We awoke to the annoying beeping of a wristwatch alarm at 4:30 AM and were hiking by a little after 5:00. I had scouted the beginning of the route the night before and led us through the various tents to the trail that led past the lake to the base of the Crescent Glacier below the Bugaboo-Crescent col. We didn’t hear the two climbers who were in front of us, but we were able to see their headlamps approaching the col. We also passed a second party in the camp, who would be climbing with us most of the day, eating the last morsels of oatmeal. This time, we were able to follow a trail in the darkness. We did lose the trail a couple of times, but we passed the two lakes, crossed under some cliffs to the base of the glacier without much incident. Still in darkness we started crossing the glacier, which began being covered in a thin layer of mud. The glacier wasn’t very steep and we didn’t bother putting on crampons. We had to walk carefully and deliberately, but it was easy enough to not slip while hiking up the ice. I did encounter one slick spot near an icy crevasse. I moved to the left to find more gritty ice and crossed there. We could see the other party at the base of the glacier as we began soloing up the steep 5th class ledges and slabs to the col.
We could see the first party above us, scurrying around at the base of the route. On arriving, we found out they were still trying to find the beginning of the route. Pointing out to them where it was, they were on their way. They promised to be quick, which they were. Aidan then began our climb with the lead, grunting his way up but doing so in great form. I had always looked forward to just seeing this view of the northeast ridge, but actually standing beneath me had begun to put me in a careful mood. The first pitch also set the mood. I began the first couple of moves hesitantly. Before I was even 15 feet off the ground, I felt like I didn’t have my best mindset or my best skills available to me. Aidan hollered down, “You’ve got to commit to the lieback!” I am not a fan of liebacks, never have been. I found myself trying to avoid doing the lieback moves. With Aidan’s instruction, I committed to the lieback and started moving up. I found myself not concentrating as I should, and before I could say anything, my right foot slip, the lieback fell apart and I took a fairly long follower’s fall, puncturing my middle and ring fingers on my right hand and bashing my left knee. OK, this was not a good start and I found myself in a spooked mindset for most of the climb. It wasn’t until the fifth pitch that I felt confident enough to take over the lead.
The second part of the first pitch was a hollow flake that required lieback moves the entire way up. At least I was concentrated more and made the moves without problems, but nervously. Many other climbers think the crux of the route is the traverse move near the top of the first pitch. I did not find this hard at all. I guess this shows me that if I want to be a complete rock-climber, I need to get more comfortable with liebacks. OK, maybe it’s time to do laps on Godzilla back at Index.
I refused the second pitch as well, which was a good bit easier, but still steep and challenging. The route climbs up a dike of granite flakes forming numerous short cracks. Unlike the first pitch, there is plenty of opportunity for good protection. The third pitch begins with a fifteen foot down-climb from the top of the dike to a depression which leads steeply up and rightward across the face to gain the true ridge. This pitch is sensational. Nicely exposed and with thin holds, but at every place that you’d want them.
The third pitch leads to a comfortable belay at the base of the fourth pitch, which is a long skyward reaching corner that leads off steeply and slowly eases in angle. This pitch starts off with an awkward, but not hard, move and then follows the corner for sustained but pleasant climbing up the corner. There are several sections of liebacks, but nothing as hard or as sustained as the first pitch. At the top of the fourth pitch, a 5.6 pitch up another steep, but shorter, crack system led to blockier ground and a long, low-angled chimney. Aidan again asked if I wanted to take the lead. I opted to this time, thinking it would help me clear my head. It did. We simul-climbed a bit and then I brought Aidan up to another good belay somewhere within the chimney and then headed out again.
Aidan took the next pitch, which, if I recall, was a steep face climb with good protection. At this point the pitches started blending together. I don’t recall if it was the same pitch or the next one that we encountered another 5.7 section that was supposed to be a little burly. It wasn’t. The move was short, over a small bulge – nothing as challenging as the opening pitch. At this point, we were nearing the north summit. A steep gendarme blocked the way and we opted to make a difficult and constricted rappel down the east side to easier ground where we could traverse back on to the ridge. We then followed a knife edge to the summit. Beyond, on the traverse to the true summit, the south summit, was more fun knife edge walking. At one point the exposure over the east side is completely sheer – a straight drop down to the Crescent Glacier. In front of us were easy slabs below the north summit, which we traversed around to a large wall. We then headed up the north side of the south summit, following solid finger cracks.
