Pigeon Spire, first winter ascent. On March 12, 2006, Marc Piché and I made the first winter ascent of Pigeon Spire, via its North Face. During summer Pigeon sees constant traffic up its classic West Ridge, a 5.4 ridge scramble, but in winter this ridge has thwarted all attempts. Double cornices, unsupportable rime, and sketchy snow slabs hovering over smooth rock slabs turn this benign romp into an alpine nightmare. Marc, assistant manager of the CMH Bugaboo Lodge and co-author of the Bugaboo guidebook, had tried this many years ago and got shut down. Our plan was to try the North Face route, originally done by Fred Beckey in 1948 at 5.7 A2. This forgotten route was most likely unrepeated, as in summer it climbs an unappealing wet, mossy gully that offered perfect alpine mixed climbing in the cold of winter.
Marc and I flew via helicopter from the CMH Bugaboo Lodge to the west side of the Howsers and landed just outside of the park boundary. We skied over the Pigeon-Howser Col and down the Vowell Glacier to the base of our proposed objective. Just below the bergschr- und, we dug a luxury snow condo and crawled in for the night. The sky was clear, and the temperature dipped to -30° C. Getting up in the morning was difficult, to say the least, but we managed to be climbing by 8 a.m. We both struggled with frozen toes and fingers, making upward progress slow. A short snow slope gained the gully, where Marc stretched our 60m ropes with some simulclimbing up the first pitch. The next lead had me tapping up a vein of water ice 2' wide by 2"-4" thick. When the ice ran out, steep rock with good dry-tooling and turf shots deposited me into a snow gully. Two pitches worth of steep snow went fast, but the pace screeched to a crawl as Marc did battle with a tight squeeze chimney. A blank section had him stumped, but he finally overcame it by lassoing a boulder from 10m away. More snow groveling, and we gained the West Ridge one ropelength below the top. We reached the summit at 5 p.m., as the last helicopter of skiers buzzed by, then rappelled the route back to our snow cave. The route offered eight pitches of classic mixed climbing, going at M6 A0 (A0 for one hang to warm hands on pitch 2 and the lasso on pitch 5).
The next day we packed up and skied back up to the Pigeon-Howser Col in a whiteout, then survival skied down 1,500 vertical meters of the Bugaboo Glacier to the valley bottom.
Sean Isaac, Canada