American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, Canada, British Columbia, Bugaboo Spire, East Face

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1961

Bugaboo Spire, East Face. All winter I longed to return to the rock of the beautiful and inspiring east face of this peak after my attempt last year with Art Gran. This attempt, which had stopped only 500 feet short of the summit, had involved three days of rope placing, a retreat in the dark, and a bivouac in a snow storm. Late in July of this summer I arrived in the Bugaboos again, prepared to spend the rest of the summer, if necessary, climbing it. After several days of illness, I started packing gruelling loads to Boulder Camp and then up to the “Balcony,” a large ledge some 250 feet up the face, gained by a vertical grade V chimney above the glacier. The loads, which were hauled up by rope, included 800 feet of rope for fixed lines and large amounts of hardware. The good weather now turned bad, and I went down to the comfort of the cabin at the Forks where I spent a stimulating week reading Whitehead, Santayana, and Russell. The next four days of fair weather proved to be the only good spell of weather for the rest of the summer. I returned to the Balcony and spent the night there for an early start. Some 200 feet of III on a left traverse led to the start of the difficulties. The first lead of plus V went easily enough, although it offered one short artificial section, where I fixed a rope. I now studied the next lead, the “Black Stain” pitch, as this was the lead I feared most. I climbed an overhanging chimney until I had to swing out onto the narrow, overhanging right edge. My stirrups kept slipping off and I swung under to the right or to the left. I was quite ready to call it a day after this long, exhausting artificial pitch. Fixing a rope here, I now rappelled down the two ropes, then prusiked back up with a heavy load which threatened at all times to overturn me. After another night on the Balcony, I managed to reach a point some 1000 feet up the face over leads that, though requiring aid in a few places, were not as tiring as those of the previous day. As there was a ledge of sorts here, I returned for hardware, ropes, and bivouac equipment, and prusiked back up to spend the night here tied to a bolt. From this point there are three possible lines, all long dihedrals leading to easier ground higher up. The left one reaches easy ground the soonest, but like the middle one, is difficult of access. It is for this reason that we had selected the one to the right on our attempt of the previous summer, but we had found to our dismay that it led into a cul de sac of overhangs. I started placing bolts immediately above the bolt bivouac in an attempt to reach the middle dihedral. Twelve bolts later, in the late afternoon of the third full day on the face, I reached a chimney that led to it. Since the drill had become stuck in the holder, I was unable to change drills and used the same drill for all the holes. It was necessary to break the drill three times to get a sharp drilling edge, and after the third breaking, there was left a drill only the length of the bolt. If I had had to put in one more bolt, I would not have been able to proceed further since after the twelfth hole, the drill was a useless, blunt stub. This trick of drilling with a freshly broken drill, discovered quite by accident, worked well. The hangers on this pitch were left in for the benefit of future parties. As my piton hammer was coming apart, and being almost out of food and water, though so close to my goal, I decided to descend. Ropes were now fixed on all the pitches, and I reached the glacier in one hour. Upon my return to Boulder Camp, I was surprised by the unexpected arrival of Art Gran; we immediately decided he should accompany me on the final summit push. After several false starts during a full week of bad weather, a clear day finally dawned, and prusiking rapidly, we reached my high point at nine A.M. A long, very narrow chimney formed by a flake was quite difficult enough (VI) without my pack. Inserting pitons proved nearly impossible. To save time Art prusiked with a heavy pack. Already two o’clock, we should have to hurry to avoid a bivouac. We gained the middle dihedral from the top of the chimney. Three long leads of artificial climbing in this corner brought us to what we thought was the end of the difficulties, some 300 feet from the summit. The climbing was now Grade III and IV. In gathering darkness and deteriorating weather, we hurried to a large ramp leading to the east ridge, 100 feet below the summit. We were momentarily stunned to find a 40-foot vertical wall at the end of the ramp. Art did a beautiful job leading this aid pitch in the inky blackness of the night, feeling the size of the crack with his fingers and then choosing the piton accordingly. In the end we had to bivouac on a small ledge right on the ridge, miserably cold and watching lightning on distant peaks. Dawn finally came, a cold gray dawn in which the sun never rose. At 6:30 a.m. we stood on the east summit feeling numb rather than elated.

Edward Cooper

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