I was relieved to be on the summit. I was definitely ready for the climb to be over. I remarked to Aidan that I thought this was harder than Slesse and that the opening pitch was harder than any pitch on Slesse. Aidan thought me crazy and wisely pointed out that it was due to the mental state. That was true; evaluating the two climbs pitch for pitch, Slesse is a much longer and sustained climb, with more difficult pitches. But, truthfully, I didn’t feel it. But, I did my best to keep my head in the moment. Leading those few pitches helped a lot, but not as much as having such an excellent climbing partner.
The climbers below us, Carl and Tom, soon appeared and we enjoyed our short summit moments together. Then we decided to stick together as we began the descent of Bugaboo Spire. We had read so much about the difficulty and complexity of the descent and Carl backed the story up. I suppose this helped prepare us for the descent, because it didn’t feel nearly as hard, to me, as it was made out to be. It was complex, granted, but not bad at all. The part where we had to pay the most care was locating the rappels. The second, right before the famous gendarme was fairly tricky – a committing and extremely exposed rappel over the east side. From about 3/4ths the length of the rappel is a large notch where the third rappel is. Getting to it requires an easy but exposed traverse while still on rappel.
Beyond the rappel, more exposed knife edges finally led to terrain where we could unrope and down-climb. There’s plenty of 5th class down-climbing but it slowly relents to easy 3rd and 4th class terrain. After hearing the horror stories of the descent, I had likened the descent to the awful on on Slesse. Because of that, this one seemed easy and soon enough we were back at the col. We waited a bit for another party to rappel down the col before beginning our loose descent. It’s almost impossible not to knock rocks down the chute; all it take is vibrations to get rocks moving. Each party absolutely has to wait for others to descend, otherwise it’s quite likely that someone will get hit. At the base of the bergeschrund, we quickly put on our crampons and headed down the ice.
While we were on Bugaboo, Colin and Ross were out climbing the Beckey-Choiunard route on South Howser Tower. They hadn’t returned by the time we got back. Aidan was getting a little worried about them but only a few minutes after dark, after we’d turned in, they showed up. Aidan and I were both very tired, but Colin bounced around camp and chatted as if he’d had a rest day. Ross, on the other hand, hit the hay. Earlier, before going to bed, Aidan and I talked with the campground custodian. He mentioned that weather was most likely moving in tomorrow. Both Aidan and I did not have the desire to do another big rock climb, and were a relieved at the justification of hiking out due to a storm.
Sure enough, in the middle of the night, the wind started picking up. We hadn’t bothered securing the Beta Light with lines, but each corner had a large rock to hold it in place. That didn’t stop the wind from loosing two of the corners of the tent in the middle of the night. It sounded like a near explosion and we were suddenly awake with the tent ends flapping in our faces. We jumped up immediately and secured the tent, finding extra large rocks to secure the corners and went back to bed. I slept well, though I recall waking several times to the roaring of the wind. Aidan, on the other hand, admitted to barely sleeping a wink. Instead, he’d periodically grab the pole next to us, holding it in place for fear of it being knocked over again.
We lounged in the noisy tent the following morning before getting up. Colin and Ross decided to not go for another climb as well and we all decided to hike out together. We took our time getting ready. I headed out before everyone else because I tend to hike a little slower on the descent, not to mention that Colin and Ross are very fast. Soon enough, they caught up with me and we hiked together for a while. After a bit, I got tired of the speed, let the others get ahead and took out my mp3 player. I enjoyed the tunes all the way down and stopped several times for more pictures, ones that I couldn’t get on the hike in because of the low light.
It was a long long drive back, but more rap and hip-hop entertained me. We arrived back in Tacoma around 11pm and Aidan’s mom treated us to some excellent grilled chicken pasta, salad, and fresh peaches. Feeling like a refreshed flower, I opted to drive home since the traffic would be much better this time of night than the following morning. All-in-all, despite the exhaustion, this was a fantastic and memorable trip. Thanks for coming along, Aidan. It was a great way to end the summer.