Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Stepping Stones

By mid August it had been 6 weeks in Squamish. 42 days. A combination of climbing as hard as possible on technical free climbs, powerful bouldering and chilling hard with the rest of the tribe. But there was one thing missing. Long committing days. 

Enter The Bugaboos. 

Heading out to Pigeon Spire on day one with the Howsers on the right.
It starts with 80 litre back packs stuffed full with all the essentials. Heaps of rope, clusters of carabiners and bundles of food you hope will keep you up there as long as possible. With the gear ready to crush as much vertebrae as possible and the cars wrapped in chicken wire to stop the 'critters' from chewing your cars brake lines into submission, we were good to go.

So, off to base camp! The Applebee Dome camp site, that sits at 2480m would be our home for around a week. The approach is 970 meters elevation gain over 5.6 kilometres. A pretty solid 4 hours. We set out into slog mode as the sun began to stain the ocean of blue above with drops of tangerine behind the mighty spires that slowly reared their heads ahead. 

We arrive later on in the evening and i collapse in a heap after setting up the tent. Thoma is already cooking us dinner. The first of many rice and wraps combos. "Hows it going mate?" i ask him, since he was charging ahead on the hike in and i could barley see him through my constant cascades of sweat. "I think my bag rubbed a hole in my back" he replies. "Oh". Good start.   

Basecamp with the west face of Snowpatch behind. 
The next morning we decide to stretch our stiff legs and get a feel for the place. For this, we decide on the classic west ridge of Pigeon Spire, 5.4. A luxury as we could leave the rack and rope at 'home' and just walk.

Starting the ridge with the legendary Becky-Chounaird behind on the right 

 A perfect climb for the day. Exposure on the little spire was superb, the climbing easy and enjoyable as we filled our lungs with the alpine atmosphere. Fresh and invigorating, we were psyched for the week ahead! 

Day 2 - The minor setback.
We both decide that our pistons need a bit of a rest so we opt for a free route within easy walking distance. Paddle Flake Direct. It's a 40 minute walk which is one of the easier options for the area. The rock appears to be slightly friable and dirty en route, exercising my brain more than i wanted and with some pitches at full rope lengths of 60m it made for slow leads on my behalf.  The crawling progress over the course of the day and lack of food (Food? Did someone say food?) meant i was spent when we reached the top. We set up the rappels and i feel drained. Thoma stays on top of it as i mention "i'm not with it today", in which he replies "I noticed"

Paddle Flake Direct. 5.10. 6 Pitches. (The shield poking out left)
We arrive back at camp as the sun falls back into the west. The psyche had fizzled out and we realise you can't ration food like you normally would in the valley bottom up here. You need to feed the furnace constantly and we were low on fuel. Thankfully Daniel (from California) was leaving the camp site and donated a whole sack of supplies. With that stroke of luck we decided to rest a day, chill to some classic tunes, fill our stomachs and our lungs as much as possible to get the psyche back.

*Ping!* The following morning we wake at 5.30am, empty a pot of coffee into our guts and make for Bugaboo spire. All charged up, our goal was the uber classic north east ridge. 12 pitches of 5.6-8 that lead to the north summit. Once there you un rope and traverse to the south summit to begin the rappels down into the Kain route ( The first ascent route from Conrad Kain in 1916. It pretty much scrambles up the southern ridge.).

The NE ridge on the right, with the Kain route on the left hand skyline
With power bars stuffed in our pockets to keep us buzzing we simul climb, stopping only when the leader is almost out of gear. The climbing is ace on this route. Psyched!. Great position, good gear and brilliant to climb with a constant flow. We arrive under the north summit around lunch time and put the rack away. Its time for some fun on the traverse! (Hello Exposure!)

Climbing down the ridge with both faces dropping away either side. Cool!
With the 'exciting traverse' done with we take a breath, soak in the view, feel the love and then commence the rappels.

Thoma, keen to go first as he's officially got a date with the outhouse.
(The North face of Snowpatch on the left and Pigeon on the right) 
Still feeling good, Thoma runs down the Kain route towards the outhouse on the col below. I catch up to him later and we both head back to camp, with energy still to spare. Probably the reason i didn't fall and slide down the infamous col again. So, we made an 8 hour day of it and were excited for the final instalment of this adventure.

We were in a good sync now and climbing well together. Alas, our food fuel was almost empty, we were back to mixing a mish mash of random food left over and the tent was...well, you can imagine. That being said we had one day left, the sun was shining and we wanted to go out with a bang. With that in mind, 'Sunshine Crack' on the north face of Snowpatch spire was the obvious choice. We strapped our boots on and set out mid morning.

'Sunshine Crack' 5.11- on the north face. Not much 'sunshine' to be had here!
We arrive at the base of the route and don the puffa jackets. Since it's north facing we would be in the shade for most of the day. That, with the proximity to the glacier, meant it was pretty cold. "At least it has three pitches of off width. We'll warm up in no time" i mention hopefully. Thoma doesn't waste time to think about it, he ties in and climbs immediately. Boom, we were off.

The first pitch is a nice hand crack leading to the second pitch. A 5 inch crack. Sweet, can't wait to warm up! I set off and am gasping for breath in no time as i thrutch my way up the wide crack and get warm. Hey this isnt too bad, i can feel my hands now, cool. I clip the chains and tell Thoma he'll be hot in a jiffy. I zip up and and set in for a long top belay. Tom has other ideas and is with me in moments. "How the hell did you climb that so quick?", "Don't stop moving" he replies "nice, you warm yet?", "Nah my feet are still numb", "Ah, better keep climbing then eh"

Thoma, inches away from the sunshine!
 4 fabulous pitches later Tom sticks the crux finger locks of the route and pulls through into sunshine. Thank goodness! We thaw out and climb another pitch in the warm embrace of the sun and reach the last pitch. A 15-20 meter 4 inch off width that tapers at the top, followed by a savage boulder move to gain the final crack. (For those that know the route we went left after the wide stuff). Great, my lead to end this adventure!

Somewhere near the top..
  There was one little detail that made me nervous about this though. We left the big 5 incher cams way down on the 2 pitch, to retrieve on the way down, so we only had two 4 inch cams left for the entire crack. Kinda far for two bits of pro. I start up, none the less, slightly alarmed, but there's only one way to go, and that's up. We were finishing this amazing route. I place the first one down low and jam and scrap my way onward.  Getting higher above the first cam now, fall potential increasing. It's OK though, my whole right arm is shoved as far as it can go and its keeping me inside the crack. Keep going. I call down to Thoma, telling him that my armour is starting to crack. "Throw in some tipped out 3's" he calmly replies. I do so and the tide of fear slowly ebbs into a manageable dimension. They'd probably hold. That being said, i bump the second 4 incher above me until I'm at the top of the crack. It would have definitely held though but its a long ways above the last decent cam.

At the top of the wide crack i have a mini celebration as i stuff some more pro in that fits the now tapered crack. Time to muster the last of your strength for the boulder move. A high crimp with the right hand, a long left gaston, feet pasted on tiny ex foliating knobs. There's nothing for it. Lunge! I cross with the right hand on the edge above my left hand followed by a growl from the depths of my stomach. Yes! I stick it and run up the final crack to the top! Thoma soon joins me and we sit in the glow of warm sun smiling from ear to ear, fumbling with the cameras with our raw bloody hands, trying to capture this moment.

  Still.   Breathe.

 The best climb of my life.


Back at camp we are exhausted and in need of food. Cooking the pasta, we sit and stare at the pot with hungry eyes as the the flame flickers and dies. Damn we were out of fuel. Thankfully a group of Americans armed to the teeth with everything they'd need for a month give us some and we demolish our lavish dinner (by our standards), enjoy some quality tunes  and the company of the final sunset.

The next day we hike our sore bodies out back to the cars, inhale the food we left there, take a much needed wash in the river and zoom down the logging road like a bat out of hell with music cranked. If we make it to Revelstoke in time, maybe we could get a day of sport climbing in before we part ways...

Snowpatch Spire in the evening glow.

Thank you Bugaboos for bringing out the best in me.
 Thoma, it was a pleasure, may there be many more to come.

"Lets sleep, eat and dream and savour our travels 
and babble our stories to anyone who'll listen.."   - 'The Travel Song', TZU

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