Mountain Lore - The Story of a 5.12+ Bugaboos First Ascent


August is Bugaboo High Season for us at Cloud Nine Guides, and those who know our guides know not only what we bring to the table professionally, but personally climbing and working among the spires in Bugaboo Provincial Park. Cloud Nine Guide, Simon Meis, more so than many, has been responsible for countless first ascents at a very high standard (he climbs 5.14) in the Canadian Mountains but specifically has helped to add some of the newest hard modern routes to the most imposing walls currently being explored by our new generation in the Bugs, though he's so modest you'd never know it. The following is the run down on a project he and partner Josh Lavigne and others, polished off last season - a line on the east face of Snowpatch Spire where many of the newest, and technically demanding lines in the Bugs are currently being added. Read on... or jump ahead to the trip photos by clicking here.



Men With Options:

By Simon Meis - Cloud Nine Guides - IFMGA Mountain Guide

Words: © Cloud Nine Guides Inc. Photos: © J. Lavigne 


I had just been released from serving time in the Alberta oil patch as a field geologist. My crime you ask? Wanting to own an over-priced house in Canmore, but still climb 200 days a year. Now the bank account was full, I was out of shape, desperately craving adventure and jonesin' to climb!


It was high summer, which means it was Bugaboo season. The Bugs hold a special place in every Canadian climbers imagination; shear granite spires sticking out of a high glacier, it is hard to imagine a more inspiring arena to go climbing in. Amazingly these imposing summits are surprisingly accessible, the ridges provide classic easy and moderate routes, while the faces are a granite climbers wet dream; coarsely textured and riddled with climbable cracks. Venue chosen, check! That was easy, now I needed a partner - time to call Josh.


Joshua Lavigne is my go to climbing partner for getting after it in the mountains, plus he is a long time friend and all around notorious fellow. Our friendship is ear marked by the climbs we have done together:  El Cap, North Howser Tower, Pakistan, El Cap Round Two, the list goes on. Between work, lady's and other adventures, we don't climb together as often as we used to, but we still manage at least one good quality adventure per year. These outings involve a healthy dose of type two fun; the kind of fun that is mostly fun after the fact. As a climbing partner Josh is hard to beat. He is one of the few climbers I've met who climbs at his best when the chips are down; if it is dangerous, and the weather is bad, and maybe it has gotten dark, Josh is now in his element. It can be hard on the ego to watch him consistently crush pitches in bad conditions, while I skitter off or back down. The up side is, I get to stand on the top of a lot of cool stuff when I am tied in with Josh.


But what to climb? On our previous few trips to the Bugs we had been churning through the spectacular free climbs on the East Face of Snowpatch Spire. Climbs such as Sendero Norte, East Columbia Indirect, Labyrinth and the Minatare are the product of a "Golden Era" of free climbing on Snowpatch in the last decade. Established by a dedicated crew of locals from nearby mountain communities, these routes are labours of love; scrubbed, equipped and forged up the wall over multiple visits spanning weeks, months or even years.


We decided that it was time to draw our

own line on the wall and contribute to the
movement. that a good idea?
Just to be clear here, instead of just having
fun, romping up stuff our friends had
spend days preparing for our climbing
enjoyment, we are going to embrace
days of toil for the dubious pleasure
of scrapping our way up a dirty unclimbed
piece of rock. But it would be ours, and
we could name it (something cheeky, I'm sure)
and it might just turn out to be awesome.


Fortunately for me, Josh had already
begun such an endeavor. He was already
4 days in!?! The previous summer Josh
and Coastal Mountain Hard Man Chris
Giesler had pushed a line 4 pitches up
the face. Imagine my luck! They were
already half done...well at least a quarter
done anyway. Josh described endless
corners with clean one inch finger cracks
(he knows that's my size), beautiful faces,
and stacked up 5.12 pitches, and generally
made up whatever he needed to say to
rope me in. I wasn't that hard to convince. Josh left out the parts about scrubbing lichen, mud filled cracks and scary, dirty, loose climbing that leads to dead ends with no pro and must be reversed before trying a different way. But that's okay, he knew I didn't want to hear about those parts, I would have to face reality soon enough, for now I could anticipate the adventure in blissful self denial.


We packed in a flurry; A couple sets of cams...better bring the big stuff, who knows what's up there...Can you grab some wire brushes?...Should we bring a crow bar?...Bolts?...Pitons?...don't forget the chocolate...and before you know it we had dragged our loads to Applebee Campground and were walking across the bright summer snow to the base full of vim, vigour and promise.


Josh handed me the rack and said I should get the first pitch. He told me it was 5.10, no big deal, maybe 5.11. It looked kind of hard, some thin flakes and cracks led to a vertical face, a bolt, then a 20 foot run out to reach some straight forward crack climbing. Josh regaled me with a description of Chris hanging off of opposing nut tools hooked on diagonal flakes in order to drill the bolt. Hmm, sounds scary, glad I wasn't there. I bridged across the moat between the glacier and the rock and committed to the wall. Things got interesting pretty fast! First of all there was a bolt 3 feet below the height of the glacier, placed on their previous late season attempt, when the height of the glacier had been lower. It wasn't doing me any good, so I fiddled in some micro cams to protect myself from falling into the gaping moat. I locked down on my doubts and set my sights on the high first bolt. When I got to the bolt I stalled for a bit, looking at the run out above the bolt, which had water running down it, go figure. I climbed up... then climbed down.. then up again. Well no point wasting time, let's get this over with, I launched up the face to a roof and a good cam, then more straight forward climbing to the first belay. Well, I guess Josh was right, the pitch was 5.10 (plus), it was also insecure, wet,  scary and kind of a tough warm up. But no worries, a little sand bagging is to be expected.


We quickly climbed to Josh and Chris's previous high point. The pitches included a great 11+ stem box, a stout 5.12 face pitch and some meat and potatoes 5.10 cracks to reach the promised three pitch corner. The corner was spectacular! It was a bit wet, but we were coming to accept that the wall hadn't fully dried out yet. The crack in the back was more like a quarter of an inch wide (definitely not my size), but I'm not complaining, the climbing involved technical stemming and thin crack work, very engaging.


Now it was time for the real work to start: forging new ground. We were four pitches up and this was Josh and Chris's high point. I lead out, continuing up the corner trying to stay in the moment and remind myself that I wanted this adventure. The crack quickly became choked with moss and was streaming water, I resorted to hanging on cams between freeing short sections with my hand jammed deep in the moss and dirt. As soon as an opportunity presented its self I exited the corner, slammed in a belay, and handed the sharp end off to Josh.


The next few days involved some fairly back breaking work, we trundled blocks, and scrubbed cracks, and followed seams that dead ended. As we unearthed our creation, the dirt and moss, from each days toil, would fall down and cover the pitches we had already climbed, these we would have to re-cleaned each day to reach our previous high point.


The nature of the wall, provided us with multiple options. In fact we were spoiled for choice. Each time up the wall we discovered a new variation or alternate pitch. We began to name these variations and a bawdy theme emerged. We imagined ourselves to be irresistibly attractive bachelors, like James Bond or a famous movie star, and the climbs many choices, these where attractive women, vying for our attention. What can I say, we were obviously delusional. The actual pitch names are best forgotten and I will not embarrass myself by committing them to print now, so far in time and space from the insulated moment that made their ridiculousness seem appropriate.


In the evenings we would return to camp, dirty and tired, but excited about our endeavour. The brotherhood  of Bugaboo regulars would come by our tent and ask us about our climb. We would hear about their latest projects.  Nearby on the wall, hard men super climbers Will Stanhope and Matt Segal worked to free their epic project, the Tom Egan Memorial Wall. We relished the week, immersed in the moment, our to do lists and responsibilities were forgotten, far away in town. Here we lived and breathed the mountains and the rock (plus a fair bit of dirt and grime). We were surrounded by friends and travelers, all fellow devotees to the mountain lifestyle, each searching for their own path and experience in these special spires.


After several days we had pushed the line half way up the wall, where above we knew there were only a couple of hard pitches left before the angle of the wall relented and we would be able to push to the ridge. At this point we recruited Crosby Johnston to our team. Crosby is a fellow mountain guide, based in Squamish, who had been guiding in the Bugs. He is always keen for an adventure, and having been regaled with our descriptions of the climb, he wanted to see firsthand what we were on about. He easily embraced our theme of sexual adventure and dubbed the route "Men with Options", also contributing some fine pitch names of his own. Later in camp, when my partner Jaime heard our route name, she gave me a frank look and stated "Options? What options are YOU talking about?". Oops..right...I back peddled, groveled and begged forgiveness.


On our final day we climbed up the wall, passing the now familiar land landmarks of our climb. We selected from the choices our favorite variations and pieced together our final creation. At our high point, Crosby and I eyed the obvious line of least resistance, imagining a quick summit and celebratory beverages in the campsite far below. But Josh wasn't hearing any of it, he took the sharp end and weaved his way to the base of an immaculate steep head wall perched in the upper face. Amazingly this wall was split by a perfect crack, initially a dreaded size of one and one quarter inch, and overhanging, the crack then arched left narrowing to a finger crack on an 85 degree face. Up to this point Josh had climbed every pitch free, while Crosby and I had each fallen on the rope on the vicious bouldery face on the third pitch. Now Josh buckled down and tried to close the deal. After an initial reconnaissance up the crack Josh lowered to try a second time, hoping to secure the free ascent. And as is his want, Josh rose to the occasion, painfully ring locking through the overhanging section and boldly punching up to the more upper crack. Just when we thought he had it in the bag, his foot slipped and he pitched off. With no time left in the day for another attempt we would have to be content with an almost free ascent. Ah well, it left room for another years adventure!


A couple more pitches, including groveling up a dirty, arching, wide crack, brought us to easier climbing and then the shoulder of Snow Patch Spire. We rapped down in the dusk, tired, covered in moss, hands bleeding, and sweaty. We were certainly not the irresistible bachelors of our imaginings. But we were undeniably happy, we had forged our own line, the wall had provided us a grand passage. We descended to camp and eventually to town with our need for adventure temporarily satisfied.


By Simon Meis

Photos By Josh Lavigne
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Cloud Nine Guides Bugaboo Rock Programs

Want to get into the Bugaboos with Simon this summer? We still have availability on our Bugaboo Rock Programs through August, though availability is limited.

Email or call us to set up your trip: