Introduction to the Bobbie Burns Group
Francis S. North
THERE is nothing dearer to the heart of a mountaineer than a first ascent, especially in a district which has resisted previous attempts. When in the summer of 1938, Georgia Engelhard and I viewed from our summits in the Bugaboos the fine virgin rock peaks in the Bobbie Burns Group1 to the north, they looked steep, challenging, and definitely attractive. We decided forthwith that it would be our next objective.
Accordingly, on August 1st, 1939, our expedition started from Spillimacheen, led by Ernest Feuz, Swiss guide, and outfitted by Isidor Kain. We bounced up the rocky road on a truck, to our base camp which was established at the foot of the N. moraine of the Bugaboo Glacier, on the site used by the Hendricks party in 1938. The following two days were spent in setting up a high camp in the last timber beneath Snowpatch Spire. The weather was extremely hot, making backpacking more arduous than usual, and to add to our troubles, the pack-rats and gophers created havoc with our food supplies and personal belongings.
On the afternoon of August 3rd, after carrying up the final load, the first ascent of the E. peak of Eastpost Spire proved a sporting exerciser, occupying three hours from our bivouac—the W. peak having been climbed for the first time by Eaton Cromwell and the writer in 1938. From its summit we obtained a magnificent view of Snowpatch and Howser Spires, and also of the Bobbie Burns Group, the center needlelike peak presenting a particularly inviting appearance. The next day we made the fourth ascent of Bugaboo Spire by the usual and, in fact, only possible route. Rated by the internationally famous guide, Conrad Kain, as his most difficult peak in Canada, we found that it fully lived up to its reputation. Through our fieldglasses we could see that there was little hope of successful attack on either Snowpatch or the S. Tower of Howser, therefore decided to concentrate on the Bobbie Burns peaks which from here looked feasible.
That evening a light rain fell, but on the following day we set out for the second phase of our objective. Striking the base camp, we moved by packtrain down Bugaboo Valley six miles to Rocky- point. Early the next morning, we were off up Rockypoint Creek, following an old mining trail which evidently had been long in disuse. It wound tortuously through thick alder slides which caught at our packs, and continued through heavy timber in which we occasionally encountered bogs and deadfalls. By noon, however, we had climbed 4000 ft., and had reached the summit of the open alps which divide the watersheds of Bobbie Burns and Bugaboo Creeks. One of the most astounding mountain panoramas which any of us had ever seen met our eyes—the towering granite spires of the Bugaboos and the jagged pinnacled ridges of the virgin peaks to the north, with inviting green meadows spread at their base—seemingly a paradise for campers. From the summit, the ridge descends steeply to the floor of the Warren Valley 3000 ft. below, through a tangled jungle of fallen timber. Although the distance measures only 2.5 miles, it took us 24 hours to negotiate it, as the going was very rough. Great credit is due to Isidor for his ability and persistence in getting the outfit down into such difficult terrain. The deadfall was dense, and fallen logs and small rocky bluffs offered a hazardous footing for the heavily laden horses. They stumbled from weariness, packs slipped and had to be adjusted, and in spots a trail had to be cut through the mass of timber. As a result, we were unable to cover more than half a mile in two hours. When by evening we had reached a little flat in a grove of evergreens by a convenient stream, we decided to call a halt for the night, and give our exhausted animals a much-needed rest. The party started off the next morning, and continued the scramble downward, until at 2 p.m., we finally reached the “inviting green meadows.” As an unfortunate blow to our expectations, they proved to be nothing but swamp, extending from the tongue of the Warren Glacier at the head of the valley, for a distance of at least five miles. The only available camping place was a sand and gravel flat bordering a stream flowing out of the N. glacier of the group, infested with bulldog flies and every conceivable variety of insect life. So we swatted flies and ate and drank sand, but at least we had the consolation of knowing that we were the first party ever to inhabit this territory. A record of our sojourn can be found in a bottle hanging on a tree, but no record could do justice to our language used on the bulldogs.
