Guest Post by Ryan George
“The Bugaboos is a magical alpine playground of wild weather, pristine wilderness and towering granite spires…”
– Atkinson and Piche, The Bugaboos guidebook
I truly believe that if you want something bad enough for long enough, it’s bound to happen. Eight years ago, while, climbing the majestic Cook range in New Zealand, I asked my mountaineering instructor where he went for vacation. As he described granite soaring over glaciers in the Bugaboos, I began to love a place I’d never been. It took me eight years to acquire the friends and skills to make it a reality, but this July I finally got to climb in this alpine wonderland.
When people hear the name of this park, they laugh; when they search it, they gape. Since there’s no place quite like it, it’s truly unimaginable, and I found myself at a loss for how to prepare. In particular, what should I bring up the short but steep approach to camp? Having made the mistake of bringing a far too heavy pack, I’ll share my hard-won wisdom on what not to bring to this committing location. (Disclaimer: consider conditions when packing up; we had near-perfect weather)
Call me crazy, but I almost never used my serious mountaineering boots, despite having them in camp. Neither did I use any of my heavy mountaineering gear: gaiters, mittens, balaclava. They’re too heavy! For routes like Becky-Chouinard, with 2000 ft. of climbing, 5 lbs. boots get the boot. The solution? Approach shoes, like my Boreal Flyers, took me everywhere I needed to go. Strap-on crampons, which are also very light, complemented them perfectly, and I felt very safe on steep snow, glacier, and fourth-class rock alike.
Again: who goes into the wilderness without a map? It’s simply not needed here. The Bugaboos are small, and navigation was never a problem–you can see most of the towers with a 10-minute walk from camp. A complete whiteout storm might call for GPS, but a phone with cached maps is probably sufficient.
I loaded myself with a full rack (up to a BD #5), a rope, a four-season tent, and other technical equipment. While this gave me flexibility to climb with anyone, anytime, it was also impossibly heavy. Strategize and split up the gear.
In addition to gear, I loaded myself down with 10+ days of delicious food. I theorized that it’s better to suffer one day and have everything I wanted following that, but I ended up making a second trip anyway. What are the chances you won’t need a rest day, weather day, phone recharge, or that you won’t forget something you need to go back for? Bring a few days’ food at the outset and get the rest on a second trip. My second, lighter round-trip took only two and a half hours, which nearly matched the extra ~1.5 hours I spent on my overloaded first trip.
Food is heavy to carry down, too! One could live indefinitely at Applebee camp simply by accepting food that people are giving away before they hike down. I was offered bars, fuel, cheese, chocolate, and could have procured a lot more with little effort. I ended up cooking pizza (!) on the last day in order to get rid of my heaviest remaining items (tomato paste, tortillas, cheese). While you don’t want to run out of food, it’s also bad to have to stuff yourself silly or hike down heavy food.
My Maxim 60m 9.8mm workhorse was cheap and available, but it was burdensome to climb with. I cursed myself on our ascent of Sunshine Crack (5.11-, 6-10 pitches), where a second rope is needed to rappel the route. I had to climb a long 5”offwidth section and pull a 5.10 roof with the extra 10 lbs, which nearly drained me after the first pitch. Several other classic routes at the Bugaboos require double ropes to descend, so it would be ideal to bring alpine half-ropes.
After boots, the quality of tent was the most agonizing decision. I bought a 4-season tent specifically for this trip, but I saw plenty of folks getting on well with 3-season tents, a couple of people with hiking pole tarps, and one climber with a tarp over a rock. When the windy storms inevitably came, I was glad for a good tent, but I think it was a question of comfort rather than safety. If the weather is expected to be good–look for a nice high-pressure system–a 4-season tent probably isn’t necessary. Make sure, however, to put a few rocks in it, as I saw at least one tent go flying off a cliff in a storm.
They don’t seem to capture climbing very well. A high-quality camera (e.g. not an iPhone) produced the best pictures we got out of the trip and was well worth the weight.
The trip turned out to be perfect, but our immense luck probably won’t hold next time. The “wild weather” often prevents any climbing whatsoever, and early this season most groups were completely rained out. The same is true of partners; I saw several people whose partner expectations didn’t pan out. One guy, who had even made group shirts, had his entire group bail before his trip and was seeking partners. Another person had traveled to Applebee Camp to meet a partner Mountain Project, only for the chemistry not to work out (this was the same guy who was camped crustaceously under a rock and a tarp, which helps explain why).
I’m not sure what I was thinking, but they actually came in handy for a surprise birthday cake: