first Canadian ascents.  This Austrian mountain guide, who guided in Europe and Canada during the early 1900’s, was the first to ascent Mt. Robson (1913), Mt. Louis (1916) and the most difficult climb in Canada up until 1940, the Bugaboo Spire (1916).

The first two mountains are identifiable by most Canadians but what is a Bugaboo Spire?  My thoughts exactly. The Bugaboos are a mountain range, with peaks as high as 3000m, in the Purcell Mountains of southeastern British Columbia.  The spires are jagged granite columns that jut straight up to the sky.

Heading up the valley in Bugaboo Prov. Park towards Hounds Tooth (l) and Snowpatch Spire (r).
I say spires because there are several of these giant columns of rock rising above the rocky wild alpine, some completely surrounded by glaciers.  Amongst these spectacular spires sits the Conrad Kain Hut, a backcountry cabin maintained by the Alpine Club of Canada that serves as base camp for climbers who scale the spires.  As a family, we are new to climbing.  The Bugaboos are well past our climbing ability (for now) are intimidating and known internationally as an attractive climbing destination.  Yet we seem to keep toying with the idea of hiking to the hut for a closer look at the world of climbing and to get to know the unknown Bugaboos. Let the adventure begin.
The Trailhead

Like every adventure we tackle, once we commit, we jump in with 8 feet.  We research the hike, go over all the safety factors, consider our abilities and begin to prepare for the adventure as a family.  As usual, part of the process is how to get there.  No problem.  We have done this many times.  Driving 50km on a gravel forestry road to get to the trailhead is not a problem.  It was what came after that was completely new.  This is directly from the BC Parks website.
“It is recommended that visitors protect their vehicle perimeter with a portable chicken wire fence to deter porcupines and other small animals from chewing on rubber brake lines and tires.”

Bugaboo Prov. Park parking lot. 

Even though we were expecting it, to see the parking lot jammed packed with vehicles surrounded in chicken wire, rocks and wooden posts was a moment of WTF??  The only thing that was more shocking was looking up at one of the spires surrounded by a glacier and notice a tiny green speck perched along the rocky edge.  Yip, that was the hut we were hiking to.  I believe my words were “We are NOT hiking up there!” Followed by, “It’s OK mommy, we can do it.” From Liv, my 6 year old adventure girl.   

This photo is about a third of the way up.  Can you spot the Conrad Kain Hut.  It lies just below the patch of snow Ben is pointing to. 

Of course I knew we could hike to the hut.  It was more of a shock and awe statement but my heart melted with her confidence and encouragement.  And with that, my husband grabbed rocks, Liv and I collected wooden poles, and Ben (8) rolled chicken wire towards the truck.  Together we began the lengthy process of caging in our vehicle and praying that some rubber craving rodent would dine on grass instead of our tires.  

The Spires Trail
At first glance, the hike to the Conrad Kain Hut is very much similar in numbers to many hikes we do on Vancouver Island.  About 5 km in length with 800m in elevation gain.  The difference being that on the Island, this will get you to the peak.  The Conrad Kain Hut is base camp if you will.  To reach the peak or summit a spire requires a bit more effort and skill.  We’re saving that for another adventure.  But there was still plenty of adventure to be had.  The hike tested our abilities with a relentless steep trudge, large boulders to navigate up and over, bolted chains to assist on the steep narrow cliff edges, and a 24 foot ladder used to climb up a rock face.   

I would be lying if I said I was not worried about this hike.  As a mother I was absolutely concerned about the safety of Ben and Liv.  There was more conversation than usual about being cautious and watching where they stepped.  For the steep narrow cliff parts, Liv was tethered to dad.  

Joel and I did absolutely everything we could to ensure their safety as well as ours.  We armed ourselves with knowledge, prepared our children and not once were we at risk.  In fact, the adventure allowed all of us to grow, learn and we live to adventure another day.
As grueling as the hike was, both Ben and Liv kept putting one foot ahead of the other and pushed themselves like never before.  And it was hot! (I believe it was 25C when we reached the hut)  I think they were motivated by the hikers we passed coming down.  Everyone stopped to chat with us.  Ben and Liv heard others telling them how cool it was they were backpacking and what a great job they were doing.  Words of encouragement from strangers lift their spirits every time.  They hear it from us all the time but coming from their peers is confirmation.
The Adventure Goal
For us, every adventure must have a purpose or goal.  Obviously our goal this time was not to climb a spire.  Instead, our goal was to sleep in a backcountry hut, a first for us all. The Conrad Kain Hut is very popular and reservations are strongly recommended.   I was amazed to learn the hut can accommodate 40 people and by the time we phoned for reservations only two spots were left.  That meant we were hiking as four but packing gear for two of us to tent.  Backcountry camping is available near the hut at Boulder Camp.  Basically we were packing everything we would normally take on an overnight backpack trip less one tent and two sleeping pads.  Turns out a group of 8 marines who had been camping at Applebee Dome decided to continue camping and gave up their reservation.  Applebee Dome is about 1km from the hut and lies where the true climbing begins.  These tough marines decided to man up and finish their adventure without the comforts of four walls meaning all four of us could stay in the hut.  Great news but too bad we had to lug all our gear up with us.  Would have been better to have known that at the trailhead. But, that is what adventure is all about; uncertainly.

The Conrad Kain Hut
We being virgin backcountry hutt’ers had no idea what to expect when arriving at the hut.  All we knew was there would be water (for dishes and to refill bottles), propane, hydro, cooking and eating utensils, and foam mattresses.  From the outside it looks like a domed A-frame style cabin.  The green metal roof covers the cabin in its entirety.  Standing beside the cabin, the view is stunning to say the least.  It is perched on a rocky shelf and the 360 degree view of the spires, valley and glaciers has you wishing you could stay here forever.

The Conrad Kain Hut is “Glamping” (luxury camping) in my eyes.  Power, running water, propane stoves and all the kitchen utensils needed under a cozy roof.  The entry level to the cabin was the dining and kitchen area.  Mismatched wooden chairs and tables filled one side and a large kitchen with two sink areas, plenty of cupboards, several stoves and shelves filled the other.  There is a small porch and plenty of hooks here and in the main area for everyone to hang their ropes, packs, and harnesses.  We quickly realized that we did not need to pack our stove or cooking gear.  There were more than enough pots, dishes and kitchen utensils to go around. 

The hut uses a small hydroelectric plant powered by the melting glacier fed streams.  This fuels the electric power for lighting and cooking with propane as back up.  Running water, both hot and cold, is available in the kitchen and is used for cooking and cleaning.  It is however, still the backcountry. Pit toilets are located near the hut and I must add, they are very well constructed and blend in with the surroundings naturally.  Large barrels are used to “collect” everything which is then transported out by helicopter. 
Up a narrow stair case was an open room covered in mats and sleeping bags.  Up one more floor, via a wooden ladder, was the second sleeping area, also covered in mats and sleeping bags.  We quietly and respectfully chose our four spots praying the snoring symphony would not play all night.  Surprisingly it did not.  

For the most part, life at the hut was quiet.  There was a BC Park attendant who greeted us, a few others who were chilling out but other than that, everyone else was out climbing.  By six o’clock though, the hut was packed.  Thankfully we had finished up in the kitchen around this time.  Climbers were returning to the hut, excited, full of stories, and hungry. They ate, they unpacked; then repacked, and went to bed. Yes, the hut does accommodate 40 sleeping bodies.  We retreated to bed by eight o’clock because that seemed to be the thing to do.  Little did we know all these climbers would rise early to make the most out of another day of climbing.  The hut emptied at 3am.  We had the kitchen all to ourselves that following morning and enjoyed a quiet breakfast with a stunning view.  Experiencing a back-country hut was absolutely amazing and can not wait to experience some more! It was a wonderful family back-country moment and will happily upgrade from tent to hut again.
The Adventure on Bugaboo
Over the years I have used our outdoor adventures as an opportunity for learning.  Adventure is the world’s library at your disposal.  Its shelves are loaded down with books covering every topic known to man.  The obvious books cover topics such as nature, physical activity, and happiness.  Look further and you will find books on science, math, literature, history, music, personal growth, and so much more. Ben and Liv picked the adventure book as soon as we arrived at the trailhead.  Glaciers. 

The Bugaboo Glacier surrounding Pigeon Spire Hounds Tooth and Marmolata Mt. (Correction noted by Tanya @MountainMomYYC)

It was a great topic to discuss while huffing and puffing our way up the mountain.  Its presence was constantly noted as we were hot and it looked so cool and refreshing.  These real moments sparked lively discussions on what glaciers are.  A chapter was dedicated to how they are formed and why they are important.  There was a chapter on safety gear and requirements for trekking across a glacier.  Another chapter was dedicated to the critters that live near glaciers.  Ben and Liv were able to get up close and personal with marmots and pikas which provided more opportunity to learn about these mountainous mammals.  

That chapter lead to the alpine wildflower field guide and my quest to photograph and identify every plant.  The last chapter was the best chapter of them all – How to make a glacier snowball!  Oh the fun we had with that! In between glacier talk and throwing snowballs at each other we did get in some bouldering action.   

Climbing the spires was not on our adventure list this time but we still packed the kids harnesses and tether rope.  Joel found some suitable climbing areas and set the kids up with a little climb time.  In just two days and one night, this includes the hike up and down, we most certainly got our adventure on.  Bugaboo is no longer a stranger to us.  It is an adventure friend we will visit again and next time we are packing rope.

No way could I post all the photos from our adventure at the Bugaboos here BUT I can on Facebook!  Check out the complete photo gallery on our Facebook Page and be prepared to add the Bugaboos to your adventure bucket list!



  1. Looks awesome!!! :) We'll add it to our bucket list :)

    1. Bucket lists sure fills up fast, don't they! Hope you get a chance to cross this one off!