On August 9th, we left our camp at the mouth of the stream which descends from the large glacier immediately N. of the main Bobbie Burns peaks, and following it closely through bush and alder slides, we made a reconnaissance of the three most prominent peaks of the range. We reached a pass at the head of the glacier from which unfortunately none of these points were attainable. Therefore, we turned our attention to two small peaks, the first ca. 9300 ft., in the N. W. angle of the glacier, whose summit we gained via the easy rocks of the S. ridge. Descending by the same route, we crossed the glacier in a southerly direction, and climbed up steep ledges to a col in the N. spur of the main group. Here we stopped and put on our sneakers, and proceeded in our attack on the North Peak: a jagged, triangular rock mass, ca. 9500 ft., whose S. ridge was followed closely, providing a sporty and varied climb. Two back-stands and a 20-ft. rappel were required in this ascent of 1.5 hours, every moment of which was interesting. The descent was made easily via the S. E. face to the col.
Two days later, we retraced our steps to this point, crossing to the N. E. glacier which was ascended for 200 yards. Traversing the bergschrund with some care, we scrambled over dirt and loose rock to the edge of a small hanging glacier, enclosed between the Center and West Peaks. Our original plan had been to make an attempt on the highest or West Peak, ca. 10,150 ft., but after gaining the crest of the ridge over a steep ice slope which involved considerable step cutting and interesting work in a bergschrund, we were forced to abandon the idea because of an overhanging gendarme. Therefore, we decided to attack the Center Peak whose appearance had so attracted us from Bugaboo Spire. We changed into sneakers and proceeded up the very steep N. ridge which from below had looked extremely repellent. But to our pleasant surprise, it provided excellent climbing and went very well, so that in an hour we stood on the flat summit rocks and ate our sandwiches in the warm sun. Our descent was over a different route, using a vertical 100-ft. crack in the N. W. face, which led us with two rappels to the ledge where we had left our boots. Although it was now 2 p.m., we decided to make an attempt on the East Peak, and therefore crossed the connecting ridge to the S. glacier. We circled around Center Peak, thus gaining the foot of the N. ridge of the mountain over scree and ledges on the N. W. face. The arête was followed closely, providing steep climbing on large slabs to a minor summit from which we roped off down a 30-ft. pitch. Two vertical stem chimneys followed, the second requiring a back-stand and bringing us out, at 4 p.m., on the broad tablelike summit so characteristic of this region. Ernest took great care in building a stoneman gigantic enough to be seen from any of the surrounding districts. Then with haste we descended by the same route, reaching camp just as night fell, after a 17-hour day which had added two more first ascents to our list.
August 12th, we rested methodically, but on the 13th we set out again for the West Peak on a route which we had observed from the Center Peak. As on the first day, we followed the N. glacier to its head, whence we descended rapidly S. W. to the foot of the icefall in the S. glacier. Zigzagging upwards through the seracs with much step cutting, we gained the foot of the S. W. ridge in
hours of continuous going. Once more we changed into sneakers, and followed the crest of the ridge to the summit, across enormous square blocks and knife-edged ridges—easy enough but fun. As the day was magnificently clear and still, we stayed an hour and a half on the broad tablelike summit, admiring the fantastic shapes of the Bugaboos to the S. across the Warren Glacier. The same route was followed on the descent as far as the head of the icefall, where we turned E. and rejoined our route of two days before, on the N. E. and N. glaciers, thus making a complete circuit of the West Peak, and covering a distance of about 15 miles. This was our last climb in the Bobbie Burns, for our time was running short, and we needed the remaining days to do some more work on the trail and get the outfit back to Rockypoint.
We started striking camp on the 15th, and making our preparations for a return to civilization. The packtrain managed the trip up the slope with consummate ease—the slope which had afforded us so much effort and tribulation on the way down—and descended once more to the charming alps, where we spent the night. When we reached Rockypoint the next morning, it was with mingled feelings of satisfaction and regret. Our stay had been eminently successful from all points of view. We had gained our objectives, the most important factor. The climbing at all times was a high order, which while interesting, never provided us with the grueling moments which we had experienced on Bugaboo Spire. Isidor’s cooking had fully met our expectations, and Ernest’s leadership was excellent and indefatigable. In addition, we had been unusually fortunate with weather conditions, and had been privileged to view scenery which baffles description. But the experience was over, our introduction to the Bobbie Burns an accomplished fact, and it was with that regret that we mounted our faithful truck, and jounced again down the rocky road to Spillimacheen.
1For earlier data on this area of the Purcell Range consult A. A. J., ii, 186, 190; iii, 295; A.J., 46, 403.