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)
Staring down at the cover of climbing magazine I was intoxicated. A snaking shoreline in the distance. A couple feet of dark gray rock exposed from the vast, pristine, clear and fresh water. The rock acting as a boundary between two great seas. The other, a thick wood of green spruce and birch covering all visible land. The green sea washing down from small rolling hills to meet the water.
In the foreground, a man is halfway up a larger section of this rock boundary. A sheer granite cliff in shades of gray rising 120 ft out of the huge fresh water lake. Where is this magical place? Minnesota.
On Mount Sir Donald’s Northwest Ridge (5.4), I accomplished my first car-car summit, my first ~7,000 ft day and set a new record for my longest ever rock climb (2,400 ft). I barely stopped moving except to wait for my turn to rappel over the course of the entire 18 hour day. The views were astonishing, the exposure and grade sustained and the legs very, very tired.
A spray of cool water settles across my face as I lean against my climbing rope to get a better look at the billowing, glacier-fed waterfall next to me. Despite being nearly impossible to pronounce, Takakkaw Falls is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Canada and right now I’m a few dozen feet away from where its torrent bounds up and away from the eroded shale into the form of a rooster tail. I have been excited for this exact experience ever since I found this climb next to Canada’s second highest waterfall. The kicker is the climb ends in a several hundred foot long cave from the route to the top off the falls. I could not predict it would even blew away expectations.
A reasonable person only needs one reason not to do something again, “I didn’t like it”. I know I can be unreasonable, so I have eight: chossy rock, leader fall, lightning storm, lost hikers, hail, steep loose scree, attacking rodent and a dead headlamp.
Here I was, sleeping 1400 ft above the valley floor on a forested ledge. Drinking unfiltered, fresh water directly out of a granite spring. Not a soul around except for a midnight food attack by a resident raccoon. All I had to do was ascend the longest single day climbing route I’ve ever completed and cross the worst traverse I’ve ever encountered.
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It’s happened to us all where a weekend plan is foiled by weather or our favorite area opens up for a perfect weather weekend in shoulder season… That is, if we were paying attention close enough to notice. Instead of checking weather reports for each of these areas, just use your current location to find what areas around you are in prime time as well as the rock climbing routes there.
Washington Column South Face (5.8 C1) is a 1000 ft granite face across Yosemite Valley from Half Dome. It is the easiest big wall climb in the valley and therefore the busiest. Optimistically, we were hoping to do it in a day with an early start, hauling only to Dinner Ledge and then blasting to the top. I even brought flashing light up glasses to make festive the predicted night rappels back down to Dinner Ledge where we’d hope there would still be room for our sleeping bags after sundown.
Speed would be the key and we planed to free as much as possible (first three and last four pitches) to make this climb 5.10b C1. Both Marco and I were relatively new to aid and we ended up learning a lot. We kept at it even after a lead fall injury where I climbed 70% of the wall with a fractured foot. I couldn’t walk, but I sure could aid climb!