Snowpatch Spire, Sweet Sylvia. In the Bugaboos during the last week of July, Craig Luebben, Will Hair, Brad Jackson and Kennan Harvey teamed up to establish Sweet Sylvia (V 5.12b) on the right end of the east face of Snowpatch Spire.
Will and I arrived a day before the others. After losing several inches in height from beastly loads and the hellacious uphill hike to Applebee Camp, we walked across the mostly flat approach to the base of the Tom Egan Memorial Route, an aid route from the late ’70s. Power of Lard, established over several stormy and wet weeks last summer by Germans Tony Lamprecht and Gunter Dengler, climbs a pitch and a half of the Tom Egan before heading right toward a left-facing dihedral and a spectacular headwall crack. I had noticed a 400-foot off width to the left of Tom Egan and had spoken with Tony and Gunter about the start of their route. I liked the juxtaposition of hard face climbing and off widthing: two different racks and techniques in one route. And the golden granite… uch temptation!
Will won the toss for the second pitch, given 5.13a by the Germans. He worked through the moves barechested, sweating and sunburned in unusually warm conditions. This superb pitch diagonals up below a small overlap on TCUs and nuts, then steps around the overlap with bolt protection to sinker steep jams. I followed on top rope to warm up and then led it, feeling way too solid, to a spacious ledge. I felt it to be 5.12b after we found a hands- off knee-bar in the middle of the crux. Will cranked the sporty third pitch (5.11c), and we rapped off, noticing that the Tom Egan got to the same belay on natural gear (5.8). My hope was to add no bolts, so we climbed the 5.8 when we returned. We passed a few bolts left by people retreating high off the Tom Egan, but other than the second pitch, the route is all crack.
Craig and Brad showed up early the next day and we entered the 350-foot right-facing sister comer to Power of Lard. Although a bit wet, grassy and loose, we climbed pitches of long 5.10 and overhanging 5.11 to the top of a huge detached flake with a perfectly flat top. I have never had a more perfect belay. Ahead lay perfect granite and the route’s best pitch: 160 feet, 92°, hands to 4.5 Camalot, slowly widening—a real tricky bitch. Brad almost hyperventilated from anticipation as he left the ledge, but calmed a bit and dashed to the belay and another perfect ledge.
As we walked to the route that morning, we heard one lone wail that chilled us all. We waited, then walked on, disturbed and wondering. As I jugged up the lines, I saw some commotion below Bugaboo Spire’s east face and heard shouts. Craig, still on the ground, went over to investigate. Within a half-hour, a chopper arrived and took away the body of Sylvia Florence, who had broken a snow bridge at the base of Herr2 and been crushed by a rock that followed her down. We had met her at the trailhead; everyone was stunned by the suddenness and the pointlessness of her death. We knew there was an accident, but never considered death because of the supposedly mellow terrain. We felt selfish for our great day when we returned to Craig, who was worked over from several hours of CPR.
The weather stayed bad for several days, allowing a needed break. We used the time to reflect, read and hike down to my Chinook camper for beers. Applebee Camp had great camaraderie after the tragedy and we stayed pumped for the rest of the adventure.
We jugged to our high point as a group in the early morning of a splitter day. Craig led a 5.11a rope stretcher of fists and hands to join with the Tom Egan again. I squirmed through 100 feet of weirdness into the “Bugaboo Corner Chasm,” a deep cleft three pitches long that splits the shoulder of Snowpatch and traverses behind several routes on its way to the summit. I tried to work around a thin intimidating seam but ran out of run-it-out gumption, down climbed 50 feet and cranked to the end of the rope on tips with slab-dish footwork, in full demand of mind and body.
On aid, I cleaned grass and wetness from a ten-foot overhanging corner to a stance, then retreated to a hands-off rest, pulled the rope and (barely) climbed another pitch at 5.11c. Craig did one more 195-foot pitch to the ridge, which tops out with the Sunshine Route, a fixed descent to the northwest. Will and Brad joined us directly, and we all marveled at views of the snowy Howser Towers.
Steep, east-facing routes are a good choice during periods of unsettled weather. Several parties retreated off the west face of Snowpatch during days we climbed dry and warm. For a competent small team, this route offers the nugget of a one-day on sight ascent, which is one reason second ascents in the alpine world provide some of the most fun a team can have. All the work and wonderment is done—time to have fun.
Kennan Harvey, unaffiliated